What does God say about alcohol?
For millions of Christians, and other religions, in the world today, alcohol is forbidden. Their religious leaders claim that God condemns the use of alcohol, as a sin. Many of them use the Bible as their authority. Are they right? Does the Bible actually condemn the consumption of alcohol and, are there other indulgences and dangers that believers are warned of?
All through the Bible, we find accounts of people drinking wine, to a lesser or larger degree. Some characters, including God-fearing ones such as Noah and Uriah, actually got drunk. This is not, however, an endorsement of drunkenness. Many events recorded in the Bible are clearly negative and contrary to God's standards but, they are there as part of the historical narrative of God's people, demonstrating the successes and failures, and as warning examples of behaviour that is acceptable or unacceptable to God. The fact that faithful men could succumb to such weaknesses simply underlines a fundamental Biblical truth, namely that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23).
Few would deny that the Bible condemns drunkenness. However the Bible tells us that God's instructions are there, not to limit our freedom but, “To benefit yourselves” (Isaiah 48.17). The Bible gives reasons why those that want to serve God should avoid drunkenness. It warns of the physical, mental, and economical damage drunkenness inflicts (Proverbs 23.21, 29-35), and also that, in the drunken state, a person would not be able to approach God because a worshipper should not be “Enslaved to a lot of wine” or “Brought under the authority of anything” (Titus 2.3, 1 Corinthians 6.12). Drunkenness and alcoholism make a person a slave to alcohol and they become dependent on it. It defiles the body organs and the clear thinking faculties of the mind and, consequently, interferes with a person's relationship with God. After all, who of us mere humans can tolerate a companion that is drunk or alcoholic? How then can God, who is holy, befriend such a person?
But, is all alcohol consumption in general wrong? It has been pointed out by others that Jesus provided wine for a wedding by miraculous means but, many people argue that this was not wine but simply a juice. To prove that this is not the case, note the words of the wedding steward who thanked Jesus for the wine. He said that, normally, the cheaper wine is kept till last, until the guests are “intoxicated.” Real, alcoholic wine was being served and, when it ran out, Jesus provided a fresh supply of superior alcoholic wine.
Also, consider another occasion recorded in the Bible where Jesus is passing around, and drinking wine at his last supper. The gospel says “Jesus took a cup and, having given thanks, he gave it to them, saying: “Drink out of it, all of you; for this means my blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out in behalf of many for forgiveness of sins. But I tell you, I will by no means drink henceforth any of this product of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father” (Matthew 26.27). Could it have been just grape juice? Consider the time of year that this event took place, Ni'san, which corresponds to late March/early April on our modern calendar. This is the spring, a time of sewing, not harvesting. Anyone who knows about agriculture knows that all fruits, including grapes, are harvested in the Autumn (the fall). Fruits, including grapes and juice, have a very limited “shelf life,” especially in a warm climate such as the Middle East. Grape juice would only last a few weeks at most, if it were kept cool. After that, it would deteriorate and go mouldy. By the end of the year, when all harvesting is long finished, any juices and fruits have been used or have perished. So the “wine” used by Jesus at the Passover meal could not have been simply grape juice, it had to be real, fermented wine.
Furthermore, in Jesus illustration about the kingdom of heaven being like good new wine put into old skin bottles, it is the continuing act of fermentation which causes the bottle skins to burst. Jesus was using real wine in his illustration.
At Luke 7.33, 34 Jesus says to His hosts "John the Baptist came, and he fasted and drank no wine, and you said, "He has a demon in him!'
The Son of Man came, and he ate and drank, and you said, "Look at this man! He is a glutton and wine drinker, a friend of tax collectors and other outcasts!' But why would they accuse Jesus of being a "Wine drinker" if all He was drinking was grape juice? Jesus drank wine, but He did not get drunk.
If any doubt remains that wine (and alcohol in general), is not condemned by God, there are more scriptures which prove it conclusively. The 104th Psalm lists God's gifts to humans and includes “Wine that makes the hearts of mortal men rejoice.” Simple, unfermented grape juice does not “Make the heart rejoice.”
In Deuteronomy, God give instructions to his people on how to survive when they travel long distances to Jerusalem for the passover and other festivals. He tells them, “You must also give the money for whatever your soul may crave in the way of cattle and sheep and goats and wine and intoxicating liquor and anything that your soul may ask of you; and you must eat there before Jehovah your God, you and your household” (Deuteronomy 14.26).
Closely linked to drunkenness in the Bible is gluttony. The Hebrew word for “glutton”, zoh·lel′, as used in the scriptures, gives the basic sense of “Be lavish,” that is, wasteful. Proverbs 23.21 warns “A drunkard and a glutton will come to poverty.” Though alcohol is a target for condemnation by many religious leaders, they fail to maintain the same vigilance on the serious sin of gluttony, overindulgence in food and soft drinks. Considering the fact that Obesity has become a modern epidemic in countries like the USA and Britain, it might be appropriate for religious instructors to give as much of their attention to this self-destructive habit as they do alcohol. Many people in the western world endanger their lives and their family's welfare by overeating and overdrinking. Both drunkenness and gluttony are forms of abuse of our wonderful human body, which is a gift from our creator.
Whatever reasons religious leaders may give for condemning the moderate use of alcohol for Christians (or any other sincere worshippers), they cannot use the Bible. Neither can any religion that relies on, or quotes the Bible as part of it's sacred scriptures.