"Permissible" Session #1: Drinking Wine

One day on Facebook I happened to read Mark Driscoll’s status update. He said something about Christians drinking alcoholic beverages. The comments on his update erupted with a flood of people speaking for it and against it. This led me to start thinking, “Is it really that serious? Are you kidding me, people are actually arguing over it being okay to drink wine and beer as Christians. Where is this type of passion in the Body of Christ for sanctification and holiness?” Right there is where this blog began to bubble in my heart and mind. My mind would not shut-up. So here I am, writing to address this issue objectively and biblically.

Let’s start with some of what the Bible has to say or show about drinking wine.

For:

  • Old Testament people drank wine and were told to drink wine at times (too many verses to list)
  • Jesus turned water into wine (Jn. 2:1-10)
  • Jesus drank wine (Mk. 2:16, Lk. 5:30)
  • Jesus and His disciples drank wine at the Lord’s Supper (the first “communion”) (Lk. 22:14-20)
  • Apostle Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine for infirmities (1Tim. 5:23)
  • A voice in the midst of the four living creature around the throne of God said not to harm the wine on earth (Rev. 6:5-6)

Against:

The “wine” used in all of these verses are from the same Hebrew term (yayin) and Greek term (oinos).

Clarifying A Few Things

The exact nature of the “wine” used in the New Testament is unconfirmed. Here is why. In the O.T., there are two terms for wine: tirosh, which is juice; and yayin, which means a fermented drink; (“strong drink” is a different term). Nowhere in the N.T. is there a term used for juice. They use the same term, oinos, for every occurrence of wine; (except for in Acts 2:13 where gleukos is used, which means a highly intoxicating fermented wine, a.k.a “new wine”).

During Bible times they only had three things to drink other than wine type beverages…juice, water, and milk. In the N.T. language it appears that other than wine, new wine, and liquor (a.k.a “strong drink”, sikera, which means an intensely fermented drink) they only drank water and milk. Wine, new wine, and liquor are all intoxicants—they can get you drunk/intoxicated. This would imply that nobody in the N.T. drunk juice as they did in the O.T., which is highly unlikely knowing the times back then. Thus, it’s probable that the term “wine” used in its 100+ occurrences also refers to “juice” in some of those occasions. It is on which of those occasions that scholars are unconfirmed on. 

Am I diluting Jesus’ miracle? No, because to take jars of water with no fruit around and instantly turn them into wine or juice is still a miracle; (though in that specific occasion it’s more likely that it was wine, taking into consideration that Jews historically drank wine at weddings, banquets, parties, and so on). My point in sharing this is to display that the meaning for wine in the N.T. is not as clear as it is in the O.T. So we have to look at it from another perspective and in its historical and/or literary context to get its proper meaning.

Another point to share is purpose/motive. 

Why did Jesus turn water into wine and drank wine on other occasions? Turning water to wine was for miracle-sake so to begin displaying who He was and His ministry (Jn. 2:11). Him drinking a little wine (unconfirmed to which it is) was to reach sinners (Mk. 2:16, Lk. 5:30); for which he was falsely accused of being a glutton and drunkard (Matt. 11:19). He also drank wine during the Lord's supper (Lk. 22:14-20). Jesus’ purpose for why He dabbled with wine was to solely glorify God, not to gratify His flesh. For those Christians who are “for” drinking wine, can you say your purpose for dabbling in wine is the same? Because if not, you cannot validly use these instances of Jesus to justify why you drink wine.

Why would the Bible endorse drinking wine? 

The same reason it "endorses" slavery (Lev. 25:44, 1Cor. 7:21-22, Phile. 1:15-16) and other random things we don’t do or need to do today—for example, building a wall on our roofs (Deut. 22:8), or men and women wearing coverings on their heads (1Cor. 11:2-7, 13-16). As we’ve seen already drinking wine was customary during Bible time and culture (as was slavery and head coverings). Today we have numerous options to choose to drink. Back then, they only had water, juice, milk, and intoxicants—wine, new wine, and strong drink. Regular wine being the lesser of the other intoxicants provided something different to drink, and if only drank in mild moderation it wouldn’t get you drunk. Therefore it was acceptable. Today we don’t have that type of concern because of the numerous options of non-alcoholic drinks. Thus while the Bible says it’s permissible, we truthfully don’t have a need for it; except to gratify our flesh.

Why would Apostle Paul tell Timothy (1Tim. 5:23) to drink wine for his infirmities? 

Again, it was customary during Bible time and culture. Today we have plenty medicinal resources they never had nor thought of back then. Thus while the Bible says it’s permissible, we truthfully don’t have a need for it in this capacity as they did back then.

So why drink wine? 

What’s the purpose other than because “you want to”? Unless you have a doctor prescribing wine to you for a medical reason there is no purpose for drinking wine, except to gratify your flesh—i.e. because “you want to”. Aren’t we called to die to the flesh/carnal appetites (Rom. 6:1-22; 8:5-13)? Aren’t we called to be salt and light to this world (Matt. 5:13-16)? Aren’t we called to be set-apart (Rom. 12:1-2)? Aren’t we called to walk in sanctification and holiness (2Cor. 5:14-17, 1Pet. 1:13-16)? Aren’t we told to glorify God in all things (1Cor. 10:31, Rom. 15:5-6, 1Cor. 6:20, Rev. 15:3-4)? Drinking wine gratifies the flesh, and gratifying the flesh can never help us fulfill any of these which are far greater than what “we want”.

“I thought deeply about the effects of indulging myself with wine (all the while my mind was guiding me with wisdom) and the effects of behaving foolishly, so that I might discover what is profitable for people to do on earth during the few days of their lives.” (Eccl. 2:3, NET).


Conclusion

I’m sure many might be saying I’m making a big deal out of something that’s not a big deal, and others may even be upset in the flesh because of how I’m calling it out. And I say good for both. Drinking is not the issue, it’s the heart behind why one drinks that is the issue (Prov. 4:23; 21:2; 28:26). Yes, the Bible says and implies that drinking wine is permissible; which means you are not wrong if you do, nor are you wrong if you don’t, nor can anyone say you “cannot” drink a little wine every now and then, or that drinking a little wine is a sin. However, while the Bible says/implies it is permissible, the Bible does not say in it’s theologically timeless truth that it is beneficial nor edifying to the believer, or glorifying unto Jesus (another perfect example of this is slavery—permissible but not beneficial). 

Actually, as we’ve seen, the Bible says just the opposite. The Bible says, shows, and implies that drinking wine is of past-time Jewish culture not theologically timeless. It’s addictive, a mocker, takes away understanding, gratifies the flesh, may cause your brother to stumble, and is a no-no for priest, Nazarites, and leaders in the church (of which Christians are all three– 1Pet. 2:4-5, 9; Eph. 2:19; 4:17-24, Tit. 2:1-8, 1Pet. 4:7-11). Thus, while drinking wine is permissible in the flesh it is injurious in the spiritual. Hopefully those of you who are for drinking wine choose that which is greater.

“Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.” “Looking at it one way, you could say, “Anything goes. Because of God’s immense generosity and grace, we don’t have to dissect and scrutinize every action to see if it will pass muster.” But the point is not to just get by. We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well.” (1Cor. 6:12; 10:23-24, Msg)

There has to be biblical discernment in everything we do—that is, is Christ being glorified in this?, if not then why am I doing it?; am I or other believers being edified or pushed closer to Christ in this?, if not then why am I doing it?—especially when we extract that “something” from the Bible.

Hope this helped.


7/2/2010