What Does The Bible Say About Drinking Alcohol?

Can a Christian drink alcohol according to the Bible?  Didn’t Jesus drink wine?  How can a Christian decide whether to drink alcohol or not?

What Did Jesus Drink?

We know that Jesus made water into wine in His first miracle at the wedding feast but was it like the wine that is available today (John 2:1-11)?  The answer is no, the wine that we have today is much stronger than it was in the day when Jesus walked the earth.  We also know that Jesus took wine and unleavened bread during the Passover meal or what some call the Lord’s Supper or Communion, but this was not the strong, fermented wine that is found in liquor stores in our day.  Today’s wine and spirits are so much stronger than they were in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  The wine that was used in those days contained much more water than it does today.  It likely had a very small amount of alcohol because fermentation was not the same process that is used today.  Today’s wine can have as much as 50% or more alcoholic content.  The wine in Jesus’ day was probably, according to historians, less than 2-5% alcohol and maybe even less.   There is absolutely no way that Jesus would make wine, as He did at the wedding feast, that would contain a high amount of alcohol because He knew that drunkenness was sin and Jesus Himself was never in such a state.   Much of the water in Judea had many contaminants and so wine was frequently added to the water to ensure that it was safer to drink.

Can a Christian drink alcohol according to the Bible? Didn’t Jesus drink wine?

Wine for Medicinal Purposes?

Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine for his frequent stomach ailments.  Apparently Timothy, a young pastor, had a lot of stress and like today, stress can create stomach ulcers and an upset stomach.   Paul told Timothy to “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim 5:23).  Notice that Paul stressed “a little wine.”  This “little wine” was for the purpose of his stomach problems and his “frequent ailments” so we know that Timothy was frequently sick.   By Paul’s telling Timothy to drink only a little wine and to no longer drink water alone may be Paul’s way of telling Timothy to add a little wine to his water and don’t drink water alone.   The water in Judea was not always free from pollutants or bacteria so adding wine to it may have made it healthier to consume.  Clearly Paul was not stating doctrine that it is okay to drink alcohol nor was he saying it is okay for pastors to drink.  Pastors are under close scrutiny, not only from the church members, but from the community at large, and to be drinking wine in public could set a bad example and may create a stumbling block for both believers and non-believers.

Wine in the Sacraments

During the Lord’s Supper or Communion, members of the church partake in the bread and wine that Jesus commanded for them to observe and by doing so they would proclaim the Lord’s return.  Paul said as much when he wrote to the Corinthian church saying “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26).  This reveals that we are commanded to partake in the wine and bread during this sacrament, but if a person struggles with alcoholism or has been an alcoholic, there is nothing wrong with substituting grape juice for the wine.  Even if a person feels convicted by drinking real wine, they do not have to drink real wine if they don’t want to.  Many church members who believe that drinking is wrong can drink grape juice in place off the wine.  Sadly, some of the Corinthians took wine to an excess and were guilty of partaking in the Lord’s Supper in “an unworthy manner” and by so doing would be “guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27).  That is a very serious offense and is why some where actually getting drunk (1 Cor 11:21) and many were “weak and ill, and some…died” (1 Cor 11:30).  To take the Lord’s Supper in such a careless and thoughtless way and to even get drunk during this sacred event resulted in God’s taking them home prematurely.  That is how seriously God takes this sacred and somber sacrament.   The word “sacrament” has a root meaning of “sacred” and the church at Corinth was taking the sacred and profaning it by making it a drunken party.

Conclusion

We are commanded to partake of the Lord’s Supper because Jesus said do this in remembrance of Him and Paul reiterated that by telling the church at Corinth that he “received from the Lord what [he] also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:23-24) and “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:25b-27).

Christians are at liberty today to drink wine or alcohol but I think it is unwise to do so and of course they are never free to get drunk.  It sets a bad example and can make unbelievers see no difference between them and the world.   It may also be sin in the mind of some believers.  Drunkenness is the real sin issue here, not consuming a “little wine.” Today, if you have yet to repent and trust in Christ, you will have wine alright but not in a way that you can enjoy.  God commanded the angel to “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.”  So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle” (Rev 14:18b-20) however, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  Today could be the day that you can be assured to partake of the wine at the great wedding feast that will be in the Kingdom someday.  This very day, if you will repent of your sins, and trust in Christ, you will have Christ as your Savior and not as your Judge (Rev 20:11-15).  Today may be the last day for you to make that decision for no one knows if tomorrow will even come (Prov 27:1; James 4:13-14) so make today the day of your salvation (2 Cor 6:2).

Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want to Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book  Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.

photo credit: Digimist via photopin cc

  • Kirk Janowiak

    You wrote: “Today’s wine can have as much as 50% or more alcoholic content. ”

    This is simply incorrect. Products of fermentation typically have alcohol (ethanol) concentrations from 2-15%. By the way: fermentation THEN was the same as fermentation TODAY. Neither the yeast nor the chemistry have changed.

    Most wine today is is the 6-15% range, with the majority hanging around the 8-12% range. Beer, by comparison, ends fermentation at around 2-8%. If you see wine with anything more than about 15%, that product has been “fortified” by adding pure alcohol to it. If the concentration is over 25%, that product has been distilled (like vodka or whiskey, which typically have 40-50% alcohol).

    You also put our Lord Jesus’ behavior and intent into a peculiar human box when you wrote: “There is absolutely no way that Jesus would make wine, as He did at the wedding feast, that would contain a high amount of alcohol…”

    In fact, John 2:9-10 tells us: ‘…and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”’ (NIV)

    The “best” wine would have been expertly fermented and then stored away for a time, much like good wine is today. Having no water added to it and being served as the special and rare commodity it was, it would certainly have had an alcohol content greater than the watered-down wine that people took daily at table. This makes the miracle of turning water into wine even greater!


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