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Should A Christian Drink Alcohol (1)

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Should A Christian Drink Alcohol? (1)

8/27/06 CC/PM

Introduction: Why bring this up? We live in a day where the vast majority of people are drinkers.  Last Spring we heard that Cornerstone University was reviewing their policy concerning among other things, whether or not to continue to require that those on staff could drink or not.  I was talking with a former college student from Cedarville last month who told me that all her friends that have graduated from there see nothing wrong with a little drinking.  For these and other reasons I thought it was time to re investigate to topic of drinking and the Christian.

In consideration of this topic I am most concerned with what the Bible has to say about it!  I believe that there is much confusion and a lot of manipulation when it comes to what the Scriptures actually say.  I anticipate taking a few weeks to complete our study so let’s get started.


How have you seen the attitude that Christians have toward drinking change in the last 25 years?

To what would you attribute the change?

What are some reasons that believers might use to justify drinking?

Let’s start with the Old Testament.

The word "wine" appears more than two hundred times in the King James version of the Old Testament. This word was translated from a number of different Hebrew words.

In the Old Testament priests were instructed not to drink wine or any kind of strong drink.

"And the Lord spake unto Aaron, saying, Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations: And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; And that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses" (Lev. 10:8-11).

Upon skimming these verses one might conclude that this command to abstain from all alcoholic beverages had only to do with serving in the tabernacle. A more thorough reading, however, with special attention given to verse 10, makes it clear that abstaining from beverage alcohol was to be a way of life for the priests. This lifestyle was to demonstrate the difference between holy and unholy, between clean and unclean. In this context, the use of intoxicating beverages is seen as unholy and unclean, and the aim of the priest's lifestyle was to set an example before the people.

Rulers were forbidden to use intoxicating wine.

"It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted" (Prov. 31:4,5).

Solomon gave a blanket command, setting forth the biblical principle that all fermented wine is to be avoided.

"Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright." (Prov. 23:31).

There are many Old Testament warnings about the effects of intoxicating wine.

Wine is a mocker.

"Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise) (Prov. 20:1)

  Heavy drinking brings poverty.

"For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags" (Prov. 23:21).

  The use of intoxicating wine brings trouble physically and socially.

"Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine" (Prov. 23:29,30).

  Intoxicating wine ultimately harms the user.

"At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder" (Prov. 23:32).

  Beverage alcohol is the companion of immorality and untruthfulness.

"Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things" (Prov. 23:33).

  The urge to drink can be so strong that it overcomes good judgment, making one forget the misery of his last binge.

"They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again" (Prov. 23:35).

When religious leaders indulge in strong drink, they deceive their followers as to the realities of life and the importance of getting right with God while there is time.

"Come ye, say they, 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. 56:12).

  Drinking makes a proud and selfish person.

"Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people" (Hab. 2:5).

The description, then, of beverage alcohol as set forth in the Bible is that of an enemy attacking its users and robbing them of everything that is good in life.

In the Old Testament, as well as in the New, wine is often a symbol of God's judgment and wrath. In writing of God's chastening of His people, the psalmist says they have been made to drink the "wine of astonishment" (Ps. 60:3).

The wrath of God prepared for the wicked is pictured as a cup full of fermented wine.

"For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them" (Ps. 75:8).

  The prophet Jeremiah saw God's fury symbolized in a cup of wine.

"For thus saith the Lord God of Israel unto me; Take the wine cup of this fury at my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send thee, to drink it. And they shall drink, and be moved, and be mad, because of the sword that I will send among them. Then took I the cup at the Lord's hand, and made all the nations to drink, unto whom the Lord had sent me" (Jer. 25:15 -- 17).

  In summary, then, the Old Testament records specific tragedies resulting from the use of beverage alcohol. It singles out special people and groups whose lives were to be examples to others, and they are commanded not to drink intoxicating beverages. Clear Old Testament commands declare that we are not to look upon fermented wine with longing nor desire.

Intoxicating wine mocks, impoverishes, affects health, injures its users, and contributes to immorality and dishonesty. It warps character, encouraging selfishness and greed. It is seen as a symbol of God's wrath and judgment.

But there is another side to the question. Some Old Testament verses speak of wine as a blessing, a symbol of prosperity, a source of cheer and gladness. Consider these examples:

"Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine" (Gen. 27:28).

"And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?" (Judg. 9:13).

"He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart" (Ps. 104:14,15).

How can wine be both a curse and a blessing, a symbol of judgment and a symbol of prosperity? How shall we explain these seeming contradictions?

Dr. William Patton's book, Bible Wines or Laws of Fermentation and Wines of the Ancients, has become a classic on the subject.

Having given himself to serious study of the Hebrew and Greek texts and their biblical contexts, Patton discovered the following surprising facts.

"(1) The Hebrew words translated "wine" in the Bible do not always mean fermented or intoxicating wine.

(2) The Hebrew word yayin, most often translated "wine" in the Old Testament, means grape juice in any form -- fermented or unfermented. The true meaning can only be determined by the text.

(3) The Hebrew word tirosh, also translated "wine," in all but one possible case means "new wine," "unfermented wine." This word was used repeatedly in the original text in the places where wine has a good textual connotation.

(4) Many wines of the ancients were boiled or filtered to prevent fermentation, and these were often considered the best wines."


So, light begins to break through. The Bible speaks of two kinds of wine: good wine and bad wine, unfermented wine and fermented wine, wine that does not intoxicate and wine that does intoxicate.

Tirosh, translated "wine" in the Old Testament, means new wine or grape juice. It sometimes refers to the juice still in the grapes before pressing. Consider these examples:

"Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine" [tirosh] (Gen. 27:28).

  Note the association with corn, speaking of the harvest.

"All the best of the oil, and all the best of the wine, and of the wheat, the firstfruits of them which they shall offer unto the Lotto, them have I given thee. And whatsoever is first ripe in the land, which they shall bring unto the Lord, shall be thine; every one that is clean in thine house shall eat of it" (Num. 18:12,13).

  The wine here (tirosh) is part of the offering of the firstfruits, that is, the earliest gatherings of the harvest. It is brought freshly pressed to the altar.

"And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee" (Deut. 7:13).

  The use of tirosh in this text is again with corn and oil -- part of the harvest. The reference is unmistakably to new wine, grape juice.

"That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil" (Deut. 11:14).

Note the gathering of corn and wine in the harvest with an unmistakable reference to the wine (tirosh) being juice still in the grapes -- unfermented wine.

And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine [tirosh], which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? (Judg. 9:13).

 This interesting verse is part of Jotham's parable, in which the trees call to the vine to come and reign over them. But the vine refuses because it does not want to leave its wine, which cheers God and man. There is no doubt that the wine, or grape juice, is still in the grapes. It is in this unfermented state that wine cheers God and man, because it is part of the blessed abundant harvest.

"And that we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage" (Neh. 10:37).


Again, wine (tirosh) is spoken of as part of the offering of the firstfruits. Fermentation would have been impossible. If any doubts remain, perhaps Nehemiah 10:39 will settle them.

"For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God."

Isaiah further confirms Patton's findings.

"Thus saith the Lord, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants' sakes, that I may not destroy them all" (Is. 65:8).

 There is little wonder that Patton's study brought him to the conclusion that there are two kinds of wine -- fermented and unfermented. In this passage the wine is described as still being in the cluster, and "a blessing is in it."

Now read Joel's thrilling prophecy of millenial blessings.

"And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim" (Joel 3:18).

 We shall drink wine in the kingdom -- new wine that drops from the vines in the vineyards that grow on the mountains. This wine is unfermented; it is not intoxicating.

And we shall share it together when Christ reigns as King.

While the Hebrew word tirosh is translated "wine" 38 times, the word used for wine most often in the Old Testament is yayin, which appears 141 times. Young's Analytical Concordance defines yayin as "what is pressed out, grape juice." In his article, "Did Jesus Turn Water Into Intoxicating Wine?" Lloyd Button writes:

"It should be made clear that the English word "wine" used in the Bible is a translation of a number of words in the Hebrew and Greek languages referring to various products of the vine. Some Bible dictionaries insist that the usual meaning of the word wine is fermented. "Yayin" in Hebrew and "oinos" in Greek are the general terms for wine, and as we note later in this article can refer to both fermented and unfermented wine."7

  Patton quotes Prof. M. Stuart on the meaning of the word yayin.

In the Hebrew Scriptures the word yayin, in its broadest meaning, designates grape-juice, or the liquid which the fruit of the vine yields. This may be new or old, sweet or sour, fermented or unfermented, intoxicating or unintoxicating. The simple idea of grape-juice or vine-liquor is the basis and essence of the word, in whatever connection it may stand. The specific sense which we must often assign to the word arises not from the word itself, but from the connection in which it stands.

"He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart" (Ps. 104:14,15).

  Because of expressions that today are associated with the use of intoxicating beverages, the reader is likely to think that "making glad the heart of man" is similar to "feeling good" as a result of drinking wine. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fermented wine does not make a person glad; it simply induces sleep in some areas of his brain.

A reading of Psalm 4:7 shows that the source of gladness in one's heart may come from corn and wine, but that this gladness reaches its peak through appreciating God's goodness. In both texts, degrees of gladness are the result of appreciating God's provision. At its height, this gladness comes from understanding God's spiritual blessings. To a lesser degree, it is a result of God's care of man in giving the harvest of food, wine, and oil.

Jeremiah says:

"As for me, behold, I will dwell at Mizpah to serve the Chaldeans, which will come unto us: but ye, gather ye wine, and summer fruits, and oil, and put them in your vessels, and dwell in your cities that ye have taken" (Jer. 40:10).

  This scene of the harvest calls for wine (yayin) to be brought in from the fields; it is to be gathered with the summer fruits. Therefore, it would be unfermented and nonintoxicating.

In his masterful work The Use of "Wine" in the Old Testament, Dr. Robert P. Teachout, associate professor of Old Testament at Detroit Baptist Divinity School, concludes his lengthy and detailed study of yayin in this way.

"Therefore, the unified idea which is inherent in the word yayin is not that of a "fermented wine" per se (with divine approval dependent upon an assumed restriction of the quantity ingested, an assumption which is not explicit anywhere in the Old Testament). Instead, the comprehensive idea which the word conveys is that of a "grape beverage" (with the implied fermentation or its lack to be determined objectively only from the divine approval or disapproval of the beverage indicated by any context)."9


In Teachout's judgment, yayin is intended to mean "grape juice" seventy-one times and "fermented wine" seventy times in the Old Testament.

Symbolically, intoxicating wine speaks of judgment and wrath. In contrast, nonintoxicating wine speaks of spiritual blessings.

"Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (Isa. 55:1).

 William Patton says:

"In all the passages where good wine is named there is no lisp of warning, no intimations of danger, no hint of disapprobation, but always a decided approval.

How bold and strongly marked is the contrast:

The one the cause of intoxication, of violence, and of woes.

The other the occasion of comfort and peace.

The one the cause of irreligion and of self-destruction.

The other the devout offering of piety on the altar of God.

The one the symbol of divine wrath.

The other the symbol of spiritual blessings.

The one the emblem of eternal damnation.

The other the emblem of eternal salvation."10


The supposed riddle of the use of wine in the Old Testament is no longer a mystery. And it is encouraging to know that one does not have to be a master of the original languages to determine the type of wine spoken of in each text. Charles Wesley Ewing explains:

"...if a reader will just consider the context surrounding the word he can easily understand whether the fermented or unfermented grape juice was intended. Wherever the use of wine is prohibited or discouraged it means the fermented wine. Where its use is encouraged and is spoken of as something for our good it means the unfermented."

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