A Quick Synopsis of the Biblical Teaching on Alcohol

To be honest, I don’t spend a lot of time defending drinking or smoking and none at all promoting it. In fact my only reasons for commenting on the subject at this time are the fact that:

1) I believe Old School Presbyterian Churches (OSPCs) should be (note I did not say must)  using wine in communion, and although this position was something of a “no-brainer “before the abstinence movement of the 19th century and prohibition, today it has become somewhat controversial as the majority of American evangelical churches use grape juice.

2) It is directly related to the broader and more important topic of Christian liberty and that those who would  prohibit all use of alcohol are guilty of making human judgment, and not the word of God, the final standard. John Murray warned in this regard:

The progress of knowledge, of faith, of edification, and of fellowship within the body of Christ is not to be secured by legislation that prohibits the strong from the exercise of their God-given privileges and liberties, whether this legislation be civil or ecclesiastical. Legislation can never be based upon the conscience of the weak or motivated by consideration for the conscience of the weak. If we once allow such considerations to dictate law enactment or enforcement, then we have removed the ground of law from the sphere of right and wrong to the sphere of erring human judgment. God has given us a norm of right and wrong, and by that norm laws are to be made and enforced. When we in the interests of apparent expediency erect laws or barriers which God has not erected, then we presume to act the role of law-givers. There is one lawgiver. When we observe the hard and fast lines of distinction which God has established for us and refuse to legislate on those matters that in themselves are not wrong, then we promote the interests of Christian ethics. When we violate these lines of distinction we confuse and perplex the whole question of ethics and jeopardize the cause of truth and righteousness. We dare not attempt to be holier than God’s law, and we dare not impose upon the Christian’s conscience what does not have the authority of divine institution.

[From “The Weak and the Strong” By Professor John Murray, The Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 12, 1950.]

But before I briefly defend the use (not the misuse) of wine and other alcoholic beverages, I feel compelled to warn that there seems to be a spirit amongst many of the newly reformed to go to the opposite extreme and make drinking and smoking almost articles of faith. On occasion Reformed, Lutheran, and Reformed Baptist brethren have acted as if strong beer and good cigars were a means of grace and absolutely necessary components for any kind of true fellowship. This is not the case, and I do not condemn any man or women for abstaining from their use any more than I would condemn someone for abstaining from red meat. The only time it becomes a problem is when a brother insists that not abstaining from them is a sin! Let us remember that our ultimate goal is not to drink good wine or to abstain from drinking it, but to grow in the grace and knowledge of the one who made “the best wine” at the wedding at Cana, – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Therefore let us not fall prey to the modern tendency to care more about good coffee than good piety.

A Quick synopsis of the Biblical teaching on Alcohol

There is no prohibition in the Bible against the making, selling, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. In fact, wine is spoken of as a good gift from God that makes the hearts of men glad (Psalm 104:15). There are certainl;y prohibitions against becoming drunk (Eph. 5:18) but here the onus is upon the consumer, not the drink or the seller thereof.

In this issue those who disapprove of alcohol are what Paul called the weaker parties, as they happen to believe that something that is not implicitly sinful is. Now it would be sinful for them to go against their own consciences and drink, and it also would be an abuse of one’s own Christian liberty to flaunt it by say, insisting on drinking at the dinner table of a weaker brother or sister, but it would also be sinful for them to attempt to command you either not to drink or not to sell alcohol – this in fact is the critical dividing line between weaker party and the legalist. Here we should be guided by the Bible and our Confessional Standards. Here is what the Westminster Confession of Faith says on the issue of Christian Liberty:

“II.  God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.” [Westminster Confession, Chapter 20, section 2]

The Bible is literally full of references that make it clear that Christ and the early Christians drank (or in the case of the wedding feast at Cana made) wine:

Here a contrast is drawn between Christ and John the Baptist:

“For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, `He has a demon.’ 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 7:33-34)

The Pharisees are shown to be hypocrites because they refuse to accept the man who didn’t drink alcohol (John) and the man who did (Christ) – the analogy would have broken down if Christ didn’t actually drink.

“Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.” (1 Tim 3:8) Note the word “much” Paul could clearly have said “any” if he had wanted to.

“Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (1 Tim 5:23) Do we really believe that Paul would have encouraged Timothy to sin merely for the sake of a stronger constitution?

Many Christians have attempted to assert that these are references to “Grape juice”. This is patently impossible.

1) Grape Juice either spoils or ferments. In the heat of Palestine this process didn’t take long. Beverage grape juice wasn’t commonly available until T.B. Welch produced his famous pasteurized grape juice in 1869.

2) The word used in the Greek is Oinos meaning “wine” (i.e. fermented) there is a word implying just the newly squeezed juice, but it isn’t used.

3) How odd that we would never be instructed that this “sin” is a sin.

4) “Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17) Why do the wineskins burst? Because of the gasses produced because the new wine is fermenting.

“And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, `The old is better.'” (Luke 5:39) Old “Juice”? No. Only wine gets better with age. The church must be concerned with the abuse of alcohol and speak out against drunkeness, but to attempt to enforce a blanket prohibition against alcoholic beverages is actually to take a position in which one is in effect saying, “My standard needs to be higher than that of Paul and Jesus.”

About Andrew Webb

I was converted out of paganism and the occult in 1993 and while I was initially Charismatic/Arminian in my theology, I became Reformed and Presbyterian through bible study and the influence of ministries like RC Sproul's. After teaching in local bible studies, and taking seminary courses part time, I began to feel called to the ministry in 1997. I was Ordained as an RE at Christ Covenant PCA in Hatboro, PA in 2000 and as a TE by Central Carolina Presbytery in 2001 when I was called to be the Organizing Pastor/Church Planter for Providence PCA Mission, Cross Creek PCA's church plant in Fayetteville, NC (home to Ft. Bragg and Pope Airforce Base). In 2005 when the Providence PCA Particularized I was blessed to be called by the congregation to be their Pastor
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1 Response to A Quick Synopsis of the Biblical Teaching on Alcohol

  1. Ben Duncan says:

    You meant to tell me that alcohol and cigars AREN’T means of grace? Preposterous!

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