Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How To Drink Like A Christian: Part 1 (Positively Biblical)

Virtually all Christian denominations agree that drunkenness is a sin. For most of the existence of the Christian church, however (until, perhaps, the 18th century), alcohol has been understood as a gift of God which – like any of His good and glorious gifts – can be abused. Martin Luther responded to those who believed drinking alcohol to be a sin because it can be abused with his own argument. If alcohol’s abuse is an argument for its sinfulness, then this approach, he reasoned, should be applied in other areas. For example, he asked, how many women have led to the downfall of men? Or how many feasts have led to gluttony and obesity? If we followed the logic of prohibitionists, Luther said, then all the women would be dead and our food would all be gone! Surely, he suggested, there must be a better way of understanding the Bible's teachings regarding alcohol.

To begin with, we should be clear that there are many biblical passages which speak of alcohol in a negative way – but as I will demonstrate in later posts, these amount to helpful cautions against excess rather than outright prohibitions (assuming Scripture speaks consistently with itself, which I strongly believe). Now, I almost always find that my end of the conversation with prohibitionists normally ends up being very defensive, as they have a lot of verses they think seal the deal once and for all regarding God’s hatred for alcohol. So since I rarely get the chance, I am going to turn the tables and offer my reasons why things are not so clear cut. The Bible does have positive things to say about alcohol, and I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot of references, but this is a blog after all, and not a book. Perhaps my fellow readers will comment and add to these:

-Deuteronomy 14:26 says that it is a good thing to drink wine and beer as something to enjoy in God’s presence. “Then you may spend the money however you wish for cattle, sheep, wine, beer, or whatever you desire. You and your household may eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and enjoy it.”

-Job 1:13 refers to Job’s godly family as drinking wine.

-In Genesis 14:18, Melchizedek (a type of Christ) gave wine to Abraham.

-Psalm 104:14-15 says that God made wine. “He provides grass for the cattle, and crops for people to cultivate, so they can produce food from the ground, as well as wine that makes people feel so good, and so they can have oil to make their faces shine, as well as food that sustains people’s lives.”

-Proverbs 3:10 speaks of wine as part of God’s blessing of abundance.

-Isaiah 25:6 speaks of God as preparing a feast with “aged wine” (clearly not simply grape juice, right?).

-There are several places where God punishes people by taking their wine away (Jer 48:33; Lam 2:12; Hos 2:9; Joel 1:10; Hag 2:16).

-Jesus told many offensive stories and parables where wine or wineskins or vineyards were involved (for the prohibitionist, wouldn’t this be like if Jesus made a point by using employees at the local strip club as part of his illustration?) At one point, Jesus paints God as the vinedresser in one of his parables. If this were such a sinful substance (even granting that a “substance” could actually be evil in and of itself), why would Jesus so closely associate himself and his Father with it?

-In Romans 14:21, the Apostle Paul cautions believers against drinking freely around weaker brethren who may have more scruples regarding the dos and don’ts of the Christian life. This only makes sense if Paul is telling drinking believers to drink in private and not around the weaker brethren. Also, it only makes sense if the wine being consumed is alcoholic, since, to my knowledge, non-alcoholic drinks don’t offend anyone’s sensibilities.

According to Keith Matthison, “Prohibitionism errs by confusing the Christian virtues of temperance and moderation with abstinence and prohibition and by locating the evil in the object that is abused rather in the heart and deeds of the abuser.” In the early church, this was part of the struggle against heretical Gnosticism, because the Gnostics identified substances such as alcohol as evil and therefore took water at communion instead of wine.

This should be of particular interest, because at its root, prohibitionism’s good intentions lead it to a place where it essentially calling a substance evil. Consider, again, the Apostle’s statement that “nothing is evil in and of itself,” or Jesus’ declaration that “it is not that which goes into a man which makes him unclean, but that which comes out of him.” Prohibitionism stands in direct contrast to the biblical idea that substances are not in and of themselves evil. Essentially, all sin can be traced to an abuse of some gift of God’s, be it lust (an abuse of the gift of sex), gluttony (an abuse of God’s gift of food), theft (an abuse of personal property and freedom), or murder (an abuse of self-defense). The list could go on and on, I’m sure. Alcohol is also a gift from God, and was given to man for his happiness, just like all of God's other gifts. As Luther pointed out, if we abolished all dangerous gifts, we would have a world without women or food, wouldn't we?

I would write more, but I’m going to go have a pint, now. But let me be clear: only one pint, which segues us into our next post.

Next Time: The Danger of Drunkenness


  1. The funny thing is, I didn't start drinking until I read and understood what the Bible had to say about alcohol. That one really gets to the prohibitionists!

  2. I'm enjoying these posts Adam. Keep 'em coming.


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