THE BIBLE AND WINE
By Bruce Lackey
1. The word wine in the Bible is a generic term; sometimes it means grape juice; sometimes it means alcoholic beverages. The following verses prove that the word "wine" can mean fresh grape juice, the fruit of the vine: De. 11:14; 2 Ch. 31:5; Ne. 13:15; Pr. 3:10; Is. 16:10; 65:8; 1 Ti. 5:23.
2. The context will always show when "wine" refers to alcoholic beverages. In such cases, God discusses the bad effects of it and warns against it. An example would be Ge. 9, Noah’s experience after the Flood. Verse 21, "and he drank of the wine, and was drunken," clearly refers to alcoholic beverage. Pr. 20:1 speaks of the same thing when it warns us, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging; and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise." Alcoholic wine is deceptive; but how? In the very way that people are advocating today, by saying that drinking a little bit will not hurt. Everyone admits that drinking too much is bad; even the liquor companies tell us not to drive and drink, but they insist that a small amount is all right. However, that is the very thing that is deceptive. Who knows how little to drink? Experts tell us that each person is different. It takes an ounce to affect one, while more is necessary for another. The same person will react to alcohol differently, depending on the amount of food he has had, among other things. So, the idea that "a little bit won’t hurt" is deceptive, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise!
Pr. 23:30-31 refers to alcoholic wine, because it tells us in the previous verse that those who drink it have woe, sorrow, contentions, babbling, wounds without cause, and redness of eyes. What a graphic description of those who "tarry long" at alcoholism. Verses 32-35 continue the same description; context always makes it clear when alcohol is meant.
If "wine" may mean fresh grape juice or alcohol, how can we know which is intended? The context determines the meaning. We can tell when "wine" means fresh grape juice and when it means alcoholic beverage by reading the context, just as we have done in the previous paragraphs.
3. Scripture warns against the drinking of alcoholic wine. The Bible is consistent on this, both in the Old and New Testaments. The two previously quoted passages, Pr. 20:1 and 23:29-35, are good examples of scriptural warnings against consuming alcohol. Pr. 23:32 says "at the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder." Verse 33 shows that it will cause one to look at strange women (that is, not one’s wife) and to say perverse things, or things which he would not say if he were sober. Verse 34 predicts that it will cause death, such as drowning, or loneliness, such as lying upon the top of a mast. Verse 35 warns against numbness ("they have beaten me and I felt it not") and "addiction ("when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again").
Pr. 31:4-5 teaches, "It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted." The danger is obvious.
By the way, Pr. 31:6,7 give us the only legitimate use of alcoholic wine in Scripture. "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more." This would be using it as an anesthetic; a painkiller. But this is not for everyone; he says in v. 6, "unto him that is ready to perish." Of course, they did not have all the painkillers that we have today. In our time, it would not be necessary to do this. We have many anesthetics available for those who are dying. Then, about the only thing available to the average person would have been some kind of alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant; it is not a stimulant, as some think. After several drinks, one gets dizzy; then he will pass out. So this passage teaches that alcoholic beverage would be only for the person who is ready to die; there would be no hope for his life. All that would be possible would be to ease his pain and help him forget his misery.
Another passage is Is. 5:11. "Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!" Obviously this is alcoholic, because it inflames. Why does he say, "Woe unto them"? Verse 12 answers, "…they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands." Everyone knows that when one gives himself to the drinking of alcoholic beverage, he will not be more spiritual, more desirous of learning the Word of God. To the contrary, it causes a person to ignore the Lord. Verses 13-14 reveal two other serious results: people go into captivity (become slaves to something or someone) and Hell enlarges itself! The drinking of alcoholic wine has caused Hell to be enlarged! God does not want anyone to go to Hell; He has given the greatest, dearest gift that He possibly could, to rescue sinners from it. He never made Hell for people. The Lord Jesus Christ said that Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41). However, because of evil alcohol, Hell has had an enlargement campaign. Here, then, is a clear warning against drinking alcohol, because God does not want anyone to go to Hell.
Is. 28:7,8 continues the warning. "But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean."
What a tragic thing, that even in the days of Isaiah, the priests and prophets were engaged in the drinking of alcoholic wine! Thus we see that the problem of preachers recommending alcohol is not new. Six hundred years before Christ, demon alcohol had worked its way into religion.
4. The making of alcoholic beverages is not a strictly natural process. Years ago I took for granted that if you took the juice of a grape and let it alone, not refrigerating it, it would automatically, in time, turn into alcoholic wine. There are several reasons why this is not true. It takes more than time to make wine. Sometimes people try to defend its use by saying that it must be good because God made it. But, the fact is, God did not make it. Man has learned how to make alcoholic liquors through processes that he has invented. Wine-makers know that one must have the correct amount of water, sugar, and temperature to make wine. Keeping grape juice in a refrigerator would prevent if from fermenting, because the temperature is not right. Likewise, hot, tropical temperature would prevent fermentation.
In ancient days, before we had refrigeration and vacuum-sealing ability, people learned to preserve the juice of the grape without turning it into alcoholic wine. Many people boiled it down into a thick syrup. By doing so, they could preserve it for long periods of time. When they got ready to drink it, they would simply add the water to the consistency desired, in much the same way that we take frozen concentrates and add water. In Bible days, contrary to what many believe, it was not necessary for everyone to drink alcoholic wine as a table beverage.
I recommend the book entitled Bible Wines and the Laws of Fermentation by William Patton (Challenge Press, Little Rock, Arkansas). More than a hundred years ago, this preacher was the only one in his town who believed in total abstinence. He saw that it was necessary to make an extensive study to see what scripture taught. This book is the result of that labor and is the very best thing I have read on the subject.
[Editor: One point of Patton’s book is that the making of alcoholic wine requires input from man. It requires the addition of certain additives (though it might be something as simple as sugar) and the control of temperature, etc. The natural processes alone will produce fermentation under certain conditions, but these natural processes, if unaided by man, rapidly move to a vinegar state. The alcoholic beverages industry is very much a man-made thing. Natural process are PERVERTED by man.]
Now we come to the longest point in this entire study, but one which is most important, chiefly because so many insist that Jesus made and drank alcoholic wine.
5. Jesus did not drink or make alcoholic wine. Here are ten proofs from Scripture.
The first reason is because of His holy nature. In He. 7:26, we read that the Lord Jesus is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." No doubt, the Saviour, being God in the flesh, had an air of holiness about Himself that could be seen by even the most casual observer. For instance, the profane soldiers, who were sent to arrest Him, gave as their reason for returning without Him, that "never a man spake like this man." (John 7:46) The words of Jesus were different; He, no doubt, had a very holy appearance, character, and speech.
Why is this so important? Consider this illustration. The word "cider" may mean an alcoholic beverage, or plain apple juice. Suppose we lived during the 1920s, prohibition days, and were approached by two people offering us a drink of cider. One of the persons, we knew to be one of the holiest men in town, faithful to the house of God, separated from the world, diligent in prayers, always witnessing to others; the other was a known liquor dealer. If each one offered us a drink of "his very own cider," we would assume that the holy person’s was no more than apple juice, but there would be no doubt about our opinion regarding the liquor dealer’s cider! Obviously, the character of a person influences what that one does.
Since the Lord Jesus Christ was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners," we may safely assume that He would not make that which is called in Scripture a mocker and deceiver of man, causing untold misery.
A second reason: He would not contradict scripture. In Mt. 5:17- 18, Christ made this clear, saying, "Think not that I am come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." Therefore, Christ could not have contradicted Hab. 2:15, "Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!"
Certainly, Jesus knew that this verse was in the Bible; He was well-acquainted with Scripture, since it is His Word and was written about Him. He did not come to violate Scripture, but to fulfill it. He could not have done so, if He had made alcoholic wine and had given it to his neighbor.
Some people object to the use of this verse by saying that it would apply only to one who would give his neighbor drink for the purpose of looking on his nakedness. But we must remember: when one gives his neighbor something which will make him drunk, he is putting himself in the very class of those who do so in order to look on their nakedness. And since the Scripture commands us to "abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Th. 5:22), we can be sure that the Lord Jesus would not have done something that would have been associated with such an evil practice as that described in Hab. 2:15. For the same reason, no Christian should be engaged in the selling of alcoholic beverage.
The third reason is that Le. 10:9-11 commands the priest of God, "Do not drink wine nor strong drink … that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; and that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statues which the Lord hath spoken…" Now, since He. 2:17 calls Christ "a merciful and faithful high priest," we would expect Him to obey all Scriptures pertaining to that office. If He had made or drunk alcoholic wine, He would have disobeyed these verses and would have been disqualified from teaching the children of Israel the statues of the Lord.
The fourth reason is found in a passage which we have already considered: Pr. 31:4-5 prohibits kings and princes from drinking alcoholic wine or any other strong drink. If they had done so, their judgment would have been perverted. It was necessary for Christ to obey these verses also, since He was Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6) and King of Kings (Re. 19:16). In Mt. 27:11, He admitted to being the King of the Jews. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, to fulfill Zec. 9:9, which prophesied that Israel’s king would enter the city in just that way. Undoubtedly, He was king, and as such, would have had to obey Pr. 31:4-5.
Reason five: Christ did not come to mock or deceive people, yet Pr. 20:1 says that wine does both. Rather than coming to mock or deceive he came to save!
Reason six: He did not come to send people to Hell. We have already seen that Is. 5:11-14 teaches that Hell had to be enlarged because of the drinking of alcoholic beverage. Christ did not come to send people to Hell; listen to Jn. 3:17: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."
Reason seven: Christ did not come to cast a stumblingblock before anyone; yet, Ro. 14:21 teaches that a person who gives another alcoholic wine does just that. "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." Everyone who has studied the problem of alcoholism has learned that some people cannot handle any amount of alcohol, while others may drink one or two "social" drinks and stop. Experts do not know why this is true; various theories have been propounded, but nothing has been proved to be true regarding every person. Some say it is chemical; others insist that it must be psychological. The fact is, we do not know for certain. In any given group of people, there would be several potential alcoholics. What a shame it would be for a person, who is a potential slave to it, to get his first taste at the Lord’s table in church, then proceed down the road of misery to an alcoholic’s grave!
I certainly would not want my children to get their first taste of alcohol at the family meal; nor would I want them to get it at church. One or more of them could well be potential alcoholics. As evidence that this is possible, we should consider that some denominations which serve alcoholic wine in their religious services also operate homes for alcoholic priests!
But we can be absolutely sure that Christ did not come to cause others to stumble!
The eighth reason: John 2, the miracle of turning water into wine, does not require that it be alcoholic. Many insist that it was, on the basis of verse 10, which says, "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." They would say that, in those days, it was common to serve the best alcoholic wine at first, saving the worst until later, when men’s tastes have been dulled by much drinking. But the point is just the opposite here! These people could definitely recognize that the wine which Jesus made was much better than what they had been served at first. This could not have been possible if they were already well on their way to becoming intoxicated! The fact is, neither the wine which they had at first, nor that which Christ made, was alcoholic.
Reason nine is found in the same passage: the Lord Jesus Christ would not have gotten glory from making drunk people drunker. Verse 11 is most important when it states that, by this miracle, Jesus "manifested forth his glory." Verse 10 indicates that the people had drunk quite a bit of whatever kind of wine they were drinking. If it had been alcoholic, they would have been intoxicated, or nearly so. Had Christ made alcoholic wine, He would have made drunk people drunker, or almost-drunk people completely drunk! Such a deed would certainly not have manifested any glory to Him!
This chapter also gives us the tenth reason: making drunk people drunker would not have caused his disciples to believe more strongly on him, yet verse 11 says that, as a result of what He did in turning the water into wine, "his disciples believed on him." Jn. 1:41 shows that they had already believed on Him as Messiah; this was a deepening of their faith and a proof that they had not been wrong. Would making drunk people drunker inspire such faith? The opposite would be likely! They were not looking for a Messiah who would pass out free booze! Thus, because of the description of this miracle and its result, we can not conclude otherwise than that this wine was non-alcoholic.
In closing, we must consider two things. One passage, we have already seen. Ro. 14:21 clearly teaches that Christians should totally abstain, the reason being that 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." We have already seen that people may be potential alcoholics. By the social drinking of alcohol, one might encourage a person to start drinking, who would not be able to stop. Missionaries and tourists to foreign countries, where alcohol is a common table beverage, should remember this. We should also wake up and realize that, in such countries, alcoholism is also rampant. Let us totally abstain, so that we might not encourage someone to drink and go down the road to alcoholism.
The last consideration is 1 Co. 6:9-10. Here, the Bible teaches that drunkenness will send a person to hell. "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God."
This does not mean that a drunkard can never be saved, because the next verse says that some of the Corinthians committed these very acts before they were converted. A person can be gloriously set free from drunkenness, by receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and by following His teachings. Many people have experienced such a release! But the tragedy is that if a person continues in drunkenness, refusing to let Jesus be the Lord, preferring rather to let king alcohol rule, that one can look for nothing but a drunkard’s grave and eternity in the lake of fire. "Be not deceived," the Bible says "the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
If you are having trouble with this sin, let me encourage you to realize that you can ask Jesus Christ to be the Lord of your life and Saviour from all your sins, and to set you free. You can know what it means to be free in Christ! The Bible says, "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (Jn. 8:36). Realize that you are a sinner in God’s sight, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Ro. 3:23). Repent of your rebellion against God, surrendering to His authority. "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Lk. 13:3). Receive Christ as your Lord and Saviour. "As many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God" (Jn. 1:12).
WHAT ABOUT 1 TIMOTHY 5:23? "…drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities." Many insist that here the Bible gives the privilege, if not a command, of using alcoholic wine as a medicine. However, this cannot possibly be referring to alcoholic wine, because he specifically says that it is to be taken for Timothy’s stomach. He obviously had some kind of stomach disease and any doctor will tell you that such a person must abstain from alcoholic beverage. This author has had much stomach trouble through the years and has consulted various doctors, observing various dietary restrictions. In every case, they warned against drinking any alcoholic beverage whatsoever. If we know that today, surely the Holy Spirit of God knew that when He inspired this verse! We do not know what Timothy’s specific infirmities were, nor do we know what kind of healing properties there were in grape juice. Maybe Paul was saying that Timothy should not drink the water, since in many parts of the world it is not pure and would cause a healthy person to have trouble from amoebas, etc. One who already had stomach problems would only multiply them by drinking impure water. Paul might have been recommending that Timothy drink grape juice only. In any case, we can be positive that he was not telling him to put alcohol in a bad stomach!
IS IT ALRIGHT FOR A CHRISTIAN TO DRINK MODERATELY? (1) No, even slight drinking impairs one’s thinking and lowers alertness to spiritual danger (1 Pe. 5:8,9). (2) No, Christians are not to be controlled by liquor (Ep. 5:18). (3) No, Christians are priests, and the Bible forbids priests to drink (1 Pe. 2:9; Le. 10:8,11). (4) No, Christians are not to touch the unclean thing (2 Co. 6:17–7:1). (5) No, Christians are to abstain from every form of evil (1 Th. 5:22). (6) No, Christians who drink cause others to stumble (Ro. 14:21). (7) No, wine is a mocker and a deceiver (Pr. 20:1). No man who takes an alcoholic beverage to his lips knows exactly where it will lead.