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What does the Bible say about drinking?

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
May 25, 2012 at 12:25 a.m.
Updated May 26, 2012 at 12:26 a.m.


Alcohol consumption is mentioned in the Bible more than 200 times, referring to wine and other stronger drinks.

Many scriptural references of wine and drinking are positive, even condoning, while others are neutral, or cautionary.

In some evangelical Christian denominations, drinking alcohol may be understood theologically, or culturally, as sinful. However, Catholics, Orthodox and other Anglican-based Protestant denominations, such as Anglicans, Lutherans and Presbyterians, for example, may include alcohol in church services or recreational activities.

So, what does the Bible say about the consumption of alcohol? Is it forbidden entirely, or is drinking acceptable for practicing Christians?

Dr. Erik Thoennes, professor of biblical and theological studies and Department of Theology chairman at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., said the consumption of alcohol alone, is not forbidden in Holy Scriptures.

"Consumption itself is not sinful. It certainly forbids drunkenness and encourages you to abstain from anything that causes a brother to sin against their own conscience. But I could argue that jelly doughnuts have killed more than alcohol," Thoennes said.

Thoennes said the cultural taboo of drinking in the Christian church is relatively new, taking shape in the early 1900s with evangelist, and former professional baseball player, Billy Sunday. Yet, in European countries, Christians of all stripes are more lenient with consumption.

"European Christians will drink much more than ours, but Europeans are better at drinking in moderation," Thoennes said. "It is highly likely Jesus drank, and almost everyone in the Bible must have, at least, had wine."

Biblical examples of positive drinking:

  1. John 2:7-11: Jesus' first miracle, turning the water into wine at a wedding.

  2. Psalm 9:7: "Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do."

  3. Isaiah 25:6: "On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine, the best of meats and the finest of wines.

  4. Jeremiah 31:12: "They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord - the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more."

Biblical examples of negative drinking:

  1. Ephesians 5:18: "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit."

  2. Proverbs 23:21: "For drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.

  3. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: "Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived ... thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

  4. 1 Timothy 3:1-4: "Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach ... not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money."

Reasons for drinking in biblical times:

  1. Water sanitation - Fermented drinks were often consumed in ancient times because they were more sanitary than available water, which was not filtered, and may contain bacteria.

  2. Socially acceptable - It was a normal occurrence for men and women to drink at weddings and during meals.

  3. Availability - Fermented drinks were often more available than clean water, and stayed fresher for a longer period of time.

  4. Health/medical - Paul instruct's Timothy in 1 Timothy 5 to drink wine for his stomach ailments.

What some local pastors think:

The Rev. Dave King, John Wesley United Methodist Church

"I don't drink. It blurs my connection with God. But that's just my experience. I don't condemn anyone who does. The Methodists do not serve wine in the Methodist church, we use grape juice, so that people who do have a problem with alcohol wouldn't be compelled to stumble. But in the Methodist church, we believe that everything in moderation is OK. Enjoy good food in moderation. Enjoy a glass of wine in moderation. Don't go to any great extreme."

The Rev. Jon Carmona,Jerusalem Family Praise Center (Pentecostal):

"The Pentecostal position is definitely against any alcohol consumption. They believe any alcohol consumption is evil. Personally, I think there's a difference between drinking and getting drunk. From what I read, Scripture condemns drunkenness, not drinking. But as a denomination, they believe drinking is sinful. But I think a lot of it has to do with culture. When you come into the Western mindset, drinking alcohol can be seen as much more sinful.

The Rev. Mike Hurt, Parkway Church (Baptist):

"I think the Bible is clear that drunkenness is out of line, but the responsible use of alcohol is allowable for those that don't have addiction in their past, or for those that don't take it too far. But I would follow that with saying ... it's permissible, but isn't always beneficial."

The Rev. Dimitri Cozby, All Saints Orthodox Mission:

"We have no objection to the consumption of alcohol per se. It's mentioned in the Scriptures, even with our Lord turning the water into wine. But we can take something of God's provision and turn it into wrong use. The problems arise when we use those things in the wrong way. Alcohol in itself is not viewed as sinful. It's like food. Food is a blessing, we need it to live, but if we stuff ourselves to obesity, it's our misuse of it that is sinful. And we have a tendency to misuse everything - that's why Christ came."

Rev. John Woods, Northside Baptist Church

"The opinion that Baptists, in general, have about alcohol continues to change as Baptists as a group try to move away from legalism and towards a more grace-centered approach to faith. So, right now in the Baptist world, there's no consensus of alcohol consumption. The Bible does not tell us to avoid alcohol, it tells us to avoid drunkenness. As people who follow Christ, we're called in everything we do to point people to Christ, whether it's what we're eating, or drinking, saying, or thinking. It all has to be centered on Christ."

SOURCE: Biblegateway.com; Dr. Erik Thoennes, professor of biblical and theological studies and Department of Theology Chairman at Biola University; Rev. John Woods, Northside Baptist Church; Rev. Dimitri Cozby, All Saints Orthodox Mission; Rev. Mike Hurt, Parkway Church; Rev. Dave King, John Wesley United Methodist Church.

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