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Alcohol in the Bible

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Alcoholic beverages appear repeatedly in the Bible, both in actual usage and in poetic expression, and on the whole, the Bible is ambivalent toward them, considering them both a blessing from God that brings merriment and a potential danger that can be unwisely and sinfully abused.[1][2][3][4][5][6] Since nearly all Christians base their views of alcohol, in whole or in part, on their understanding of what the Bible says about it, the Bible is the single most important source on the subject, followed by Christian tradition.

The biblical languages have several words for alcoholic beverages,[7][8] and though prohibitionists and some abstentionists (see "Current views" below) dissent,[9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17] there is a broad consensus that the words did ordinarily refer to intoxicating drinks.[7][1][6][18][19][20][21][22][23][24]

The commonness and centrality of wine in daily life in biblical times is apparent from its many positive and negative metaphorical uses throughout the Bible.[25][26] Positively, wine is used as a symbol of abundance and physical blessing,[27] for example. Negatively, wine is personified as a mocker and beer a brawler,[28] and drinking a cup of strong wine to the dregs and getting drunk are sometimes presented as a symbol of God's judgment and wrath.[29]

The Bible also speaks of wine in general terms as a bringer and concomitant of joy, particularly in the context of nourishment and feasting.[30] Wine was commonly drunk at meals,[31] and the Old Testament prescribed it for use in sacrificial rituals and festal celebrations.[7] The Gospels record that Jesus himself miraculously made copious amounts[32] of wine at the wedding feast at Cana,[33] and when he instituted the ritual of the Eucharist at the Last Supper during a Passover celebration,[34] he says that the wine[35][36] is a "New Covenant in [his] blood,"[37] though Christians have differed on the implications of this statement (see Eucharistic theologies contrasted).[38] Alcohol was also used for medicinal purposed in biblical times, and it appears in that context in several passages – as an oral anesthetic,[39] a topical cleanser and soother,[40] and a digestive aid.[41]

Kings and priests in the Old Testament were forbidden to partake of wine at various times,[42] and certain optional vows excluded as part of their ascetic regimen not only wine, but also vinegar, grapes, and raisins[43] (unlike John the Baptist,[44] Jesus evidently did not take such a vow during the three years of ministry depicted in the gospels).[45][46] St. Paul further instructs Christians regarding their duty toward immature Christians: "It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall."[47]

Virtually all Christian denominations hold that the Bible condemns ordinary drunkenness in many passages,[48] and Easton's Bible Dictionary says, "The sin of drunkenness ... must have been not uncommon in the olden times, for it is mentioned either metaphorically or literally more than seventy times in the Bible."[7] Additionally, the consequences of the drunkenness of Noah[49] and Lot[50] "were intended to serve as examples of the dangers and repulsiveness of intemperance,"[51] and St. Paul later chides the Corinthians for becoming drunk on wine served at their attempted celebrations of the Eucharist.[52] In short, for nearly all Christians, drunkenness "is not merely a disgusting personal habit and social vice, but a sin which bars the gates of Heaven, desecrates the body, which is now in a special sense the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit, and stains the mystical body of Christ, the Church."[53]

Read also

Alcohol in Christian history and tradition


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bruce Waltke (2005). "Commentary on 20:1". The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31. Wm. B. Eerdmans. p. 127. ISBN 978-0802827760. 
  2. F. S. Fitzsimmonds (1982). "Wine and Strong Drink". in J. D. Douglas. New Bible Dictionary (2nd ed. ed.). Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. p. 1255. ISBN 0830814418. "These two aspects of wine, its use and its abuse, its benefits and its curse, its acceptance in God's sight and its abhorrence, are interwoven into the fabric of the [Old Testament] so that it may gladden the heart of man (Ps. 104:15) or cause his mind to err (Is. 28:7), it can be associated with merriment (Ec. 10:19) or with anger (Is. 5:11), it can be used to uncover the shame of Noah (Gn. 9:21) or in the hands of Melchizedek to honor Abraham (Gn. 14:18).... The references [to alcohol] in the [New Testament] are very much fewer in number, but once more the good and the bad aspects are equally apparent....". 
  3. D. Miall Edwards (1915b). "Drunkenness". in James Orr. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-03-09. "[Wine's] value is recognized as a cheering beverage (Jdg 9:13; Ps 104:15; Prov 31:7), which enables the sick to forget their pains (Prov 31:6). Moderation, however, is strongly inculcated and there are frequent warnings against the temptation and perils of the cup.". 
  4. John McClintock and James Strong (eds.) (1891). "Wine". Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. X. New York: Harper and Brothers. p. 1016.,M1. "But while liberty to use wine, as well as every other earthly blessing, is conceded and maintained in the Bible, yet all abuse of it is solemnly condemned.". 
  5. I. W. Raymond (1970). The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink. AMS Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0404512866. "This favorable view [of wine in the Bible], however, is balanced by an unfavorable estimate.... The reason for the presence of these two conflicting opinions on the nature of wine [is that the] consequences of wine drinking follow its use and not its nature. Happy results ensue when it is drunk in its proper measure and evil results when it is drunk to excess. The nature of wine is indifferent." 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Ethical Investment Advisory Group (January 2005). "Alcohol: An inappropriate investment for the Church of England". Church of England. Retrieved 2007-02-08. "Christians who are committed to total abstinence have sometimes interpreted biblical references to wine as meaning unfermented grape juice, but this is surely inconsistent with the recognition of both good and evil in the biblical attitude to wine. It is self-evident that human choice plays a crucial role in the use or abuse of alcohol." 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Eastons
  8. Fitzsimmonds, pp. 1254f.
  9. Stephen M. Reynolds (1989). The Biblical Approach to Alcohol. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Retrieved 2007-02-28. "[W]herever oinos [Greek for 'wine'] appears in the New Testament, we may understand it as unfermented grape juice unless the passage clearly indicates that the inspired writer was speaking of an intoxicating drink." 
  10. "Stuart, Moses". Encyclopedia of Temperance and Prohibition. New York: Funk and Wagnalls. 1891. p. 621. "Wherever the Scriptures speak of wine as a comfort, a blessing or a libation to God, and rank it with such articles as corn and oil, they mean—they can mean only—such wine as contained no alcohol that could have a mischievous tendency; that wherever they denounce it, prohibit it and connect it with drunkenness and reveling, they can mean only alcoholic or intoxicating wines.".  Quoted in Reynolds, The Biblical Approach to Alcohol.
  11. Ralph Earle (1986). "1 Timothy 5:13". Word Meanings in the New Testament. Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press. ISBN 0834111764. "Oinos is used in the Septuagint for both fermented and unfermented grape juice. Since it can mean either one, it is valid to insist that in some cases it may simply mean grape juice and not fermented wine." 
  12. Dave Miller (2003). "Elders, Deacons, Timothy, and Wine". Apologetics Press. Retrieved 2008-03-25. "The term oinos was used by the Greeks to refer to unfermented grape juice every bit as much as fermented juice. Consequently, the interpreter must examine the biblical context in order to determine whether fermented or unfermented liquid is intended." 
  13. Frederic Richard Lees; Dawson Burns (1870). "Appendix C-D". The Temperance Bible-Commentary. New York: National Temperance Society and Publication House. pp. 431–446. 
  14. William Patton (1871). "Christ Eating and Drinking". Laws of Fermentation and the Wines of the Ancients. New York: National Temperance Society and Publication House. p. 79. "Oinos is a generic word, and, as such, includes all kinds of wine and all stages of the juice of the grape, and sometimes the clusters and even the vine...." 
  15. Samuele Bacchiocchi. "A Preview of Wine in the Bible". Retrieved 2007-01-22. 
  16. John MacArthur. ""Living in the Spirit: Be Not Drunk with Wine--Part 2"". Retrieved 2007-01-22. 
  17. G. A. McLauchlin (1973) [1913]. Commentary on Saint John. Salem, Ohio: Convention Book Store H. E. Schmul. p. 32. "There were ... two kinds of wine. We have no reason to believe that Jesus used the fermented wine unless we can prove it.... God is making unfermented wine and putting in skin cases and hanging it upon the vines in clusters every year." 
  18. W. Ewing (1913). "Wine". in James Hastings. Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels. 2. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. pp. 824. Retrieved 2007-03-14. "There is nothing known in the East of anything called 'wine' which is unfermented.... [The Palestinian Jews'] attitude towards the drinker of unfermented grape juice may be gathered from the saying in Pirke Aboth (iv. 28), 'He who learns from the young, to what is he like? to one who eats unripe grapes and drinks wine from his vat [that is, unfermented juice].'".  (Emphasis in original.)
  19. Charles Hodge (1940). "The Lord’s Supper". Systematic Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans. pp. 3:616. Retrieved 2007-01-22. "That [oinos] in the Bible, when unqualified by such terms as new, or sweet, means the fermented juice of the grape, is hardly an open question. It has never been questioned in the Church, if we except a few Christians of the present day. And it may safely be said that there is not a scholar on the continent of Europe, who has the least doubt on the subject." 
  20. A. A. Hodge. Evangelical Theology. p. 347f. "'Wine,' according to the absolutely unanimous, unexceptional testimony of every scholar and missionary, is in its essence 'fermented grape juice.' Nothing else is wine.... There has been absolutely universal consent on this subject in the Christian Church until modern times, when the practice has been opposed, not upon change of evidence, but solely on prudential considerations."  Quoted in Keith Mathison (January 8 to January 14, 2001). "Protestant Transubstantiation - Part 3: Historic Reformed & Baptist Testimony". IIIM Magazine Online 3 (2). Retrieved 2007-01-22. 
  21. W. J. Beecher. "Total abstinence". The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. p. 472. Retrieved 2007-01-22. "The Scriptures, rightly understood, are thus the strongest bulwark of a true doctrine of total abstinence, so false exegesis of the Scriptures by temperance advocates, including false theories of unfermented wine, have done more than almost anything else to discredit the good cause. The full abandonment of these bad premises would strengthen the cause immeasurably.". 
  22. William Kaiser and Duane Garrett, ed (2006). "Wine and Alcoholic Beverages in the Ancient World". Archaeological Study Bible. Zondervan. ISBN 9780310926054. "[T]here is no basis for suggesting that either the Greek or the Hebrew terms for wine refer to unfermented grape juice." 
  23. John F. MacArthur. "GC 70-11: "Bible Questions and Answers"". Retrieved 2007-01-22. 
  24. Pierard, p. 28: "No evidence whatsoever exists to support the notion that the wine mentioned in the Bible was unfermented grape juice. When juice is referred to, it is not called wine (Gen. 40:11). Nor can 'new wine' ... mean unfermented juice, because the process of chemical change begins almost immediately after pressing."
  25. W. Dommershausen (1990). "Yayin". in G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. VI. trans. David E. Green. Wm. B. Eerdmans. p. 64. ISBN 0802823300. 
  26. Raymond, p. 24: "The numerous allusions to the vine and wine in the Old Testament furnish an admirable basis for the study of its estimation among the people at large."
  27. Ge 27:28; 49:9-12; Dt 7:13; 11:14; 15:14; compare 33:28; Pr 3:9f; Jr 31:10-12; Ho 2:21-22; Jl 2:19,24; 3:18; Am 9:13f; compare 2Ki 18:31-32; 2Ch 32:28; Ne 5:11; 13:12; etc.
  28. Pr 20:1
  29. Ps 60:3; 75:8; Is 51:17-23; 63:6; Jr 13:12-14; 25:15-29; 49:12; 51:7; La 4:21f; Ezk 23:28-33; Na 1:9f; Hab 2:15f; Zc 12:2; Mt 20:22; 26:39, 42; Lk 22:42; Jn 18:11; Re 14:10; 16:19; compare Ps Sol 8:14
  30. Jg 9:13; Ps 4:7; 104:15; Ec 9:7; 10:19; Zc 9:17; 10:7
  31. "Drunkenness". Illustrated Dictionary of Bible Life & Times. Pleasantville, New York: The Reader's Digest Association. 1997. pp. 374-376. 
  32. Six pots of thirty-nine liters each = 234 liters = 61.8 gallons, according to Heinrich Seesemann (1967). "οινος". in Gerhard Kittel and Ronald E. Pitkin. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. V. trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Wm. B. Eerdmans. pp. 163. ISBN 0802822479. 
  33. Jn 2:1-11; 4:46
  34. Mt 26:17-19; Mk 14:12-16; Lk 22:7-13. The Gospel of John offers some difficulties when compared with the Synoptists' accounts on whether the meal was part of the Passover proper. In any case, it seems that the Last Supper was most likely somehow associated with Passover, even if it wasn't the paschal feast itself. See the discussion in Leon Morris (1995). "Additional Note H: The Last Supper and the Passover". The Gospel According to John. New International Commentary on the New Testament (revised ed.). Wm. B. Eerdmans. pp. 684–695. ISBN 978-0802825049. 
  35. Seesemann, p. 162: "Wine is specifically mentioned as an integral part of the passover meal no earlier than Jub. 49:6 ['... all Israel was eating the flesh of the paschal lamb, and drinking the wine ...'], but there can be no doubt that it was in use long before." P. 164: "In the accounts of the Last Supper the term [wine] occurs neither in the Synoptists nor Paul. It is obvious, however, that according to custom Jesus was proffering wine in the cup over which He pronounced the blessing; this may be seen especially from the solemn [fruit of the vine] (Mark 14:25 and par.) which was borrowed from Judaism." Compare "fruit of the vine" as a formula in the Mishnah, "Tractate Berakoth 6.1". Retrieved 2007-03-15. 
  36. Raymond, p. 80: "All the wines used in basic religious services in Palestine were fermented."
  37. Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:17-20; 1 Co 10:16; 11:23-25
  38. Bruce Lincoln (2005). "Beverages". in Lindsay Jones. Encyclopedia of Religion. 2 (2nd ed. ed.). MacMillan Reference Books. p. 848. ISBN 978-0028657332. 
  39. Pr 31:4-7; Mt 27:34,48; Mk 15:23,36; Lk 23:36; Jn 19:28–30
  40. Lk 10:34
  41. 1 Ti 5:23
  42. Pr 31:4f; Lv 10:9; compare Ez 44:21
  43. Nu 6:2-4 (compare Jg 13:4-5; Am 2:11f); Jr 35
  44. Compare Lk 1:15.
  45. Mt 11:18f; Lk 7:33f; compare Mk 14:25; Lk 22:17f
  46. I. W. Raymond p. 81: "Not only did Jesus Christ Himself use and sanction the use of wine but also ... He saw nothing intrinsically evil in wine.[footnote citing Mt 15:11]"
  47. Ro 14:21. Raymond understands this to mean that "if an individual by drinking wine either causes others to err through his example or abets a social evil which causes others to succumb to its temptations, then in the interests of Christian love he ought to forego the temporary pleasures of drinking in the interests of heavenly treasures" (p. 87).
  48. For instance, Pr 20:1; Is 5:11f; Ho 5:2,5; Ro 13:13; Ep 5:18; 1 Ti 3:2-3.
  49. Ge 9:20-27
  50. Ge 19:31-38
  51. Magen Broshi (1984). "Wine in Ancient Palestine — Introductory Notes". Israel Museum Journal III: 33. 
  52. 1Co 11:20-22
  53. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Raymond 90
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