Monday, November 26, 2007

Alcohol and the New Testament

Jesus, Peter, and Paul condemn drunkenness and the abuse of alcohol.

But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly (Luke 21:34).

For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles--when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries (1 Peter 4:3).

And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

The abuse of wine and drunkenness are explicitly condemned in the New Testament, as well as in the Old Testament. However, one never finds any hint that the godly use of wine is prohibited.

Jesus Drank Alcohol

Jesus drank enough wine that some people accused him of being a drunkard:

For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a winebibber [drunkard], a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Luke 7:33-34).

Jesus is drawing a parallel between himself and John the Baptist. The Jewish leaders condemned John for being an ascetic, for not eating bread and for not drinking wine.

Jesus was condemned for the exact opposite, for eating much bread and for drinking much wine. Jesus shocked the Jewish leaders by not only befriending sinners, but also by eating and drinking alcohol with them.

This passage ought to give pause to those who argue that we should abstain from alcohol for the sake of avoiding “any appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Jesus never sinned. He avoided all appearances of evil, yet he also drank alcohol. Let us not try to be holier than Jesus.

Jesus Made Alcohol

Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine, creating 120-180 gallons of wine. This not “new wine,” but fine-aged wine:

And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” (John 2:10).

Jesus’ first miracle not only testified to his deity, but it also announced the return from exile. Remember that throughout the Old Testament, the abundance of wine is a symbol of blessing. By creating a massive amount of wine, Jesus provided a vivid picture of the return of blessing. The kingdom of God was being established, and Jesus’ first miracle proclaimed this fact. There is wine! There is much wine! There is much fine-aged wine! Ho! Everyone who thirsts! Come! This miracle was an announcement and an invitation into the kingdom of God.

Wine and the Lord’s Supper
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he says that the cup symbolically represents his blood:

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28).

Notice that the contents of the cup are not in doubt:

But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:27-29).

The cup contained the “fruit of the vine,” which is an obvious reference to wine. Some prohibitionists and abstentionists argue that this was non-alcoholic grape juice. While this may seem possible, no scholar takes this claim seriously.

Furthermore, the early church used wine in their celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you (1 Corinthians 11:20-22).

Paul berates the Corinthians for getting drunk while celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Notice, though, that Paul does not tell them to remove the alcohol from the Lord’s Supper. He condemns them for abusing alcohol, not for the mere use of alcohol.

As Jesus, his disciples, and the apostolic church all used wine in the Lord’s Supper, so we ought also to use wine in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. If we remove wine from the Lord’s Supper, then we are removing a sign of blessing.

The communion cup is supposed to be a cup of blessing:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16).

In the Bible, prohibition is a curse. The church that prohibits wine from the communion cup is self-imposing a curse upon what is supposed to be a blessing.


Garrett said...

Hi Eric,

You know, interestingly, my Gospels prof in seminary, Dan Doriani, was insistent that John 2:10 should be rendered "and when they have been made drunk." I have to concur with that as the particular verb, "methuskomai" means to become intoxicated/drunk and appears as a subjunctive aorist 3rd person passive. In fact, "methuskomai" makes another appearance in a negative sense in Ephesians 5:18 where it appears as a 2nd person plural imperative: Do not get drunk (methuskesthe) on wine."

The implications from the action of Jesus in creating more wine for these jolly folks is stunning. Perhaps we need a category for what Jack Collins calls a "holy buzz."

Eric Adams said...

Wow! I never looked at the Greek of John 2:10. Stunning implications, indeed. Good thing Jesus made non-alcoholic grape juice.

journey said...


So if communion is supposed to be wine, why is it that some presby churches split the communion into grape juice and wine?

Based on Jesus' institution of the Lord's Supper with wine, isn't using anything else capitulating to the weaker or legalistic brother in the Lord's Supper?

Brad said...

Thank you for your analysis, but there are some holes in your thinking. First, not all "wine" was intoxicating. Writers of Antiquity talk about the process for preserving grape juice in its non-intoxicating form, but they called it "wine" since it was from the "vine". So, how can you know for sure that the "wine" spoken of is intoxicating in the above passages? For example, how do you know that the "wine" Jesus created was intoxicating? It was "better" than the first wine, which probably means it was sweeter, and LESS intoxicating than the first or not intoxicating at all. Plus, these people were still at least sober enough to tell the difference, right? Not quite the drunken stupor that is usually envisioned.
Second, Just because Jesus drank "wine" doesn't mean that the wine was intoxicating. John the Baptist drank NO wine and people crticized him. Jesus did drink some type of "wine" and he also is criticized in the opposite extreme. This does not mean he was a drunkard, but rather that he did not make the decision to abstain from ALL "wine." Lastly, the 1 Cor. 11 warning about "wine" was that one is hungry while another is "well-drunk" or full of wine. Certainly IF it is alcoholic wine, he would be intoxicated, but that is an assumption and NOT a direct denotation of the passage. Paul doesn't say one is sober and the other drunk, he says one is HUNGRY and the other is drunk (or FULL) Not necessarily intoxicated. Also, there are plenty of "scholars" that do NOT assume that all wine is alcoholic and intoxicating. Any scholar worth his salt would know that both non-intoxicating and intoxicating wine were prevalent in ancient times.

Eric Adams said...

Brad, it's special pleading to argue that Jesus drank grape juice, but that the warnings against drunkenness refer to alcohol. And, who are these "Writers of Antiquity"? Name three.

Karen Alexander said...

“And 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,”
‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭14:26‬ ‭KJV‬‬

Watchman & Watchwoman said...

Why do some people think Jesus made grape juice and not wine? How they think grape juice was preserved? In a refrigerator? People, the word in Ancient Greek was WOINOS, whence we got the word wine. Drinking welches grape juice cocktail for the Communion is blasphemy. It just says don't be a drunkard in the Bible. GOD bless.