Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Does Grape Juice Offend You?

I am on the verge of doing some hardcore studying regarding the ethics of alcohol in the Christian life, and the Bible's teaching on whether alcohol is alright. This will probably manifest itself in the form of (hopefully) in-depth blog-posts here at Bring the Books. What I wanted to do today was comment on what I believe is an extremely potent argument that Christians are permitted to drink alcoholic wine. As iron sharpens iron, perhaps some input could help me to understand if I should be as confident about the clarity and strength of this verse as I am. Let me try this Aquinas-style.

Assertion: The Bible always condemns the consumption of alcohol. When it does seem to make a positive reference regarding alcohol, it is actually referencing a non-alcoholic drink such as grape juice.

On the Contrary: As the apostle says in Romans 14:21, "It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak." The context of this verse is that Paul is talking about Christian freedom. Earlier, in verse 14, Paul sets forth that "there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." The context is that Paul says that love for our brethren is more important than the exercise of our freedom and liberties. The crucial factor I want to examine is the curious inclusion of drinking wine along with eating meat in verse 21. If the prohibitionist perspective is accurate, and alcohol is always wrong (except, as some allow, for medicinal purposes), what is to be thought of Paul's statement that we should not drink wine if it offends or causes to stumble?

The traditional response is to say that this reference to wine here is to the "best wine," or the freshest off of the vine - unfermented wine (aka grapejuice). However, pretty serious contextual problems arise if we understand Paul as here referring to unfermented wine; most notably the fact that grape juice does not offend anyone. I repeat: there is nobody on the face of the planet who becomes offended by seeing someone drink grape juice. My 2 year old drinks grape juice, I drink grape juice, even prohibitionists drink grape juice. It is literally an unoffendable substance. It is more controversial to drink bottled water in some circles than it is to drink grape juice.

Let me counter by suggesting that in the context of Paul's day, it makes a lot more sense to understand him as referring to real alcohol and meat as two examples of things which are permissible and yet offensive to some.

Let me only add as a postscript that there may be some who say that since alcohol offends so many Christians, (regardless whether it is okay in and of itself) then everyone should abstain completely. Paul, however, does not feel this way, according to verse 22: "Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God." We are to enjoy the liberty of conscience while at the same time publicly abstaining from them because there are well-meaning teetotaler's out there. You're welcome, teetotalers.

Next time: "How To Drink Like a Christian"


  1. You should check out the books, "God Gave Wine" which is a Biblical argument for alcohol consumption. As well as "Drinking with Calvin and Luther" which is more of the history of alcohol in the Protestant church. Both great reads from Oakdown Books.

  2. Funny you should mention God Gave Wine by Kenneth Gentry, because one of the elders in my church is going to lend that book to me when I see him on Sunday. I'm very excited.

  3. Adam,

    Good post.

    Have you done any archaeological study in this area? i.e. is there anything that points to the fact that wine would have had alcohol in it?

  4. Gentry's work is good, if overly detailed. He does bury the opposition, but most baptists won't read page after page of exegesis and quotes from the original.

    Drinking with Calvin and Luther is much superior, except at the end where they are comparing beers and they start bashing Corona. That was uncalled for.

  5. The real problem with most modern approaches is the "we now know" approach to determining what we should or should not do. I remember watching the national meeting of the SBC when they discussed requiring preachers to abstain from alcohol. All those against the overture used biblical arguments (no direct prohibition, we shouldn't have a rule that would prohibit Paul or Tim, not to mention Jesus, from becoming an SBC preacher, etc.). All those for the overture, almost to a man, began with "we all know how dangerous alcohol can be," or "my father was an alcoholic and it ruined my family," etc. The focus of their arguments was not what we can uncover from Scripture, but what "we now know." I have yet to hear an exegetical argument that would mean anything other than situational abstinence. I look forward to reading more.

  6. I would say that grape juice offends me at the communion rail, but I am shy about the "whining" lingo of "being offended" in the first place. Way too many people are "offended" anymore to the point of it being rendered a useless phrase.

    I tolerate grape juice at the rail (even as I choke down offensive glutton-free wafers); I just wish the teetotalers would show as much tolerance at the bar, as it were.

    God has ordained strong drink to sign, seal and nourish our faith and I tolerate its being effeminized. Funny how soft legalists think it "sq-welches" our faith and force an adolsecent spirituality onto a mature piety.

  7. Can't any of these boozey, self-indulgent little bohemians--"heroes of many a well-fought bottle"--get off their lazy rear-ends and do some real research upon this issue? The strawman that you hoisters of Luther's beer stein content yourself with is the shallow little conceit that if the Scriptures aren't talking about unfermented grape juice EVERY time that "wine" is mentioned, than it must ALWAYS be speaking of a high-alcoholic-content wine--the ONLY "reasonable" alternative... I guess it wouldn't occur to you "liberated" (or should I say, "libertine")Slayers of the Dragon of "Legalism" to do some actual studies in cultural context with regard to the manner of the ancients, and come to grips with the fact that the commonly ingested Biblical Era fermented wine was USUALLY heavily watered-down so that people could safely drink a sizable amount of it in order to satisfy their daily thirst and need for fluid intake in a safe, hygenic manner--as opposed to drinking undiluted, high-alcohol content wines for purely "entertainment value," like a bunch of "cool" (i.e., immature) modern Millennial Christians. Please note, for example, the historical testimony of the apocryphal 2 Macc. 15:39; it isn't Scripture, of course, but DOES function as an important historical testimony to contemporary, Biblical Era practices. And WHAT, precisely, was Timothy advised to drink in 1 Tim. 5:23--and WHY? Full strength wine? I think not. And WHY had he obviously been ABSTAINING, in the FIRST PLACE? Or are those inconvenient questions? Here's yet another: Do you really think that they were serving unsafely undiluted fermented wines to little kids in those days(Lam. 2:12)? Notice how your entire argument hinges upon ignoring the basic fact that Biblical wine SOMETIMES means a full-strength, potentially intoxicating substance (i.e.,a reputation-destroying, addictive drug and a poison, utterly forbidden to the People of God--unless they're dying, or something!--Prov. 31:6), and it SOMETIMES also refers to the common, standard, watered-down hooch that most people drank for life and for health (again, as opposed to drinking for "entertainment" value, like so many modern "oh-so-cool," boundary-pushing Christians). Those are the facts, friends: my advice is to grow-up and accept them. It's really sad to see so many guys this day-and-age who call themselves "Disciples" of the Incarnate Christ seek to establish their Christian Identity in the absurd self-indulgence of alcohol. Aren't there any higher causes out there for young men in Christ to dedicate the best of their vital strength unto? Of all the Neo-evanjellyfish hobby-horses out there, this "I've got the freedom in Christ to drink" is surely the stupidest! What ever happened to surrendering your pathetic little "RIGHTS" and adopting the Mindset of Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:7-8)--our Great Deacon who came not to be served, but to serve? It would appear to me that too many of our borthers are (literally, and with pun intended) "being served." NO ONE, incidentally, has the "Christian Liberty" to SIN.

  8. Doctor T, please see our comments policy.


    Please give us a real name, or we will delete your comment.


Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.

Think hard about this: the world is watching!