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To Drink or Not to Drink? The Use of Alcoholic Beverages

To Drink or Not to Drink? The Use of Alcoholic Beverages


To drink or not to drink? – that is the question. Although drunkenness is directly forbidden by God, yet wine itself was used in the Bible. Almost every society today has a drinking problem. The subject of drinking alcoholic beverages is an important and confusing issue in the contemporary church. Should a Christian drink alcoholic beverages? Does the Bible say anything to help answer this crucial question? Some say that a Christian should not drink and others take a contrary view. Others say a Christian can drink moderately especially since the Bible commented on characters who drank wine. However, an attempt is made to resolve this issue by studying some Biblical principles.


Generally wine could be defined as the fermented juice of grapes. It is first mentioned in Scriptures when Noah became intoxicated after the Flood (Gen. 9:20:21). Wine is a common commodity in Hebrew life and was regularly included in summaries of agricultural products (Gen. 27:28; II Kin. 18:32; Jer.31:12). It is observed that “sometimes the juice from the grapes was served in an unfermented state, but generally it was bottled after fermentation” (Lockyer 1986, 1101).

Wine as part of Offering

Wine formed part of several offerings such as liquid (Lev.23:13), the burnt and freewill offerings (Num.15:4). The latter required one-fourth of a hin of win. The sacrifice of a ram was accompanied by a hin of wine (Num.15:6-7). In the temple organization set up by David, Levites were appointed to supervise these wine offerings (I Chr. 9:29).

Wine as food

Wine was offered by the old man of Gibeah to the traveling Levite (Jud. 19:19). Jesse sent David with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat as a present when Goliath was frightening the Philistines (I Sam.16:20). Abigail brought David two skins of wine (I Sam.25:18).
Ziba brought David wine as he fled from Absalom (II Sam.16:1-2). Wine was on the list of supplies that the Persians furnished the captive Hebrew people when they returned to Jerusalem (Ezra 6:9; 7:22).

Wine as medicine

Wine was used as medicine. It was said recommended “for those who become exhausted in the wilderness” (II Sam.16:2) and could serve as a sedative for people in distress (Prov. 31:6). It could be mixed with a drug (Matt. 27:34; Mk. 15:23). When the Good Samaritan found a beaten man on the side of the road, he “went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine, and set on him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Luke 10:34).
It is evident from the foregoing that the Samaritan poured wine on the wounds of the injured traveler. The apostle Paul charged Timothy, “drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (I Timothy 5:23).

Wine in memoriam

Wine was also used when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26 and instructed His followers to keep this ordinance in remembrance of Him.

Wine as enslavement

Wine often enslaved the heart (Hos.4:11). The prophets accused Israel of being overcome with wine (Is.28:1), of drinking wine by bowlfuls (Amos 6:6) and of wanting prophets who spoke of wine (Mic.2:11). Leaders were interested in drinking and were not concerned about the ruin of the country (Is. 5:11-12; 22:12). The list of those drunken with wine in the Bible begins with Noah and includes Lot, Nabal and Ammon (Gen.9:21; 1 Sam.25:36-37; II Sam.13:28).


This is a drugged or deranged condition which results from drinking intoxicating beverages (I Cor.5:11; 6:10; Eph.5:18). Drunkenness regularly appears in lists of vices in the New Testament (Luke 21:34; Gal.5:21). The dangers of drunkenness are abundantly recognized in the Bible (Prov.20:1; 23:29-35). Lot committed incest with his two daughters when he was under the influence of alcohol. Paul admonished his readers to be filled with the Holy Spirit rather than with wine (Eph.5:18).


Since the use of wine is a crucial contemporary issue, there are certain principles that may apply to this thorny problem. Christians who drink point out that wine was commended in the Bible and assume it is therefore acceptable today. If drinking in biblical times is to be used as the basis for drinking today, the wine today should be the same as the wine used then. This deserves careful analysis.

A. Some Biblical words for wine

i. Oinos/Yayin

The most common word in the New Testament for wine is the Greek word oinos. It is a general word that simply refers to the fermented juice of the grape. The Old Testament equivalent to the Greek word oinos is yayin, the root of which means to ‘bubble up’ or ‘boil up’. It is believed that yayin, at least in the rabbinic period, was diluted with water.

ii. Gleukos/Tirosh

The Greek word gleukos – from which we get the English word glucose, means ‘new wine’. It is used in Acts 2:13 to refer to the apostles on the day of Pentecost. It says that they were ‘full of new wine’. Although it was comparatively fresh and not yet fully aged, it was potentially intoxicating. The mockers in Acts 2:13 were accusing the apostles of being drunk. The Old Testament word for new wine is tirosh. Hosea 4:11 says “wine (yayin) and new wine (tirosh) take away the heart”. Drunkenness is the result of drinking this new wine.

iii. Sikera/Shakar

The Old Testament word for strong drink is shaker, a term that eventually became restricted to intoxicants other than wine. This refers to unmixed wine. The New Testament equivalent is the Greek word sikera.

B. Historical data regarding wine

1. Unfermented wine

Wine was often boiled until the liquid evaporated (as a result of refrigeration problems in ancient times), leaving behind a thick, unintoxicating paste that stored well. It was somewhat similar to modern grape jelly. The people would spread it on bread like a jam, and some still do today in the Middle East. It is suggested that wine “was brought to the city in skins and sold in the public markets. He said it had the appearance of a coarse honey” (Russell 1894, 26). The wine that was consumed in biblical times was not what we know as wine today. Most was more of a concentrated grape juice with its intoxicating properties basically removed. One cannot defend wine-drinking today on the basis of wine-drinking in Bible times because the two are totally different.

2. Fermented wine

a. The procedure

Incontrovertibly, wine stored as a liquid, however, would ferment. The pure, unmixed wine would be drawn out of these jugs and poured into large bowls called kraters, where it was mixed with water. From these kraters, it would then be poured into kylix or cups. It is generally observed that historical studies that “wine would never be served directly from the amphora without first being mixed. And according to other historical data on this period, the mixture could be as high as a 20:1 ratio or lower than 1:1” (Stein 1975, 10).

b. The present

From the foregoing, the researcher wishes to submit the following line of reasoning. Beer has approximately 4{7a91aedbb34ebc851819fd6521dffcfe6a47a2ef283d742fb64b681c8e26aeda} alcohol, wine 9-11{7a91aedbb34ebc851819fd6521dffcfe6a47a2ef283d742fb64b681c8e26aeda}, brandy 15-20{7a91aedbb34ebc851819fd6521dffcfe6a47a2ef283d742fb64b681c8e26aeda} and hard liquor 40-50{7a91aedbb34ebc851819fd6521dffcfe6a47a2ef283d742fb64b681c8e26aeda}. Unmixed wine in biblical times measured at approximately 9-11{7a91aedbb34ebc851819fd6521dffcfe6a47a2ef283d742fb64b681c8e26aeda}. Mixed wine, at a 3:1 ratio, would therefore be between 2:25 – 2.75{7a91aedbb34ebc851819fd6521dffcfe6a47a2ef283d742fb64b681c8e26aeda}. By today’s standards, a drink has to exceed 3.2{7a91aedbb34ebc851819fd6521dffcfe6a47a2ef283d742fb64b681c8e26aeda} to be considered an alcoholic beverage. It is argued that “the wine they consumed was either completely non-alcoholic or sub-alcoholic by today’s standards. To become drunk with wine in those days you would have to drink all day” (MacArthur 2004). That is why the Bible commands elders in the church not be addicted to much wine (I Tim.3:3). With such a low alcoholic content, you would have to purpose to become drunk. Drinking wine today is therefore not necessarily the same as in Bible times. In any case, if wine drinking was a past necessity, it is a preference today. There are a variety of non-alcoholic beverages in many parts of the world today. In our contemporary society, drinking alcohol is simply and only a preference. Wine today is not necessarily mixed with water and can be very intoxicating. The wine people mostly drank during Bible times was mixed with generous amounts of water and was largely intoxicating. The researcher believes that these considerations must be considered by the Christians. The Bible also gives examples of people in positions of spiritual authority that abstained from alcohol (Lev.10:8-11); Jud.13:3-4; Luke 1:14-15).

The Bible condemns drunkenness and drinking is forbidden when it causes a fellow believer to stumble (Rom.14:1-23; I Cor.8:9-13). Is one’s drinking causing another to stumble? One must evaluate these preceding passages to determine if another will eventually stumble. Realistically, this is what is happening. Many people justify drinking by quoting other Christians, especially those in authority, who drink.

The Bible warns the Christian to abstain from every form or appearance of evil (I Thes. 5:22). Indubitably, drunkenness is evil and since the only way one can get drunk from modern day wine is by drinking it, the principle of abstaining is a realistic suggestion for the sober Christian. Discussing the issue of prevention, it is argued that ministers of the Gospel are the only care-giving professionals who have daily and weekly access to the members of the congregation or parish.

According to Apthorp, “it is clear our most useful and effective ministry will be in preventive maintenance. The goal, therefore, is to stop the problem before it starts, by enabling God’s people to make responsible decisions… Prevention is primary” (1985, 38).

This advice is meaningful if one considers that “according to national (U.S.A.) statistics, there are 9 to 10 million alcoholics in this country – men, women and teenagers who cannot control their drinking or the effect it has on their lives” (Hawthorm 1980, 245).


There are varying degrees of drunkenness but one cannot profess to know where that fine line is for everyone. However, one becomes drunk whenever one yields control of the senses to alcohol. The Bible condemns drunkenness. A Christian is advised against its consequences (see Gal. 5:19-21; Rom.13:13; I Cor. 6:9-10; I Pet.4:3; I Thes.5:6-7; Prov.23:20, 29-35; 31:6-7; Is. 5:11; Is.28:7-8; Lev.10:9; Is.56:11-12 ; Hos.4:11). Although the issue of drinking is controversial in modern times, “there is no biblical justification for the heavy liquor traffic of modern times” (Lockyer 1986, 1102). In modern times drinking “excites fleshly lust; and to wallow with delight in the mire of sensuality, a man, created in the image of God, must first brutalize himself by intoxication” (Delitzch 1970, 120). As temples of the Holy Spirit, every Christian is expected to help his brother/sister to grow rather than serving like the Pharisees who were stumbling blocks. A Christian therefore should abstain from alcoholic beverages.


Apthorp. Stephen P. 1985. Alcohol and Substance Abuse: A Clergy Handbook. Wilton: Morehouse- Barlow.

Delitzch, Franz. 1970. Biblical Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon, Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Hawthorn, Madalyn. 1980. The ABC’s of a Drunkard’s Life. Ohio: Deckard Publishing Company.

Illustrated Dictionary and Concordance of the Bible. 1986. Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Publishing House Ltd.

Lockyer, Herbert. 1986. Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. New York: Guideposts.

MacArthur, John. 2004. Be Not Drunk With Wine, Part 2. Available [online] [http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/sq1937.htm]. Accessed 3rd October 2004.

Russell, A. 1894. Natural History of Aleppo. London: G.G. and J. Robinson.

Stein, Robert. 1975. Wine-drinking in New Testament Times, Christianity Today, 4(2): 9-11.