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What Does the Bible Say About Drinking Alcohol?

Is It a Sin to Drink?

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Beer and Wine

Is Drinking Beer and Wine a Sin?

Photo: John E. Kelly / Getty Images
Christians have as many views about drinking alcohol as there are denominations, but the Bible is abundantly clear on one thing: Drunkenness is a serious sin.

Wine was the common drink in ancient times. Some Bible scholars believe the drinking water in the Middle East was unreliable, often polluted or containing harmful microbes. The alcohol in wine would kill such bacteria.

While some experts claim wine in Bible times had a lower alcohol content than today's wine or that people diluted wine with water, several cases of drunkenness are cited in Scripture.

Bad Consequences of Intoxication

From the first book of the Old Testament onward, people who got drunk are condemned as examples of behavior to avoid. In every instance, a bad consequence resulted. Noah is the earliest mention (Genesis 9:21), followed by Nabal, Uriah the Hittite, Elah, Ben-hadad, Belshazzar, and people in Corinth.

Verses that denounce drunkenness say it leads to other moral lapses, such as sexual immorality and laziness. Further, drunkenness clouds the mind and makes it impossible to worship God and act in a respectable manner:

Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags. (Proverbs 23:20-21, NIV)

At least six major denominations call for total abstinence from alcoholic beverages: the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene, United Methodist Church, United Pentecostal Church, and Seventh-day Adventists.

Jesus Was Without Sin

Even so, ample evidence exists that Jesus Christ drank wine. In fact, his first miracle, performed at a wedding feast at Cana, was turning ordinary water into wine.

According to the writer of Hebrews, Jesus did not sin by drinking wine or at any other time:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15, NIV)

The Pharisees, trying to smear Jesus' reputation, said of him:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." ' (Luke 7:34, NIV)

Since drinking wine was a national custom in Israel and the Pharisees themselves drank wine, it was not drinking wine they objected to but drunkenness. As usual, their accusations against Jesus were false.

In the Jewish tradition, Jesus and his disciples drank wine at the Last Supper, which was a Passover seder. Some denominations argue that Jesus cannot be used as an example, since Passover and the Cana wedding were special celebrations, in which drinking wine was part of the ceremony.

However, it was Jesus himself who instituted the Lord's Supper on that Thursday before he was crucified, incorporating wine into the sacrament. Today most Christian churches continue to use wine in their communion service. Some use nonalcoholic grape juice.

No Biblical Prohibition on Drinking Alcohol

The Bible does not prohibit the consumption of alcohol but leaves that choice up to the individual.

Opponents argue against drinking by citing the destructive effects of alcohol addiction, such as divorce, job loss, traffic accidents, breakup of families, and destruction of the addict's health.

One of the most dangerous elements of drinking alcohol is setting a bad example for other believers or leading them astray. The Apostle Paul, especially, cautions Christians to act responsibly so as not to be a bad influence on less mature believers:

Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless-not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. (Titus 1:7, NIV)

As with other issues not specifically spelled out in Scripture, the decision whether to drink alcohol is something each person must wrestle with on their own, consulting the Bible and taking the matter to God in prayer.

In 1 Corinthians 10:23-24, Paul sets down the principle we should use in such cases:

"Everything is permissible"-but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"-but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (NIV)

(Sources: sbc.net; ag.org; www.crivoice.org; archives.umc.org; Manual of United Pentecostal Church Int.; and www.adventist.org.)

Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.

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