Is Drinking Alcoholic Beverages Right or Wrong?
We believe what we want to believe. We are now in the throes of postmodernism, humanism to the max, and a spiritual coup d’etat that re-arranges the worldview concerning the subject of drinking. As believers are now morphing past the point of diversity on the subject to condoning and, in some cases, pushing other believers to imbibe, I cannot remain silent. Therefore, allow me to share some insights that may help you make one of the most important decisions in your life, i.e., to drink or not drink.
1. In defining wine, dual definitions have existed until recently.
Should you consult most modern English dictionaries, the definition of wine immediately goes to that which is fermented, in other words, of the alcoholic nature. Have you ever studied our history of the English definitions? For example, in 1955 Funk and Wagnall’s New Standard Dictionary of the English Language defines wine as follows: “1. The fermented juice of the grape: in loose language the juice of the grape whether fermented or not.” Forty-six years ago loose language allowed that it may or may not be fermented. In the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “must” as “new wine- wine pressed from the grape but not fermented.” Benjamin Marin’s Lingua Britannica Reformata or A New English Dictionary, published in 1748, defines “wine” as follows: “1. The juice of the grape. 2. A liquor extracted from other fruits besides the grape.” In this old English definition, fermentation is not even mentioned.
The Old Testament word “yayin” and the New Testament word “oinos” as well as the Latin word “vinum” clearly and historically bear two usages: the fermented and non-fermented use of that which is classically translated “wine.” Referring to the Greek “oinos,” Aristotle, in his book Meteorologica, refers to grape juice as one of the kinds of wine. He speaks of it as a sweet beverage (glukus) which “though called wine (oinos), it has not the effect of wine, for it does not taste like wine, for it does not intoxicate like ordinary wine.”
2. Safeguards were in practice to prevent drunkenness.
It is known, from ancient sources, that there were ways of preserving juice, thus preventing fermentation. The ancient Roman statesman, Cato, said: “If you wish to have “must” [grape-juice] all year, put grape-juice in an amphora and seal the cork with pitch; sink it in a fishpond. After 30 days take it out. It will be grape-juice for a whole year” (De Agri Cultura CXX).
Nowadays, the ability to keep things preserved has been perfected, but God taught the early Christians another way to avoid being accidentally inebriated. The godly, aged women were warned: "...that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things" (Titus 2:3). Lest they indulge in a beverage that was not perfectly preserved, they were commanded to not give themselves to much wine. In Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Chicago: Moody, 1980, Vol. I, p. 376, it says in reference to wine of Bible days: “not fortified with extra alcohol. Concentrated alcohol was only known in the Middle Ages when the Arabs invented distillation (‘alcohol’ is an Arabic word) so what is now called liquor or strong drink (i.e., whiskey, gin, etc.) and the twenty per cent fortified wines were unknown in Bible times. The strength of natural wines is limited by two factors. The percentage of alcohol will be half of the percentage of the sugar in the juice. And if the alcoholic content is much above 10 or 11 percent, the yeast cells are killed and fermentation ceases. Probably ancient wines were 7-10 per cent…to avoid the sin of drunkenness, mingling of wine with water was practiced. This dilution was specified by the rabbis in New Testament times for the wine customary at Passover.”
3. There are passages that illustrate that God falls on the side of total abstinence.
Proverbs 20:1 says, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise." In Proverbs 23:29-31 God declares that those who drink will have sorrows, contentions, wounds, redness of eyes, temptations for adultery and fornication, and a disorientation that causes distortion of judgment (this has surfaced horrendously in modern car wrecks, due to drunk driving). To make it even more plain and simple, God’s Word says in Proverbs 23:31, "Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright." When the wine or juice of the grape begins to ferment, God says, don’t even look at it, to avoid even the very temptation.
One of the strongest arguments comes in the first miracle that Jesus performed, i.e., turning the water into wine. Many who fall on the other side of this argument will often use it to defend drinking alcohol. Herein is a mistake in not knowing your Bible manners and customs. The customs of many of the ancient feasts was to pull out the best, good, or sweet, which are fresh, wines at the beginning of a feast. This was to insure that the women and especially children would not be partaking of the “hard stuff.” As the feast continued and the children and ladies retired, the alcoholic drinks would surface. But when at the wedding feast, Jesus turned the water into wine, we hear this comment from the ruler of the feast: "...Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now" (John 2:10). The ruler was amazed that the beverage that Jesus brought forth was the same as that which is used at the beginning, non-alcoholic juice.
Without going into too much detail, think of this: would our Lord use that which is rotten, which basically is exactly what alcohol is, to symbolize His spotless blood? If the bread was unleavened for the Lord’s Supper, so also would be the beverage. "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28). "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things...But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:" (I Peter 1:18, 19).
4. There is a practicality to total abstinence, in protecting your testimony.
In forty-five years of trying to be a soul-winner, I have yet to meet my first unconverted person who has been offended by my stance on not drinking. On the other hand, there are those who are not Christians (as well as a great many Christians) who are offended by people who call themselves Christians and drink. To win his brethren, Paul was even willing to do without certain foods: "Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend" (I Corinthians 8:13). Paul never took the attitude, I don’t care what others think, I’ll do as I please. "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God" (I Corinthians 10:31, 32). By the way, a good question to ask ourselves before we partake in any activity should be, “May I do this for the glory of God?”
5. There is the doctrine of progressive illumination that should be considered.
As we learn the Bible, we do so progressively, "But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little..." (Isaiah 28:13). Over the years of Bible learning we not only have one, but multiple lifetimes of Bible teachers. As we look at prophecy, Lewis Sperry Chafer and C.I. Schofield in light of current events with the line upon line of Bible learning knew more of eschatology than Luther, Calvin or Zwingli. To use the argument that some church fathers allowed the use of alcohol is to ignore progressive illumination. Many of the reformers were just coming out of the Catholic Church; they were just getting a grip on justification, and many things were yet to be learned. By inspiration Daniel said, at "...the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased" (Daniel 12:4). In every field knowledge has increased. Because many of my Victorian preachers whom I admire used tobacco, I shall not ignore the warnings of what we know today about tobacco because my old heroes had feet of clay. And I shall not limit smoking to only half a pack. No, it is all wrong. I shall not put down those in the church of ancient days that did not foresee problems. And I shall not in turn be a social drinker; I shall be a total abstainer! Be as Spurgeon who, upon discovery that drinking was bringing England down, he not only stopped drinking wine, he donned the blue ribbon of the Temperance League and fought against alcohol by drink (from Lewis Drummond’s Spurgeon, Prince of Preachers, pp. 438-440). He was progressively illuminated.
In closing I plead with my brothers and sisters in Christ: "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing..." (II Corinthians 6:17)!
Below is some correspondence that I had with some young adults that had some honest questions:
The first question was concerning Deuteronomy 14:26: “And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household….”
In reference to Deuteronomy 14:26, please note what Robert Young and Lyman Abbott say about the word “shekar” translated in the KJV, “strong drink”: Robert Young, author of Analytical Concordance of the Bible states that shekar denotes a beverage that is either fermented or unfermented. Under “strong drink” he defines it as “sweet drink” (that which satiates (to fully satisfy) OR intoxicates). It can be either depending on what the drink is.“It is tolerably clear that the general words ‘wine [yayin; oinos]’ and ‘strong drink [shekar]’ do not necessarily imply fermented liquors, the former signifying only a production of the vine, the latter the produce of other fruits than the grape.” -Dr. Lyman Abbott, A Dictionary of Religious Knowledge.
We get our English words sugar, saccharine, cider from the Hebrew word shekar. These words allude to a root meaning of sweet, rather than alcoholic. Also, cider can mean alcoholic, or nonalcoholic apple juice, just like the original word “shekar.”
Several standard English dictionaries and Bible encyclopedias derive our English words “sugar” and “cider” from “shekar.” This connection further establishes that shekar originally denoted a sweet beverage and not necessarily a strong one. This is plainly seen when one looks at the verse in the John Wycliffe 1395 English rendering: “and thou schalt bie of the same money what euer thing plesith to thee, ethir of droues, ether of scheep; also thou schalt bie wyn, and sidur, and al thing that thi soule desirith; and thou schalt ete bifor thi Lord God, and thou schalt make feeste,”.
God would not encourage us to drink alcoholic beverages when He has spoken so strongly against it. The word “strong drink,” according to scholarship is not always alcoholic. I will admit to you that the majority of times in the context we can and should interpret “shekar” as strong drink meaning, that which inebriates. However, it is always condemned in those cases. God never magnifies the effect of inebriation nor the substance that causes it. In Ephesians 5:18, God says, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” In other words, don’t be under the control of substances, be under God’s control. Even in modern days, apple cider is not always hard; sometimes it is sweet and non-alcoholic. The strong drink is defined as that which is made from other fruits and substances other than grapes. It is interesting to note that even people in the broad evangelical world recognize the contextual wording of Deuteronomy 14:26 as a drink which is that of another kind, for it is translated by the translators of the New King James Version, “And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.” Notice it says, “…wine or similar drink….” (By the way, I am a KJV man, but I want to make a point that even my less conservative brethren can see that Deuteronomy 14:26 is not a license to drink hard liquors.)
There are so many verses condemning drinking alcohol that I will admit I am presuppositional in my argument. In the same way, I see the eternal security of the believer. Therefore, when isolated Scripture verses seem to say something otherwise, I am forced to examine the context with some presuppositional bias. We are all like this. Basically, we believe what we want to believe. Yes, I am looking for the entire Bible to harmonize, because the Word of God never contradicts itself. I was asked by one person trying to approve of drinking alcohol, “What are you going to do with Deuteronomy 14:26?” I wrote him back, “So in answer to your question, I shall tell you what I will do with that verse: I will believe it, because God is not telling you or me or anyone to go get some whiskey, gin, vodka, etc.; he is telling us to be celebrating with what our heart choses within the perimeters of His will, always that which honors our Lord. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31). God doesn’t just say don’t drink substances when they ferment; He says don’t even look at it (Proverbs 23:31). Did He mean it or not? If He was not talking about alcohol, what was He talking about? When Nehemiah was encouraging the people of God to celebrate in Nehemiah 8:10, he said, “…Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So, I shall still be with the old time fundamentalist group that sticks with ice cream (“eat the fat”) and soda pop and sweet tea (“drink the sweet”) as a teetotaler.
Now, another, but similar argument I present to you: “the weaker brother reason.” The reason it is so important to see this as sin, is that this reason will not give you an exception. If it is merely a preference, as a rule it will always be treated as a preference. For instance, you go to a wedding, they are making toast. As a rule you don’t drink, but on this occasion you will. And you do. Then, if you are in a place of leadership, others see you. Then an obsessive, compulsive personality that looks up to you is given liberty to do what you do. They are fascinated by the buzz. And they don’t stop. “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (I Corinthians 8:9-13). Although this is talking about meats that were offered to idols, it is very comparable to drinking alcohol.
Leviticus 10:9: “Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generation.” Aaron and the priests were specifically told NOT to drink wine or strong drink when they went into the tabernacle… under the penalty of death!
Proverbs 31:4-7. The Queen Mother (Bathsheba) was teaching her son Lemuel (Solomon) that it is not for kings to drink wine, nor princes strong drink. The result was they would forget the law, and pervert the judgment of the afflicted. In sarcasm, she says give the strong drink to those about to die and wine to those of heavy hearts. The point she was making was that this is the way the world thinks; the world tries to escape her troubles. You, however, are a king; do not run from trouble but embrace it, overcome it and stand strong. She says, "Let him drink, and forget his poverty and remember his misery no more.” Ask yourself, will drinking put one more dime in a poor man's coffer? No indeed! If anything, it makes him poorer. If a broken hearted man gets drunk he may forget for awhile, but he wakes up more broken hearted and miserable than ever. Again, she says drinkers forget the law and pervert judgment; she wasn't pushing for a king to ever do this. Christ has made us royalty: "And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (Rev. 1:6). By the way, it is touching to read the accounts of the deaths of Generals Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. Both were devout Christian men who refused alcohol even in the face of death. Stuart had promised his godly mother that he would not drink and he did not, even through the excruciating pain from his wounds. Just before he died he was told that Fitz Lee was standing in opposition of the enemy's forces. Stuart "turned his eyes upward, and exclaimed earnestly, ‘God grant that they may be successful.’ Then turning aside, he said with a sigh, - ‘But I must be prepared for another world.’ He sang Rock of Ages with the pastor and passed into the glory” (Pages 416, 417, I Rode With J.E.B. Stuart) He was indeed prepared for another world. He died so gallantly because he had lived so royally--he died like the child of a king who marched through the barrels of victory. "It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink" (Proverbs 31:4).
I was asked if alcohol was good for anything. I answered, “Yes! Alcohol is a great antiseptic for cuts. “
Romans 14:21: "It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak." If you drink alcoholic beverages, people will stumble, be offended or made weak - that is fact. I'll give you another fact: in 45 years of attempting to be a witness for our Lord, no one, not one person who is lost (without Christ) has been offended by my total abstinence. As a matter of fact, many lost people expect it and would be disappointed to discover a born again believer imbibes. The grief I receive is from my brethren, which breaks my heart. My stand is not new. Think of it, it was so accepted that for ten years prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages nationwide was law in the United States. Our country is not made the better for its legalization. Homes are not made better, driving safety is not made better and mental health is not made better. May God help us to take the high road and quit taking the low road. May the Lord help us to see what is best for all of us. We live in a selfish world that demands what is best only for ourselves. Sadly, it has gone over to the church with an attitude that “no one will tell me what I can or cannot do.” The demand of our Lord in basic discipleship is to take up our cross. The cry of many of the brethren is that "The cross is uncomfortable; it's got splinters and nails. Don't even try to take any fun away from me. If I enjoy my lifestyle, leave me and my liberty alone. If anyone is offended, that's their problem, not mine." And so here we are--far, far from revival. It's time to re-examine II Chronicles 7:14: "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."
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