What Does the Bible Really Say About Alcohol?

'Brew unto others ...'

“Here are your keys,” muttered the secretary when I arrived to pick up the keys to my office at Aberdeen University, where I would be studying for my doctorate in theology. “It looks like you’re in The Old Brewery.”

Intrigued by the name, I later found out that it reflected the building’s original function. Aberdeen was founded in the 15th century and used to train monks for ministry. In the brewery, monks brewed vast quantities of Scottish ale, which was served by the liter at mealtimes. And here I was, a post-fundamentalist Ph.D. student studying the Scriptures in a malted sanctuary where late medieval Bible college students once clapped mugs together in an act of worship.

Throughout Christian history, alcohol was rarely a taboo as it is in some circles today. John Calvin had a stipend of 250 gallons of wine per year written into his church contract. Martin Luther’s wife was a famed brewer of beer, which certainly won Martin’s heart. And the Guinness family created their renowned Irish Stout as an act of worship to Jesus. From Bordeaux to Berlin, wine and beer have always been part of church tradition. But what was once considered the nectar of heaven was later condemned as the devil’s libation.

A Smart Approach

Even though some Christians advocate for the total abstinence of alcohol as a moral mandate for all believers, the Bible never requires all believers to abstain from alcohol. It condemns drunkenness and being enslaved to wine (Ephesians 5:18; Titus 2:3), but it never says that tee-totaling is the better way to obey God. In fact, the Bible never says that abstaining from alcohol is the wisest way to avoid getting drunk. Think about it. Alcoholism has been rampant through every age, but the Bible never says that all believers should therefore refrain from drinking.

If Christians want to forbid all alcohol consumption to avoid drunkenness, then to be consistent, they should also avoid making a lot of money to guard against the crushing sin of materialism and the misuse of wealth.


If Christians want to forbid all alcohol consumption to avoid drunkenness, then to be consistent, they should also avoid making a lot of money to guard against the crushing sin of materialism and the misuse of wealth.

Alcohol as a Witness

I sometimes hear that when Christians drink, it ruins their testimony. But quite honestly, I’ve never understood this line of thinking. It’s one thing if you’ve struggled with alcoholism or are ministering in a Muslim country, but for the most part, most non-Christians I know are turned off by the arbitrary dos and don’ts created by modern Christians. I’m not convinced that if my unbelieving neighbor sees me slipping into a pub, I will lose much traction to my Gospel witness. In many cases, the Gospel will shine brighter when you break down wrong assumptions about Christianity by having a beer with your neighbor.

When we strip away all the man-made clutter that dims the Gospel, the full glory of Jesus shines much brighter. A good chunk of the dying world that’s rejected Christianity hasn’t said no to Jesus, but no to a pharisaical version of Him. Some people have been turned off by the Gospel because they’ve thought that becoming a Christ-follower meant giving up having a beer with your friends after work. If this is the “good news” we preach, then the true beauty of a crucified and risen King will become covered in the fog of a man-made, pharisaical “don’t drink” gospel. AA didn’t hang on a cross for your sins and abstaining from alcohol won’t give you resurrection life. Any Christianese, man-made, unbiblical footnotes to the gospel are actually a distraction and offense to the Gospel.

Lower Alcohol Content?

Now, some say that wine in the Bible was nothing more than grape juice and therefore neither Jesus nor the Biblical writers advocated drinking alcohol. Others say that wine was so diluted that it hardly contained any alcohol. But neither of these views can be substantiated by what the Scriptures actually say. If wine was really unfermented grape juice, then why did Paul warn the Ephesians: “Do not get drunk with grape juice, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit?” This doesn’t make sense. It is true that wine back then probably had a lower ABV than today’s stuff. But whatever the alcohol content, people were quite able to get smashed by drinking too much of it (Proverbs 20:1; Isaiah 5:11). Still, the Bible never says not to drink it.

There’s another alcoholic beverage mentioned in the Bible called “strong drink. The Hebrew word for “strong drink,” shakar, refers to fermented barley, which is why some translations call it “beer.” Shakar had an ABV of around 6-12 percent, similar to a Belgium Trippel Ale or a Double IPA. Like all alcoholic beverages, the Bible prohibits abusing beer (Isaiah 5:11; 28:7; Proverbs 20:1; 31:4). But in moderation, drinking beer was encouraged (Proverbs 31:6). In fact, Deuteronomy 14:26 actually commands Israelites to use some of their tithe money to buy some beers and celebrate before the Lord. (Ever hear that verse being read as the ushers are passing the plates?) They were also commanded to offer up two liters of beer to God six days a week and even more on the Sabbath (see Numbers 28:7-10). This is why the absence of beer (and wine) was an outcome of God’s judgment on the nation.

Wine as a Blessing

But the Bible goes further than admitting that drinking is simply allowed. Throughout Scripture, the production and consumption of beer and wine are often connected to the covenant promises of God.

Under the old covenant, wine is a blessing (Deut 7:13; 11:14) and the absence of wine a curse (28:39, 51). When Israel looked to the future, God promises to flood them wine flowing from the mountaintops (Amos 9:14; Joel 3:18) and vats brimming with fresh wine (Joel 2:19, 24).


Jesus signals the beginning of such blessings by creating an over-abundance (150 gallons) of wine at Cana (John 2:1-10). And on the eve of his death, He sanctified a cup of wine as “the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:14-23). When Christ comes back, He’ll prepare “well-aged wine” (Isaiah 25:6)—the stuff I only notice on the top shelf but can never afford—and for theological reasons it will be served, as at Cana, in abundance.

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There’s a growing tendency, however, among some younger evangelicals to celebrate their freedom without discipline.

Although a good beer and rich wine are blessings from God, they should be consumed with caution. There’s a growing tendency, however, among some younger evangelicals to celebrate their freedom without discipline. These young, restless, and slightly inebriated libertines are doing some great things for the Kingdom. They’re feeding the poor, living in community and planting authentic churches—or missional communities—all to the glory of God.

Yes, God cares about the poor; He also cares about your sobriety. Enjoying alcohol in moderation takes discipline, and many beer drinkers, I hate to say it, aren’t known for their discipline. A good glass of beer can be celebratory; it doesn’t belong in the hands of an undisciplined 16-year-old playing video games in his mom’s basement. Belgium ale is strong and complex. Savor it, sanctify it, and let it meditate on your palate. Give glory to God, not just to your thirst, when enjoying the blessings that flow from Eden. Drunkenness may not be at the top of God’s list of most heinous sins; neither should it be tossed aside as a relic of American fundamentalism.

Drinking alcohol without celebrating the Cross and Kingdom is theologically anemic. Abusing alcohol mocks the blood of Christ and scoffs at God’s holiness. But moderate, intentional, celebratory and reflective drinking of wine and beer, which contemplates the crucified and risen King and anticipates our future glory, is rooted in the grace that poured from Christ’s veins on Calvary.

Top Comments

Tyler Smith

1

Tyler Smith commented…

Some good points, but I'd be very careful with the line about comparing alcohol and money. If a Christian needs to abstain completely to prevent drunkenness, that would be a good thing. Saying that having a drink is sinful isn't Jesus like... But it's also not Jesus like to compare sins like that.

As Paul says, just because something is allowed doesn't mean it's beneficial. I rarely find drinking alcohol to ever be beneficial.

Jay

4

Jay commented…

How does one define drunkenness? The only biblical example I can think of is Noah, butt naked in his tent. I've never been THAT drunk, but I've certainly kicked back my fair share of beers on any given Saturday. How does one distinguish between "God is okay with my current level of inebriation" and "I am currently sinning?"

229 Comments

Tiffany Regan Rodriguez

5

Tiffany Regan Rodriguez commented…

It almost seems taking in a good ale is a trend, especially among the "reformed hipster" movement

Will

4

Will replied to Tiffany Regan Rodriguez's comment

I think you are making broad sweeping generalizations that are have no factual basis whatsoever.

Paula Tidwell Morris

1

Paula Tidwell Morris commented…

I know very few people who drink responsibly "in moderation". I'm a non-drinker, in my observation, alcohol destroys lives. My best friend's husband made a pass @ me because he was drinking, I have an uncle who died a premature death to alcoholism, a friend whose mother was killed by a drunken driver, a friend who "worked up" the courage to cheat on his wife with the help of alcohol, a friend whose gin drinking mother used to beat her, my drinking mother in law shot my drinking father in law....Really?? Just a lot of excuses by people who don't want to grow up & give up the booze!!

Ryan Tervo

2

Ryan Tervo replied to Paula Tidwell Morris's comment

I too have seen alcohol cause many issues in peoples lives. You know what causes even more issues though? Gluttony. I know more type 2 diabetics than I know alcoholics and the numbers aren't even close. Yet we can sit around in church and gorge ourselves on countless potluck meals and no one bats an eye, but bring up having a beer and people lose it.

Here is what everyone misunderstands when they make the point of drinking in moderation....everything in this life should be done in moderation otherwise it can have devastating consequences, so why single this one item out and then act like the people who do truly drink in moderation are evil?

Phil Cronin

3

Phil Cronin replied to Ryan Tervo's comment

When's the last time a glutton swerved and killed a bus load of children. Granted both are sins, but the comparison is short on intelligence.

Ryan Tervo

2

Ryan Tervo replied to Phil Cronin's comment

The comparison is not short on intelligence and if anything is it's a reply that relies on an insult to try to prove a point. One of the biggest issues our entire country faces is our health crisis. We have gotten so used to having everything at our fingertips that we have thrown self control out the window and we have millions with debilitating diseases and we are dying at an alarming rate due to diseases that could be avoided simply by exercising and eating a decent diet.

There are 320 million people in the US and 200 million of those are overweight and 100 million are obese. And they are dying from hypertension, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, not to mention their qualify of life is awful.

So yes, an alcoholic bus driver killing a bus full of students is obviously terrible, sad, and a true headline grabber. But millions suffering and dying of something that Christians gladly overlook and encourage and trying to sweep our crumbling societal health under the rug is incredibly serious. Also I've seen a bunch of people smoke at churches throughout my life and I've never understood why that was seemingly ok and put up with but again alcohol was vilified.

Did you know that in Ireland in the 1700's that since they didn't understand microorganisms that they polluted their own water with sewage and garbage and so everyone was dying from drinking the water. The fear climbed far enough that everyone turned to liquor to quench their thirst and this of course led to high levels of drunkenness, which is of course that moderation thing I point to. So Arthur Guinness (a Godly man), started a brewery and produced Guinness, a product which helped his people have something they could drink and not die from (like the water) and also do so without getting drunk. Guinness gave them something they could drink while they figured out how to clean their water supply. Without it Ireland might be very different today.

Does alcohol use lead to issues, like drunk driving and health issues? Yep, but again in excess. So things aren't as black and white as many Christians would lead you to believe, and my original point stands: lack of moderation and self control is the root cause of many of our ails, whether it be food gluttony, being consumed with money and greed, alcohol, being addicted to work, medications, video games, etc... even being addicted to exercise can be bad for your health. So let's not act like alcohol itself is inherently evil and sinful, we as humans are the ones that are inherently sinful and we need to learn self control and to put our faith in God and stop worrying about someone drinking a beer and pointing fingers and saying tsk tsk.

Marsha Dunn McKenney

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Marsha Dunn McKenney commented…

When I was in the world, before I surrendered my life to Jesus, I drank alcohol and all the other stuff that the world takes part in. When I received Jesus and surrendered my life to Him and became filled with His Holy Spirit, He took away those worldly desires including drinking alchohol. My question is, why would someone who has a relationship with Jesus want to consume alchohol? What does it say to people in Teen Challenge and all the Christian recovery programs, who have been addicted and whose lives and homes have been ripped apart because of it? My dad was killed because he was drunk. I grew up without a Father in my home because of alchohol. Be careful what you are giving license to by your liberal stance. You wouldn't want people to stumble because of you. We are not commanded to be like the world, but to come out from among them and be separate. They need to see a difference in the church than the world.

Phil Cronin

3

Phil Cronin replied to Marsha Dunn McKenney's comment

Good stuff. The risk outweighs their so called freedom.

Phil Cronin

3

Phil Cronin commented…

Alcohol as a witness . Really! ? Did you misplace your backbone somewhere in seminary? Just as warm and fuzzy as it must be for you to share Jesus over a cocktail I have had and seen multiple people come to Christ without a Budweiser being involved. Yet oddly enough I've seen multiple people die or get maimed from their freedom that overtook them. A small dose of common sense would do you some good on this topic.

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