DEAR FATHER PAUL: Is it a sin for a Christian to drink alcohol? What does the Bible say? Beth
DEAR BETH: Yes and no. Or … sometimes, but not always. How’s that for a strong, clear and definite answer?
Pastors are asked this question a lot. Some Christian denominations strictly forbid the use of alcohol for their members … while others allow the use of alcohol in moderation.
Here are some Bible verses that tend to support the “no alcohol” position. Leviticus 10:9 (From the New Living Translation … to the Priests of Israel). “You and your descendants must never drink wine or any other alcoholic drink before going into the Tabernacle. If you do, you will die.” We also know, according to Deuteronomy 29:6, that the Israelites drank “no wine or other alcoholic drink” during their entire forty years of wandering in the desert. In addition, Proverbs 20:1 (NLT) says “Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise.” And Proverbs 31:4 (NLT) says “It is not for kings …. to guzzle wine. Rulers should not crave alcohol.”
On the other hand, there are numerous places in the Bible that take the opposite view. Ecclesiastes 9:7 (NLT) says, “So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this!” Psalm 104:14 & 15 says that “God gives wine, that makes glad the hearts of men.” And Amos 9:14 states that drinking wine from your own vineyard is a “sign of God’s blessing.”
So which “side” is correct? The answer in just a minute. Read on.
We know that in the New Testament, Jesus’ very first miracle, recorded in the Gospel of John, Chapter 2, was turning water into wine at a wedding banquet in Cana. The banquet host later called the wine, “the best wine.” We can assume that, as a wedding guest, Jesus himself drank some of the “miracle wine.”
And, we also know … like any good Jewish boy and later man, Jesus drank wine, at least once a year, at the annual Passover Feast, a practice still precisely followed by Jews today. Indeed, any Jewish Rabbi will affirm that (alcoholic) wine always has been, and is still today, used in the Passover meal / observance.
The Apostle Paul, in writing a letter to his young follower Timothy, tells Timothy, in I Timothy 5:23, to avoid drinking the often contaminated water of the day and instead, (NLT) “drink a little wine for the sake of your stomach because you are sick (from the foul water) so often.”
In short, taking the Bible as a whole, the scriptures do not seem to totally forbid the use of alcohol per se … or promote alcohol, but instead tell us to use alcohol in moderation and at all times avoid drunkenness. Ephesians 5:18 (NLT) makes this totally clear. The Apostle Paul here says, “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
In truth, we today know that alcohol and its moderate usage can even have some good health benefits. Recent scientific studies have advocated drinking small amounts (one glass or less of red wine a day) for its health benefits, especially to the heart.
But again, the Bible calls drunkenness and over indulgence of alcohol a sin which often leads to alcohol addiction and a host of really, really bad consequences. Anyone who has ever had a friend or relative addicted to alcohol knows exactly what I am talking about. One anti-alcohol spokesperson has even said that, “alcohol, over the centuries, has caused more tears, misery, pain and death than ALL of the wars ever fought.” I’m not sure of his total accuracy, but he’s probably not far off.
So what should Christians do? We have seen that the Bible gives Christians the freedom to consume alcohol, or not … see I Corinthians 6:12 (NLT) “You say, ‘ I am allowed to do anything,’ but not everything is good for you And even though I am allowed to do anything, I must not become a slave to anything.” Christians should thus remember that because of the possibility of causing their own personal addiction or an offense or stumbling to others, abstaining from or limiting ones alcohol consumption to a moderate level can be an act of love for God and others and should be prayerfully considered.
Do You Have A Question? Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try to answer your question in the paper.
Father Paul Massey is Pastor Emeritus of Church of the Holy Cross in Fayetteville, Georgia. See information on Church of the Holy Cross in the nearby “Worship With Us” feature.