Does the Bible Forbid Drinking?

Drinking

A reader asked:  Where in the Bible does it say not to drink alcohol? 

It’s an interesting question.  I’ve addressed it in my article Is Drinking a Sin? and here are the highlights:

There are three passages in the Bible that suggest abstinence from all alcoholic beverages. The first is in Proverbs 31:4-5 where “kings” are forbidden to drink because their judgment would be impaired. In those days of monarchies, kings were the ultimate court judges, like one-man supreme courts. The Bible said that they shouldn’t drink because of the important decisions they were expected to make. In the same way, who among us today is not responsible for decision-making to some degree, and unsure when he might have to make a decision?

The second reference suggesting abstinence is 1 Peter 4:7 which tells us that, since the end is near, we should stay sober and clear-minded so that we can pray. How many drinks does it take to distort one’s thinking? Isn’t the mind-altering effect of alcohol one of the major motivations for most drinking?

The third reference is Romans 14:21 where we are charged not to drink if it offends someone else or bruises their spiritual confidence. Even if a Christian has personally searched the Scriptures and decided that he is not violating God’s Word by drinking, he may still choose to abstain to keep a fellow Christian from stumbling; who may not have the same level of understanding. This is where one must be accountable for what he believes and how he interprets scripture. This is one reason why daily Bible study is so important.

Furthermore, the Bible explicitly forbids drunkenness in Ephesians 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 6:10.

However, on the other hand, Jesus partook of wine (Luke 22:20), and He even miraculously turned water into wine (John 2:1-11).  We also know that Jesus never sinned, so how could it be wrong to drink?  One could argue that none of the above passages explicitly says that Christians must not drink. In fact, some passages even appear to be imperatives to indulge. Consider the following examples:

Proverbs 31:6-7 is directed toward the distraught: “Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.”

1 Timothy 5:23 is a comment by Paul to Timothy: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.”

In 1 Corinthians 11:22, Paul tells the believers at Corinth that if they choose to drink, they should do it at home rather than at a church service, implying that this would be acceptable.

Conclusions

Of the six passages referenced above, the former three lean toward abstinence, especially for leaders, and the latter three lean toward indulgence, especially for the distraught. Either way, drunkenness is forbidden. If you’re a Christian drinker, you probably emphasize Proverbs 31:6-7 and 1 Timothy 5:23. If you’re a Christian abstainer, you probably prefer Proverbs 31:4-5 and 1 Peter 4:7.

The deciding factors, however, are the mind-altering effects and the long-term health risks of alcohol (Romans 12:1). If one drinks in moderation without altering his thinking capability to the extent that it affects his decision making, and his drinking doesn’t present a long-term health risk in his particular case, then he has not violated the Scriptures. If he experiences mind-altering effects when he drinks, so that his decision making rationale is impaired, he has violated Scripture.

Regardless, we are each accountable for ourselves. In general, a person’s drinking is between him and God. Of course, there can be extenuating circumstances when intervention is required and / or if that person is doing harm to others. However, in most cases, it is nobody else’s business unless that person seek help (1 Timothy 4:11). To be sure, there are many who place too much emphasis on this issue simply because they’re not minding their own business. Too often, the pious abstainer may be displeasing to God by his Pharisaic pride than the indulger is by his drinking.

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