Puritan Gems

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Christians and Alcoholic Beverages

Few ethical issues have divided the church of Jesus Christ as much as that of alcohol consumption. There are many reasons that may be brought forward as to why alcohol should be avoided. Alcohol can be directly tied to health issues, domestic violence, and automobile accidents, etc.

However, while these issues should be taken seriously, the ethical questions concerning alcohol must come from the Bible alone. The Bible clearly supports the moderate use of alcohol, and therefore such activity cannot be considered immoral. Instead, the use of alcohol falls under the category of Liberty of Conscience.

Some have gone to great lengths to twist Scripture in order to support teetotalism, suggesting that much of the wine in the Bible was not fermented. Such as view, however, is without any exegetical support, and the standard is quite arbitrarily applied to certain instances of wine in Scripture. Kenneth Gentry, author of the book “God Gave Wine” examines the use of Alcoholic Beverage in Scripture:

Having demonstrated the fermented quality (and consequently the inebriating potential) of the wine of the Bible, I will now set forth several Biblical evidences of its righteous employment.

1. Righteous Example. In Genesis 14:18 Melchizedek gave yayin to Abraham in righteous circumstances. There is no evidence of any divine disapprobation in this episode. (See also Neh. 5:16-19.)

2. Sacred Employment. The Scripture teaches that both yayin (Ex. 29:38ff) and shekar (Num 28:7) were used for offerings to God. This is important for two reasons: (1) These (alcoholic) beverages had to be produced for worship and (2) they were acceptable as offerings to God. If alcoholic beverages were unsuitable for human consumption, why were they acceptable in divine worship?

3. Positive Blessing. God’s Law allowed yayin and shekar to be purchased with the Tithe of Rejoicing and to be drunk before the Lord. “You shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine (yayin) or strong drink (shekar), for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household” (Deut. 14:26). In fact, the psalmist attributes to God the production of yayin, which makes man’s heart glad (Ps. 104:14-15). Surely God’s provision has in view a righteous employment of alcoholic beverage. Furthermore, Scripture speaks of the satisfaction of life as illustrated in the eating of bread and drinking of yayin with gladness (Eccl. 9:7).

4. Spiritual Symbolism. The rich symbolism of God’s redemptive revelation makes bold use of fermented beverages. The blessings of salvation are likened to free provision of yayin: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come , buy and eat. Yes, come buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Is.55:1). Kingdom blessings are symbolized by the abundant provision of yayin: “ ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows see...; I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; ...they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them’” (Amos 9:13-14). Elsewhere we read: “In this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees” (Is. 25:6). Clearly, wine—even carefully aged wine—is viewed as a symbol of God’s blessings.

5. Christ’s Witness. Interestingly, our Lord Jesus Christ miraculously “manufactured” an abundance (John 2:6) of wine [yayin] for a marriage feast. This wine was deemed “good” by the headmaster of the feast (John 2:10)—and men prefer “old [i.e. aged, fermented] wine” because it is good (Luke 5:39). Having “manufactured” wine in His first miracle, it is no surprise that the Lord publicly drank it. This put a clear distinction between Him and the ascetic John the Baptizer: “John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:33-35).

6. Prohibitional Silence. Scripture nowhere gives a universal command on the order: “take no wine at all.” In fact, select groups that forgo wine are worthy of mention as acting differently from accepted Biblical practice, e.g. the Nazarites (Num. 6:2-6) anything and John the Baptizer (Luke 1:15). Others are forbidden to imbibe wine only during the formal exercise of their specific duties, e.g. priests (Lev. 10:8-11) and kings (Prov. 31: 4, 5). All prohibitions to partaking wine involve prohibitions either to immoderate consumption or to abusers: “Be not drunk with wine” (Eph. 5:18). “Do not be with heavy drinkers” (Prov. 23:20). “Do not be addicted to wine” (I Tim. 3:8; Tit.2:3). “Do not linger long over wine” (Prov. 23:30).

While the Bible strongly warns against the abuse of alcohol, it does not prohibit its use. Certainly wisdom and caution must be used in partaking of alcohol, but it is “a doctrine of devils” to prohibit its use totally (1 Timothy 4:1-5). In all things, Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23), and thus the church may not forbid what Christ has permitted (Proverbs 30:6).

Finally, as we look at a photo of early prohibitionists, I’ll let the viewer decide whether or not this is a deterrent or an encouragement to drink.