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What Does the Bible Really Say About Alcohol?

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:

Genesis 9:21
When he [Noah] drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.

Genesis 19:33
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.

Numbers 6:3
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.

Judges 13:4-5
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.”

Esther 1:10-11
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.

Isaiah 28:7
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.

Ezekiel 44:21
No priest is to drink wine when he enters the inner court.

Acts 2:13
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:

Proverbs 20:1
Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

Proverbs 21:17
He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich.

Proverbs 23:20
Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat,

Proverbs 23:31
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!

Proverbs 31:4
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.

Isaiah 5:11
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.

Isaiah 5:22
Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks.

Isaiah 28:1
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!

Habakkuk 2:15
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.

Romans 13:13
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.

Galatians 5:21
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.

Ephesians 5:18
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.

Titus 1:7
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.

Titus 2:3
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:

  1. 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)?
  2. 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)?
  3. 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?
  4. Is there any really good reason for a Christian to drink alcohol?
Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

17 Responses to What Does the Bible Really Say About Alcohol?

  1. To add to the list of benefits of wine, there are also verses talking about the joyful aspects of wine…

    Psalm 104:14-15:
    "You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart."

    Zechariah 10:7:
    "Then Ephraim shall become like a mighty warrior, and their hearts shall be glad as with wine. Their children shall see it and be glad; their hearts shall rejoice in the LORD."

    Ecclesiastes 10:19:
    "Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything."

    Song of Solomon 7:9:
    "…and your mouth like the best wine. It goes down smoothly for my beloved, gliding over lips and teeth."

    A good taste and mildly intoxicating effect (within appropriate contexts) seem to be praised in Scripture. So that might necessarily alter your questions at the end to allow for that but warn against abuse.

    I do have one issue with taking pills to have similar effects to wine… many people are more afraid of modern medicine than they would ever be of getting drunk (I have several relatives in this category, while I have several others more afraid of drunkenness than medicine). Just an issue to consider.

  2. "Is there any really good reason for a Christian to drink alcohol?"

    Or eat hamburgers… or listen to the radio… or watch tv… the question itself smacks of pure legalism of the most heinous kind… subtle legalism which sneaks into churches and gets people to say things like "Christians should make the wisest choice and given the dangers, alcohol isn't the wisest choice…" Is not the implication that WISE Christians don't drink?
    The "weaker" brother is just that, weaker. It's not a position to be proud of nor promote.

  3. Jeff:

    Is "gladness" necessarily equivalent to a "mildly intoxicating effect"? Intoxicated = drunk. Is it alright for a believer to be even "mildly" drunk (unless it is for medicinal purposes)?


    I have a cousin, a mother of three, who the Lord recently saved and delivered at the age of 49 from a decades-long alcohol addiction. I wish you could ask her how much difference it would have made to her and her children if she had never started drinking – and if she or they would judge drinking alcohol to be in any way comparable to eating hamburgers, listening to the radio, or watching tv.

    This beautiful Christian mother and her three young adult children are praising God for setting her free from the grip that this mind-altering drug had on her life and for restoring their relationships to a wonderful testimony of the love of Christ. None of us would hesitate to warn others about the dangers of unnecessarily indulging in "strong drink," for we would hope to spare other families years of such indescribable suffering.

    Please don't call our compassion legalism. Legalism is attempting to be justified by law in the sight of God. We know that our acceptance before God is due solely to the righteousness of Christ and is not based on whether we drink or do anything else. Our motive for cautioning others is love, informed by an intimate knowledge of the corruption and severe bondage to which indulgence in strong drink (wine/beer/liquor) can so easily lead.

  4. @Lori

    If "intoxicated" were completely equal to "drunk", then I would agree. But I don't know that our clinical English definition of "intoxication" is equivalent to the Bible's word "drunk". Being drunk, in Bible terms, is being filled with or under the control of something. I don't think "mildly intoxicating effects" fits this description. The most the alcohol is doing with that first glass is relaxing you and cheering you up. I don't think that fits the bill for "being under something else's control." If it did, I'd need to give up all kinds of other stuff from coffee to sugar to buying anything to reading novels to… well… just about everything. Control isn't equal to influence. You can be under something's influence without being under its control.

    Just where to draw the line is a more difficult question, which is why we each have the Spirit.

  5. @Jeff

    Thanks for these interesting thoughts to consider. Since we're told to be sober (I realize this admonition may possibly not be narrowly aimed at the question of whether to drink wine, but still–), I find it difficult to square even mild intoxication with keeping a sober state of mind. I don't know Greek so maybe I'm missing something here.

  6. @Lori

    Personal experiences do not dictate Scriptural positions. We all know of people who misuse one or more of God's creation, be it sex, food or alcohol to their detriment, that doesn't make the creation inherently evil.

    Your cousin's addiction is a result of her own sinfulness not because alcohol existed. Your cousin and others like her would have found some substance, be it alcohol, drugs or even food to abuse.

    Legalism has many facets, one of those facets is placing unscriptural laws upon the yoke of believers. Any requirement of Christians to abstain from that which God has declared in Scripture, time and again, to be good and even so connected to the New Covenant that it is a sign of Christ's own blood in the Lord's Supper, is legalism of the worst kind.

    You seemed to dismiss, or at least miss the nuance of my point relating tv/food/etc:
    There are many things that many people misuse/overuse and abuse in this world. Abolishing those things in no way prevents the underlying sin that is the issue. You might not appreciate the relation of your personal-experience to those other activities, however, the point remains unanswered… the viewpoint that "good Christians" refrain from drinking alcohol can easily be leveled at any activity.

    The truly Christian principle regarding alcohol is best expressed by Martin Luther,

    Do you suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused? Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women? The sun, the moon, and the stars have been worshipped. Shall we then pluck them out of the sky? … See how much He has been able to accomplish through me, though I did no more than pray and preach. The Word did it all. Had I wished I might have started a conflagration at Worms. But while I sat still and drank beer with Philip and Amsdorf, God dealt the papacy a mighty blow. – Luther

    I'm sorry your cousin became addicted to something, but do not blame the alcohol for the addiction and by all means do not seek to forbid anyone from drinking without clear Biblical warrant.

  7. @Lori

    "Since we’re told to be sober…"

    Sober defined how? Do you believe that the Greek term translated into English as "sober" really relates specifically to alcohol?

    "I find it difficult to square even mild intoxication with keeping a sober state of mind. "

    God intends wine to make the hearts of believers glad… (Psa 104), that's why He created it such. Can it be misused? Yes, like most of God's blessings, our misuse turns them into curses.

  8. @ M Burke

    So, would you suggest in order to avoid the sin of legalism, I should call her up tomorrow and recommend that she start drinking again, in "moderation?"

    "Your cousin’s addiction is a result of her own sinfulness not because alcohol existed."

    I'm not attributing her addiction to the alcohol's "existence"; I'm attributing it to her having actually indulged in the drinking of it. If she had seen it on the shelf and left it alone, then no, I don't think she would have become addicted. (By the way, were you by any chance drinking when you made that comment?)

    "Your cousin and others like her would have found some substance, be it alcohol, drugs or even food to abuse." …"You seemed to dismiss, or at least miss the nuance of my point relating tv/food/etc: There are many things that many people misuse/overuse and abuse in this world."

    So, I guess if she had become addicted to chocolate, or peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, or watching Gilligan's Island, everyone's lives would have been affected in exactly the same way. Gotcha. I'll be sure to inform her and her children of that the next time I see them. It will make them feel SO much better.

    What YOU seem to dismiss, or miss, is that my cousin "and others like her" (whatever THAT means) are living, breathing people who have suffered probably in ways that you can't imagine. I detect no compassion in your comments but merely a vehement insistence on your scriptural "right" to drink. Fine. I really don't care if you drink or not. If you re-read my comments above, you'll see that I wrote about wanting to warn and caution others about the dangers of indulging in alcohol, not about commanding them. Since you have so graciously informed me that these dangers only exist for people "like her" and not for people like yourself, then I will happily leave you alone.

    I don't care to discuss any further the experiences of people I love so very much with someone I've never met who treats them merely as nameless, faceless fodder for his arguments. I'm sorry I told their story as I feel I've somehow exposed them to abuse. Your tone is incredibly cold. I expected to find more kindness on a Christian website.

  9. Oh, and as long as we're quoting that flawless fount of wisdom, Martin Luther:

    "What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews?…First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them….Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed…Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb…Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews…Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping….Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam…

    "In brief, dear princes and lords, those of you who have Jews under your rule: if my counsel does not please you, find better advice, so that you and we all can be rid of the unbearable, devilish burden of the Jews….I have read and heard many stories about the Jews which agree with this judgment of Christ, namely, how they have poisoned wells, made assassinations, kidnaped children, as related before … However, it all coincides with the judgment of Christ which declares that they are venomous, bitter, vindictive, tricky serpents, assassins, and children of the devil who sting and work harm stealthily wherever they cannot do it openly … That is what I had in mind when I said earlier that, next to the devil, a Christian has no more bitter and galling foe than a Jew."

  10. @ M Burke

    Me: "I realize this admonition [to be sober] may possibly not be narrowly aimed at the question of whether to drink wine……I don’t know Greek so maybe I’m missing something here."

    You: "Do you believe that the Greek term translated into English as 'sober' really relates specifically to alcohol?"

    No, I don't REALLY believe anything of the sort or I wouldn't have used the phrases "may possibly not," "I don't know Greek," and "maybe I'm missing something."

    Do YOU know what it says in the Greek? If so, why not be generous and share the info you have?…unless you're just trying to score points and make your "opponent" look stupid.

  11. Micah,

    I was offended but it was wrong of me to write to you in such a sarcastic tone. Also, I shouldn't have judged you as cold-hearted since if we were speaking in person, it may not have come across that way. (The written word has its limitations.)

    I believe we are not under law but under grace. However, we are under the "law" of love which I violated. Forgive me.

  12. @ Lori…

    You really are missing the point brother! Tv, work, movies, drugs and many other things are on exactly the same level in many ways… Sorry to hear about your cousin but I know many Christians who can have a drink and be merry without excessive use or abuse.

    Lifes tough and some people need more "rules" than others…

    Peace to you


  13. Thanks for noting some of the benefits that Scripture extols, Scott. When our first midwife suggested wine during my wife’s home water-birth, we chuckled to ourselves, but then saw the wisdom of that over many disastrous pain-interventions that hospitals usually provide.

    So I seriously question that a “heart pill,” or acetaminophen, or any other pharmaceutical drug is safer than alcohol. My mom passed away last year from many different ailments culminating in cancer. There is a distinguishable line of cause and effect through many different formerly FDA approved medications which are now banned because they are known to cause the exact things my mom got while using them. It is called medical “practice” for a reason, as my dad likes to say. They are practicing on us to see what works and what doesn’t. A glass of wine a day…or 2 coumadin a day? A great uncle of mine died last year because he slipped and fell on the ice and bled to death because he was taking coumadin.

    This is all I have to add since others have ably noted the “joy of it” verses, which are plentiful but usually ignored by ecclesiastical prohibitionists.

  14. And yet another concordance search produces nothing but one clear message: “Do not get drunk”.

    This issue is not alcohol. The issue is drunkenness. There are many, many other vices and habits of life that we must master beyond the devil’s brew. This collection of verses does not tell us what the Bible says about alcohol; it tells us what he Bible says about drunkenness.

    Even the passage from Judges tells us about the Nazarite vow, and the theology of fermentation & sin – not “drinking”.

    The Baptist totem pole of “tough not, taste not, handle not” has produced a testimony that too often smacks of “I am a Christian because I don’t smoke, I don’t chew and I don’t go with girls that do.”

    As a pastor, I’ve seen many, many more Christians popping their pills to sleep, pills to wake up, and pills to help with depression. I have not known a drunken Christian – and that’s not to say that Christians don’t deal with drunkeness; but I’ve dealt with countless cases of pornography & unfaithfulness among men, and countless cases of jealousy & bitterness among women, and not ever drunkenness or “sins” of which alcohol is ancillary.

    However, I have seen Christians drinking their carbonic acid and saccharin (aka Diet Coke) to the point of virtual addiction (“I tried to stop drinking Diet Coke, but just couldn’t deal with the headache.)

    It is high time for Christians who espouse theological fidelity to stop this appeal to spiritual-measure through tea-totaling.

  15. I believe that drinking alcohol could be the symptom of a deeper issue, for the sadness of heart. “Let him who has no hope drink and forget his sorrow.” But you friend, have a greater purpose. Consider Jesus as He hung on the cross. Jesus was without sin, innocent yet falsely accused, beaten, and tortured. He had been betrayed by someone close to Him, abandoned by all with the exception of a select few. As Christ hung on the cross He was offered the myre to numb the pain. Even with moments to live, in utter agony, Jesus refused. He was still alive and would not be medicated. Pain was part of the experience, part of the procedure, the process, and the purchase of salvation. We are to overcome life’s difficulties with a clear mind and eyes wide open. One of my good friends / mentors once told me, and he wasn’t a Christian. He said, “I take my problems straight up” He had been a cop for many years, and had seen the problems of medicating your problems on your own. If your working with person with a clinical degree then my thoughts are it may have some positive affects, but if it is being done in secret. You should be careful.

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