Is the argument Should? Or shouldn’t? Can? Or can’t? Well, those are two very different arguments, but I want to look at the latter. Can, or can’t? I was always taught that the Bible taught the absolute condemnation (sin) of drinking alcohol, and most importantly, that the word ‘wine’ was just non-fermented grape juice, and the words ‘strong drink’ signified fermented alcohol Scripturally. Is that what it really teaches? Turns out, no.
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: – Leviticus 10:9, KJV
So here’s the deal – I don’t think the Bible teaches that you cannot drink alcohol. Not even reading Leviticus 10:9 and other ‘touch not they lips to strong drink’ Scriptures. Why? Context my friends.
There are dozens of warnings in the Scripture about the dangers of becoming abusive with alcohol, that drunkenness can lead to grave judgment errors. There are an equal number or more Scriptures where they gave offerings of liquor (strong drink) at the altar, and where they were told to drink liquor (strong drink) as part of their tithes and to be merry before God. Surprising I know, but I’ll show you.
What does ‘Wine’ mean?
The word ‘wine‘ is found in the Old Testament 195 times, and 42 times in the New Testament of the English Standard Version Bible. It’s primary meaning is just this;
oy’-nos – Meaning, ‘wine’. This is the Strong’s Dictionary number G3631. It references the Hebrew H3196 word;
yah’-yin, which means to effervesce. Or, wine (as fermented); by implication, intoxication, banqueting.
Now, the first two references to wine in the Bible speak of intoxication.
He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. – Genesis 9:20, ESV
When Noah awoke from his wine and knew his youngest son had done to him, – Genesis 9:24
Genesis 19 goes on to tell us the story of Lot’s daughters using wine to get him drunk enough to commit incest with him. Again, showing that the word wine was not used solely for non-fermented Welch’s grape juice.
Having read the word definitions, and Scriptural evidence, I’m left with the glaring question, How can you lie and say the word wine just means non-fermented grape juice?
What does Strong Drink mean?
The word pair ‘strong drink’ is found 55 times in the Old Testament and found once in the New Testament, in the ESV Bible. It’s meaning?
sik’-er-ah – This is found in the Strongs Dictionary, number G4608 and means an intoxicant, or strongly fermented liquor: strong drink and comes from the root Hebrew word H7941;
shay-kawr’ – which means an intoxicant, that is, intensely alcoholic liquor; strong drink, strong wine
Like wine in the Old Testament, strong drink was both recommended for consumption, and then refused for certain priestly duties. It is important to note however, that nowhere in Scripture is a teaching that alcohol, in any form, is forbidden to all.
For instance, our Scripture example Leviticus 10:9 was talking solely to Aaron and his sons when they entered the temple to perform their priestly duties. And again in Luke, which is the only New Testament example of strong drink, John the Baptist refused alcohol for his priestly duties.
for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. – Luke 1:15, ESV
To the contrary, there were times, even under Moses’ leadership, that strong drink was recommended to drink, AT THE TEMPLE, in celebration of God in the Tithe of the Feasts. Need proof?
And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. – Deuteronomy 14:24-26, ESV
I think we’ve easily established that being told the word ‘wine‘ only meant grape juice, and only strong drink was alcoholic, is a lie, or a misunderstanding at best. Furthermore, if consuming fermented liquids of any kind was abominable to God, then Moses commanded God’s people to sin.
We aren’t tackling the should/shouldn’t question today, but I will say this: If someone chooses to abstain, wanting to stay clear of the potential danger alcohol poses, then I respect that decision highly!
What I cannot respect however, is the blatant lie some have taught that taking a sip, or a pint will send you straight to hell, and that God forbade the drinking of alcohol altogether. This isn’t supported in Scripture and should be challenged.
Take the teachings of Paul to heart, which was all about what you consume in Romans 14, and judging the behavior of others.
Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. – Romans 14:3, ESV
Paul went on to teach a very important lesson in brotherly love. If what you eat, or the wine (intoxicant) you drink, causes another to stumble, that is a bad thing! We should check our behaviors by how they affect those around us.
It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. – Romans 14:21, ESV
This, however, is not a condemnation of what eat, or the wine you drink. This is a carefulness, both with the affects it has on you, and others. If your behavior causes others to fall, then its a behavior you would be good not to do. And yet, Paul teaches that the things you allow, in yourself, between you and God, is not condemned!
The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. – Romans 14:22, 23 ESV
The teaching that God condemned alcoholic beverage as a whole is a lie, and that wine was only grape juice is more so a lie. But, that you must take great care that it doesn’t consume you or those around you is very important.
If you choose to imbibe, do so carefully, but do so knowing that all is well with you, and with the Lord!
Love the blow against legalism you strike here. With the added caveat that for some people (e.g. recovering alcoholics) it probably IS solid wisdom to just never go near the stuff.
I’ve never enjoyed alcohol myself. Every time I have a beer, I cringe and go, “This must be what battery acid tastes like.”
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I absolutely agree that for those who need to abstain, it’s the right choice, and I thank God he gave us the ability to figure that out for ourselves. I am definitely coming against the legalistic system that would say, and my former church circles did, that anyone who takes a single drink is lost to hell and has blasphemed God. Let’s pray for those who are out of balance in both regards!
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I grew up with this horse crap too. All it led to was people drinking secretly or feeling overly self-righteous if they weren’t drinking. Thanks for all the scripture references.
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Thank you for the comment. Yes, I’ve seen the same results of legalism – hidden behaviors. It’s a shame that man believes he can legislate other men’s behavior and be successful.
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Good thoughts and questions on the fundamental interpretations of these texts. I’ve always thought it was crazy that just because something can be abused that means we should avoid it all together. In order for someone to get to the place where they think clearly the Bible condemns all use of alcohol you have to do some serious eisegesis.
Enjoyed reading your post!
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Thank you Jeffery, I appreciate you stopping by! I agree, taking the stance that Scripture does not support requires the reader to inject the words of their pastor or their own thoughts into the Word and do a little wringing and twisting.
The legalism regarding this subject would be to try to justify for New Covenant saints the Old Covenant is evidence the Bible teaches it is permissible to drink “strong drink”. This would be the same type of justification one could use to justify stoning adulterers and homosexuals.
Since we are a kingdom of priests, we should abstain from strong drink and even the ungodly understand how ungodly it is for a Christian drink.
Hello Helen – thank you for commenting!
I must admit I don’t follow the line of thinking, but I appreciate all input!
Do you have any Scriptures that would explain that we are ‘ungodly’ for drinking anything of alcoholic content? As listed in my article, there are certainly warnings, but also blessings and recommendations, such as Deuteronomy 14.
Kings and priests in Christ we are indeed!