Twenty-two times the Bible uses the word “strong drink,” which comes from a root meaning “to drink deeply,” or “to be drunken.” Strong drink refers to intoxicating drink of any sort not made from grapes. Various concoctions made from pomegranates, apples, dates, barley, etc. were known to the ancients and must have been used in Palestine also. Isaiah denounces those that “rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!” (Isa 5:11). He expresses his contempt for the priest and the prophet who “have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way” (Isa 28:7). Isaiah assails the “greedy dogs” who say, “I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.” (Isa 52:12-13). Most of the alcoholic drinks of our society today would be considered “strong drink” by biblical standards because of their high alcohol content. Many modern wines have been strengthened (fortified) to increase their alcohol content and thus contain more alcohol than the wines of biblical times would have, especially once mixed with water.
Strong drink presents a danger, but it is not uniformly condemned in the Bible. A clear statement giving permission for the drinking of wine and even strong drink is found in 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.”
Should Christians Drink Alcohol?
- The abuse of alcohol is clearly sinful. One should never get drunk.
- On the other hand, one must admit that several texts of Scripture seem to allow for and even commend the use of wine and/or strong drink (Deut 14:26; Ps 104:14-15; Prov 3:9-10; Ecc 9:7; Joel 3:18). Wine and strong drink are not evil in and of themselves. They do not cause drunkenness just as the presence of food is not the cause of gluttony. All sin proceeds from the sinful heart of man, not from part of the created order. The general tenor of biblical teaching is that wine, like any good gift from God, is easily abused: in this case, abuse involves addiction and drunkenness.
This leads to two possible positions:
Moderationism – Some Christians feel they have the right to enjoy alcohol in moderation. They argue that the Bible condemns the abuse of alcohol (drunkenness) but not the moderate enjoyment of it. We must admit that the Bible does not absolutely prohibit the consumption of alcohol for the believer.
Abstentionism – Some Christians feel to avoid all of the serious problems associated with alcohol, the best policy when it comes to wine, beer and other alcoholic drinks is total abstinence. If one wants to live a holy, righteous, blameless lifestyle, abstinence from alcohol is a wise commitment to make. Refraining is not a biblical mandate but a choice to avoid the dangers, compromises and associations that alcohol represents. Drinking may be lawful, but it is not profitable (cf. 1 Cor 6:12). For one’s own sake and for the sake of others, the best practice is to abstain from alcohol use.
- South Africa is an alcoholic culture. Drunkenness and the accompanying tragedies are common. In biblical times, drunkenness was not a major problem, especially in Jewish society. Drinking wine was more common but did not present much of a problem for most people.
- For those in Christian leadership, it is wiser. We are to avoid even the appearance of evil, to avoid tripping up weaker believers, and strive to be a godly testimony in a wicked culture. Because alcohol use and abuse is so closely tied with many sins, voluntary abstinence is the best policy for those who want to be above reproach.
- If you began your Christian life in abstinence, there is no reason to change and experiment with moderationism (1 Cor 7:20). On the other hand, the moderationist must keep evaluating if his use of recreational alcohol is being kept in a safe and prudent place in his life.
Questions to Ask Oneself
- Is there a danger that a drinker may be brought into bondage? (I Cor 6:12) Alcohol has a capacity to influence and control even strong believers. Those who abstain can never be enslaved by alcohol. Not drinking avoids the the risk of becoming addicted to alcohol. The risk of a casual drinker becoming a problem drinker is significant—one drinker in ten becomes an alcoholic. Abstainers do not run the risk of becoming alcoholic, but moderationists do. Every alcoholic drank moderately at some point.
- Not everything lawful is helpful (1 Cor 6:12). Ask: Are you fleeing temptation by doing this? (2 Tim 2:22) Does it make provision for the flesh? (Rom 13:14) Could Satan exploit this for evil ends? (Eph 4:27). Can you do it in faith (Ro 14:23)?
- Will it lead oneself or others to stumble or sin (1 Cor 8:10-11)? While you may have the drinking under control, are you certain that everyone who observes you has? The ex-alcoholic, whose conscience is teetering between total abstinence, and plunging back into alcoholism, may take your drinking as permission, and be destroyed. Only absolute certainty about another Christian’s background and convictions could give you the knowledge to be charitable to him and drink or not drink in his presence.
- Will it confuse an unbeliever’s understanding of the Gospel? Paul tells us that one kind of eating and drinking in the presence of unbelievers is permissible, but should the unbeliever associate your action with his unbelieving life, you should abstain for the sake of his conscience (1 Cor 10:27-28).
- Does drinking associate one with sinful elements of culture? Does it have the appearance of evil (I Thes 5:22)? Alcohol use is often associated in modern western culture with all manner of immoral conduct, and alcohol abuse is responsible for immense destruction, disease and death. Christians should not affiliate themselves with such corruption.
- Will drinking harm one’s Christian testimony? One should not imbibe if doing so besmirches his reputation in the church or in the community. Does it adorn the Gospel? (Tis 2:10)
- With refrigeration, a plethora of non-alcoholic choices at hand today, the moderationist must ask himself what he seeks in alcoholic beverages. Is alcohol use necessary for one’s enjoyment and relaxation? (Eph 5:18) If one’s joy flows from a bottle, or if he needs alcohol to relax, he cannot claim to be merely a recreational user. If you are a moderationist, and are facing period of high stress, anxiety. People drink today because they want to, not because they need to.
– David De Bruyn, Professor of Church History, Shepherds’ Seminary Africa