“Alcohol and the Bible”
Series: Hot-Button Issues
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
First Baptist Church Henderson KY
- Take your Bibles and open to Proverbs, chapter 20.
This morning we conclude our four-part series this month on “Hot-Button Issues.” We’ve been studying about social and ethical issues facing the church. We’ve studied abortion and the case for life, traditional marriage, last week Brother Rich talked about race-relations, and this morning we’re looking at the topic “Alcohol and the Bible.”
Now we’re got a lot of ground to cover this morning and we’re going to begin with Proverbs chapter 20, verse 1. Most of the Scripture that deals with alcohol is found in the book of Proverbs and many of you will remember our evening messages in Proverbs last summer and fall. We’ve covered some of this ground before, but because this topic remains a hot-button issue, we’re going to look again at some of the Proverbs as well other Scriptures that inform our study on this critical issue. I don’t like to skip around a lot when I preach. I like to teach one main passage of Scripture, but this topic really demands our looking at several passages.
- Stand in honor of the reading of the Word of God:
1 Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise.
“Jesus turned water into wine so it’s okay for me to drink.”
“Paul recommended wine for Timothy’s stomach and sicknesses so it’s okay for me to drink, too.”
The Corinthians were obviously drinking wine in observance of the Lord’s Supper so it’s okay for me to drink, too, just so long as I drink in moderation.”
Those are the usual biblical arguments one uses to defend the drinking of alcoholic beverages.
I shared with you before that when we were trying to bring some reason to the proposed Sunday alcohol sales ordinance last year that one of the city commissioners argued in favor of supporting the ordinance by stating that Jesus had turned water into wine. The implication, of course, was that because Jesus had turned water into wine, this ordinance expanding the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays was not really be that big of a deal.
Well, how do you deal with that? Those are valid points, aren’t they? The Bible does say that Jesus turned water into wine; John 2. It was His first miracle. Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:23 to no longer drink just water, but to take a little wine for his stomach. And 1 Corinthians 11 indicates that wine was used in the observance of the Lord’s Supper.
How do you address those points? In times past, many preachers have tried to suggest that the kind of wine Jesus made from water was not fermented wine, just a kind of grape juice. And the kind of wine Paul recommended for Timothy was not alcoholic, but again a kind of grape juice. In fact, I remember reading a book a number of years ago that argued that the kind of “wine” Jesus created and Paul recommended to Timothy was just pure grape juice with no alcoholic content.
But most serious biblical scholars today readily acknowledge that when we read of wine in the New Testament, such as the wine Jesus made from water in John 2 and the wine Paul recommended for Timothy in 1 Timothy 5, we are reading of fermented wine, or wine that does indeed contain alcohol. Now, if that is true, then how in the world can preachers argue against drinking alcohol when Jesus turns water into wine and Paul tells Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach?
Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about this morning. As evangelical Christians, the Bible is our final rule for faith and practice. So we’re going to study this topic together and I want to talk about three (3) crucial keys to studying the issue of alcohol. Key number one:
I. We Must Examine the Word Contextually
By this, I mean that we need to study the Bible in its context. When we study a Scripture we want to make sure we are getting the right Scriptural context and so we take care to read the words or paragraphs before and after a particular text. We want to be sure we’re interpreting the passage correctly so we examine the passage in its scriptural context.
But equally important to the scriptural context is the cultural and historical context of the passage we are studying. This is so important that I am going to say it again. This is one of those, “If you get nothing else out of the message tonight then get this.” So let me say this again. Not only must we study a passage being sure we are paying attention to the scriptural context, but we also must pay attention to the cultural and historical context of the passage. Now let me invite you to say that with me. The answer is “cultural and historical context.” Church, when we study the Bible we must study the scriptural context of a passage and we must also study the—what?—the cultural and historical context.
Those of you who came Wednesday evenings when we went through the book of 1 Corinthians, you will remember that I stressed three things when we read a passage of Scripture: what does the text say, what does the text mean, and then, how does the text apply. We must understand what the text meant when it was originally written before we can talk about how it applies today. And the same is true on this issue of alcohol and the Bible. We must study the Bible contextually, paying careful attention to the cultural and historical context, asking what the text meant back then before we can talk about how it applies today.
Dr. Robert Stein is a New Testament scholar and respected as an authority on biblical interpretation, the art of interpreting the Bible correctly. Dr. Stein helps us understand the cultural and historical context of these passages that mention alcohol. I want to read from a seminal article Dr. Stein wrote over three decades ago that continues to be one of the most frequently cited articles on this issue today. The article was published in 1975 and appeared in the magazine Christianity Today and is entitled, “Wine Drinking in New Testament Times.” I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of this article on your way out this morning. There are copies at all of the doors. Dr. Stein calls attention to the need to read the Bible in light of its cultural and historical context.
Stein points out that when we read the word “wine” in the Bible we make a huge mistake by assuming that the word “wine” in the biblical text is the same thing as the “wine” you might purchase at the local drug store. This cannot be overly stressed. While the “wine” of New Testament times did indeed contain alcohol, it is not the same thing as the “wine” you would buy at the liquor store or from Rite-Aid. There is not a one-to-one correlation.
The kind of wine we read about in the Bible is a “wine mixed with water.” Stein adds, “In ancient times there were not many beverages that were safe to drink. The danger of drinking water alone raises another point. There were several ways in which the ancients could make water safe to drink. One method was boiling, but this was tedious and costly. Different methods of filtration were tried. The safest and easiest method of making the water safe to drink, however, was to mix it with wine. The drinking of wine (i.e., a mixture of water and wine) served therefore as a safety measure, since often the water available was not safe.”
Stein also points out that in the Talmud, the book of Jewish oral traditions from 200 BC to AD 200, we learn about wine used in the Passover. Stein writes: “[I]t is stated that that the four cups every Jew was to drink during the Passover ritual were to be mixed in a ratio of three parts water to one part wine. From this,” Stein says, “we can conclude with a fair degree of certainty that the fruit of the vine used at the institution of the Lord’s Supper was a mixture of three parts water to one part wine.”
Do you see how important it is to know the cultural and historical context here? When people defend their drinking by referring to Jesus’ turning water into wine or Paul’s telling Timothy to “take a little wine for his stomach,” they are assuming that the wine mentioned in those passages is the same kind of wine they purchase at the neighborhood liquor store and it is not, pure and simple. The wine used in Bible times was a very weak, watered-down beverage drank by a people who lived before the modern age of refrigeration, more a purified water of old than an alcoholic beverage as we understand it today.
Remembering that wine used during the Passover and Lord’s Supper would have contained a mixture of three parts water to one part wine, Stein draws a humorous conclusion. He says, “To consume the amount of alcohol that is in two martinis by drinking wine containing 3 parts water to 1 part wine, one would have to drink over 22 glasses. In other words, it is possible to become intoxicated from wine mixed with 3 parts of water, but one’s drinking would probably affect the bladder long before it affected the mind.”
The only time straight wine, or an unmixed wine or beer (often translated as “strong drink”) is recommended favorably in the Scriptures is when it is used medicinally, such as to ease pain and suffering. You’ll remember, for example, that Jesus was offered wine to ease His suffering on the cross—though He refused it. The Scriptures do talk about using wine or strong drink for medicinal purposes.
Proverbs 31:6-7 (NIV):
“Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.”
In fact, we have made advances in providing medicines for people to ease pain and suffering. And most of us have no trouble with administering some kind of narcotic to someone dying on a hospital bed.
But nowhere does the Scripture ever speak favorably of drinking alcohol such as it is drunk today. Furthermore, the practice of distillation was not even around in Bible times. Scotch, Rum, and Whiskey were unheard of. You know that, right? Distillation is a process that was not discovered until about the year 1500, some 500 years ago. It wasn’t around in Bible times. In fact, isn’t it rather ironic that in Bible times, people diluted the alcohol, mixing water with the wine to weaken it, whereas today people concentrate it, making it as stronger?
Now, we’ve spent a good deal of time on this first point because it is so crucial. We must examine the Word contextually. We must study the Bible in context, paying special attention to the cultural and historical context so that we no longer make foolhardy, ignorant arguments like, “Well Jesus turned water into wine so it’s okay for me to drink wine.” Or, “Well, they used wine in the Lord’s Supper so it’s okay for me to drink.” No! There is a huge difference between the wine of the Bible in AD 65 in Palestine and the wine from the local liquor shop in AD 2007 in America. The wine of the Bible is different from the wine of today. Caution was used in drinking the wine of the Bible, taking care to mix it with water unless one was using it for medicinal purposes, such as to ease suffering and pain.
We must examine the word contextually. Number two:
II. We Must Examine the Warnings Carefully
We have established that the wine of the Bible was a weaker form of wine than most of the wine purchased today. And most drinking of alcoholic beverages in America has to do with the drinking of what the Bible refers to as “strong drink.” The Bible always prohibits the drinking of “strong drink,” an un-watered-down kind of beverage like most wine, most beer, and nearly every other kind of alcoholic beverage consumed in America. Let’s carefully examine some of the warnings about the dangers of alcohol.
Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”
The Bible warns us not to be deceived by alcohol. Don’t let alcohol deceive you into thinking that you will be better for drinking it, that you’ll have more popularity, or power, or influence.
29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?
30 Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.
Verse 30 sounds much like the way wine is drunk in American social gatherings—an office party, a family get-together. People get together and “linger over wine.” They “go to sample bowls of mixed wine.” These people drinking the wine here are the answer to the six questions in the verse preceding: “Who was woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?—and we may well sum up these six questions with one, “Who is destroying his life?” Answer: “those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine”—let alone the other alcoholic beverages that we hasten to add: beer, margaritas, gin & tonics, whiskey, and so forth.
31 Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly!
See alcohol’s ability to deceive?! Looks great, doesn’t it? Looks great, smells great, goes down great. But what happens in the end? Next verse:
32 In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.
Don’t you think beer manufacturers know something about deception in their advertisements and television commercials? They make it look so good. You see a bunch of guys moving a friend of theirs into an apartment. They’re all tired and thirsty. What are they going to do? Well, here comes help from the attractive girls who just happen to live next door! Here they come with the beer. Pop open a can. Tip it back and drink. Beer. Girls. What else do you need? You don’t see the day after. You don’t see them talk about a hangover, guilt, shame, sexual disease, teen pregnancy. They don’t warn you about the effects of alcohol.
Statistics show that “alcohol-related car crashes are the number one killer of teens. Alcohol use is also associated with homicides, suicides, and drownings—the next three leading causes of death among youth.”
“Alcohol is the drug most frequently used by 12- to 17-year-olds-and the one that causes the
most negative health consequences. More than 4 million adolescents under the legal drinking age consume alcohol in any given month.”
“According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcoholism affects some 8 percent to 14 percent of the population. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis are the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, and the third leading cause of preventable mortality.”
The Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We are to take care of our bodies, Christians, because our body is the very dwelling place of God Himself.
Jump down to verses 33 and following for more on the warnings of Scripture:
33 Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things.
34 You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging.
35 “They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?”
See there both affliction and addiction. If you use alcohol you will be afflicted by it. You will see strange sights. Your mind imagines confusing things. You wobble around like the guy who’s trying to take a nap on top of the rigging of a ship, staggering back and forth, in this way and that. Your senses are so deadened that your central nervous system cannot even protect you from pain. You will take a beating and cry out, “I don’t feel anything!” The affliction of alcohol.
Then see there the addiction of alcohol. After all this affliction, you would think the drunk guy here in Solomon’s picture would pledge to never raise another glass of wine to his lips. But what does he cry out in the end of verse 35? “When will I wake up so I can find another drink?” The addiction of alcohol.
I was a parole officer before I was a minister. Both jobs are very similar! I can tell you in both capacities that I’ve seen marriages ruined, families broken, and lives destroyed all because of alcohol.
We’re talking about three crucial keys to studying the hot-button issue of alcohol: we must examine the word contextually, we must examine the warnings carefully, number three:
III. We Must Examine our Witness Critically
I’m talking here about our testimony, our witness. We must take a good hard look at the kind of witness we are for the Lord Jesus Christ. This last point takes us from focusing upon ourselves to focusing upon others.
Keith Green used to say that the way we live our lives has one of two results: either we are drawing people closer to Jesus or we are pushing people further away from Him. We should be living in such a way as to draw people closer to Jesus, not push them further away. I really believe that’s the wider application of Paul’s teaching about the “weaker brother” in Romans 14. He says in Romans 14:21, “It is neither good to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.” The wider application of this principle is this: If my behavior—in this case, my drinking—pushes someone further away from Christ rather than drawing that person closer to Christ, then I’m not going to drink—whether the other person is a brother (a Christian), or a non-Christian.
When I understand the application that way, then I conclude that the wisest course of action for the Christian is the action of total abstinence. I will not drink, period. It’s not a question of whether it’s a sin. That’s missing the point. That’s focusing on self. I don’t want to cause anyone to stumble. That’s focusing on others. If someone has the potential of becoming an alcoholic I don’t want to do anything to tempt them to take that first drink.
I agree with Adrian Rogers who said, “Moderation is not the cure for the liquor problem. Moderation is the cause of the liquor problem. Becoming an alcoholic does not begin with the last drink, it always begins with the first. Just leave it alone.”
You may think I’m so square I was born in a box, but I’ll tell you this: no one will ever be able to say, “I took my first drink because I saw Brother Todd take a drink.”
Examine your witness critically, mothers and fathers. Do you really think your son or daughter is not going to be influenced by your behavior? How many teenagers do you suppose got their first drink from a bottle that their parents kept hidden in a cabinet? Oh, you told them it wasn’t for them. But they reason if it’s good enough for mom and dad, then it’s good enough for me.
How can you possibly have any positive influence upon your children when they see beer in the fridge? That beer in the fridge is a silent testimony that it’s okay for them to drink when they get “big enough.”
And what about when you’re eating out at that local restaurant and you order yourself a big beer or some other kind of drink? Here comes a teenager into that restaurant from First Baptist Church and he sees you drinking away. He looked up to you and thought a lot of you and now he sees you drinking. Do you not care about your witness, your testimony?
And what kind of witness do we really have among lost people, among unbelievers if we drink? Lost people expect us to be different. Why should they seriously consider following Christ when your love for drinking suggests that you are no different than they?
We must examine the word contextually, we must examine the warnings carefully, and we must examine our witness critically.
When someone wants to defend his drinking alcohol I always want to know why. What’s the motivation? What is the fascination with alcohol? Why is it that you want to see how close you can get to the line and still be called a Christian? Are you not experiencing the fullness of the Holy Spirit?
The Bible says in Ephesians 5:18, “Do not be drunk with wine, wherein is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” The Phillips translation has, “Don’t get your stimulus from wine (for there is always the danger of excessive drinking), but let the Spirit stimulate your souls.”
Don’t get your stimulus from wine, but let the Spirit stimulate your souls. Joy and power come not from the “false-filler” of alcohol, but from the indwelling power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
- Stand for prayer.
Heads bowed and eyes closed. You may be here this morning and alcohol has a grip on you. Hear again the truth of Ephesians 5:18: Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by alcohol. Allow yourself to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. Allow God to take hold of your life this morning. He wants to forgive you and give you freedom. Come to Christ this morning.
Others of you, if you’ve dabbled with alcohol in the past, take time right now and tell God you’ve had enough. Purpose in your heart right now that you will not drink again.
Others of you are here and you’ve never had a drink in all your life. That’s good. But that won’t get you into heaven. If you’ve never received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, it really doesn’t matter whether you’ve ever had a drink. You can be a good person and go to hell a sober person if you’ve never trusted Christ; if you’ve never been saved. Come to Christ.
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