What Does the Bible Teach about Drinking Alcohol?

What Does the Bible Teach about Drinking Alcohol? September 13, 2013

This is a guest post from my friend, Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin, President of the Center for Cultural Leadership. This post is a response to a friend of his who asked the question, “What does the Bible teach about drinking alcohol?” I thought there might be others who struggle with this question on their faith walk. You can purchase his latest book here: Christian Culture: An Introduction.  Follow his blog here.

Hello Andrew.  I know you’re not running an advice column, but I was hoping you could help me out anyway. I’ve been going to my church for 5 yrs now and I love it, but as I get closer with some of my fellow members I realize a lot of them drink alcohol.  They never get drunk but will have an occasional drink at dinner. This is completely new to me and how I was raised.  They have never even heard it was a sin. Where does the Bible stand on social drinking. My pastor does not drink, but I’ve never heard him preach completely against it. I’m afraid I might have been raised a legalistic.

Dear —-,

You pose a good question, and I’ll try to answer it simply and plainly from the Bible.

The Bible warns against drunkenness (what we today, in our compromise with sin, often call “alcohol dependency”) — Paul says this plainly in Ephesians 1:19 (see also 1 Peter. 4:3). A graphic picture of the tragic effects of drunkenness is found in Proverbs 3:29–35. Paul even warns that drunkards can’t enter the Lord’s kingdom (1 Cor. 6:10). This doesn’t mean they can’t become Christians (see v. 11a), or that they can’t fall into sin (1 Jn. 1:8–9), only that they can’t persist in their alcoholism and expect to enter heaven.

But the Bible doesn’t forbid drinking all alcohol under all conditions, and this is easy to prove. God allowed old covenant Israel to turn their rejoicing tithe into “strong drink” and consume it before him (Dt. 14:26). “Strong drink” here likely included the higher alcohol content akin to what we today call whiskey — not only lower-alcohol-content beer or wine.

In Leviticus 10:9 Moses warned Aaron and his sons not to drink wine or strong drink when they entered the tabernacle to do their service as priests. If God prohibited all alcohol consumption, these limited prohibitions would have been unnecessary. The same logic is true of pastors and deacons in the NT (1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Tit. 2:3).  Why would God limit drinking alcohol for church officers under certain conditions if he prohibited it for all people at all times? God’s reason seems to be that he doesn’t want his spiritual leaders impaired by alcohol’s effects as they serve in their office.

And then there’s Romans 14:21. Paul has been arguing that he’s willing to surrender certain permissible actions if they truly cause a brother or sister to stumble in the Faith. He includes drinking wine in this class. Obviously, if God prohibited wine, he wouldn’t need to say this. Some people say that wine is equivalent to grape juice, but this doesn’t make sense. Why would anybody object to drinking grape juice? And the fact is that grape juice as a separate beverage wasn’t available in the ancient world. They didn’t have the refrigeration techniques we do today to keep it from fermenting. It’s true that people could drink the juice of immediately squeezed grapes, but that juice didn’t last long as unfermented!

Did Jesus Drink?

Christians sometimes believe that Jesus made (and drank) grape juice, not fermented wine, but this runs contrary both to the text and to common sense and history (Jn. 2:1–10). When the house ruler commented that the wine Jesus made was uncharacteristically better than the wine first served, he had to mean fermented wine. We don’t comment on the quality of grape juice in that way. We can easily compare and contrast the quality of wines but not that of grape juices. And, as I said above, there was no way to serve large portions of unfermented wine at a wedding anyway.

In Matthew 11:19, Jesus contrasts his ministry with that of John the Baptist. He points out that the Pharisees attacked John for being too strict and they attacked him for being too lenient! The Pharisees claimed Jesus was a glutton and a winebibber. These charges were false (and blasphemous), but Jesus admits that, unlike John, he did enjoy good food and wine. He obviously means alcoholic wine, or the Pharisees’ comments wouldn’t have had any meaning at all.

Was There Fermented Wine at Communion?

In 1 Corinthians 11:21 Paul rebukes the church for sins at the Lord’s Table. One of them is that some members were getting drunk. Obviously they were using fermented wine during communion. It’s true that in those days, the Lord’s Supper was a part of larger meal, and not a separate event, but this underscores the fact that early Christians consumed fermented beverages. Paul didn’t rebuke them for consuming alcoholic wine, only for getting drunk and otherwise not caring for their brothers and sisters.

There are many activities we engage in today that the Bible would consider at best questionable, but alcohol isn’t one of them. Christians in the Bible (and Jesus himself) did drink alcohol in moderation, and the Bible never rebuked them for it.

Does This Mean That All Christians May Drink?

This doesn’t mean that all Christians should drink alcohol. If a Christian can’t drink alcohol in moderation, he should never drink it (1 Cor. 6:12). This is often true in the case of those who were previously drunkards. And as I said above, if drinking will truly wound a weaker Christian (that is, one who doesn’t understand that the Bible permits alcohol, and will be led to drink it and thereby sin against his conscience), then we shouldn’t drink (Rom. 14:14–23).

But this only means that drinking is wrong in some cases, not all cases.

You mention legalism.  It’s true that Christians can impose standards the Bible doesn’t impose and in doing this they undermine the Bible (Mk. 7:5–9). But in specific cases they can also act with blatant disregard for their brothers and sisters by drinking (Rom. 14). This is a sin also.

We live in an alcohol- (and drug-) obsessed culture, so it’s understandable why Christians would not want to allow drinking. But we have to be guided by the Bible, not by our culture.

I hope this helps.

Do you agree with his take on whether or not Christians should drink alcohol? Leave a comment below or share with someone you know who might have the same question. 


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  • While I agree with your main premise – that the Bible does not clearly condemn social drinking – I think we’re missing a big point…

    God is much more concerned with our heart in this matter than whether or not a drop of alcohol has ever passed our lips.

    In Bible days, there weren’t many drinking options. They could drink fresh grape juice right away, water (which was often contaminated), or wine. Today things are very different. Few people are drinking wine today for health reasons or simply to quench their thirst. There are other motives at play.

    And that, I think, is more what should be discussed in this area – why is one choosing to drink socially? While there may be some who truly choose to drink

    for the glory of God, I think an honest examination would reveal that for most this is not the case. Normally there are other motives such as wanting to fit in or trying to take an edge off the stress, pain, or frustration (as opposed to finding our identity and help in Christ.)

    I do think we need to be honest about what the Bible does and does not say in this area, and as you referenced Romans 14 needs to definitely play a huge role. But I think the Christian community needs to go further than that by also discussing how other Biblical principles apply to this area. It’s just an area with so many dangers and the chance for so much destruction – I think lots and lots of caution is needed.

  • Until a certain threshold alcohol has just an anxiolytic and relaxing effect (based on GABA receptors) and I see nothing problematic with that.

    But of you drink more the dopamine receptors get activated and you begin to become really dumb and talk non-sense.

    From that point on it grows more problematic.

    Lovely greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son


  • Michael Snow

    Amazing that some Christians still think that Jesus made grape juice! When will we ever ask, “What does the Bible teach about Christians and War?” Thankfully, we have faithful examples that can help, like Charles Surgeon: http://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/

  • Kevin

    You are mistaken in thinking that there was no way to preserve wine in ancient days. They used concentration much like today which increased the sugar content to the point of preservation. The result would be pure, unfermented, grape juice in a syrup form much like honey. When mixed with water and reconstituted it would become juice. It was available year round. The thought that they had to ferment it to preserve it is just wrong. Anything can be preserved in any climate when the necessary components for decomposition or fermentation are removed. When Jesus turned the water to wine it was said that he reserved the best for last. That is that which had not been concentrated and reconstituted but that which was fresh. The fresh always being preferred.