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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There are 211 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture


In weighing risk vs. benefit, here's an important statistic. I don't have properly sourced U.S. numbers yet, but in UK nearly 1 in 10 people suffer alcohol dependency... some degree of chemical addiction to alcohol.


I read in a police department drug/alcohol policy yesterday that the number in the U.S. is also 1/10, but the document did not identify the source of their data.

Think this through: if 1 in 10 of the general population in UK develop a chemical dependency to alcohol, and some of that general population (very small % I would guess) never drink at all, then the % of those who actually drink who become dependent would be even higher.

But 1 in 10, or 1 in 11 if we round conservatively, is a non-trivial risk. The figure comes from the National Health Service over there.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

Aaron,your source is mixing the definitions of problem drinking and alcoholism to get that number. To use a picture they use, what real alcoholic waits until Friday to start drinking?   Physical addiction simply doesn't work that way, and your source is doing their cause no favors by mixing alcoholism with mere problem drinking.  

And the notion that the wine in John 2 wasn't wine?  Honestly, does anyone dip their cup in the pond because they've drunk so much Evian that they need to hit the bathroom?  Does anyone go to the Sam's Club brand because they've had a quart of Coca-Cola already?

I'm going to enter a counter-proposal here; that a lot of fundamentalists need to take a tour of a winery or brewery to learn how it's made, why a nonalcoholic wine at Passover was impossible prior to Thomas Welch and Louis Pasteur, the science of balancing sugars in the must to obtain the desired flavor profile, the importance of aging, oaking, bottling, and the like.  Bonus points if they attend a tasting--nobody will try to get you drunk or anything.  

The simple fact is that in my opinion, it's impossible to sustain a "two wines" theory if you understand wine-making.  The archeological and Biblical evidence is simply too pervasive to ignore, and those who've learned a bit about the process can't help catching on to the cues whether they drink or not.


Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

David R. Brumbelow's picture


Very good article. 

Even if the Bible said nothing, directly or indirectly, about alcohol and other drugs, common sense should tell us to stay away from it. 

David R. Brumbelow

David R. Brumbelow's picture

One of several ways ancients provided nonalcoholic wine for the Lord’s Supper and other occasions:

Then Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”  -Genesis 40:11

“Non-alcoholic drinks are not new.  There is evidence that they existed as far back as ancient Egypt.”  -New York Times; 1992

“Some even who presented no other wine at the sacrament of the Lord’s cup but what they pressed out of the cluster of grapes.”  -Cyprian

“Bring ye also as an offering holy bread, and, having pressed three clusters from the vine into a cup, communicate with me, as the Lord Jesus showed us how to offer up when He rose from the dead on the third day.”  -Acts and Martyrdom of Matthew

“One my squeeze the juice of a bunch of grapes into a cup and say the ‘Kiddush’”  -Jewish Encyclopedia

The ancient grape harvest lasted six months and “good keeping” grapes, stored properly, would last for a year or more. 

David R. Brumbelow

Bert Perry's picture

Take some grapes, put them in your hand, and try to squeeze them into juice, David.  Put the results on YouTube.  I guarantee you that you will get nothing but a mess--and you seriously need to learn to recognize figurative language.

Sorry, David, but I'm quite frankly tired of you spreading your nonsense on this topic, and you are one of the top people who seriously need to visit a vineyard and learn something.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

David R. Brumbelow's picture

Bert Perry,

Your continuing insults are noted. 

To the others, please consider the evidence and quotes in my previous comment.  Much more such evidence is available. 

I have more pro-drinking books, old and new, than most drinkers.  I have studied the evidence on both sides and am for abstinence from alcohol and other recreational drugs. It is the wise, prudent thing to do.  

By the way, I have toured a winery. 

I have been to a wine tasting at a winery.  The owner asked me to join them.  I respectfully told him I really appreciated the tour and information, but I do not drink. 

He replied, “Some mornings I wish I didn’t either.”

David R. Brumbelow

Darrell Post's picture

I have never taken any intoxicating beverages. The closest I ever came was smelling the stuff at a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game some 25 years ago. I recall by the seventh inning the booze was literally running down the aisles from patrons spilling it. I remember thinking how badly it reeked and wondering why anyone would want to put that stuff in their mouths.

I also was a child growing up in the Finger Lakes wine country of New York state. I recall once getting the chance to taste the juice of grapes being grown for making wine. Right off the vine these grapes had incredibly thin skin, unlike the grapes you get at the store....and one nick of the skin and the juice burst right out. I remember how clear the juice was--not pulpy at all.

I have not yet run into any compelling reason why I should start taking rotten grape juice into my body.


Bert Perry's picture

No, David, the simple fact is that I'm actually understating the bankruptcy of your ideas by using the word "nonsense."  Again, if you want to test your ideas, try to replicate your interpretation of Genesis 40:11 and put it on YouTube. The world will then see, very clearly, that the verse is a figurative word picture representing the vintner's art, not an actual practice.   Really, most of your "examples of non-alcoholic wine" fall into the same category.  You're simply failing to recognize figurative language.

Regarding Cyprian, you're quoting an allowance for the use of fresh must during Communion if wine cannot be found--your source (an 1882 Methodist prohibitionist book) really ignores this fact.  It does not speak to the widespread, year-round use of unfermented grape beverages at all.  The same thing goes for your quote from the Jewish Encyclopaedia; it's simply a permission to use unfermented juice if wine is not available.

And you're quoting Acts and Martyrdom of Matthew--Gnostic heresy--to support your position?  Really? 

Even that citation is the same thing--the allowance for using unfermented must when wine was not available, and the very existence of all three citations demonstrates what we know from Luke 5:39--the ancients preferred old, fully fermented wine.  

Why play games as if this wasn't the preference of the ancients?  Why pretend that God's blessings of full wine-vats, and His creation of wine at Cana, wasn't the real thing?  Again, it's as if the First Fundamental stops at the vineyard gates or something.  Why discredit all of what we say with hare-brained schemes to avoid the simple, logical conclusion of Proverbs 3:10, John 2, Luke 5, and other passages?

(side note; no, wine is not rotted, but is rather fermented....completely different action from rotting)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JD Miller's picture

I have been on 2 separate forums this week with 2 topics that looked unrelated at first.  Since I am bi-vocational, I also posted on a forum about jump starting batteries on my excavator (it is a 24 volt system and most cars are 12 volt).  I was asking advice for how to jump start the batteries safely.  Here is the link for those interested (BTW a lot of Christians post on that forum as well) https://talk.newagtalk.com/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=770439&DisplayType=nested&setCookie=1

The reason these posts are related is that some were warning about the dangers of 24 volts.  The idea was that if you do not know what you are doing, do not mess with it because that voltage can be really dangerous.  I have to admit that I felt like some of the guys were kind of overreacting, but as I thought about it, I do not think they were trying to be internet know it alls.  I think they just wanted to make sure no one got hurt.

My view is that this is what Aaron was doing with his article as well.  I plan to jump start my 24 volt system if my batteries ever go dead.  I have researched the issue and plan to take that risk.  Others will not go near them- I respect that.  I have researched the alcohol issue.  I may not view it as being as risky as David does, but I view it as being more risky than Bert does.  The point is, I see a risk and I have made a decision based on that risk just as others have.  My decision is to just stay away from drinking alcohol.  If I had seen a battery blow up in my dad's face and had seen that affect him for the rest of his life, I would probably have a different attitude about the batteries.  No doubt seeing my dad drunk (I had a nightmare about him last night again) has had an effect on what I view the wisest course of action is concerning alcohol.  Just a side note, my dad would consistently brag about never getting drunk.  That is likely affecting my opinions on how wise it is to drink as well.  I am not suggesting this is scripture, I am simply suggesting that our wisdom is informed by our experience.  In other words because of my experience I am going to have an opinion about what is the wisest thing to do.  Some of my opinions on subjects are right, others are wrong, but like the rest of us, they are informed by the information we have.

No doubt there are people who get upset with me (and Aaron) for not declaring that anyone who ever drinks alcohol is sinning.  It baffles me just as much when someone suggests that I am wrong for saying the wisest course of action for me is to abstain.  Outside of Christian debates on alcohol, I can only remember one person ever giving me grief for not drinking and that was a right after I graduated from high school.  The guy giving me grief about it was a guy who was a jerk to me on just about any subject he could come up with, so it had more to do with his rudeness than the issue of my abstaining.  In the secular world, I typically run into people who have an attitude like the guy at the winery in the post above.  I see more contention about Coke vs Pepsi, than I have ever seen toward someone who does not drink.  I am not sure if others have had that experience, but it has been a nice blessing to me as I have abstained. 

JNoël's picture


Brumbelow 1

Perry 0

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 Nelson's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

“Non-alcoholic drinks are not new.  There is evidence that they existed as far back as ancient Egypt.”  -New York Times; 1992

David R. Brumbelow


.....and not simply because it is from the New York Times!      Smile

I'd like to see the context in which it was printed, because it (obviously) is presented without the (fuller) context in which it was made.

"Non-alcoholic drinks...existed as far back as ancient Egypt.” 


You mean that WATER existed in ancient Eqypt?  Who knew? 

Or goat's or sheep's milk (fresh from the animal)?

Or even freshly pressed grapes (among other fruits)?  (A point of contention in this thread being exactly how much time it would take for fermentation to occur.)

As it's presented above, the quote is laughable.  (But then again, it is---purportedly---from the New York Times........) 

Bert Perry's picture

JD, you make a great point, but as an engineer myself, that picture in the post you linked just makes me cringe.  Eight exposed connectors, no clear color coding, and a random screwdriver or box wrench between any two releases 500-3000 amperes of current and a hail of lead and sulfuric acid.  

Sure, people who've dealt with these older machines know how to deal with it, and my hat's off to them/you, but this seems to be the machine equivalent of "Everclear punch" or "hand-written invitation to OSHA".   Which is, really, your point.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Romans 14 is the classic passage on Christian Liberty.  Wine is specifically named in verse 21, and referred to indirectly as "drinking" in verse 17, so we know wine is covered by the principles discussed herein.  It should be obvious that Romans 14 wine is alcoholic.  To explain why anyone would feel compelled to refrain from grape juice requires some pretty rigorous exegetical gymnastics.  That said, Romans 14 principles should guide any discussion about wine. 

1) Everyone should be fully persuaded in his own mind.

2) Friendly discussion is allowed, but coercive behavior is unacceptable.

With this in mind, it would be helpful if those who wish to articulate strongly held opinions would clearly state that this is their personal opinion, not a rule of conduct for others.  My personal opinion is to abstain, but my conscience does not condemn me if I occasionally partake.  I simply choose to refrain 99.9% of the time.  Others may choose to partake, and as long as they do not get drunk, I must allow them that liberty.  However, it would be helpful to make clear that this is a personal decision, and not something they are trying to foist upon others.

If we keep this in mind, we should be able to discuss calmly.  If we cross these boundaries, we are sure to create heated resistance.

G. N. Barkman

David R. Brumbelow's picture

“HAVING MORE THAN ONE, WITH NO side effects, is now easier than ever. There are at least three dozen nonalcoholic beers and wines on the market, and some are extremely good. They allow people who want to limit their alcohol intake to have a glass of something more interesting than mineral water at a dinner party or to segue from regular beer or wine to a healthier drink…”

“Non-alcoholic drinks are not new.  There is evidence that they existed as far back as ancient Egypt. Nonalcoholic drinks were supposedly reserved for the pharaohs, perhaps to allow them to keep a clear head for ruling the land.”  -New York Times, To Your Health, by Florence Fabricant; April 26,1992

A few other quotes on ancient (and modern) nonalcoholic drinks: 

“Concentrating grape juice down by heating is still used to make the popular shireh of modern Iran and was known to the ancient peoples of Mesopotamia as well as the Greeks and Romans.  It enables fruit to be preserved , and, diluted with water, it produces a refreshing, nonalcoholic beverage.”  -Patrick E. McGovern, Ancient Wine: The Search For the Origins of Viniculture, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey; 2003. 

Jews, like Christians, are all over the map when it comes to drinking.  However, it is clear that nonalcoholic wine has been a part of Jewish culture through the years.  For example, making nonalcoholic wine from raisins.  They would soak the dried raisins in water, the press them into unfermented wine.  Jews were far from alone in this practice. 

From a modern day Jewish cookbook:

“Squeeze the raisins in cheesecloth as you would milk a cow.”  -An old American recipe for making Jewish ritual wine. 

“And thank God that the holiday passed with us in goodness and kashruth, with matzos and with mead from sugar, with wine from raisins…”

“Unfermented liquor or wine free from alcoholic substances…is used to the present day at the Passover, the wine over which the blessing is said.”  -Mordecai M. Noah, in a letter to the New York Evening Star for the Country; 1838. 

“Although raisin wine is not the same as wine made from grapes, it was one of the early methods of winemaking used by Jews throughout the world since the biblical period.”

Above quotes from:  Joan Nathan, Jewish Cooking in America, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York; 1998. 

David R. Brumbelow

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding the Shireh, that's actually an alcoholic wine.  Marco Polo wrote about the great wines of Shiraz.  

Regarding his quotes from Jewish Cooking in America, it's worth noting that mead is an alcoholic beverage  usually made from honey.  If you make it from sugar, it's basically undistilled rum.  Such is the state, apparently, of David's list of "nonalcoholic" beverages.

Along the same lines, raisin wines (like the Shiraz/Shireh) are also alcoholic.  Here's a bit about them.  Typical alcohol percentages in such wines are around 14-15%, and the extra sugar from (somewhat reconstituted) raisins makes them quite sweet.  

I also have to smile at David's quite out of context quote about how to make them.  I guarantee you that if you squeeze raisins in cheesecloth, there are many things you will get, but a serviceable must is not one of them.  Come on, David, use the full quote.  Squeeze some raisins in cheesecloth and see what you get.  

And the Mordecai M. Noah quote?  Interestingly, this article from Brandeis notes (footnote 9, page 272) that when Noah said that, he was being interviewed by a temperance advocate who proceeded to take that quote entirely out of context (p. 282), and that he was soon refuted by a number of other Jews (p. 281).  The best explanation the article gives (p. 276) of the phenomenon is that, as imported wines would be made or handled by Gentiles, American Jews had to do something with grapes that would be kosher for passover.  When domestic kosher wines became available, the use of raisin cool-aid quickly ended. 

And here's the NY Times article David refers to.  Note that the article makes very clear that the nonalcoholic varieties are not the equivalent of the real thing in terms of taste.  As the article says, "why bother?". 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

What I always find fascinating about arguments based on various sources is that everyone can find anything he wants to support his position. You can read well sourced, intellectually honest articles written by The Atlantic or Huffington and find an equally intellectually honest contrast written by The American Conservative or The Federalist and walk away scratching your head not knowing what to think. On Christians and Alcohol, opinions will forever abound. Good opinions. Well sourced opinions. Bible-centered opinions. I love this site because it allows us to flesh out reasons for why we think the way we think.

This information age is truly a great age for Christians!

I wonder if anyone has come up with a dispensation for the time in which we live...I'm betting someone has....   ;)

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


Yes, the temptation is to think that there is no way to sort it out, but most of what's out there on this topic can be put under the headings of facts (the points that all either recognize or evade, but cannot counter), reasoning (which is going to be valid or invalid) and distractions (things are related but not actually instrumental for arriving at a valid, relevant conclusion... in court they would say "related but not probative.")

The third category is where most of the dialog occurs, sadly... related, passionate, but not probative.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Lee's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

I suppose I could start a thread on the way a lot of us have assaulted the temple of the Lord with a knife and fork but I suspect the silence would be deafening.


Actually, the deafening silence would be a text-driven discussion on the diet that the Bible demands for the modern American: the amount of weight that a person may legitimately carry before being considered in rebellion to Scripture; the number of calories per day that the obedient believer must burn; or any reference to food or drink other than blood and alcohol that carries a specific moral determination under most, if not all, circumstances.  

Why in the world does practically every discussion about alcohol jump the tracks to "they're too fat!" or "coffee is a habit, too" or some other extra-biblical blather of equal unimportance?

Aaron's premise is that modern alcoholic beverage consumption is not wise.  Scripture states as much, practically verbatim if you use the King James.  What's the problem here?


Bert Perry's picture

Lee, the Bible condemns drunkenness, not moderate consumption of alcohol.  Aaron does not argue directly that moderate consumption of alcohol is condemned, but rather that it's likely that moderate consumption of alcohol will lead to sinful consumption and/or other adverse consequences.  I disagree to a degree with Aaron, but let's not misrepresent his argument.

Regarding the question of obesity, it's worth noting that gluttony is condemned in the same passage as is drunkenness, Proverbs 23. All we need to do is ask the obvious question "how do we know a person is a glutton, and how do we see such a person end up in poverty?" The obvious answers are the proverbial spare tire and sickness from overeating leading to an inability to perform the daily tasks of life, really analogous to a slow-release version of alcohol abuse.  It's a very similar argument to Aaron's, and quite frankly, although the effects aren't as spectacular as those of drunkenness, it's close to eight times more lethal, according to the CDC.

Again, Pareto Principle.  If you've got a limited amount of energy to confront the things that are killing your church, what's your priority?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

About forty years ago, I read a widely circulated book about wine in the Bible, a book formerly advertised on SI.  At the time, it seemed persuasive, and strengthened my resolve to teach the "two wines theory."  Positive Biblical references to wine mean unfermented, and negative ones, fermented.  However, even at that time, I wondered if the book was completely trustworthy?  How could I be certain that the many supporting references and quotations were accurate?  Is is possible that the book is re-circulating errors published decades ago, but because they are found in previously published books, they are assumed to be correct?

Then, in the course of systematic pulpit exposition, I began to realize that the "two wines" theory does not hold up to careful exegesis.  That changed my thinking.  It really doesn't matter what outside sources say.  The Bible is the standard, and the Bible is clear : drunkenness is prohibited, but moderate use is assumed.  I don't know if anyone will ever be able to get to the bottom of the many competing citations from ancient sources, but so what?  They are interesting, even informative, but have no bearing on Biblical teaching.  That settled it for me.  I am content to be a voluntary abstainer.  I refuse to be a prohibitionist.

G. N. Barkman

David R. Brumbelow's picture

“I guarantee you that if you squeeze raisins in cheesecloth, there are many things you will get, but a serviceable must is not one of them.”  

While some may want to try squeezing dry raisins till they’re red in the face, the ancients, as mentioned in my above comment, re-hydrated the dry raisins, then squeezed or pressed them into wine.  Ancients knew this process well and it is often mentioned in ancient literature. 

“Concentrating grape juice down by heating is still used to make the popular shireh of modern Iran and was known to the ancient peoples of Mesopotamia as well as the Greeks and Romans.  It enables fruit to be preserved , and, diluted with water, it produces a refreshing, nonalcoholic beverage.” 

-Patrick E. McGovern, Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey; 2003. 

This quote is refuted by:

“Regarding the Shireh, that's actually an alcoholic wine.  Marco Polo wrote about the great wines of Shiraz.”

I don’t know what the wines of Shiraz have to do with McGovern’s quote about shireh and common nonalcoholic beverages in the ancient world.

Patrick E. McGovern is a Senior Research Scientist in the Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology and is Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.  He is a drinker and is known for his research in ancient wine.  I think he would know a little about the ancients producing nonalcoholic drinks (as well as intoxicating drinks) from grapes and other fruit. 

My point is not that no one in the ancient world drank alcohol.  My point is they also knew how to make nonalcoholic wine as well. 

David R. Brumbelow

Bert Perry's picture

I think it would be good to address Aaron's argument frontally.  As I see things, there are three significant differences between then and now that will slightly, but not that significantly, modify the argument.  First, wine was in those days very helpful for maintaining health--it was your vitamins in winter, and it tended to kill the creepy-crawlies that would have gotten into the water from all the trade caravans going through Israel, and which would grow in your cisterns and wells.  Second, you've got the reality of distilled spirits getting people drunk in a hurry, and third, you've got the reality of driving and operating heavy equipment.  A lower BAC can get you in serious trouble today.

Regarding the first, we need to consider that there were Rechabites and those who took Nazirite vows, as well as Timothy.  So while wine was pervasive at the time, you'd have gotten a good argument about the need for it.  The Apocrypha also describes those such as Judith whose form of piety was to abstain from pretty much any enjoyment.  So if you'd gone back and told people then that it was absolutely necessary, they'd have been able to point to a lot of exceptions--and really, I'd guess slaves didn't have a huge, ready supply of wine, either.  Smart or dumb, they thought they had a way out of using wine if they didn't want to.

Regarding distilled spirits, that really comes down to the question of whether we ought to include intentional drunkenness; I would hope we would exclude that, because both sides of the debate agree that's sin.  Can it sneak up on you?  Well, maybe once or twice in isolated circumstances, but remember that dependence requires repeated incidents, and many people learn something from their hangovers.  I therefore doubt the notion that very many people "accidentally" have this problem.

That really leaves the core of the argument, which is the claim that it's better simply to be completely sober to "do your best for God."   That sounds compelling, but there's a huge problem with it; Scripture simply does not make this argument.  It rather speaks of people cheerfully enjoying wine in good conscience, or abstaining in good conscience.  Sometimes people get "merry" (Boaz, the wedding at Cana) with what appears to be Scripture's approval.  

The conclusion I come to is that part of living for Christ in an effective way is to enjoy the good things in this world He has for us. Not to run after them with all our time and treasure, to be sure, but when it's appropriate, relax and enjoy.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

David R. Brumbelow's picture

“I cast my vote against social drinking.  I will not keep a dog in my house that bites one of every five or nine people who stoop to pet it.  Nor will I sanction alcohol because it dooms or harms ‘just’ one of every five, nine, or sixteen, who drink it.”

“For those who have not yet had their first drink – the wisdom and courage to say ‘No’ is the answer.”

-Upton Sinclair (AD 1878-1968), Cup of Fury.  Pulitzer Prize winning author and liberal socialist.  I disagree with him on his socialism, but agree with Cup of Fury.

Other quotes of his in “Ancient Wine and the Bible.” 

David R. Brumbelow

Bert Perry's picture

David, Shireh and Shiraz are basically synonymous.  The raisin wines of that city were famous in many countries which transliterated the name of the city differently, hence the variants.  More or less, you've made a bunch of claims for nonalcoholic wine that are anything but.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

John E.'s picture

Why should I care what an anti-Christian, muckraking, materialist who never let facts get in the way of his agenda have to say? 

His opposition to alcohol, like his opposition to sex outside of marriage, was based on his Marxist materialism. I wouldn't use his quotes about sex outside of marriage to support my belief that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Why use his quotes on alcohol? Fundamentally, we all on this site disagree with the man at the presuppositional level.



Bert Perry's picture

David, if you want a list of famous teetotalers to "make your case", but aren't real particular about whether the person has actually thought anything through to have anything worth saying, here's a list.  Some of my favorite examples you might cite are Angus Young of AC/DC, Mickey Cohen (and others) from the "Jewish Mafia", Gene Simmons of KISS, and of course the Austrian corporal himself, Adolf Hitler.   Nothing would lend moral authority to your cause like that!

Really, with your quote of Sinclair--whose whole life seems to have been a series of emotional over-reactions to his upbringing, including the fact that his father was indeed a drunk--illustrates a sad tendency on your part to use any piece of evidence, in or out of context, to "make your point."  In this case, it's also a basic genetic fallacy as well.    If you want to make your point, you've got to use actual evidence that stands up to scrutiny, and you're failing miserably at this.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Miscellaneous responses

On probability: there are at least two ways to look at risk – the likelihood of a negative outcome and the magnitude of a negative outcome. In the article, I suggest the likelihood of a moderate drinker accidentally getting drunk and doing something ruinous may be low, but the magnitude of the outcome is high. The “stakes” are high. Which leads to the moderate alcohol vs. general unhealthy diet debate.

When it comes to teaching priorities in the church, several factors should go into it. But first, let me point out that the suggested disjunction is imaginary: there is plenty of time to address both of these problems biblically in the teaching ministry … with lots of time to spare.

One more caveat: other than my own teaching, I’ve heard pulpit teaching against alcohol consumption fewer than half a dozen times in the last decade (most of which has included three or more teaching events a week). I can’t find it in me to feel that the topic is overemphasized, though I’m sure in some places it’s a hobby horse. It would take some work to research how much attention the topic is actually getting in pulpits in general. I don’t think we have that information at this point.

But our culture is preaching physical health constantly. Literally a day does not pass without exposure that messaging multiple times!

OK, on to “how to set teaching priorities.” It could take several lengthy posts to lay that out, probably. But here’s a few factors:

  • Tone and quantity of biblical teaching on the topic
  • Degree of local lack of understanding in that area
  • Severity of the outcomes of those problems
  • Likelihood of problems in the future
  • Degree of pressure/threat to belief and practice in that area

On the third bullet, it should go without saying that as Christians we care about the ethical and moral and relational costs of bad conduct at least as much as the physical ones. Though statistics can be manipulated to suggest poor diet is “more lethal” than alcohol abuse, the moral and ethical consequences are not even close.

People do not commit violent crimes as a result of being too chubby. They don’t cheat on their spouses or beat their kids or make foolish bets because they’ve had too many Twinkies. They don’t murder pedestrians and other drivers on the highways from too many cheeseburgers.

The moral and relational cost of alcoholism makes the comparison with dietary health … a very strained one.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

mmartin's picture

A couple weeks ago my two oldest sons in grade school asked me about beer.  I told them except for two accidental swallows of wine and champagne, I've never drunk alcohol.  (Did not like the taste.)  I also said that, based on my personal study, the Bible does not say drinking is a sin, but it comes very, very, very close to it.  While I have no desire whatsoever to drink, I won't separate from someone if they drink.

A few years ago during my limited study of this subject I turned to the source of all things truthful and correct:  The World Wide Web. 

Wow!  There is a lot written about this subject by Christians of various identifications.  Much of which I saw contradicts each other and falls along the full spectrum of logic and education on the subject.  One source I recall said that the ancients knew how to preserve grapes on the vine months after they were harvested.  Another said referring to a passage of scripture, (I don't recall the exact passage) "of course the grape juice was wine (alcoholic) because the grape harvest was months earlier" (or something to that effect).

In other words, there is such a wide divergence of opinions on this subject and I see too many "Christians" using poor or illogical understanding of history and the Bible.  Because this subject is such a controversial issue, bad bias-based reasoning is sure to abound - on both sides of the isle.

One source of confusion is that one of the words often translated "wine" in the Bible can also be legitimately translated into several other English words.

Bottom line, while I would definitely encourage abstinence, for those that want to study the subject from a Biblical perspective, be careful.


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