The controversy over use of alcoholic beverages largely arises out of a lack of both spiritual and intellectual integrity due to the imposition of human preference and human weakness. Humans abuse sex but that does not mean God forbids sex.
The scriptures conclude it is righteous to drink alcoholic beverages (Deuteronomy 14:23-26) but it is unrighteous to do so to the point of getting drunk. For in Deuteronomy 14:23-26, God himself tells the people to go buy wine and strong drink and come before him and drink it. But notice he did not tell them to drink it to the point of getting drunk. Since God is everywhere, drinking it before him anywhere is not sinful as long as one does not get drunk. One can have sex in an evil way but that does not mean having sex is sinful. The same principle applies to alcohol.
In the absence of drunkenness/excess/impairment, use of wine for Communion or otherwise is not sinful but unwise for some. It is especially unwise if you cannot control alcohol but rather allow it to control you to the point of causing harm to yourself and/or others. Its use is especially unwise to the point of causing or aggravating an illness or where it hampers healing.
Be filled with and depend on the Holy Spirit instead of alcohol and other ill-advised substances.
The topic to which I speak is that of alcoholic beverages; only a summary of considerations is provided here. The Holy Scriptures speak to this issue. However, some explanatory guidance is essential concerning the application of the scriptures in our modern day society.
First let me say that I do not write this to justify my drinking of alcoholic beverages. Indeed, I rarely partake in drinking alcoholic beverages. I do not ever recall drinking things like whiskey or gin. I do remember my grandmother giving me medicine which included whiskey or some similar drink; which by the way is consistent with I Timothy 5:23. I have and may again drink wine from time to time. But even that is a rarity for me. I certainly am guilty of some form of wrong. But I certainly have never even come close to being drunk. So then it is my personal preference to not partake in alcoholic beverages on a regular basis. Yet, I cannot impose my personal preference on someone else. I try not to impose more on folks than God imposes on them. I cannot forbid others to do that which God does not forbid them to do. I simply urge them to be responsible in what they do which is precisely what God requires. This is the principle Jesus sets forth when he warns us about turning the traditions (or in this case more specifically preferences) of men into the commandments of God. Indeed, those who did or do allow alcoholic beverages to control them have no right to deny the use of alcoholic beverages to those who have and do control the alcohol rather than allowing it to control them.
In Deuteronomy 14:23-26 we find 23And thou shalt eat before the LORD thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always. 24And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the LORD thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the LORD thy God hath blessed thee: 25Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose: 26And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household,
Here in Deuteronomy, God tells the people it is okay to partake of both wine and strong drink before the Lord. . In verse 26 the Greek word, shekar, translated strong drink has the sense of an intoxicant, intensely alcoholic liquor, a strong wine. Now certainly there are drinks with more alcoholic content than other alcoholic drink. Here even God speaks of some drinks being stronger than the mentioned wine. Moreover, there are some wines that have more alcoholic content than other wine. Nevertheless the principle is to not partake of alcohol to the extent that it produces drunkardness regardless of whether you are partaking of one that has a little alcoholic content or one that has a lot. For certainly if you drink enough of one that has a little alcoholic content you would get drunk. On the other hand, if you drink a sufficiently little of one with a high alcoholic percentage then one will not get drunk. The amount that is sufficiently little of course will depend on each individual physical limitation, which each individual should know and attend to. It would also depend on the frequency one drinks alcoholic beverages. Indeed, God does not say it is sinful to drink of one that has a little alcoholic content as long as you don’t get drunk. The same principle applies to strong drink. The fact that Deuteronomy says it is righteous to drink wine and strong drink before the Lord along with the absence of any New Covenant scripture saying do not drink strong drink or fermented wine at all, means that it is still righteous to drink wine and strong drink if one chooses to do so as long as it is not done to excess.
Ephesians 5:15-18 says “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;”
Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding (John 2). Some say Jesus turned the water into grape juice or unfermented or non-alcoholic wine instead of fermented or alcoholic wine. Well to them I say would not the Holy Spirit have had the original writers and translators to use a word for grape juice instead of wine as was done in Numbers 6:3? Or perhaps, the Holy Spirit would have had the translators to explicitly distinguish between fermented and unfermented wine if such a distinction was significant for our doctrinal understanding. Some say that this was unfermented wine; they arrive at that conclusion because they say Jesus would never have provided wine on which the people could get drunk. Well such a deduction is clearly contradictory to God’s instruction in Deuteronomy 14. Of course, Jesus did not desire nor expect anyone to get drunk at the wedding; there is no biblical indication that anyone did get drunk at the wedding. This is also true of Deuteronomy 14 regarding wine and strong drink; certainly God was not condoning getting drunk in telling them it was okay to drink wine and strong drink.
Moreover, in Ephesians 5:18, the Holy Spirit through Paul exhorts us to not be drunk with wine, wherein is excess. Clearly, the wine of Ephesians 5:18 was of the kind off which one could get drunk rather than being grape juice; otherwise, there would have been no need for the Holy Spirit to warn about getting drunk with that wine. Indeed, the Greek word (Strong’s Greek Concordance #3631, Greek word oinos) used by Paul for wine in Ephesians 5:18 is the same Greek word used with regard to the wine of John 2 regarding the wine Jesus made. In Ephesians 5:18, the scripture does not say do not drink wine at all. If this was the intent of scripture, the Holy Spirit could have plainly said so as He did in the case of John the Baptist (Luke 1:15). Instead, the scripture warns against excessive drinking of wine to the point of drunkardness. The Holy Spirit invites us to be filled with him rather than be filled with wine to the point of excess.
This recognition of it being okay to responsibly drink alcoholic beverages and strong drink is similar to the recognition that God produced sexuality even though people abuse it to the point of sinfulness. God does not say do not have sex. He says have it only within a biblical marriage context. So then just as there is a right and wrong way to have sex, there is both a right and wrong way to drink wine and strong drink. Indeed, as Jesus says it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but rather that which comes out (Matthew 15:16-20).
Certainly, it is the individual’s primary responsibility not to get drunk. However, one should never buy alcoholic drinks for someone else who has already been drinking out of your presence. And one should never buy alcoholic drinks for someone else who can drink it out of your presence nor knowingly take them to buy it. For if they can drink it out of your presence you have lost control of doing your part to ensure they do not abuse what you have bought them. If they want to get drunk, let them do it on their own expense and effort. This goes for one’s spouse, other lover, or just one’s friend.
In John 2, the same Greek word for wine (Strong’s Greek Concordance #3631, Greek word oinos) is used when speaking of the wine that ran out (verse 2:3), the wine that Jesus turned the water into (verse 2:9), the good wine that is normally served first from which people can get drunk (verse 2:10), and finally the wine that had been kept until now which is that wine that Jesus had made (verse 2:10). So then, the people viewed the good wine Jesus made as the same as the wine off which people could get drunk as indicated by usage of the same Greek word. Moreover, the Holy Spirit through the scripture uses the same Greek word.
In the final analysis of John 2, when we consider John 2 and all of scripture, it is not biblically clear whether the wine Jesus made was fermented or unfermented. Certainly, Jesus had the power to do either instantaneously. Perhaps, God did not scripturally indicate the presence or absence of fermentation because it is not doctrinally significant; what is biblically clear is that it is doctrinally significant whether one gets drunk or not.
Some say that in scripture, the same Greek word is used for both fermented and unfermented wine. Well, even if that is true, if God wanted us to distinguish between fermented and unfermented wine, could he not have interjected the Greek word for fermented and unfermented to modify the Greek word for wine in order to clarify where fermented and unfermented wine is being referred to. Certainly, as a minimum interjecting the Greek word for leaven and unleavened would have provided clarity as to whether fermented or unfermented wine, respectively, was being spoken of since leaven and fermentation are sufficiently equivalent chemical processes.
However, even if one concludes that the same Greek word is used for both fermented and unfermented wine in John 2 to the point that the translators could not or did not distinguish between fermented and unfermented wine and even if we conclude that the governor of verse 2:10 was not saying people could get drunk off the wine Jesus made, it still follows that it is unnecessary for us to refer to John 2 alone to conclude doctrinally whether God completely forbids all drinking of fermented wine and alcoholic beverages. Clearly, John 2 and other scriptures including but not limited to Deuteronomy 14 definitively answers that question; the answer is that God does not forbid such drinking but instructs humans to do so with care, if they do it at all, and avoid getting drunk. Moreover, even if one was to erroneously conclude that the wine of Deuteronomy 14 and John 2 was not alcoholic in nature, no one could reasonably conclude that the strong drink of Deuteronomy was non-alcoholic in nature; why else would it be called strong drink.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke we find Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper or Communion (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26, Luke 22:13-20). When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he uses the phrase fruit of the vine (Matthew 26:29). That is, he does not say he and the apostles were drinking wine or strong drink but rather fruit of the vine. Now the phrase fruit of the vine may refer to grape juice or it may refer to wine since both are fruit of the vine. If we assume that the phrase fruit of the vine always refers to unfermented grape juice, would it also be proper to assume the references to wine elsewhere in scripture always refer to fermented grape juice?
Now since occasion of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper was in observance of the Passover, it is proper to consider Deuteronomy 16:1-8, part of which is given below. Exodus 12:1-28 institutes the Passover. Other scriptures that speak of the Passover include Numbers 28:16-17, Leviticus 23:5-9, II Chronicles 30:1-23, 35:1-19; Luke 22:1-20; Mark 14:12-21.
1 Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the LORD thy God: for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night. 2 Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the LORD thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the LORD shall choose to place his name there. 3 Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life.
And Exodus 34:25 says:
25Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
Here we see that the Passover involved the use of unleavened bread. To be unleavened is to be void of yeast. Generally speaking, yeast is what causes fermentation in the making of alcoholic wine.
Most of the scriptures concerning the Passover specify the type of bread; they do not specify what the Jews are to drink. Hence, the Passover is sometimes called the feast or festival of unleavened bread (Leviticus 23:6). Yet, Exodus 34:25 says the blood of a sacrifice is not to be leavened and left until morning during the Passover celebration. Thus, it is proper to say that the fruit of the vine referred to by Jesus was most likely unleavened or unfermented. However, Jesus did not specify whether the drink was alcoholic or non-alcoholic. Moreover, even if we conclude that Jesus only drunk unfermented wine at Passover time, it does not necessarily follow that drinking of alcoholic beverage is forbidden during the Lord’s Supper or at weddings; this is especially true since drinking of alcoholic beverage is not forbidden at other times and especially since we are no longer under the Mosaic law but rather under liberty and freedom offered by grace. Also, Colossians 2:16-22 teaches we are not to place one another under unnecessary laws of ordinances, including drink, which say touch not, taste not, handle not. Thus, it is proper to employ either alcoholic wine or non-alcoholic wine during Communion so long as there is reasonable expectation that no one will drink to the point of drunkardness, wherein there is excess; this is especially true in light of Deuteronomy 14:23-26.
I Corinthians 11:20-34 speaks of a gathering for Communion at which some came for the purpose of eating and getting drunk rather than for the purpose of honoring and carrying out the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Paul does not use the word wine here nor does he use the word strong drink. Indeed, he does not indicate at all what they were drinking except that they got drunk off it; so then we conclude it was some kind of intoxicating beverage, perhaps wine or strong drink. In any case, Paul did not use the opportunity to teach against drinking at all. He used it to teach against getting drunk, especially at the Lord’s Supper. His point was that the Lord’s Supper is not to quench a person’s hunger or thirst but rather to celebrate the Lord; therefore, they should properly eat and drink at home, before coming to the Lord’s Supper. The fact that the scriptures indicate the people got drunk off what they were drinking at the Lord’s Supper suggest that the people who attended did not believe there was anything wrong with drinking alcoholic beverages as that is what was served there unless one believes that the people brought their own food and drink. Now even if one brought their own food and drink clearly there was the expectation of sharing what the brought if needed by the poor to include sharing alcoholic drink. The major point is that Paul does not in any way say they should not have brought alcoholic drinks but rather he only warns them against getting drunk and one way to avoid getting drunk is to share the alcoholic drink with others who do not have or who do not have as much.
Paul told Timothy to drink no longer water but use a little wine for his stomach sake and his own infirmities (I Timothy 5:23). In I Timothy 5:23, the same Greek word (Strong’s Greek Concordance #3631) for wine is used as used for the wine Jesus made. Paul’s admonition to use a little wine is consistent with his admonition in Ephesians 5:18 regarding avoiding excess; Paul did not tell Timothy to drink a lot but rather to drink a little. It may be that some, like now, were telling Timothy that he must abstain from using wine for any reason. Paul sets him straight and sets us straight if we listen and get rid of our own personal preferences. Just because one person cannot control his drinking gives him or her no right to take away the right of another to do that which God says is righteous to do. So then we conclude that I Timothy 3 regarding bishops and deacons does not refer to not drinking wine at all. Instead I Timothy 3 refers to drinking responsibly if one chooses to drink at all. The phrase not given to in both I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 means do not give oneself over to wine. The Greek word, paroinos, that is translated given to wine has the sense of staying near to hence not given to wine means to not stay near to wine; it means do not be a tippler which is a habitual drinker of alcoholic liquor, one who drinks it too often or too much. It means do not be one who has to have it. It means do not let wine control you but rather you control it.
Clearly, the lesson of scripture is that it is okay to drink wine and similar alcoholic beverages for not only medical or nourishment reasons but also socially. Moreover, the lesson of scripture is don’t drink alcoholic beverages to the point of harm, mentally or physically and certainly not to the point where it endangers someone else. We should always be aware of drinks with high alcoholic content as they tend to move one past the point of godly drinking of alcoholic beverages. There is another question we should ask in determining how much is too much for each of us as individuals. That question is: When I approach people will they get the sense that I have had too much? For example, do I have a hangover or do I excessively smell of alcohol or does my behavior appear out of control or indecent? Remember as Christians we are to do our best to present and project the light and purity of Christ. Yet, we must not allow the perceptions or misunderstandings or weaknesses of others to paralyze us into not living a wholesome and complete life in the Lord (Matthew 1510-20; Romans 14). Also, in modern times where automobiles are used in contrast to walking or horse and carriage days, one should be careful not to drink to the point of putting one’s life/body or other’s life/body in danger and/or being unable to pass an alcoholic test if stopped by the police. So then all risks should be weighed when one decides to drink or not drink alcoholic beverages; yet, in the final analysis it is a personal choice of how much and what type to drink rather than whether it is righteous or unrighteous to drink at all; clearly, it is righteous if done properly for all circumstances.
Now it has been suggested that I Timothy 5:23 refers to unfermented wine or regular grape juice that Paul exhorted Timothy to take. But the use of the word little in contrast to Ephesians 5 use of the word excess suggests to me that both refer to fermented wine. In either case, my observation that it is biblically righteous to responsibly drink alcoholic beverages does not depend on whether I Timothy 5 refers to fermented or unfermented wine.
Now God sometimes directs some people to totally avoid alcoholic beverages. For example, John the Baptist was such a person (Luke 1:15). Others may choose to not drink at all. If one chooses to not drink he or she should not call it a sin when another person chooses to drink responsibly. Since it is righteous to not drink at all, it is proper for a church leader to emphasize/promote not drinking at all so long as that church leader does not call responsible drinking sinful since responsible drinking is also righteous.
Some people are unable to control their drinking. Such people should totally avoid alcoholic beverages to protect themselves, their families, and others. But some people are unable to control their eating which can endanger their health and can lead to harm to their family, and others. Yet the food itself is not the problem. Likewise, the alcohol itself is not the problem.
Children/youth should be told to avoid alcoholic beverages at least until they are adults and mature enough to properly drink if they choose to do so. They should be told this not because it is a sin but because they are not spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally mature enough to drink. It is proper for governments to pass laws against underage purchase of alcoholic beverages as well as laws against underage drinking in public areas.
In the final analysis, unless God tells a person to totally avoid alcoholic beverages or unless the person cannot control his drinking, then responsible drinking of alcoholic beverages is not a sin but an option for a person.
Human governments and communities should not pass laws that prevent the general adult population from selling and purchasing alcoholic beverages although they may place reasonable restrictions such as location and hours and require licenses in which such sales and purchasing occur in order to exercise reasonable assurance that such sales and purchases do not involve non-adults or create extreme unpleasantness. Such restrictions shall not be to the point of total denial of the right to sale and use. Stores that specialize in alcoholic beverages as well as those that do not should be allowed to engage in commerce involving alcoholic beverages since it is not sinful to drink alcohol responsibly. Biblically, it should be a matter of personal responsibility not total community imposition of preference.
Those who oppose the sale purchase, and consumption of alcohol by and to individuals who do so responsibly should present their position as a matter of personal preference rather than a matter of biblical morality. We should not impose more on people than God imposes on them. Indeed, if we do so we turn the doctrines of men into the commandments of God (Matthew 15:1-10; Colossians 2:20-23).
In all cases, we should look to the Holy Spirit to comfort and give us spiritual joy whether we drink wine or not.
Here is the bottom-line. Those who advocate complete abstinence from alcoholic beverages are usually either those who have been or are unable to control their drinking or those who are looking at those who have been or are unable to control their drinking. But that is walking by sight and not by faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Clearly, the word of God does not impose on human the restriction of completely avoiding alcoholic drinks. No one has the right to impose on another person that which God does not impose on him.
Finally, it is believed a Greek word (trux) that means unfermented grape juice was in use during biblical times. However, this word is never used in the Bible. Now the availability of this word is mere speculation. But it is also mere speculation on the part of those who say that the same Greek word in the New Testament refers to both fermented and unfermented wine; indeed, the Bible does not make any such claim as to such dual usage. Indeed, Greek scholars differ on this point as some believe in the dual usage whereas others do not.
Scriptural references involving alcoholic beverages include Deuteronomy 14:23-26; Matthew 26:26-30; Ephesians 5:15-18; Colossians 2:1-23; John 2:1-11; Luke 1:15; I Corinthians 11:20-34; Isaiah 5:22; 28:7. Others include Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34 where Jesus is accused of being a winebibber because he came “eating and drinking”.
To God Be the Glory!