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 Vol. 2, No. 9                                        Page 11                                                September, 2000

Beverage Alcoholdrunkard

Biblical Considerations

By Louis Rushmore

Many conservative religious people have always regarded alcohol as sinful. Some churches oppose the selling of alcoholic beverages close to their buildings or distribute literature opposing the pleasurable consumption of alcoholic beverages at all. Many Christians oppose alcohol on biblical grounds.

Old Testament

The pleasurable consumption of alcohol is condemned in the Old Testament. Priests were forbidden to consume alcohol under penalty of death (Leviticus 10:8-11).

"And the Lord spake unto Aaron, saying, Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations: And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; And that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses."

Civil leaders were also forbidden to drink alcohol lest they pervert judgment (Proverbs 31:4-5). Faithful Jews were not allowed even to look upon wine in its intoxicating state (Proverbs 23:31). Alcohol was reserved for medicinal purposes (Proverbs 31:6). Furthermore, drunkenness was punishable by death (Deuteronomy 21:20-21). Too, Scripture warns against alcohol because it contributes to poverty (Proverbs 23:21). Drinking alcohol demonstrates lack of wisdom as well (Proverbs 20:1). Faithful Jews were further forbidden to be in the company of those drinking alcohol (Proverbs 23:20). Alcohol leads to other immorality and is hazardous to health and safety (Proverbs 23:29-35). It causes God's servants to err (Genesis 9:21-22).

"But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment" (Isaiah 28:7).

Drinking alcohol was considered a defilement by faithful Jews (Daniel 1:5-8). It was a crime to give alcoholic beverages to another person (Habakkuk 2:15). The Israelites were forbidden to drink alcohol in order to always know God and practice his law:

"And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot. Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink: that ye might know that I am the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 29:5-6).

Alcohol is also associated with violence (Proverbs 4:17). Total abstinence from alcohol was praised by God (Jeremiah 35:2-19).

New Testament

The pleasurable consumption of alcohol is condemned in the New Testament, too. Whereas Old Testament priests were forbidden to drink alcohol, Christians are priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9) in the perfect tabernacle (the church, Hebrews 9:11; 8:2) all the time. Further, drinking alcohol is expressly forbidden (Ephesians 5:18). "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit." Drunkenness is a sin explicitly cited as keeping people from heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21). Drinking alcohol is drinking with the devil (1 Corinthians 10:21). Drinking alcohol is a work of the flesh, warring against the spirit of man (Galatians 5:19-21).

Christians are exhorted to be sober (1 Thessalonians 5:6, 8; 1 Timothy 3:2-3, 8; 1 Peter 1:13; 4:7; 5:8). Aged women are cautioned against use of alcohol (Titus 2:3). Leaders of the church are especially forbidden the use of alcohol (1 Timothy 3:2-3, 8). Christians are exhorted to avoid every appearance or kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22). It is sinful to harm the body, which alcohol does (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19-20). Drinking alcohol is sinful and associated with other sins (Romans 13:13).

There is plenty of corroborating biblical evidence for the objective student of the Bible to ascertain that the pleasurable consumption of alcohol is not sanctioned by God. All of this, of course, is additional to overwhelming statistical and factual testimony against alcohol. The child of God, therefore, should not want alcohol were it allowed by God, and God does not permit its pleasurable consumption.

Wine

The word wine is used in several instances in the Bible where its use by the children of God is not condemned. The word wine, though, is represented in the Bible by 10 Hebrew and 3 Greek words. Sometimes wine means first-fruits which are ripe first (Numbers 18:12-13). It can mean the cluster of grapes (Isaiah 65:8). Wine can refer to raisins (Hosea 3:1, ASV). Sometimes wine equals the winepress (Nehemiah 13:15). Wine can be the pure juice of the grape (Proverbs 3:10). It can also refer to alcoholic wine (Genesis 9:21). The context is the overriding factor determining the definition of both the Greek and English words for wine. Essentially, (1) both alcoholic wine and non-alcoholic wine were known and used by ancient peoples, (2) favorable references to "wine" in the Bible pertain to non-alcoholic wine, and (3) unfavorable references to "wine" in the Bible pertain to alcoholic wine.

In one class of passages wine is commended and in another class it is condemned, in each case in the strongest and most unmistakable language. . . . The natural inference is therefore that two distinct or different substances are designated by these totally diverse characterizations. (W.D. Jeffcoat, The Bible and "Social" Drinking, c. 1987, p. 17.)

One of the Greek words translated "wine" in the New Testament is "oinos." This is a general word for "wine" (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Fleming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan, NJ, 1966, p. 219.). The word "oinos" can also refer to "the vine and its clusters" (Anonymous, "oinos," Analytical Greek Lexicon, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1976, p. 285andGeorge Ricker Berry, "oinos," Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1974, Lexicon p. 70.).

Another Greek word translated "wine" in the New Testament is "gleukos." It is defined as "sweet 'new' wine or must" (Vine, pp. 219-220.) or "must, the sweet juice pressed from the grape" (Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1970, p. 118.). Further, the word "gleukos" means "the unfermented juice of grapes, must; hence, sweet new wine" (Analytical Greek Lexicon, p.80.).

Jeffcoat painstakingly defined the numerous Old and New testament words that are translated wine in our Bibles, concluding: (1) the Bible refers to both fermented intoxicating wines and unfermented non-intoxicating wines, and (2) often the biblical context is critical to the comprehension of whether references are to the former or the latter. (Jeffcoat, pp. 17-30.)

Drunkenness

Of course, English dictionaries only reflect the current usage of words. Therefore, they often fail to convey the definition of biblical words. Greek dictionaries of koine Greek, on the other hand, are more reliable for the definition of biblical words. However, English dictionaries concur with the Greek definitions regarding the word "drunkenness."

 "drunk 1. having the faculties impaired by alcohol. 2. dominated by some feeling as if by alcohol. 3. of, relating to, or caused by intoxication." (Anonymous, "Drunk," Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Company, Springfield, Massachusetts, c. 1971, p. 255.)

 "drunken adj. 1. intoxicated; drunk. 2. given to drunkenness. 3. pertaining to, caused by, or marked by intoxication: a drunken quarrel." (Anonymous, "Drunken," Webster's Talking Dictionary/Thesaurus,Version 1.0b, licensed property of Parsons Technology, Inc., 1996 by Exceller Software Corp., [CD-ROM].)

"drunk adj. 1. overcome by alcoholic liquor; intoxicated." (Anonymous, "Drunk," Webster's New World Dictionary, Avenel Books, New York, 1978, p. 231.)

"drunken adj. 1. intoxicated or habitually intoxicated." (Ibid.Webster's New World Dictionary)

The first definition above equates being drunk with intoxication. Unlike hamburgers, etc., alcohol adversely affects the body upon the first drink (impairments, etc.). Whereas being drunk includes heavy intoxication, it also includes all degrees of intoxication.

Even English definitions for "drunkenness" indicate that the word is equivalent to "intoxication." Intoxication occurs with the first drink of alcohol and merely increases with each additional drink.

Those who insist that drunkenness is sinful, and at the same time that it is not a matter of degree, should answer the following pertinent questions: (1) Can a person who is drunk (drunk according to your definition of the term) become more drunk? If you answer, "No," how do you explain that which happens to a person who is obviously drunk, and upon additional consumption, loses complete more control and, perhaps, even falls into a stupor? If you answer, "Yes," and thus admit that a person can become more drunk, how do you conclude that drunkenness is not but a matter of degree? (2) How much ethyl alcohol does it take to cause drunkenness? If you state that you do not know and, yet, agree that drunkenness is sinful, are you not making yourself liable to sin if you imbibe? (Jeffcoat, pp. 100-101.)

Conclusion

As stated above, the words translated "wine" in the Bible are non-alcoholic or alcoholic depending on the context in which they appear. With this word, a determination of its meaning independent of the context in which it appears is self-serving rather than bonafide biblical exegesis.

One cannot practice social drinking without violating all the passages that warn against drunkenness. The very nature of alcohol begins affecting one the moment any of it is ingested. Greater consumption merely produces greater intoxication. Drunkenness and intoxication are synonyms.

Copyright 2000 Louis Rushmore. All Rights Reserved.
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