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What does the Bible say about drinking alcohol?


Credit: Jason Pearce/Flickr/Creative Commons

Credit: Jason Pearce/Flickr/Creative Commons

Several decades ago, I was part of a church that took a strong stand against drinking alcohol, but it wasn’t just alcohol, it also had an opinion on several other things like long hair on men.

The list of unwritten rules and regulations was quite extensive.

Looking back now I realize the church was caught up in a religious spirit which I define as making up rules for Christian living that are not required by Scripture. The church leaders were essentially adding man-made rules to Christianity.

In fact, one of the respected teachers that the church connected with wrote a book trying to prove that when the Bible talked about wine, it was speaking of non-fermented grape juice. Yes, he believed when Jesus turned water into wine at the Cana wedding, the headwaiter was shocked that the bridegroom had reserved the “best grape juice” for last (John 2:1-11).

Though the Bible condemns becoming drunk, it does not forbid drinking wine. In fact, the exhortation forbidding drunkenness proves that the wine people were drinking was alcoholic.

This contrasts with the church we now attend. During the first communion, we were shocked that they used real wine, complete with a choice of either red or white.

But my wife and I have a guarded attitude toward drinking alcohol. I rarely partake reserving it for special occasions. I know this will sound weird, but I probably drink alcohol more often at church than at my home.

But I also I have a good Christian friend who enjoys drinking a beer on a hot day. I have never seen him drunk and I do not believe the Bible prohibits this. I suspect the Bible is probably speaking of beer when it refers to “strong drink” often used in the same sentence with wine indicating it was different.

We see this when the High Priest Eli accused Hannah (mother of Samuel) of being drunk. Hannah answered that  she had not been drinking wine or “strong drink” indicating that both were alcoholic (1 Samuel 1:13-15). In other words “strong drink” does not refer to alcoholic wine.

But we need to point out that there are many, many Biblical verses that warn against excessive drinking of wine and strong drink (Isaiah 28:7; Titus 1:7-8, Ephesians 5:18) , because of its debilitating affect on our reasoning.

So what are Christians’ attitudes towards drinking?

In a 2017 survey of 1,010 Protestant Christians in America, Lifeway Research found that most have a reserved opinion on drinking alcohol.

The survey revealed that 41% said they drank alcohol while 59% said they don’t. There has been a slight shift in attitudes about drinking over the past ten years, as a survey Lifeway conducted in 2007 showed that 39% of Protestant Christians said they drank alcohol and 61% said they didn’t.

While 87% of Christians said the Bible forbids getting drunk, 23% of Christians still believe the Bible forbids drinking alcohol altogether, but this is down from the 29% who reported the same view in Lifeway’s survey 10 years earlier.

This didn’t quite jive with the results of another question Lifeway asked that revealed 55% of churchgoers believe that you can drink alcohol without sinning, meaning that 45% either felt drinking alcohol was or could be a sin under certain circumstances or weren’t sure.

The biggest reason that Christians don’t drink socially, even if they believe the Bible allows it, is that 60% don’t want to cause others to become confused or to stumble. And certainly, this is admirable particularly with people who struggle with an addiction to alcohol.

However, it could equally be argued that we are throwing an extra rule on non believers that is not required by the Bible.

Age was also a factor in attitudes towards alcohol, with 50% of churchgoers aged 18-34 saying they drank alcohol compared to only 32% of those aged 65 or older.

Some of the difference may also be cultural. From my contact with Christians from England, they have a much more relaxed attitude about drinking alcohol and treat going to the pub for a beer as casually as we do going to Starbucks for coffee.

From a Biblical perspective there is nothing wrong with avoiding alcohol if you choose. In fact the Nazirite vow (taken by Samson, John the Baptist and even the Apostle Paul) included not partaking of anything made from grapes. Usually the vow was for a select time, though in Samson’s case it was intended for life.

And as long as it’s under control and not excessive, there is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol.

Where the problem lies is when we suggest that drinking or not drinking alcohol is a reflection of our spirituality. Yes, even those drinking alcohol can claim that they have more liberty than fellow believers.

You are not a better Christian if you drink or don’t drink wine.

Sources:

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