In general, it seems as if our generation is heavily influenced by the cultural changes that we have seen in the past several decades. While at one time not too terribly long ago, Christians would stand united against the evils of social drinking, sadly such is not occurring as it ought today. More young Christians are allowing Satan to infiltrate their thought processes and are vocally supporting social drinking. I recently heard of a congregation that is plagued with this very topic, and I know that she is not the only one. What do we need to remind ourselves about this controversial topic?
Let us begin by examining how the Bible utilizes the term “wine.” A number of Hebrew words are rendered by the English “wine,” the most common of which are yayin (134 times) and tirosh (33 times). The basic term for “wine” in the Greek New Testament is the term oinos (33 times), which corresponds to the Hebrew yayin (see also Acts 2:13-15 [gleukos and methuo]). Thus, while the term in English always denotes an alcoholic beverage, the biblical term “wine” is a generic term, occasionally referring to fresh grape juice (cf. Isa. 16:10; Jer. 48:33—the juice in the grape). Sometimes, the Bible praised its ingestion (Song of Sol. 5:1; Joel 2:19), and other times, it condemns it as a beverage capable of producing intoxication (Eph. 5:18). Therefore, the Bible offers many warnings against the indiscriminate use of wine (Prov. 20:1; 21:17; 23:20-21, 29-35; Isa. 5:22; 28:7; Joel 1:5; Amos 6:6; Hab. 2:5; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:10; Gal. 5:21; 1 Tim. 3:8; Titus 2:3). Sometimes, the Bible uses the term “wine” as a substance of medicinal value (Luke 10:34; 1 Tim. 5:23). Now, it is not a foregone conclusion that Paul commended inebriating wine to the young preacher, Timothy, since the evidence from antiquity exists to suggest that he was referring to the addition of grape juice to his drinking water for medicinal purposes. However, even if he meant for Timothy to add fermented or intoxicating juice to his diet, please note the following important points:
- He had been abstinent up until this point.
- The quantity he would add would be “a little.”
- He would dilute the juice with water.
- It was strictly medicinal in nature—not social, casual or recreational.
- It took the directive of an apostle for Timothy to introduce it into his life.
In fact, one must not automatically assume that the wine itself possessed medical properties. The wine may have simply been the antiseptic means of purifying polluted water that Timothy had been drinking by killing germs and bacterial organisms. If so, then Paul was not commending wine, but commending a method of cleansing contaminated water. Moreover, the Bible sometimes employs the term as a symbol of the wrath of God (Jer. 25:15; 51:7; Rev. 14:10; 16:19).
One may respond by quoting Proverbs 31:6-7 in an attempt to show support for social drinking. Because of the multiple warnings in the Bible against drunkenness, we know that depression and poverty are not a license to sin. The context (Prov. 31:1) does not suggest that kings should not drink (Prov. 31:4-5) but everyone else can (Prov. 31:6-7). This mother is advising him to stay away from alcohol because it impairs judgment, leads to improper decisions and adversely affects those to whom he governs. Yet, by way of contrast, some people drink to forget. In essence, she is actually saying, “Let them do it, but as for you, manage the stress of your position to rule with equitable justice.” Of course, if it was true for the king, it ought also to be true for the Christian, of which Jesus Christ has made us kings (Matt. 5:13-16; 1 Pet. 2:11-12; Rev. 1:5-6)!
Others may try to justify social drinking based upon different cultures in differing countries and nations. Does the Bible sanction the use of alcohol in different countries according to custom? From everything that one may study about the subject of inebriating substances and from everything that the Bible teaches concerning itself, the gospel is the universal standard of ethics, morals, and right conduct. Thus, the child of God who is committed to Jesus is not going to pretend that he can drink wine in Italy, vodka in Russia, stout in Australia, lager in Germany, rum in the Caribbean, bourbon in Kentucky or champagne in France and be pleasing to God. We do not change our morality just by crossing state lines or international borders!
In conclusion, we know that alcohol is the #1 drug problem in America today. In a recent report from the World Health Organization, alcohol kills one person every ten seconds worldwide. In fact, it kills 3.3 million people worldwide every year, more than AIDS, tuberculosis and violence combined. Nevertheless, social drinking and alcohol consumption is accepted, endorsed, legalized, promoted and even heavily guarded politically. Indeed, consumption of inebriating beverages is on the rise. How sad! Instead of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), why should we not have MAD (Mothers Against Drinking), because we are not going to solve the problem of drunk driving until we solve the problem of drinking. Give liquor to our cats, and we are cruel; give liquor to a person, and we become the life of the party! Of course, we should not get our pets drunk, but neither should we allow our sons, daughters, business associates and friends to drink either, because if it is not fit for our pet, it is certainly not fit for humanity!