The True Gladness of Wine

The debate over whether Christians ought to consume alcohol is not only an old one but, on the Web at least, a tired one. Much of the tiredness, though, is due to an excess of passion and a shortage of precision. Quarreling has been abundant and arguing scarce. I hope to contribute a bit here to the argument rather than the quarrel.

One example of arguing rather than quarreling dates back to the spring of 2006. I gather that Bob Bixby posted a case against the use of alcoholic beverages by Christians.1 Bob Hayton responded, in part, with an essay entitled “Wine to Gladden the Heart of Man”: Thoughts on God’s Good Gift of Wine. In the essay, Bob Hayton argues not only that “God gave us wine to bring us joy,” but also that the joy He had in mind is an effect of wine’s alcohol specifically.

Speaking of Judges 9:13, Ecclesiastes 10:19, and Zechariah 10:7, Bob observes:

It should be clear that even the intoxicating nature of wine is being praised, here. Wine lifts the spirit and gladdens the heart long before it actually overtakes you and makes one drunk. Wine can be enjoyed and its effects relished without losing control and becoming drunken.

This theme runs through the eight points that form the main structure of the essay. Following the eight points, a section focuses on counterarguments related to the biblical warnings against wine and the use of weaker brother passages. Though Bob wrote the post some years ago, I became aware of it during a discussion here at SI last year and pledged to write a response sometime. Here it is.

A little perspective

Before I delve into the particulars, a bit of framing. First, I believe that the decision to use (non-medicinal) alcohol judiciously or to abstain from it completely is a matter of conscience. Believers must apply the Scriptures and be fully persuaded in their own minds (Rom. 14:5) and must not despise one another (Rom. 14:3, 10) for arriving at different conclusions.

That said, matters of conscience (or liberty) are not matters we should avoid discussing or examining carefully.2 We owe it to our Lord, ourselves, and one another to have a conscience that is as clearly and truthfully informed as possible.

So it’s in that spirit that I’m going to try to upend the argument in Bob’s essay. I have the highest regard for him and for many of those who share his views on this question.

The eight points

In support of the idea that wine is God’s gift and we should enjoy it (the effect of its alcohol in particular), the essay offers eight points with supporting Scriptures:

  1. Wine is a gift of the goodness of God (Jer. 31:12-4, Ps. 104:14-15, 1 Tim.4:1-5).
  2. Wine produces joy—it “gladdens the heart” (Judg. 9:13, Ecc. 10:19 NASB, Zech. 10:7. See also Prov. 31:6-7, Jer. 16:7-8).
  3. Wine is used in rejoicing before God (Deut. 14:22-26, Isa. 62:8-9, Deut. 12:17-19. See also use of wine in drink offerings: Ex. 29:40, Num. 15:5, 2 Chron. 31:5, Deut. 8:4).
  4. Abundance of wine is a particular blessing from God (Joel 2:24-26, 3:18; Gen. 27:28; Deut. 7:13).
  5. Having no wine was a hardship or a judgment of God (Amos 5:11, Deut. 29:2-6. See also Deut. 18:39, Mic. 6:15, Zeph. 1:13).
  6. The absence of wine results in the absence of joy (Isa. 24:7-11, Jer. 48:33, Is. 16:10).
  7. Drinking wine is singularly festive, joyful, and celebratory (Ecc. 9:7, Isa. 22:13, Job 1:13, Esther 1, 1 Chron. 12:39ff, Gen 27:25 and several others).
  8. Wine will be part of the future feasting in Christ’s kingdom (Isa. 25:6-9, Jer. 31:12-14, Matt. 26:29, Luke 22:28-30, Matt. 8:11, Luke 13:29, etc.).

Points of agreement and contention

The crux of this particular debate is really not the eight points themselves but whether they truly support the thesis. Isolated from a particular conclusion, seven of the eight points are solid and well supported by Scripture. (Point six should probably be merged with point five since the passages listed there do not indicate a cause-effect relationship.)

But the argument as a whole hinges on a particular definition of “wine” and a particular view of wine’s relationship to one of its usual ingredients (alcohol). Since the pro-wine position needs to argue that fruit of the vine without alcohol is not a suitable modern-day substitute, it must attribute the blessings of wine to alcohol specifically. The thesis, then, is effectively that alcohol is a blessing God gave us to make us glad. Most advocates of the judicious use of wine maintain that if there is no alcohol, the beverage simply isn’t wine.

This is my main point of contention: Where passages do not clearly indicate the effects of intoxication (whether slight or severe), “wine” cannot be used validly as a synonym for “alcohol.”

The old non-alcoholic wine argument

At this point, I’m sure some have got me pigeon-holed as a proponent of the old “Christian people drank non-alcoholic wine” argument. But this is not where I’m going. I believe God’s people consumed wine with alcohol on a regular basis.

But does it follow that if wine usually contained alcohol, every statement in Scripture extolling wine is also extolling alcohol? A closer look at some of the passages Bob uses in his essay suggests an answer.

But the vine said to them, “Should I cease my new wine,
Which cheers both God and men,
And go to sway over trees?” (NKJV, Judg. 9:13)

Here, the “wine” cheers both God and men. Presumably, it cheers them both in a similar way—but how would God experience the cheer that comes from the early stages of intoxication? Since God is a spirit, the cheer in this passage is evidently not directly related to any ingredient the wine contains—and doesn’t even depend on drinking it. (Arguably, we could take this as a reference to God incarnate physically enjoying wine, but it seems less strained to see the cheer here as referring to the gladness of witnessing an abundant harvest.)

Joy and gladness are taken
From the plentiful field
And from the land of Moab;
I have caused wine to fail from the winepresses;
No one will tread with joyous shouting—
Not joyous shouting! (Jer. 48:33)

Gladness is taken away,
And joy from the plentiful field;
In the vineyards there will be no singing,
Nor will there be shouting;
No treaders will tread out wine in the presses;
I have made their shouting cease. (Isa. 16:10)

Consider this: how much alcohol does the “wine” in these verses contain? Here the term refers to the product of the press at the time it comes from the press—a liquid containing no alcohol at all. This use of “wine” in reference to the not-yet-fermented fruit of the vine is not unique. In Jeremiah 40:10 and 12 “wine” is what is “gathered.” In Amos 9:13, “wine” is what the mountains are dripping with. In Haggai 2:16, “wine” is still in the vat, and in Isaiah 65:8 the substance is “wine” even while still in the cluster!

Though it’s true (as far as I can tell) that wine was nearly always consumed with alcohol in it, the evidence does not support using “wine” as a synonym for “alcohol,” nor may we treat alcohol as an essential attribute. We can’t assume that all references to “wine” say something meaningful about alcohol in particular.

The real gladness

If we accept that “wine” does not refer to alcohol specifically, or even consistently to a beverage containing alcohol, we’re free to look at the wine-and-gladness passages with more openness and to allow the context to carry more weight in understanding what each reference reveals.

What that look reveals is that most of the passages which associate wine with gladness are about the gladness of physical nourishment or refreshment, the gladness of abundant harvest or the gladness of God’s blessing in general (many of these passages associate cheer with food as well in the same context). Most of the passages that associate lack of wine with sorrow are really about famine and loss due to God’s judgment. Few of these passages are actually about wine. Nearly all refer to it in service to some larger point.

The table below classifies all of the primary texts from Bob’s essay, and most of the secondary ones as well. (Some passages could be classified under more than one heading.)

Passages associating wine with the gladness of abundant harvest or God’s blessing in general

Jeremiah 31:12-14, Deuteronomy 14:22-26, Zechariah 10:7, Judges 9:13, Isaiah 25:6-9, Isaiah 62:8-9

Passages associating wine with the gladness of nourishment or the pleasure of eating and drinking

Psalm 104:14-15, Ecclesiastes 10:19

Passages associating lack of wine with the sorrow of meager harvest or loss of God’s blessing in general (judgment)

Amos 5:11, Deuteronomy 29:2-6, Deuteronomy 28:39, Micah 6:15, Zephaniah 1:13, Isaiah 24:7-11, Jeremiah 48:33, Isaiah 16:10

Passages associating wine with gladness vaguely (specific reference to intoxicating property not clear, but possible)

Ecclesiastes 9:7, Isaiah 22:13, Song of Solomon 1:2-3, 4:10 (and others in Song of Solomon)

Passages not associating wine with gladness (mostly with other items representative of God’s provision and grace)

Exodus 29:40, Numbers 15:5, 2 Chronicles 31:5, Deuteronomy 12:17-19, Joel 2:24-26, Joel 3:18, Genesis 27:28, Deuteronomy 7:13, Matthew 26:29 (and Luke 22:17, 20), 1 Corinthians 11:21

Passages simply indicating that wine was consumed along with food, mostly on some special occasion

Job 1:13, Esther 1:7, 1 Chronicles 12:39-40, Genesis 27:25, Luke 7:33-34

Passages referring to medicinal use of wine

Proverbs 31:6-7

Passages that do not mention wine but would fit under one of the other headings if wine is assumed

1 Timothy 4:1-5, Luke 13:29, Luke 22:28-30, Matthew 8:11

Since the gladness and cheer in these passages do not depend specifically on the presence of alcohol, those who enjoy the fresh juice of the grape (or of the grapefruit, for that matter) cannot be accurately characterized as rejecting the blessing of “wine” or of missing out on the biblical gladness it brings.

Notes

1 Bixby’s post appears to be no longer available.

2 I also do not believe there is any reason that congregations may not agree together on some matters of conscience/liberty that they deem to have special importance and include these convictions as part of their membership standard.

[node:bio/aaron-blumer body]

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Lee's picture

Shaynus wrote:
Single digits is beer. Do you exempt beer from your wine criticism? Wine simply isn't the major cause of alcohol problems. It's mostly the liquor.

A normal serving of beer (12 oz.), wine (5 oz.), or spirits (1.5 oz.) contains the same (approx.) amount of alcohol, 0.6 fl. oz., and will raise the blood alcohol content of the average person to .04%, affecting various people with various body types in various ways, affected also by heat, altitude, mood, and a host of other factors.

Translate, alcohol is the major cause of alcohol problems, regardless of the carrier. And nobody can definitively state where intoxication begins because the factors are too many and too varied.

Lee

ChrisC's picture

JNoël wrote:
I haven't seen anyone discuss the fact that since the 16th and 17th centuries wines are now fortified, which artificially increases their alcohol content dramatically. Natural fermentation can only yield single-digit percentages of alcohol before the beverage becomes unpalatable - unenjoyable: certainly not something to make one merry or to life the spirit. So unless those of you who approve of alcoholic oinos consumption are only drinking a shot glass full of it, you are probably drinking what God considers in excess.
the reason you haven't seen anyone talk about it is that this is a complete fiction. wine will spoil with less than 9% alcohol. the processing is for giving a more standard product, not to increase the alcohol content. wine connoisseurs will actually pass on wine with too much alcohol. actually, fortification is the wrong word. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortified_wine ]fortified wine is another product altogether from wine. you can buy kits for making wine at home that does not involve any special processing, and it will give wine with just as much alcohol as something you buy in the store.

JNoël's picture

Shaynus wrote:
Single digits is beer. Do you exempt beer from your wine criticism? Wine simply isn't the major cause of alcohol problems. It's mostly the liquor.

Yes; I did say "the industry" and not just wine. I don't exempt beer, but I don't think anyone is saying beer is okay as it is a different beverage than all of the acceptable references posted about what is translated in English as wine. Or are all of you pro-wine drinkers also saying the passages that you conclude approve of and even promote "wine" are expanded to approve of and even promote any and all beverages that produce good feelings - wine, beer, tequila, rum, vodka, etc.? Just curious on that point.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg

Shaynus's picture

JNoël wrote:
Shaynus wrote:
Single digits is beer. Do you exempt beer from your wine criticism? Wine simply isn't the major cause of alcohol problems. It's mostly the liquor.

Yes; I did say "the industry" and not just wine. I don't exempt beer, but I don't think anyone is saying beer is okay as it is a different beverage than all of the acceptable references posted about what is translated in English as wine. Or are all of you pro-wine drinkers also saying the passages that you conclude approve of and even promote "wine" are expanded to approve of and even promote any and all beverages that produce good feelings - wine, beer, tequila, rum, vodka, etc.? Just curious on that point.

I'm saying that a focus on percentages ignores that scripture is concerned with drunkenness, not percentages. One can sip scotch gingerly or slam beer till the lights go out. The difference between sipping scotch and slamming beer is not the percentage of alcohol, but the heart of the person. If I'm going to caution anyone about any given beverage, I'm going to caution about liquor. Because with liquor one can more easily misunderstand the intoxicating power it holds. I don't say it's wrong to drink them, but I would just have more caution than with wine or beer. Again, see my earlier post about drinking culture. Tequila shots exist in a culture of drinking that is altogether different than sipping fine wine while snacking on sardines and french bread.

Shaynus's picture

FYI JNoel, the industries of beer and wine and liquor are almost totally separate. Anhauser Busch hath no intercourse with Louis Jadot, who in turn has no communication with Jack Daniels. A drunk will buy cheap beer, and cheap liquor. I seldom hear of a drunk buying wine as their lubricant of choice. Charlie set you straight on fortified wines. You don't know what you're talking about, which makes me not want to believe other decent things you might say.

JNoël's picture

Bob Hayton wrote:
The problem is degree not kind. Today it is easier to get drunk than it was before the 1600s. I grant that. The question is whether or not in principle, the enjoyment of drinks containing alcohol is forbidden to Christians. Is forbidding alcoholic drinks the only way to prevent us from drinking too much? Again examples of food and sex have been given above. No. We can keep limits and boundaries around our partaking of such substances. I speak from experience and my wife can attest that I've never been drunk. But I have enjoyed these kinds of drinks in moderation - and received the benefit of an uplifted spirit and relaxed body. God created this substance and designed it to ferment as it does. And he calls his creation good. Grapes begin the fermentation process naturally after being picked, having yeast naturally growing on them and plenty of sugar and availability of heat (as Noah's example attests to).

I think we can all agree that God does not prohibit activity that can produce negative results. Nearly anything in excess is probably violating at least the first commandment.

So since no one can claim God commands abstinence from alcohol specifically, then isn't Aaron is right, that it is an issue of Christian liberty? I'm very surprised that you exegete all of those passages in a way to make it sound like God actually promotes a change in attitude brought about by a substance. It almost seems like you don't at all think it is a liberty issue, but, rather, a clear scriptural endorsement. I have a difficult time agreeing with this as alcohol is poison, so it violates the principle of caring for our bodies, and alcohol is mind-altering, which violates being controlled by the Spirit. This isn't meant to be silly, but I think I can get a better lift of spirit by eating a juicy steak, a rack of baby back ribs, a skewer of grilled shrimp, and a glass of carbonated water more than consuming something that is too easy to cross a line that could damage my life or those around me far too easily.

Respectfully,
JN

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg

JNoël's picture

Shaynus wrote:
Charlie set you straight on fortified wines. You don't know what you're talking about, which makes me not want to believe other decent things you might say.

I'm not quite sure I fully understood Charlie's comment, because wines are, at least from what I can find, in the low teens of alcoholic content, with some (port?) higher by fortification. So unless the many things I've found on the web are all flat out wrong, fortification does increase the alcohol content artificially, right?. Again, I might have misunderstood what Charlie was getting at.

But I'll take the hit on being wrong about the percentages; that's really not the main thrust of my argument anyway.

As far as using generalities like "the industry" is concerned, obviously there is a wide range of production. I've seen fine-wine drinkers/tasters get just as drunk as gutter alcoholics who steal just to get a buzz. The substance has the same impact on the body. "The industry" just sells to a wide range of market. I'm not trying to vilify "the industry" - they are just free-enterprising capitalists taking advantage of the fact that the substance produces dependence. No different than the "the tobacco industry," "the pornography industry," "the gambling industry," or "the hollywood industry." I choose not to support any of those "industries" because they excel at creating and distributing products that rarely do good to humanity.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg

Bob Hayton's picture

JN,

Thanks for not walking away, I think you're on to something. Yes it is a liberty issue. But stop a moment. Alcohol is poison? No! No substance in and of itself is evil. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Alcoholism isn't a disease, it is sin. Wine doesn't harm us, we deceive ourselves when we give in to excessive drinking.

For some reason, Christians are all too ready to blame the demon liquor for ills of the heart. The answer for broken lives and families isn't to eradicate alcohol and educate the mind. We need to transform the heart with the power of the gospel!

For me, I was convinced that the plethora of positive references to wine meant that I had to conform my previously tee-totaller mindset to the Scriptures. That was what motivated me to make my first steps toward enjoying alcoholic drinks in moderation. It is a liberty issue I won't force on anyone, but this is indeed how I view the matter. Am I smarter than Scripture on how I will relegate this substance, or do I believe it really is a gift of God to gladden men's hearts?

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Charlie's picture

Deuteronomy 14:24-27 24 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, 25 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 26 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. 27 And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.

Traditionally translated by the somewhat euphemistic "strong drink," שֵׁכָר means an intoxicating beverage, usually thought to be beer. Some think it's fermented juice from fruit other than grapes. Or, it may cover both. My personal drink of choice is Woodford Reserve bourbon, 1.5 oz. with a large ice cube.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Shaynus's picture

JNoël wrote:
Shaynus wrote:
Charlie set you straight on fortified wines. You don't know what you're talking about, which makes me not want to believe other decent things you might say.

I'm not quite sure I fully understood Charlie's comment, because wines are, at least from what I can find, in the low teens of alcoholic content, with some (port?) higher by fortification. So unless the many things I've found on the web are all flat out wrong, fortification does increase the alcohol content artificially, right?. Again, I might have misunderstood what Charlie was getting at.

But I'll take the hit on being wrong about the percentages; that's really not the main thrust of my argument anyway.

As far as using generalities like "the industry" is concerned, obviously there is a wide range of production. I've seen fine-wine drinkers/tasters get just as drunk as gutter alcoholics who steal just to get a buzz. The substance has the same impact on the body. "The industry" just sells to a wide range of market. I'm not trying to vilify "the industry" - they are just free-enterprising capitalists taking advantage of the fact that the substance produces dependence. No different than the "the tobacco industry," "the pornography industry," "the gambling industry," or "the hollywood industry." I choose not to support any of those "industries" because they excel at creating and distributing products that rarely do good to humanity.

You are correct that most wines top out at the low teens. This is because the rising alcohol content kills off the yeast at a very constant level: normally somewhere between 9 and 15%. To get more than naturally occurring alcoholic beverages need to be distilled. This is why in Bible times, wines and beers would routinely top out at these levels and not progress beyond. Fortified wines are wines to which distilled spirits have been added. I quote from wikipedia.

"Fortified wine is wine to which a distilled beverage (usually brandy) has been added.[1 ] Fortified wine is distinguished from spirits made from wine in that spirits are produced by means of distillation, while fortified wine is simply wine that has had a spirit added to it. Many different styles of fortified wine have been developed, including port, sherry, madeira, marsala, Commandaria wine and vermouth."

The point in all of this is that wine that we have today would have been readily available to those in bible times based on pure biology and chemistry. Historical fact just isn't on the side that today's wine is different than 2,000 years ago in an unmixed form.

As to the point of industry. Remember that these industries compete. I used to do IT work for the Beer Wholesalers of America. They would rather you not drink wine, but rather drink beer. They're not in cahoots to get you drunk on anything whatever. They just want to sell beer. There isn't just one industry. There are many.

Shaynus's picture

One more thing JNoel just to make sure I explain my frustration,

Quote:
I haven't seen anyone discuss the fact that since the 16th and 17th centuries wines are now fortified, which artificially increases their alcohol content dramatically. Natural fermentation can only yield single-digit percentages of alcohol before the beverage becomes unpalatable - unenjoyable: certainly not something to make one merry or to life the spirit. So unless those of you who approve of alcoholic oinos consumption are only drinking a shot glass full of it, you are probably drinking what God considers in excess.

The reason you haven't seen anyone discuss it is that VERY FEW wines are now fortified. If you walk down the wine isle at your grocery store (depending on your state, that may or may not exist) you'll find a fortified wine section consisting of about a shelf among a hundred other shelves. The vast majority of wines sold are not fortified. I would argue they're much like the wines of the Bible in unmixed form due to sheer biology. If you are frustrated with the lack of knowledge on the interent, look to sites like wikipedia.org.

Aaron Blumer's picture

Quote:
Even though I feel Christians should abstain, I don't think we can argue against the fact the "wine" referred to in "maketh the heart glad" was free of alcohol. I don't know of people noting their happiness after drinking just grape juice.

This is not quite what I'm claiming. Nonetheless, look at the Scriptures in the table. The gladness is usually in the context of both food and drink and quite often in the context of abundant harvest in general. There is simply not an example among these verses where the gladness is clearly of the unique sort generated by early-stage intoxication.

Bob wrote:
Proposition 1: Scripture connects drunkenness with "making merry", having "merry hearts" and "shouts of joy".
Scriptures that illustrate this: Judges 16:25, 1 Sam. 25:36, 2 Sam. 13:28, Esther 1:10, Eccl. 2:3, Jeremiah 51:39, Zech. 10:7. Note especially 1 Sam. 25:36: "Nabal's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk" (emphasis added)

Proposition 2: Scripture praises wine for its ability to give joy (without any disclaimer that certain levels of enjoyment and heights of happiness are out of bounds).
Scriptures that illustrate this: Judges 9:13, Ps. 104:15, Eccl. 9:7, Eccl. 10:19, (and other references that fit in with the 8 points I originally made, see the list in Aaron's post).

Conclusion: The nature of wine that makes it able to produce joy (i.e. the intoxicating effects of wine as a substance), is a God-ordained, good thing.


The reasoning here is not valid.
X has quality A
Y is praised for having quality A
Therefore, Y is good only because it's like X

I'm having trouble seeing how this conclusion can flow from these premises--even if the joy and gladness in the two premises are assumed to be identical in kind (which has not been demonstrated).

About a lot of the other comments... I was pretty sure this thread would not stay all that focused on the topic of the OP. People are passionate about these matters, and for reasons that are not hard to imagine.
But to clarify: I haven't attempted to make a case here for abstinence (another day, maybe). My aim was much smaller: to make a case against some kind of unique virtue in the alcohol in wine. (The biblical references to "strong drink"/"beer" etc. are also another study entirely)

So, just to bring some distinctions in to focus. These are all different positions:
a. We should drink wine because it has alcohol in it and the Scriptures indicate that alcohol-generated cheer is God's gift to us.
b. Drinking wine is permissible since (nearly) everyone in ancient times did and only drunkenness is condemned... but even getting a bit happy due to the effects of alcohol is wrong.
c. Drinking wine is permissible and getting a bit happy due to the effects of alcohol is OK because it is not drunkenness, but there is no biblical call to specifically enjoy the effects of alcohol.
d. Drinking wine is not permissible because believers drank non-alcoholic wine
e. Drinking wine is not permissible because the wine of ancient times was usually more more diluted than the wine of today
f. Drinking wine is not permissible because of the dangers involved and the complete absence of any need to do so

I'm sure several other variants exist. I'm just listing these to help folks avoid lumping views together that are really not the same.

JG's picture

Quote:
Conclusion: The nature of wine that makes it able to produce joy (i.e. the intoxicating effects of wine as a substance), is a God-ordained, good thing.

Intoxicating effects also produce moroseness, depression, anger, foolishness, and lots of other things. So this is a horrible argument.

JNoël's picture

Bob Hayton wrote:
Thanks for not walking away, I think you're on to something. Yes it is a liberty issue. But stop a moment. Alcohol is poison? No! No substance in and of itself is evil. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Alcoholism isn't a disease, it is sin. Wine doesn't harm us, we deceive ourselves when we give in to excessive drinking.

Alcohol is toxic. You say "no substance in and of itself is evil" and I agree - bleach, ammonia, hydrochloric acid, bug spray - none of these are in and of themselves evil/sin. But I'm pretty sure we can find scriptural principle to support it is wrong for a Christian to drink battery acid.

Guns don't kill people - but getting high on pain by shooting a bullet into your hand is a problem. Alcoholism isn't a disease - I couldn't agree more, and every time I hear someone on the radio or in the news call it that I want to throw something at it/them. Smile But it is true that certain people are more prone to develop a chemical dependence on alcohol than others. Christians are commanded to walk in the Spirit; failing to keep one's own body under control, regardless of a particular humans' built-in tendencies, means failing to walk in the Spirit. Some have a tendency to be addicted to food, some to tobacco, some to the high of gambling, pornography, video games or other 2 dimensional animated escapism, etc. Addiction to anything demonstrates a pattern of not walking in the Spirit. Alcohol is an addictive substance, and its results are so destructive both in the toxic effects it has on the body and in the social and physical damage done to others that it seems like ignoring the multitude of passages and counselors to think it wise to consume it at all.

Aaron noted that he originally was only intending to discuss possible inherent virtue of consuming a particular substance. You and he both seem to agree that it is an issue of Christian liberty, but your discussion of why you believe God promotes it does not come across to me as one of liberty, but one of scriptural endorsement and encouragement. And while Proverbs is not generally a book of commands, it has so many references to applying wisdom to staying far away from the intoxicating effects of alcohol that I can't see reconciling those passages with claims that God actually encourages getting at least some degree affected by alcohol (interesting what Aaron mentioned about "buzz driving is drunk driving").

Thank you, as well. I'm thankful for a place where people can respectfully dialog, and I appreciate you for not walking away from a layman's perspective.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg

dmicah's picture

Quote:
Alcohol is an addictive substance, and its results are so destructive both in the toxic effects it has on the body and in the social and physical damage done to others that it seems like ignoring the multitude of passages and counselors to think it wise to consume it at all.

Should we abstain from marital intercourse? sex is addictive and its results are so destructive in the social and physical damage done to to others, it seems like ignoring the multitude of passages and counselors to think it wise to engage it at all.

Emotional arguments based upon those who have abused a God given gift are not valid. I really respect what Aaron is trying to accomplish with focusing on detailed arguments and explanations for personal choices in liberty. Anecdotally it seems as though many people on both sides of this issue come to bright line decisions on the this topic without thinking about it deeply.

Not sure if you're aware, but D.A. Carson abstains from drinking while in the US because of its cultural baggage that he feels are not inherent in other countries. So Aaron, that would be another position to add to your list.

DavidO's picture

JNoël wrote:

Alcohol is toxic.

The Samurai used to commit suicide by eating a tablespoon of regular old salt, which substance, even in regular recipes, is also also a cause of many health problems. Shall we ban it?

JNoël's picture

dmicah wrote:
Should we abstain from marital intercourse? sex is addictive and its results are so destructive in the social and physical damage done to to others, it seems like ignoring the multitude of passages and counselors to think it wise to engage it at all.

Emotional arguments based upon those who have abused a God given gift are not valid. I really respect what Aaron is trying to accomplish with focusing on detailed arguments and explanations for personal choices in liberty. Anecdotally it seems as though many people on both sides of this issue come to bright line decisions on the this topic without thinking about it deeply.

I'm not aware of any passages that declare the marital sexual relationship to be dangerous in any way. That's a weird argument you make, sir.

My point was not out of emotion, it is one of thoughtful consideration of what the Bible says about the dangers of alcoholic beverages.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg

Shaynus's picture

It's not a weird argument at all. Just because it seems odd to you doesn't make it weird. Think about it this way.

Sexual intercourse within certain boundaries is OK and even a good in scripture.
Alcohol consumption within certain boundaries is OK and even a good in scripture.

Sexual intercourse outside boundaries is sin.
Alcohol consumption outside boundaries is sin.

These are completely paralel statements with equal weight and logic in scripture. But you may saw, "I am commanded to have sexual intercourse with my wife." Yes, but you're not commanded to marry. Both are volitional choices that you may or may not make.

The danger in both cases is within, not without. Sin is mostly inside you, not existing outside of you trying to get in. The same is true of the lust for drunkenness.

Lee's picture

When salt is characterized in Scripture as inherently causative of immorality (such as "thine eyes shall behold strange women...") I'll be on that issue like white on rice.

When the Scripture reverses its approval of marital sexual relations (you know, the old "marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled" thing) and states something akin to "marital sexual relations equate to the scorner of Proverbs of which you should have no part" I will join the bandwagon in calling for abstinence (I may not like it, mind you, but I will obey).

In the meantime, while we're waiting on these divine changes to holy writ, let's set aside the silliness and discuss the matter at hand which requires no new revelation.

Lee

Lee's picture

Shaynus wrote:
It's not a weird argument at all. Just because it seems odd to you doesn't make it weird. Think about it this way.

Sexual intercourse within certain boundaries is OK and even a good in scripture.
Alcohol consumption within certain boundaries is OK and even a good in scripture.

Sexual intercourse outside boundaries is sin.
Alcohol consumption outside boundaries is sin.

These are completely paralel statements with equal weight and logic in scripture. But you may saw, "I am commanded to have sexual intercourse with my wife." Yes, but you're not commanded to marry. Both are volitional choices that you may or may not make.

The danger in both cases is within, not without. Sin is mostly inside you, not existing outside of you trying to get in. The same is true of the lust for drunkenness.


Great, as if I don't have enough weddings to attend, now I'll get invitations from all sorts to attend their boozing ceremony where they covenant under God to become one with a bottle till death do them part.

Lee

Shaynus's picture

Lee wrote:

In the meantime, while we're waiting on these divine changes to holy writ, let's set aside the silliness and discuss the matter at hand which requires no new revelation.

Lee wrote:

Great, as if I don't have enough weddings to attend, now I'll get invitations from all sorts to attend their boozing ceremony where they covenant under God to become one with a bottle till death do them part.

Didn't take long to set aside silliness did it?

dmicah's picture

silliness is diverting a solid argument b/c there's no rebuttal.
emotion says, "It's bad. Look at the damage it's caused. Therefore, despite what Scripture says, use experiences to create doctrine."

a few of God's gifts

spouse
nature
sexual relations
food
non-marital companionship
alcoholic beverages

each is to be enjoyed within context and biblical parameters.
each can be abused, mistreated, become idols, create addictions, etc. outside of context and biblical parameters. But abuse and misuse comes from humanity and our hearts, not the element of the gift.

MShep2's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Quote:
Even though I feel Christians should abstain, I don't think we can argue against the fact the "wine" referred to in "maketh the heart glad" was free of alcohol. I don't know of people noting their happiness after drinking just grape juice.

This is not quite what I'm claiming. Nonetheless, look at the Scriptures in the table. The gladness is usually in the context of both food and drink and quite often in the context of abundant harvest in general. There is simply not an example among these verses where the gladness is clearly of the unique sort generated by early-stage intoxication.

Bob wrote:
Proposition 1: Scripture connects drunkenness with "making merry", having "merry hearts" and "shouts of joy".
Scriptures that illustrate this: Judges 16:25, 1 Sam. 25:36, 2 Sam. 13:28, Esther 1:10, Eccl. 2:3, Jeremiah 51:39, Zech. 10:7. Note especially 1 Sam. 25:36: "Nabal's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk" (emphasis added)

Proposition 2: Scripture praises wine for its ability to give joy (without any disclaimer that certain levels of enjoyment and heights of happiness are out of bounds).
Scriptures that illustrate this: Judges 9:13, Ps. 104:15, Eccl. 9:7, Eccl. 10:19, (and other references that fit in with the 8 points I originally made, see the list in Aaron's post).

Conclusion: The nature of wine that makes it able to produce joy (i.e. the intoxicating effects of wine as a substance), is a God-ordained, good thing.


The reasoning here is not valid.
X has quality A
Y is praised for having quality A
Therefore, Y is good only because it's like X

I'm having trouble seeing how this conclusion can flow from these premises--even if the joy and gladness in the two premises are assumed to be identical in kind (which has not been demonstrated).

About a lot of the other comments... I was pretty sure this thread would not stay all that focused on the topic of the OP. People are passionate about these matters, and for reasons that are not hard to imagine.
But to clarify: I haven't attempted to make a case here for abstinence (another day, maybe). My aim was much smaller: to make a case against some kind of unique virtue in the alcohol in wine. (The biblical references to "strong drink"/"beer" etc. are also another study entirely)

So, just to bring some distinctions in to focus. These are all different positions:
a. We should drink wine because it has alcohol in it and the Scriptures indicate that alcohol-generated cheer is God's gift to us.
b. Drinking wine is permissible since (nearly) everyone in ancient times did and only drunkenness is condemned... but even getting a bit happy due to the effects of alcohol is wrong.
c. Drinking wine is permissible and getting a bit happy due to the effects of alcohol is OK because it is not drunkenness, but there is no biblical call to specifically enjoy the effects of alcohol.
d. Drinking wine is not permissible because believers drank non-alcoholic wine
e. Drinking wine is not permissible because the wine of ancient times was usually more more diluted than the wine of today
f. Drinking wine is not permissible because of the dangers involved and the complete absence of any need to do so

I'm sure several other variants exist. I'm just listing these to help folks avoid lumping views together that are really not the same.

It is important in this discussion to get back to Aaron's question: Is alcohol the ONLY reason wine is praised and said to bring joy. If alcohol is the reason, then it would follow that the more alcohol % contained in the wine, the better it is. Or, without alcohol, there would be no rejoicing.

This discussion has touched on the difference between today's wine and the wine of the ancient middle east. I think we need to go farther with that part of the discussion to understand the part that the vine, grapes, and wine played in that day. Today if we want to eat or drink we can go to the nearest "food warehouse" and buy from a seemingly unlimited assortment of food and drink. You don't like corn flakes - buy raisin bran. You don't want to drink Pepsi - get Coke or RC Cola. Etc. Etc. The assortment, availability and ease of getting food and drink was not something that people of that day experienced - and this is true of the third world today.

In Bible times there were very few kinds of food stuffs available to the people and their economy was based on growing olive trees, grape vines, and wheat. I have lived in two different third world countries since 1986 and I believe that the experience of seeing the rejoicing at a good rice harvest is similar to what the Bible is talking about. In my "home" country most years they go through what they call "hungry time" when then their last rice is used up and they must wait till the next harvest - which comes with great rejoicing and singing. Now, imagine living in a hot dry country waiting for the grape harvest - and the celebration at finally drinking the fresh juice from the grape after having only water or "old" wine (or wine paste) for a number of weeks or months.

In this, I am not arguing about the % of alcohol in the "wine" - I just agree with Aaron that it is not logical to assume that the ONLY reason people rejoiced over a good cup of "wine" was because of its alcohol content.

When we lived in the Ivory Coast during Liberian's civil war, we were able to shop at grocery stores in Abidjan, but 99% of the goods were from Europe and we used to crave some good American products. When things improved in Liberia we were able to make trips into Liberia and many times we went with of list of special foods we were to buy for the missionaries we worked with in the Ivory Coast. I still remember one of the first times when we arrived in Monrovia, shopped at the grocery store, and went to the guest house to have a meal of barbecue sloppy Joes (Manwich!), Barbecue baked beans, and A&W root beer (non-alcoholic! ;-). Both my heart and my mouth rejoiced and praised God that day because of the meal - and this obviously involved no alcohol. Biggrin

MS
--------------------------------
Luke 17:10

Lee's picture

Shaynus wrote:
...Didn't take long to set aside silliness did it?

Hey, you're the one that's postulating that "sporting with" the bride and knocking back a shot of tequila are Scriptural equals. Not thinking that dog'll hunt for anybody but you. Just sayin'.....

Lee

JNoël's picture

dmicah wrote:
a few of God's gifts

spouse
nature
sexual relations
food
non-marital companionship
alcoholic beverages

each is to be enjoyed within context and biblical parameters.
each can be abused, mistreated, become idols, create addictions, etc. outside of context and biblical parameters. But abuse and misuse comes from humanity and our hearts, not the element of the gift.

You have to read into scripture to say that consumption of alcoholic beverages is a gift from God. I could say that yeast is a result of God's curse, that it didn't exist before the fall, that crushed grapes would never have fermented into something that is toxic to the human body. I have to read into that, of course, because the Bible doesn't tell us what, specifically happened to Creation at the fall. There are plenty of naturally occurring phenomena that are unhealthy to humanity; some were probably created, and some probably developed after the Fall.

After chewing on this a bit, I'm beginning to question whether or not consumption of alcohol really is a liberty issue. Reading through the section in I Cor 8 and following, Paul deals with the issue using an item that has no moral value - good or bad, it was just a piece of meat. It had an external cultural stigma in that it was offered to idols, but it was still just a piece of meat. The Bible never warns against eating meat (not including the OT law prohibitions, of course). Meat itself is a neutral substance. But there are many passages that warn against alcohol consumption, and those of you who condone it seem to approach it as more than just a liberty issue, but actually as a moral, virtuous thing, a blessing from God, that the rest of us are missing out on. And I think this speaks to Aaron's original point, which was the question of whether alcohol actually has inherent virtue. If it does, then this really is not a Christian Liberty issue, but, rather, something that somehow Christians have missed for generations (centuries?) or was somehow lost and is being rediscovered as a blessing we've all been missing out on all this time.

Boy, it would have been so much easier if Paul's letter to the church at Corinth dealt with alcoholic beverages rather than meat offered to idols. Smile

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg

Shaynus's picture

Lee wrote:
Shaynus wrote:
...Didn't take long to set aside silliness did it?

Hey, you're the one that's postulating that "sporting with" the bride and knocking back a shot of tequila are Scriptural equals. Not thinking that dog'll hunt for anybody but you. Just sayin'.....

What do you mean by Scriptural equals? I don't think we mean the same thing. I would say knocking back a shot of tequila normal intends with it drunkenness.

Note that you have to go to the most extreme, silly rhetorical flourish (tipping me off that you're making an argument from emotion rather than reason) just after chiding people for silliness when they're making a formal argument. Bad form sir. Bad form.

Shaynus's picture

JNoël wrote:
dmicah wrote:
a few of God's gifts

spouse
nature
sexual relations
food
non-marital companionship
alcoholic beverages

each is to be enjoyed within context and biblical parameters.
each can be abused, mistreated, become idols, create addictions, etc. outside of context and biblical parameters. But abuse and misuse comes from humanity and our hearts, not the element of the gift.

You have to read into scripture to say that consumption of alcoholic beverages is a gift from God. I could say that yeast is a result of God's curse, that it didn't exist before the fall, that crushed grapes would never have fermented into something that is toxic to the human body. I have to read into that, of course, because the Bible doesn't tell us what, specifically happened to Creation at the fall. There are plenty of naturally occurring phenomena that are unhealthy to humanity; some were probably created, and some probably developed after the Fall.

After chewing on this a bit, I'm beginning to question whether or not consumption of alcohol really is a liberty issue. Reading through the section in I Cor 8 and following, Paul deals with the issue using an item that has no moral value - good or bad, it was just a piece of meat. It had an external cultural stigma in that it was offered to idols, but it was still just a piece of meat. The Bible never warns against eating meat (not including the OT law prohibitions, of course). Meat itself is a neutral substance. But there are many passages that warn against alcohol consumption, and those of you who condone it seem to approach it as more than just a liberty issue, but actually as a moral, virtuous thing, a blessing from God, that the rest of us are missing out on. And I think this speaks to Aaron's original point, which was the question of whether alcohol actually has inherent virtue. If it does, then this really is not a Christian Liberty issue, but, rather, something that somehow Christians have missed for generations (centuries?) or was somehow lost and is being rediscovered as a blessing we've all been missing out on all this time.

Boy, it would have been so much easier if Paul's letter to the church at Corinth dealt with alcoholic beverages rather than meat offered to idols. Smile

Meat and wine will remain in the new heavens and new earth. They are not something that was created to be destroyed, or even bad parts of the fall.

Quote:
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

(Isaiah 25:6 ESV)

ChrisC's picture

JNoël wrote:
You have to read into scripture to say that consumption of alcoholic beverages is a gift from God.
come back after you've read psalm 104

JNoël's picture

ChrisC wrote:
JNoël wrote:
You have to read into scripture to say that consumption of alcoholic beverages is a gift from God.
come back after you've read psalm 104

And that Psalm can be argued against with any number of other passages. I'll leave the interpretational issue to all of you scholars out there, as it is clear that even the greatest and most well-known commentators disagree on the appropriate application of passages like Psalm 104 and Isaiah 25:6.

This is where I sit back and listen. Thank you all for the respectful dialog.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg

Shaynus's picture

MShep2 wrote:

In this, I am not arguing about the % of alcohol in the "wine" - I just agree with Aaron that it is not logical to assume that the ONLY reason people rejoiced over a good cup of "wine" was because of its alcohol content.

So. . . here's a question why don't we use the RC Cola you mentioned at communion? I would be fine with wine myself at the Lord's Table, but for reasons involving weaker brothers and conscience we use grape juice. The reason we stick as close as possible to wine is partly that it is symbolic of blood and wrath as well as joy. Blood and wrath poured out for our salvation, which causes joy. Wine was God's idea. He knew before the foundation of the world that the human race would misuse his creation of grapes and wine and alcohol, but still he chose in his wisdom not only to go ahead with the creation of it, but made it a central symbol for us of His salvation of us. I do think the alcohol adds to the imagery God was trying to get across. It burns a little as it goes down. Alcoholic wine has dregs, often mentioned in tandem with the passages dealing with the wrath of God and drinking down to the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lees_(fermentation) ]dregs or lees as an unpleasant experience after finishing. As mentioned before, the alcohol does create a warmth or joy.

I would take the imagery of wine as a whole as well. It's not just about the alcohol, but the imagery works better when alcohol is present. The image is far deeper and fuller than the alcohol because it's a dual symbol of wrath and joy: just like the death of Christ.

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