A Wisdom Case for Total Abstinence from Alcohol in Modern Times

In my view, the Bible is just ambiguous enough on the topic of beverage alcohol to put the question in the category of matters of conscience. But matters of conscience are not matters to “leave alone;” they’re not excluded from the call to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works” (Heb. 10:24).

These issues call for respectful challenging of one another’s assumptions — and for pondering the path of our feet (Prov. 4:26).

So, I offer here a few thoughts, mainly with two groups of people in mind: those who are trying to decide what sort of stand they ought to make in their own lives, and those who are looking for ways to communicate a no-drinking position to others they care about.

I’m aware that most of the moderate-consumption advocates I know won’t find this at all persuasive, so in that sense, it’s not an entry in “the debate.” But in another sense, it is: some of the undecided and open minded may find something here that bears fruit later on.

Some framing

A strong wisdom case begins by pointing out a few facts and dismissing some distractions. For brevity’s sake here, just the facts.

  • Relative to today, people in Bible times had fewer beverage options; it was harder (maybe impossible) to avoid fermented beverages entirely, even if you wanted to.
  • In ancient times, wine was not normally fortified with alcohol as it often is today (more on this practice at winespectator.om, and winecoolerdirect.com, eater.com and of course Wikipedia).
  • If not before, certainly after the rise of Greek culture, wine was routinely diluted with water (NY Times, Wikipedia), often to the point that the mix was more water than wine (winespectator.com, “Wine and Rome.”)

Along with these background facts, a few logically obvious points are often lost in the fray in discussions on this topic.

  • Not everyone who ever got drunk started out with the intention of getting drunk.
  • Nobody ever got drunk without a first drink.
  • Nobody ever got chemically addicted to alcohol with the intention of getting addicted to alcohol.
  • More than 10,000 people were killed in drunk driving crashes in the U.S. in 2016 (“It’s Not an ‘Accident,’ It’s a Crime.” Sheriff & Deputy, March/April 2018). Nobody who ever drove drunk and killed someone had their first drink that night with a DUI crash fatality as their goal.

I could go on like this for some time, talking about cheating lovers, domestic violence, and all sorts of other alcohol induced or aggravated crimes. To many of us, these facts alone point to some obvious conclusions. But they’re just background lighting for a biblical wisdom case against beverage alcohol.

The argument from wisdom

For various reasons, a “wisdom case” against beverage alcohol consumption tries to avoid the argument that Scripture directly forbids beverage alcohol or that Jesus and the apostles drank only non-alcoholic wine.

The wisdom case I’ve taught in various venues goes like this:

1 Believers must be wise stewards.

A few passages help bring well-known principle into fresh focus.

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (ESV, Matthew 10:16)

Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. (1 Cor. 4:2)

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. (Prov. 4:7)

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Rom. 14:12)

The “so what” of this principle is that if a course of action is dumb, we shouldn’t do it. If there’s a smarter option, we should do that instead. It’s good stewardship.

2 We are called to keep our minds sharp.

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, (Titus 2:1-2)

For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober … (1 Thess. 5:5–8)

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Pet. 5:8)

These passages add up to strong direction to avoid anything that is likely to compromise our ability to stay sharp in tempting times.

3 Beverage alcohol poses dangers to both wise stewardship and sharp-mindedness.

The Bible’s warning passages in reference to “wine” and “strong drink” are well known, and it’s commonly claimed that they refer only to drunkenness and not to having the occasional drink. But as noted above, it’s really not rational to propose a complete non-relationship between drunkenness and “one drink.” You can’t have the former without the latter. They’re connected.

Since many get drunk without starting out with that goal, it’s absurd to claim that a single drink poses no risk at all of leading to drunkenness.

The likelihood may be low, but the stakes are high.

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? 30 Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. 31 Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. 32 In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. 33 Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. 34 You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. 35 “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.” (Prov. 23:29–35)

To this and similar passages, we should add the humiliation of Noah (Gen. 9:20-26) and the degradation of Lot (Gen. 19:30-38). It’s significant that the first occurrence of “wine” in the Bible is a story of tragic family consequences. Did either of these men sit down with a mug that day thinking, “I believe I’ll get drunk now and do something ruinous”?

4 Avoiding pointless hazards is wise.

There is no risk-free living. Driving to work every day is a risky activity — but so is farming the back forty. We take these risks because they’re unavoidable and because the potential gain is worth the degree of risk involved. But acts with a high risk and low potential are just stupid, and recklessness is not a fruit of the Spirit!

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. (Prov. 22:3)

Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense, but a man of understanding walks straight ahead. (Prov. 15:21)

When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord. (Prov. 19:3)

In our culture, we’d say the fool “gets it.” You have to enjoy life. Cut loose and have a good time … and it’s God’s fault when things go horribly wrong.

5 We should seek every advantage for successful competition.

Olympic athletes have a distinctive way of arranging their lives in pursuit of success. Their personal discipline amazes. They take advantage of every tiny detail of posture, clothing, or gear that might gain them a performance edge. Mostly, we respect that. They’re competing at the highest level.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:24–27)

Every Christian is called to Olympic-level godliness –- elite uprightness of character. Few can claim to have achieved that, but the pursuit is supposed to be where we live every day.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (Heb. 12:1)

If there is spiritual advantage in total abstinence, shouldn’t we be eager to seize that advantage?

Avoiding fermented beverages wasn’t easy in ancient times. There is little evidence that most bothered to even try. But in our times, tee-totaling is easy. Alcohol is a much-to-risk and almost nothing to gain scenario, and abstaining is a negligible sacrifice with a significant benefit. Wasting that opportunity is simply not wise.

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dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert,

I think the point being made by many here is that abstentionists (as compared with prohibitionists), and this applies to any behavior, not just alcohol consumption, only need to come up with something that is valid "for them," as you put it, and not for everyone.  Personally, I'd see "if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out," as good enough for that purpose, even if I have no intention of plucking my own out on their particular issue.  For the point of our own standards/fences/whatever you want to call them, inference or even personal conviction are enough, and from what I see in scripture, this attitude is commended, not condemned.  An argument from "wisdom" might indeed convince some, and if that does convince them, I can't see the harm.  I have yet to see any real damage to Christianity from those who abstain from alcohol and argue the abstention (different from insisting on prohibition) position, and it's still true that those who abstain will not get drunk on alcohol.

Of course, in any group of Christians, including SI, there will certainly be some prohibitionists (and again, not just regarding alcohol) out there as well.  For that, I'd say you need at least implication from the text, if not outright condemnation.  Wisdom arguments are not generally sufficient for this, but again, it appears to me that most here, including the ones arguing with you, are arguing for abstention, not prohibition.  I think it's actually healthy to have those kinds of conversations, especially in the light of the passages that tell us not to cause others to stumble.  (I don't believe those passages indicate that the only way to not cause others to stumble is to completely abstain from whatever oneself, but those passages certainly do imply the need for much wisdom in what we do and allow.)  Maybe for some, given the differences between today and biblical times, it is indeed wiser to abstain and argue for abstention.  Even if I disagree with someone on a particular issue, I find it's usually worth my time to listen to those with reasoned arguments, even if I am not eventually persuaded.  Given what I see in scripture on this topic, I think it's far better to treat it with a healthy amount of caution, which for me, would put me firmly outside of the position that those who argue any form of abstention just "aren't getting it."

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

The original argument is that it is wiser for all Christians, not just the one abstaining.  Hence your claim that it is sufficient if it is valid for them does not apply; people are trying to bind consciences with the argument.  

And in that light, it makes a lot of difference if they're trying to bind consciences against something that Jesus most likely did.  That is many things, but "wisdom" is not among them.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mike Harding's picture

Aaron,

Thank you for your reasoned argument.  Along those same lines I have argued for abstinence in a more extensive fashion.  My position is stated on our church website under the heading of documents (fbctroy.org).  Drunkenness is measured in some of the Midwest states as .06 alcohol content.  Michigan is still .08, but lawmakers are considering lowering it.  Some Christians also argue that distilled liquors are acceptable as recreational beverages for believers.  I recommend Dr. Randy Jaeggli's, "The Christian and Drinking" (2nd edition), for the best academic case regarding Abstinence (BJU Press). Randy has a background in chemical engineering and his Ph.D. is in OT Interpretation.

 

Pastor Mike Harding

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

I guess I misunderstood what you wrote here (or your reference): "...abstentionists need to come up with some kind of statement,that would prove the matter to them."

Yes, Aaron is making the argument that it's unwise for all (at least in his closing statement).  I think it's still sufficient to convince some, and for those for whom it isn't, I believe it was still interesting (and worth the time) to hear and consider, even if not all agree with the conclusion.  In fact, if I only read (and find worth in) arguments/papers/etc. with which I already agree with the conclusion, not only am I not being forced to think, I am also never going to learn.  That's as true for me with secular material as it is with sacred.

Plus, I think it is a legitimate point of disagreement/argument that Jesus "most likely" did something that the scriptures don't actually say he did, even if you believe that all the factors convince you of the likelihood.  The defining scripture for me against prohibitionism is actually the one mentioned a couple times already in this thread, but not really commented much upon -- Deut. 14:26.  That one is quite clear, without having to guess whether Moses, etc. partook or not.  However, it's harder to use that verse against abstentionism, especially since it didn't require partaking.

But really, much of the Christian life (and in fact, a large part of preaching vs. just reading scripture aloud) is about taking what the Bible says, and making application or persuading others.  I completely agree that some arguments are not going to persuade me.  And Aaron already knew his arguments would not persuade everyone.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't try, or that everyone will find the exact same arguments persuasive.

Dave Barnhart

JNoël's picture

dcbii wrote:

But really, much of the Christian life (and in fact, a large part of preaching vs. just reading scripture aloud) is about taking what the Bible says, and making application or persuading others.

I think this is a great observation. This is a matter of application where we must do our best to ascertain, from what God gave us, what a good decision is to make regarding beverage alcohol. God didn't prohibit it, so we know it isn't sin. He didn't command it, so we know we are allowed to abstain, if we so desire. As a father, I choose to encourage my children to abstain - because if you never take the first drink, you'll never need to be concerned about being one of those who will struggle with dependence. We can have a similar discussion about recreational poker (not for monetary gain, of course) or various other things that can produce physical dependence (caffeine is another real example).

 

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 (1720-1768)

Dan Miller's picture

  1. I agree with Aaron that Scripture gives many warnings regarding the use and potential for abuse of alcohol.
  2. I also agree with him that some of the safety benefits of alcohol (water purification) are not meaningful benefits for us today. (Thus the "pro" side of moderate consumption is diminished for us compared with Biblical times.)
  3. I also agree that the percentage of alcohol available in wine and spirits is higher than in Biblical times. (Thus the "con" side of moderate consumption is higher than in Biblical times.)
  4. I'm not sure if Aaron would seek my input, but if he did, I would say this: He has clearly read the Word, found warnings, and applies those warnings to make a personal conviction against moderate alcohol. In Paul's language, Aaron is unable to drink, and he is so by means of his belief in the commands and warnings of Scripture. (And you could replace "unable" with "weak" in that last sentence.)

So nothing in here should be seen as an attempt to talk him out of his conviction, or especially to induce him to act against that conviction while it is held.

--=-=-======-=-=--

DANGER as a basis for convictions

The idea that danger is a argument for complete avoidance is not a completely sound argument.

John 17:15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.

In countless ways, God has indented for us to live with temptation. He intended for us to live with the ability to sin. And He intended for us to engage in (and have pleasure in) some things that can easily turn into sin when either used to excess or when used in prohibited ways. You can pretty much name every pleasure and it falls in this category.

There are many Biblical statements about food being a gift meant for our enjoyment - yet, there's gluttony.

There are many Biblical statements about sex being a gift meant for enjoyment within marriage - yet (especially now) we have so many other sinful outlets for sexual desire and pleasure.

There are many Biblical statements about oinos being a gift meant for enjoyment - yet there's drunkenness and everything Aaron's article warns about.

----- 

God intended us to have pleasures that can turn into sin. And we should take measures to avoid falling into temptation. That sometimes means avoiding an ok thing just because to engage would make falling more likely. We should avoid "making provision for the flesh."

However, the practice of attempting to avoid illicit pleasures by cutting ourselves off from entire categories of God-given pleasures is problematic. One, because it insults God's gift, which He intended for our pleasure. This is the reason that the "weak" is prone to the sin of blasphemy in Rom 14. And two, because applied to the extreme, it is to be a monk. Since Anthony of Egypt, the idea of separation from temptation has taken many extreme forms - and they have failed. Sin goes with you. 

There is a line of thinking that Jesus could not have produced alcohol at the Cana wedding because some people likely would have become drunk. But that line of thinking is completely  opposed to everything God has done in our lives. He tells us His command and He allows (causes) us to be surrounded by temptation. 

 

JNoël's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

The idea that danger is a argument for complete avoidance is not a completely sound argument.

This is one of the best if not the best perspective on this subject I have read in this entire thread. Thank you for sharing!

 

My concern about the brief list you shared in this context does revolve around the "provision for the flesh" principle. If I make no provision for my flesh by participating in something that can become sin, then it never will become sin, right? But I agree that monk-ism isn't the answer either - because we are to be in the world. I think the challenge comes in applying the in-the-world-but-not-of-it principle in a balanced manner.

But back to the fleshly provisions. Time and researched have proven that certain things are potentially life-changing, things that in a very short period of time of sinful decision making can have repercussions that are far more reaching than other sins. God knows my heart even more than me, but I know my heart well enough that if I begin to drink wine I am almost certainly going to thoroughly enjoy it - and I may very well become addicted to it and then struggle with addiction and damage lives beyond even my own. Certain pleasures are more inherently risky than others to some, so we each make our own decisions on which risks - which dangers we are willing to take.

And so I simultaneously stand behind my decision to abstain, drawing from the multitude of scripture and our knowledge of the substance, yet agree wholeheartedly that for some it is a perfectly acceptable practice. As a "weak" Christian, and as a husband and father, I believe this is a wise decision.

 

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 (1720-1768)

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

"The idea that danger is a argument for complete avoidance is not a completely sound argument."

This is true. 

It's also not my argument.

The argument is that we are stewards and bad risk-reward ratios are poor stewardship. So some dangers are well worth the risk they entail, while some are not. In this case, there is almost nothing to lose from total abstinence, almost nothing to gain from partaking, and significant risk in partaking.

It doesn't boil down to avoiding the dangerous, but rather to avoiding the foolish -- i.e., the dangerous and pointless.

To chime in on an earlier point also, yes, I am arguing that it is unwise for all. The biblical warnings are not qualified as to whom they apply, and while only 1 in 11 or so in UK (I think it's more like 1 in 20 in the U.S.) develop chemical dependency from drinking alcohol, nobody really knows if they might be one of those under the right conditions. It's a roll of the dice.

I suspect that there is no other activity with that level of risk that anyone would argue is a good bet. Alcohol consumption is apparently so culturally ingrained that we are, in general, blind to the absurdity of messing with it (when we have absolutely no need to do so).

Dan Miller's picture

Right - what we disagree on is: The blessing aspect of wine (which includes individual and social pleasure as well as health)

( This Post was a lot longer, but there's really no need for most of it. )

 

JNoël's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

Right - what we disagree on is: The blessing aspect of wine (which includes individual and social pleasure as well as health)

If those are the only blessings, then I completely agree with Aaron - the risks far outweigh those blessings. Any health benefits from alcohol are completely available in our society via non-alcoholic means, and I honestly can't imagine what social pleasures can come from drinking alcohol that also can't be had in less risky ways.

If the individual blessing is the benefit available to us by learning increased dependence on God's grace to enable us to avoid the temptation of drunkenness, then I guess that's something to discuss, but I'm personally not there yet. And the personal enjoyment of the taste is too trivial for me to consider of any importance in the conversation.

And those things assume you believe all oinos is alcoholic, too, of course.

 

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 (1720-1768)

Bert Perry's picture

I can think of a few more, starting with the fact that wine drinkers tend to learn a little bit about what they're drinking, and hence they get the references in Scripture that demonstrate that as a rule, the words for "wine" actually do indeed mean "regular wine with alcohol".  They'll get the 200+ references to wine (the majority being either positive or as a daily provision), the significance of the wineskins in Luke 5, the significance of the older wine being milder or better, the significance of taste buds getting duller with wine, the reality of fairly rapid fermentation, and the like.  

Plus, there are at least three health benefits to having a little wine.  First of all, in a world where first line antibiotics are increasingly becoming ineffective, I'm not totally persuaded that doing "1st century dental care" with a bit of wine won't be helpful.  Second, you've got the well known effects of resveratol and alcohol on the heart, and third, you've got the reality that in a world that gulps, wine is sipped.   

I'd actually guess that last one is the big hitter.  

One final note regarding the supposed risks is that they really become significant only when the drinker decides to get drunk.  In my view, arguing against the responsible use of alcohol based on the irresponsible use of wine is a simple bait and switch akin to blaming all gun owners for the crimes of criminals. 

Again, there are great reasons not to drink.  You don't like the taste, don't want to bother, have a personal or family history of alcoholism, that's fine.  But to try to twist the Scripture to tell us not to do something that Scripture commends, and Jesus almost certainly did himself, crosses a line. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

But to try to twist the Scripture to tell us not to do something that Scripture commends, and Jesus almost certainly did himself, crosses a line. 

And repeatedly warns against...

More assumptions about what Jesus drank...

Who exactly is twisting scripture here?

 

Bert Perry wrote:

Plus, there are at least three health benefits to having a little wine.  First of all, in a world where first line antibiotics are increasingly becoming ineffective, I'm not totally persuaded that doing "1st century dental care" with a bit of wine won't be helpful.  Second, you've got the well known effects of resveratol and alcohol on the heart, and third, you've got the reality that in a world that gulps, wine is sipped.

"First of all"..."I'm not totally persuaded." That's not a health benefit. That's a guess, an opinion.

"Second"..."well known effects..." - are they really that well known? What effects do they have on the heart that have been scientifically proven (not more guesses) to benefit our health that cannot be had other ways? Over the past decade or so we have received back and forth reports from experts about the so-called health benefits of wine. The experts can't even agree. I'm not sure how you are convinced, other than you want to be convinced because it fits your opinions.

"Third"...Are you saying wine is healthy because I would be forced to drink it slower? I'm not sure how that makes wine healthy, just that it means someone who downs Coke by the six pack a day is a glutton in comparison. Personally, when I drink my can of Polar seltzer, I savor it, probably in a similar manner in which you sip wine. I don't gulp in large quantities any beverage except, of course, if I am very thirsty (for water) after a hard job or work-out. But that certainly isn't unhealthy - that's called natural thirst for hydration.

If those are your three health benefits, I'm still not seeing it....

 

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 (1720-1768)

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding the health benefits, would you believe the Mayo Clinic?   Or 1 Timothy 5:23?  What about the fact that the Mayo Clinic Diet makes a point of telling people to greatly reduce carbonated soft drinks?  You see no connection with the waists you see at church and gulping/gluttony?  Really?  No particular benefit in teaching Christians how to sip?  

Do you have a problem of insufficient evidence, or of refusing to accept the evidence you see?   Same thing with the Scripture part. I guess, if you want, you can see the dulling of tastes in John 2:10 as having nothing to do with alcohol, or no significance that Jesus is said to have made wine--with the ordinary meaning being "wine", as in "containing alcohol."  You can see no significance in the parallelism in Matthew 11:19 or Luke 7:34, and no significance in what Jesus said about new wine ripping wineskins, or of old wine being better.

No significance in the fact that wine in the vat becomes alcoholic very quickly, no significance in wine cheering the heart, no significance in millenia of Christian theologians noting their belief Jesus was talking about and drinking real wine, no significance in wine as an offering or daily provision, ....

Again, is the problem insufficient evidence, or is it an unwillingness to consider evidence contrary to your position?  It brings me back to the challenge I made; name something which could plausibly occur in Scripture that would convince the abstentionist wing of the church that would convince them that Jesus made, and drank, real wine.  

So far, I've heard nothing on that, but again, falsifiability is a critical part of your argument.  If you cannot state conditions under which your claims would be proven false, neither can you say it can be assumed to be true.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Regarding the health benefits, would you believe the Mayo Clinic?   Or 1 Timothy 5:23?  What about the fact that the Mayo Clinic Diet makes a point of telling people to greatly reduce carbonated soft drinks?  You see no connection with the waists you see at church and gulping/gluttony?  Really?  No particular benefit in teaching Christians how to sip?  

.....

So far, I've heard nothing on that, but again, falsifiability is a critical part of your argument.  If you cannot state conditions under which your claims would be proven false, neither can you say it can be assumed to be true.

By the way, scripture does infer that Timothy was an abstentionist. I do not stake my claim on what the Bible doesn't say about Timothy, but it seems as though he would not consume alcohol or Paul wouldn't have told him to take a little wine for his stomach. Ironic, no? Again, I do not make my position on that inference, but it is worth at least noting.

There has been ample scriptural evidence given supporting the position of simple wisdom of abstention. Not prohibitionism, the decision to abstain. Start with Aaron's original post and work from there.

I have no argument against "a little wine for the stomach" referring to obvious medicinal qualities of alcohol (NyQuil, anyone?). Any qualities alcohol had for Timothy are equally available either via a dose of NyQuil or some other modern-medicine (not table wine) option. You referenced wine vs. antibiotics; that's an opinion that is as weak as my opinion that wine doesn't have health benefits - neither of us can claim to be right about that, because even the scientists cannot agree. NyQuil and antibiotics are not equivalent comparisons.

And your argument about sipping vs. gulping is NOT a "benefit" of wine. Arguing against something by providing something that is not normally gulped (people do, of course, gulp alcoholic beverages, you know) does not make the latter substance inherently beneficial. I completely agree that soft drinks (either full of chemicals masked by the word "diet" or the normal versions) are horrible for your health - whether gulped or not. If I really want a can of Coke (rare day for me), I drink it like I am eating a piece of cake - like it is my dessert, because that's all it is - liquid dessert. I've known a few too many people who literally sodad themselves to death by their daily consumption of 3 liter bottles of Mountain Dew, so I get it. But offering a substance that is normally sipped, not gulped, does not make that substance automatically healthy.

I fully acknowledge the passages in the Bible that refer to wine. Of course I do. I also fully acknowledge the stern warnings the Bible makes against it. Those warnings are there for a reason, and I choose to not consume alcohol because the risks are too high. One day, if we all actually do drink alcoholic beverages in heaven, you can tell me "told ya so" - and we'll all enjoy it without the risks. But not here in this growing-ever-more-evil-in-my-flesh vessel.

I just don't understand why you believe a position of abstention isn't a wise, personal choice and, instead, you tell me I am twisting scripture in so doing. Yet the passages of scripture you use to claim I am wrong in making my choice are filled with assumptions and inferences and historical data.

My ground is firm - I weight out what the Bible actually tells me and I make a personal conviction choice based on what I see in scripture. You do the same thing and make the personal choice that it is a blessing and you consume. My problem with your argument isn't that you drink alcohol or that you think it is actually a blessing from God and that Jesus consumed alcohol - that is your decision to make, and I respect that. My problem is that you accuse me of lacking ground to support a position of abstinence. It is a remarkably easy position to have in that I do not need to rely on any assumptions or inferences.

My follow-up concern is actually what concerns me even more, though, and is what I have been chewing on since we began our conversation - what other areas of doctrine have you come to your own conclusions by applying the same exegetical manner you have applied to come to your conclusions about alcohol. The grounds for your position are less reliable than that of we personal abstentionists.

 

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 (1720-1768)

Dan Miller's picture

My ground is firm - I weight out what the Bible actually tells me and I make a personal conviction choice based on what I see in scripture. You do the same thing and make the personal choice that it is a blessing and you consume. My problem with your argument isn't that you drink alcohol or that you think it is actually a blessing from God and that Jesus consumed alcohol - that is your decision to make, and I respect that. My problem is that you accuse me of lacking ground to support a position of abstinence. It is a remarkably easy position to have in that I do not need to rely on any assumptions or inferences.

I have weighed in on the critical-of-Aaron's-article side. So let me clearly say that I find Aaron's and your conviction to be Biblical and logical. That is, the "dangers" argument is Biblical and I take that as not just your opinion but the call of God on you for abstinence. 

I do not hold it myself. Instead, I take the same warnings and apply them to moderation.

JNoël's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

I have weighed in on the critical-of-Aaron's-article side. So let me clearly say that I find Aaron's and your conviction to be Biblical and logical. That is, the "dangers" argument is Biblical and I take that as not just your opinion but the call of God on you for abstinence. 

I do not hold it myself. Instead, I take the same warnings and apply them to moderation.

Thank you, Dan.

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 (1720-1768)

Bert Perry's picture

JNoël wrote:

 

 

<snip>

 

My follow-up concern is actually what concerns me even more, though, and is what I have been chewing on since we began our conversation - what other areas of doctrine have you come to your own conclusions by applying the same exegetical manner you have applied to come to your conclusions about alcohol. The grounds for your position are less reliable than that of we personal abstentionists.

 

Actually, I've got the same concern about the position, and let's start with Aaron's original premiss; that it is wiser today for all Christians to abstain.  We are not just talking about one person's decision, but rather about an assertion of a general principle.  Now there is trouble with this if we interpret the word "wine" in its dictionary meaning; the fermented juice of the grape, and that basic meaning is retained in the Hebrew and Greek root words.  So what I've seen here is a lot of work-arounds to argue against what Scripture clearly says; Jesus made, and almost certainly drank, ordinary wine with alcohol.  

You want a big old theological problem here?  How about the simple fact that re-defining words in this way puts the perspicuity of Scripture in doubt and is a body blow against both Sola Scriptura and the First Fundamental?

And yes, I'm well aware that in these "work-arounds" to accomodate our cultural biases, it is not believed that clear hints of alcohol in the drink actually refer to that.  It is stated that unless it's stated so explicitly, you will not believe that Jesus actually drank, or made, real wine.  Fair enough, but let's remember that you will not find an explicit formulation of the Trinity, Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, the necessity of believer's baptism, or any of a number of other critical doctrines in Scripture, either.  If you are going to do theology, you have to make reasonable inferences from the text using the standard tools of textual analysis that we should have learned in high school English class.  Put in other terms, you need to learn to read between the lines, or else you're going to have a ton of trouble understanding the Scriptures.

Finally, you're just not getting the problem of falsification; no amount of evidence can rescue an unfalsifiable hypothesis.  Step one towards rescuing an unfalsifiable hypothesis is to rewrite the hypothesis so it's falsifiable, to come up with a plausible set of arguments which would disprove it.  So get cracking!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Fair enough, but let's remember that you will not find an explicit formulation of the Trinity, Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, the necessity of believer's baptism, or any of a number of other critical doctrines in Scripture, either.  If you are going to do theology, you have to make reasonable inferences from the text using the standard tools of textual analysis that we should have learned in high school English class.  Put in other terms, you need to learn to read between the lines, or else you're going to have a ton of trouble understanding the Scriptures.

Where would you put the position of the wisdom of abstention in Henebury's Rules of Affinity?

https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/rules-of-affinity/

I agree with you that some inferences are required for various doctrines we believe. I have conceded that my position to abstain is not a command of scripture - or it would be a C1 or C2 according to Paul H. But it seems you want to force me to concur that my personal position of abstention is actually being proclaimed by me and Aaron and others as a C1.

Not that my theological life revolves around Paul's Rules of Affinity, but it is a pretty good rubric, don't you think?

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 (1720-1768)

Dan Miller's picture

I think it's a mistake when danger held up as something that ought to be avoided completely.

Aaron, back on the first page of comments:

(It should be obvious that a beverage with all the taste and feel-good properties of alcohol but with zero potential for intoxication and folly would be superior, indeed. I can't claim Jesus did this. Nobody can prove He did not.)

Very interesting statement. On the face, it seems "obvious." But why not apply it to the world in general? Is it equally obvious that the presence of a beverage with all the taste and feel-good properties of wine but with zero potential for intoxication and folly would be superior? If so, don't we put ourselves in a position where we think we would have done better with creation that God did?

You can argue for the POSSIBILITY of non-alcoholic wine in those jugs at Cana. Sure. But Christians reading John 2 for the first 1800 years of church history would have read "oinos" as wine. They would have expected that the wine you serve at a wedding is wine with alcohol. Thus, when the master of the feast proclaims it the best and the type of stuff you serve first, Christian readers for centuries would have understood that as wine. 

So to say now that it was NOT to be understood as Jesus supplying wine to a celebration is a significant challenge to perspicuity. 

There is no Christian tradition of teetotalism prior to 1800 (that I know of). (I'm not including Manichaeism as I don't view that as Christian.)

Bert Perry's picture

Jason, given that the word "wine" is used to describe what Jesus made in the second chapter of John, that would fit in as C1.   So would the blessing of full wine-vats.  Other passages that hint at the intoxicating nature of wine (linguistically, usage determines meaning) would be C2. 

This is why I'm fairly passionate about the matter--the evidence is simply not subtle that wine can be a blessing, and that Christ made it....if we fail to heed this, whatever our personal use or non-use of wine, we are pretty much bound to get a lot of other things wrong.  

The one place where I'd quibble with Paul is that I can't consider this a "fundamental".  True, yes.  Evidence of one's general approach to Scripture, yes.  Is someone damned if he doesn't agree with me?  Nope. You can get wine wrong and still be saved.  Perhaps that's not precisely the meaning he's getting at, but that is, after all, why our forebears put together five fundamentals to identify non-apostate churches.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Jason, given that the word "wine" is used to describe what Jesus made in the second chapter of John, that would fit in as C1.   So would the blessing of full wine-vats.  Other passages that hint at the intoxicating nature of wine (linguistically, usage determines meaning) would be C2. 

Okay, so now I understand why you are set on this - you are completely convinced that all "wine" in the Bible is alcoholic. Correct?

So we come to a question of word definitions.

Are there cases in the Bible where the original language words cannot possibly mean the substance is alcoholic? In other words, is it a C1 that the original language words used that we translate into wine are always alcoholic?

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 (1720-1768)

Bert Perry's picture

Jason, the better way of phrasing it is that the ordinary use of wine (yayin, oinos) is for fermented grape juice, but there are (wine in the cluster) some cases where the word is obviously used figuratively.  The trick there is that the exceptions do not define the rule.  

So what I'm convinced of is that, from dictionary definitions and the usual usage of the words involved, that wine is generally wine, but that there are certain fairly narrowly defined exceptions that can be gleaned from the context.  By no means, however, do these figurative uses re-define the central meaning of the word.

Basic linguistics, really.   Another way of putting the issue is that if you're consistently arguing with the dictionary when you're exegeting a translated text, you are either doing it wrong, or you need to provide a different translation that better represents the original.  In this case, we've got 23 centuries of translation, including the Septuagint, that agree--Catholic, Coptic, Orthodox, Protestant, evangelical alike--that these words ought to be translated in the same way you see them in your English translation.   

Hence this debate with Webster is extremely dangerous business.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Jason, the better way of phrasing it is that the ordinary use of wine (yayin, oinos) is for fermented grape juice, but there are (wine in the cluster) some cases where the word is obviously used figuratively.  The trick there is that the exceptions do not define the rule.  

I've been chewing on this on and off since April, and something came up recently in my family Bible time with the kids, something that now has me questioning Bigger Picture interpretation of scripture. I am hoping some of you experts can shed some light on the subject for me.

Many of us talk about the literal historical-grammatical hermeneutic, or something of that flavor. We read the Bible, and we take what it says for what it says, in the context of the passage, allowing scripture to speak for itself; in passages where there is ambiguity, we allow the clear to assist us with the unclear.

But what do we do with passages that are not, in themselves, at all ambiguous, yet looking at the "ordinary use" are in conflict with other passages? What kind of hermeneutic should we apply there, and who gets to decide which is correct?

One example:

What do we do with Matthew 12:40? Can that passage be any less ambiguous? It does not even leave it with the "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" statement, it even references Jonah's 3 days and 3 nights in the fish (Jonah 1:17). Yet that is in clear conflict with a Friday crucifixion and burial and a Sunday resurrection. No "ordinary use" normal reading of those passages can break that conflict.

I have read several answers to that quandary, and all of them mean to me that I can apply all sorts of gymnastics to various passages that appear to be in conflict and do so with a clear conscience as long as I am not violating a black and white command. So one could do that with passages about "wine" of course, too, and feel confident in his position. Another example could be Matthew 12:31, the apparently unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Spirit.

 

My purpose in writing is not to get answers to these specific questions, but to better understand what the correct way is to approach scripture when there are passages that, in their normal reading and interpretation, simply do not make any logical sense when using a literal hermeneutic.

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 (1720-1768)

Larry's picture

Moderator

Yet that is in clear conflict with a Friday crucifixion and burial and a Sunday resurrection. No "ordinary use" normal reading of those passages can break that conflict.

I am not sure the conflict. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is three days and three nights in historical usage. Any part of a day is considered a day. 

I think the answer is to use a literal hermeneutic that reads the passage normally understanding the usage of the times. 

JNoël's picture

Larry wrote:

I am not sure the conflict. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is three days and three nights in historical usage. Any part of a day is considered a day. 

Some assembly required, please. Three nights? What is the historical usage that becomes three nights from Friday to Sunday?

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 (1720-1768)

Larry's picture

Moderator

 What is the historical usage that becomes three nights from Friday to Sunday?

Because any part of a day is considered a day. So Friday is day and night. Saturday is one day and night. Sunday is one day and night. 

"In conclusion, when one examines all the evidence, it seems that the New Testament, the Old Testament, and Rabbinic literature all agree that a part of a day is counted as a whole day-and-night. Thus, the expressions: “the three days and three nights,” “after three days,” and “on the third day” are all one and the same time span. These all support the fact that Christ was crucified on Friday and was resurrected on Sunday."

Harold W. Hoehner, “Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ Part IV: The Day of Christ’s Crucifixion,” Bibliotheca Sacra 131 (1974): 249.

There's really no other option and Hoehner argues. If Wednesday crucifixion, you don't have a first day resurrection. If Thursday crucifixion, you don't have three days. 

JNoël's picture

So then no modern English translation is successful in interpreting the original languages, in this case. Agreed? At least, I couldn't find any modern translation that successfully puts into modern English (any English?) what you just explained.

I suppose this is why it is said to be a "historic-grammatical" literal hermeneutic. Historically speaking, if what you say is true (IAW history), then there is no problem. We must then rely on extra-biblical sources to apply our interpretation of scripture - and that's fine with me, of course, especially since God, in his wisdom, chose to have the NT written in a language which he knew would pose translational challenges for all future generations.

But the larger question is this: if it took that kind of research of languages and history to recognize what our Bibles really mean with that passage, how can we be certain there aren't any other passages where we are probably missing the point because we have not yet recognized that the real meaning has been shrouded by English assumptions (and a true lack of full comprehensibility of the original language) of the original meaning? In the case of Jonah and the 3 days/nights, we are forced to dig to uncover the solution to the apparent conflict. But what about places where God did not leave us with the benefit of an apparent conflict to cause us to dig?

 

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 (1720-1768)

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Idioms are the downfall of any "literal" translation.  As I'm sure you know, when going from one language to another, a purely literal translation is not going to get all of the original meaning across, and literal or not, no translation between any two languages is perfect.  This means that all reasonably valid translations are interpretive to some extent, and then the difference in translation theory really comes down to "How much interpretation is valid?"  In other words, where do we translate the exact words and where do we translate meaning? There's no perfect strategy, which I think is especially true the further back in time you go, and I think you agree this applies to the hermeneutic, which is why we don't really use a "literal" hermeneutic, but as you mention, something closer to the "historical, grammatical" which can take into account local grammar variations and meanings of the time.

Even mostly literal translations, like, e.g., the King James version, have to translate some things idiomatically, but they may miss others.  I'm not an expert in either ancient Greek or the culture at the time, so I pretty much accept when the experts agree on a phrase like "3 days and 3 nights."  I have, however, had plenty of experience in another modern language (German) than my mother tongue with messing up idioms during translation and having what I said come out sounding ridiculous, stupid, humorous, or even unintelligible.  I got the words right, in a dictionary sense, but that's not enough.  And don't even get me started on how much of a fool I have made of myself by messing up the word ordering (i.e. using the same order as in English, or even attempting proper German word order and not getting it right)! Smile

Of course, none of this helps us know when we should take the exact scriptural words as written, and when we need to search for the "actual meaning."  I don't know of a silver bullet, but there really is no substitute for lots of study and the enlightening of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes we won't be completely certain of the meaning, or it will be difficult to determine, just as Peter commented about some of Paul's writings.  We just have to do the best we can, God helping us, and trust that if we are truly seeking to know, God will make a way.  And guess what -- we won't always agree, and that's not particularly satisfying, though it is reality.

Dave Barnhart

Larry's picture

Moderator

So then no modern English translation is successful in interpreting the original languages, in this case. Agreed? At least, I couldn't find any modern translation that successfully puts into modern English (any English?) what you just explained.

All the English translations I am translate it correctly as three days and three nights because that is what the text says. Typically, translation don't translate idioms or symbolic language. 

But the larger question is this: if it took that kind of research of languages and history to recognize what our Bibles really mean with that passage, how can we be certain there aren't any other passages where we are probably missing the point because we have not yet recognized that the real meaning has been shrouded by English assumptions (and a true lack of full comprehensibility of the original language) of the original meaning? 

I don't think this is a particularly new idea that arose out of a lot of research. It has been established for a long time, particularly given the whole of Scripture on the topic. I think modern research is helping in some ways, but I don't know of any case where it new research is greatly affecting anything. 

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