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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Alcohol and the Old Testament

Wrong Uses of Wine
All Christians agree that drunkenness is a sin. The Bible is replete with commands and warnings against the abuse of alcohol.

Do not mix with winebibbers,
Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;
For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty
(Proverbs 23:20-21).

Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
That they may follow intoxicating drink;
Who continue until night, till wine inflames them!
(Isaiah 5:11).

Woe to men mighty at drinking wine,
Woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink
(Isaiah 5:22).

Many other passages condemn drunkenness. Prohibitionists, abstentionists, and moderationists all agree that drunkenness is a sin.

The Godly Use of Wine

Yet, the condemnation of the abuse of wine does not entail a condemnation of all uses of wine. Rather, God says many positive things about wine. Most who oppose the Christian use of wine do not reckon with how the Bible endorses the proper use of alcohol.

Wine is a Gift of God
The Psalmist sings that God wants us to enjoy wine.

He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
And vegetation for the service of man,
That he may bring forth food from the earth,
And wine that makes glad the heart of man,
Oil to make his face shine,
And bread which strengthens man’s heart.
(Psalm 104:14-15).

This is one of the most positive statements about wine that God has made. Just as God provides the conditions that allow man to cultivate food and oil, so God provides the conditions that allow man to produce wine. Wine is a gift from God to man.

Notice, too, that wine is given to make our hearts glad. It is virtuous, godly, and righteous to enjoy the warmth that a glass of wine gives. Feeling some of the effects of alcohol is not the same as drunkenness.

Those who argue against the righteous use of wine are rejecting one of God’s good gifts. This passage alone ought to be enough to cause abstentionists to pause. If we take God’s word literally, then we will not shrink from believing this passage. Alcohol is a gift from God.

Wine is a Gift to God
God commands wine to be given as an offering to himself.

Now this is what you shall offer on the altar … with the one lamb shall be one-tenth of an ephah of flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of pressed oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine [approximately one quart] as a drink offering (Exodus 29:38-40).

Its grain offering shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to Yahweh, for a sweet aroma; and its drink offering shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin [one quart] (Leviticus 23:13).

And one-fourth of a hin of wine as a drink offering you shall prepare with the burnt offering or the sacrifice, for each lamb … and as a drink offering you shall offer one-third of a hin of wine as a sweet aroma to Yahweh … and you shall bring as the drink offering half a hin of wine [two quarts] as an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to Yahweh (Numbers 15:5, 7, 10).

God demands that nothing unclean or unholy can ever to be offered to him. Yet, God also commands Israel to regularly include wine in their offerings. Therefore, it is impossible that wine is inherently unclean or unholy. God was pleased when Israel gave wine to him as a gift.

Look at what God also commanded as an offering:

And its drink offering shall be one-fourth of a hin for each lamb; in a holy place you shall pour out the strong drink to Yahweh as an offering (Numbers 28:7).

God commands not only wine, but also strong drink as an offering. Again, it is inconceivable that God would allow something sinful to be poured out on his holy altar. God was pleased to receive alcohol from Israel as an offering.

Wine is a Blessing
Isaac blessed Jacob, praying for plenty of wine:

Therefore may God give you
Of the dew of heaven,
Of the fatness of the earth,
And plenty of grain and wine.
(Genesis 27:28).

Throughout Israel’s history, God promised an abundance of wine for faithful obedience:

Honor Yahweh with your possessions,
And with the firstfruits of all your increase;
So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine.
(Proverbs 3:9).

Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that Yahweh your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you (Deuteronomy 7:12-13).

As a reward for faithful obedience, God also commanded Israel to purchase not only wine, but also strong drink, which was even more alcoholic than wine.

And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or strong drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before Yahweh your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household (Deuteronomy 14:26).

The abundance of wine and strong drink is a sign of godliness and blessing. Indeed, God promised an abundance of wine for those returning from exile:

“Behold, the days are coming,” says Yahweh,
“When the plowman shall overtake the reaper,
And the treader of grapes him who sows seed;
The mountains shall drip with sweet wine,
And all the hills shall flow with it.
I will bring back the captives of My people Israel;
They shall build the waste cities and inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them (Amos 9:13-14).

Wine is a also part of the great eschatological feast:

And in this mountain Yahweh of hosts will make for all people A feast of choice pieces, A feast of wines on the lees, Of fat things full of marrow, Of well-refined wines on the lees (Isaiah 25:6).

An abundance of wine is one of the signs of blessing that God graciously promised throughout Scripture. God would never tell his people that wine is a blessing, if it were actually a curse or sinful or foolish.

The Absence of Wine
The absence of wine is always regarded negatively, as a sign of the absence of God. For example, God threatens to curse Israel by preventing them from drinking their wine:

But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you … You shall plant vineyards and tend them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them (Deuteronomy 28:15, 39).

As a further curse, God threatened that foreigners would drink Israel’s wine:

Yahweh has sworn by His right hand And by the arm of His strength: “Surely I will no longer give your grain As food for your enemies; And the sons of the foreigner shall not drink your new wine, For which you have labored (Isaiah 62:8).

Just as God promises an abundance of wine as a blessing for faithfulness, so God also promises the removal of wine as a curse for unfaithfulness.

In Scripture, prohibition is a curse, the result of disobedience. Those who object to the use of wine on the grounds that it is inherently evil, and that its use is sinful, should pause to consider the fact that they are declaring to be a curse that which God has declared to be a blessing, and a blessing that which God has declared to be a curse. This is a grievous error.

Wine is a Symbol of the Gospel
Isaiah uses wine as a symbol of the gospel:

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price (Isaiah 55:1).

It would incongruous for God to use wine as a symbol of the gospel and yet prohibit his people from enjoying it. The consistent testimony of the Old Testament is that wine is a gift and a blessing and is to be enjoyed by God’s people.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Alcohol Content of Wine in the Bible

Those who oppose the Christian use of alcohol often argue that the alcohol content of wine in Bible plays an essential role in determining whether the use of alcohol is permissible for Christians.

Two Kinds of Wine in the Bible?

The Scriptures mention “wine” over two hundred times, both in positive and negative contexts. Some Christians have used this positive/negative distinction to argue that the Bible is speaking of two different kinds of wine.

When the Bible speaks positively of wine, then this is referring to “wine” as non-alcoholic grape juice. When the Bible speaks negatively of wine, then this is referring to “wine” as alcoholic wine.

This argument was very popular among prohibitionists, particularly those that led the Temperance Movement. The advantage of this position is that it seems as though one is able to account for all of the Scriptures.

However, the alleged distinction between alcoholic wine and non-alcoholic grape juice does not exist in the Bible. The Bible uses the same word for wine in both positive and negative aspects.

The positive/negative distinction has to do with the use/abuse of alcohol. When the Bible speaks positively of wine, this is referring to the moderate use of alcohol. When the Bible speaks negatively of wine, this is referring to the abuse of alcohol, or drunkenness.

Was Wine Heavily Diluted?

Some Christians maintain that the wine in the Bible was almost non-alcoholic. It is argued that all wine in ancient times was filtered and dried into a paste, which was then mixed with water. Thus, small amounts of alcohol were present in wine, but the wine was so diluted as to minimize the intoxicating effects. The alcohol that was used was strictly for preservation purposes.

According to this view, the Bible does not prohibit the use of wine, provided we understand wine to be heavily diluted so that it was basically grape juice with only enough alcohol to preserve the grape juice from spoiling.

In our day, we have purified water, pasteurized grape juice, and refrigeration. There is no need to rely upon alcohol as a preservative. Thus, Christians should abstain from beverages that have a significant alcohol content, which would include all of our modern beers, wines, and liquors. This is the argument of many abstentionists.

This particular abstentionist argument demands that all wine was heavily diluted. While dilution was certainly used in some circumstances, this was far from the universal practice. The Biblical admonitions against drunkenness should suffice to prove that not everyone was diluting. Obviously, at least some people were getting a hold of the real thing and becoming drunk. If all “wine” was so low in alcohol content, then one would have to consume gallons and gallons to get drunk.

Moreover, this low-alcohol content argument has no support in historical scholarship. Virtually every scholar agrees that the alcohol content of wine during Biblical times was usually between 5-20%, which is enough to intoxicate.

Ironically, one popular abstentionist argues that the burden of proof should fall on those who claim that Biblical wine contained alcohol. This bold claim is precisely the opposite of reality. The burden of proof always falls on those who are against the consensus of historical scholarship. Such abstentionists have failed to prove that dilution was the universal practice.

Furthermore, many Biblical texts become silly or meaningless if they refer to non-alcoholic grape juice. Would the Shulamite have said to Solomon, “Your love is better than grape juice” (Song of Songs 1:2)?

If wine was super-diluted, why did the good Samaritan pour grape juice on the wounds of the man going to Jericho (Luke 10:34)? Why did Paul counsel Timothy to drink a little grape juice for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23)?

If wine was basically grape juice, then the weaker brother argument is pointless (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8). Why would anyone object to the consumption of grape juice? No one’s faith is threatened by grace juice.

The wine of the Bible had to have been alcoholic. Alcohol can intoxicate, clean wounds, and heal stomach troubles. Grape juice does none of these things.

Is Alcohol Sinful?

Those who argue that some or all of the wine in the Bible was non-alcoholic or low-alcoholic are operating from a presupposition: alcohol is sinful. Both prohibitionists and abstentionists read the Scriptures through this presupposition.

However, material things are not sinful. Sin does not reside in objects, but in the human heart. Sin comes from the misuse of God’s gifts, not the godly use of God’s gifts. As we will see in the next chapter, alcohol is a gift from God. There is a godly and moderate use of alcohol.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Alcohol and the Bible

Although not all Dispensationalists are opposed to alcohol, many are among the more vociferous challengers to the Christian use of alcohol. So, I will be posting this series called "Alcohol and the Bible." Cheers!

The use of alcohol among Christians is one of the more controversial issues of the last two centuries, particularly within American churches. Three main positions were forged:

Prohibitionists hold that Scripture strictly forbids Christians from consuming wine and alcohol. Thus, the use of alcohol is a sin.

Abstentionists argue that Scripture does not explicitly forbid the consumption of wine and alcohol. However, Christians should refrain from most uses of alcohol.

Moderationists teach that Scripture endorses the enjoyment of alcohol as a good gift from God. Moderate use of alcohol is permissible; drunkenness is not.

In this study, we will argue for the moderation view while exploring two core issues: alcohol in the Bible and alcohol in recent church history.