Enter any popular online Christian discussion forum today, and you will inevitably run into a fiery debate about the Christian and alcohol. Both sides of the debate attempt to use biblical arguments to support their positions, and the argument often ends in a stalemate.
What does the Bible really say about alcohol, and how can the Christian today apply what it says to his beverage choices?
The Benefits of Alcohol
The Bible clearly points to benefits of alcohol. Alcohol possesses certain characteristics that make it quite useful and helpful in certain circumstances.
For instance, alcohol serves as a good medicinal narcotic. Proverbs 31:6 says, “Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish.” When someone is in pain, the Bible says to give them alcohol to numb the pain. We see an example of this in Matthew 27:24 where Jesus was given wine to drink while on the cross.
Alcohol is also an effective purifier for wounds, according to the Bible. For instance, In Luke 10:34, the Good Samaritan poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds in order to purify them.
The Bible also cites alcohol’s power to purify water. In situations where the available water was contaminated and therefore undrinkable, alcohol was used to purify it. In fact, Paul commands Timothy to use alcohol with his water due to his frequent illness (5:23). Evidently Timothy had been drinking only water, and that was causing sickness.
There is no doubt that the Bible praises alcohol for its good benefits. It has medicinal and purification properties that make it very useful in certain conditions. This is illustrated in at least 5 separate biblical texts.
The Dangers of Alcohol
The Bible also warns us about the inherent dangers with alcohol. Alcohol has properties that render a person unable to think clearly, and it often leads him into sin. So, because the benefits of alcohol for medicinal and purification purposes render it useful and even necessary, the Bible stresses that care must be taken to protect from the dangers.
Warning by Example
The Bible warns about the danger of alcohol often through the use of examples where it has caused problems. Consider the following examples:
When he [Noah] drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.
That night they [Lot’s daughters] got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
He [one who takes a Nazirite vow] must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins.
Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son.
Alcohol would harm an unborn infant.
1 Samuel 1:14
And said to her, “How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.
Alcohol can lead to drunkenness, which is forbidden.
2 Samuel 11:13
At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.
David made Uriah drunk in order to get him to do something he did not want to do.
2 Samuel 13:28
Absalom ordered his men, “Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon down,’ then kill him. Don’t be afraid. Have not I given you this order? Be strong and brave.”
On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carcas-11 to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at.
And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions.
No priest is to drink wine when he enters the inner court.
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Warnings Made Explicit
Not only does the Bible warn about the danger of alcohol by example, but it also explicitly warns believers about the harmful potentials of alcohol. Consider these texts:
Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.
He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich.
Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat,
Do not gaze at wine when it is red [when its alcoholic content is highest], when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly!
It is not for kings, O Lemuel— not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer.
Those in positions of leadership should be particularly careful about the dangers of alcohol.
Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine.
Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks.
Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim’s drunkards, to the fading flower, his glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley— to that city, the pride of those laid low by wine!
Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies.
Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.
1 Corinthians 5:11
But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
1 Corinthians 6:10
Nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
And envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
1 Timothy 3:3
Not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
1 Timothy 3:8
Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.
Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.
1 Peter 4:3
For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.
The Bible clearly lists benefits of alcohol. It can numb pain, it can purify wounds, and it can purify drinking water. But the Bible also warns that although alcohol may be useful for those purposes and even necessary under certain conditions, alcohol has great potential for harm. Some people are even forbidden to drink alcohol in certain circumstances despite its benefits because of its inherent danger.
With this clear, unbiased information about what the Bible says about alcohol’s benefits and dangers, I have a few questions for consideration:
- Why do people drink alcohol today? Do they drink it for its benefits (medicinal and purification), or do they drink it for what it does to them (i.e. the effects that lead to the dangers)?
- Are there other means today that provide the same benefits as alcohol without its inherent dangers (i.e. taking pills for the heart instead of a glass of wine)?
- Would it be wisest for believers to abstain from alcohol considering (a) its dangers and (b) the fact that its benefits can be gained through other less dangerous means?
- Is there any really good reason for a Christian to drink alcohol?