Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Alcohol and the Bible: New Expanded Version

Alcohol and the Bible: New Expanded Version
"The saloon is a liar. It promises good cheer and sends sorrow. It
promises prosperity and sends adversity. It promises happiness and sends
misery.... It is God's worst enemy and the devil's best friend."
-Billy Sunday ¹

When I was sixteen years old, I received the tragic news that a certain
member of my family, to whom I was very close, was dying of
alcohol-induced liver cancer. I vividly remember visiting him in the
hospital, not prepared for what I would see when I walked into the room.
What was once a big, robust man was now essentially a skeleton covered
with ghostly, pale skin, barely able to speak.
I had only been a Christian for a few months. Even before I came to
Christ, I never was much of a drinker, mainly because I just didn't like
the way it tasted. However, when I saw what years of drinking had done to
my above mentioned relative, my decision never to touch alcohol was set
in stone. As I studied the Scriptures over the years, I learned that I
had made the right choice.
The issue of alcohol has always been a controversial one within the
Christian community. Did Jesus make, or advocate the use of, intoxicating
wine? Is having an occasional drink really that big of a deal? These are
certainly valid questions that committed Christians have asked over the
In looking at the overall teaching of the Bible, as well as observations
made in my own life over the years, I firmly believe that total
abstinence is by far the best policy. I am not a prude, nor is this
message intended to be legalistic or condemning. On the contrary, I want
to share a truth with you that is very liberating. God's Word has been
compared to a map showing us where the "land mines" in life are.
Beverage alcohol is one of those land mines.
 It is important to remember that in Bible days, the word "juice" was not
widely used. It only occurs once in the entire Bible (Song of Solomon
8:2.) Wine was a general term for any grape juice product-even when it
was still in the grape clusters (Isaiah 65:8.) Even in pre-prohibition
America, nonalcoholic grape juice was often referred to as "grape wine."
Their are nine Hebrew, and four Greek words translated "wine" in the
Bible (to study this further,see William Patton's classic book "Bible
Wines or Laws of Fermentation and Wines of the Ancients.") Generally, it
is easy to see from the context of individual Scriptures which form of
wine is being referred to.
For example, in the Book of Proverbs, alcoholic wine is referred to as a
mocker and a deceiver that leads to violence (20:1-2), poverty (23:21),
sorrow (23:29-30,) immorality(23:33,) insecurity (23:34,) insensibility
(23:35,) and is even compared to a poisonous snake! (23:32)
On the other hand, abstinence from wine and other intoxicants is
presented as a great virtue. God honored Daniel for refusing the King's
wine (Daniel 1:5, 8, 16; 10:3.) John the Baptist's greatness in the eyes
of God was directly linked to the fact that he drank no wine or strong
drink (Luke 1:15.) Even as He was dying, Jesus refused the wine that was
offered Him to deaden His pain (Mark 15: 23.)
In Ephesians 5:18, we are told to "be not drunk with wine...but be
filled with the Spirit." Note the contrast: Being drunk with wine is in
total opposition to being filled with the Spirit.
If we look at the most strictly literal translation of this verse, it
reads "Be not entering into the act of being drunk with wine, but be
continually entering into the process of being filled with the
Spirit."The context of the verse goes deeper than just "Don't get drunk."
It is telling us not to even enter into the act of drinking intoxicants.

What then, about the wine that Jesus made at the marriage feast? Was it
alcoholic?The Greek word used here is "oinos," a variation of the Hebrew
word "yayin."This word can refer to grape juice in any stage, either
fermented,or unfermented.
Regardless of your opinion of casual drinking, I'm sure most of you will
agree that drunkenness is definitely a sin. In light of this, would Jesus
contribute to drunkenness?
At the time Jesus had arrived at the feast, the guests had "well
drunk"of whatever they were drinking (V.10.) Jesus knew well the solemn
warnings of Habakkuk 2:15,"Woe to him who gives his neighbor intoxicating
drink." (Note: If it is a sin to put alcohol to our neighbor's lips,
would it not also be a sin to put it to our own?) With this in mind, we
can be sure that the beverage Jesus made was a refreshing, nonalcoholic
grape drink. To do otherwise would have been totally incompatible with
His nature.

 We often hear the term "alcohol and drugs." This is a false distinction,
because alcohol IS a drug. It is one of the most abused narcotics in the
world. I have personally witnessed, and many of you have as well, how
strong the addictive bondage of alcohol can be. I have known a number of
people whose lives were shattered by alcoholism. I have often wondered
how much different their lives might have been if they had just said "no"
to that first drink. No "social drinker" thinks that they can become an
alcoholic, just like no one who casually experiments with cocaine,
heroine, or other drugs thinks about the possibility of becoming an
addict. The old adage about an ounce of prevention certainly holds true
here. It is far better to stop a problem before it starts, wouldn't you
say? God does not want us in bondage to ANYTHING, whether it be alcohol,
tobacco, drugs, or any other vice (1 Corinthians 3 :17; 9: 27; 1
Thessalonians 4:4.) As a teenager, I heard a simple, but profound
statement that has always stuck with me: No one ever became an alcoholic,
who didn't take the first drink.
 In my experience in doing personal evangelism, I have made the
observation that the fact that there are Christians who drink is a major
excuse many alcoholics hide behind. God calls us to be salt and light to
the world that we live in (Matthew 5: 13-14) and to avoid conduct that
could cause others to stumble (Romans 14:21.) I was once discussing this
with an elderly Chritian gentleman who brought up a very good point. He
said "One beer might not send me to hell, but it could lead ten people
there who saw me, and followed my example."
To quote Gleason Archer; "If we really care about the souls of men, and
if we are really in business for Christ, rather than for ourselves, then
there seems to be no alternative to total abstinence-not as a matter of
legalism, but rather as a matter of love.²"
Friend, this issue is a very serious one. In light of Jesus' soon
return, we are called to live holy and sober lives (Luke 12:45-46; 1
Thessalonians 5: 7-8.) Those who indulge in drunkenness will not inherit
the Kingdom of Heaven (1 Corinthians 6: 10; Galatians 5: 21,) so in
sharing the Gospel with others, it is vitally important to warn them
against the dangers of alcohol. God doesn't call us to abstain from
alcohol because He is trying to take away our enjoyment of life. Quite
the opposite is true. God loves us, and knows what it takes to truly make
us happy (see Jeremiah 29;11, John 10:10.) Alcohol is counterproductive
to the abundant life that Jesus came to bring us. He knows the
devastating impact alcohol has on countless people. He sees the jobs
lost, the families shattered, and the lives destroyed by alcohol, and He
wants to protect us from these things. He has a plan for your life that
is far greater than any bottle of alcohol could ever possibly give. If
you have never given your life to Jesus, why not do it now?

© 1999 JHB

¹ John R. Rice, ed, "The Best of Billy Sunday" (Murfreesboro, Tennessee,
Sword of the Lord Publishing, 1965, page 76. Quoted in Jack Van Impe's
"Alcohol: The Beloved Enemy" 1980, Jack Van Impe Crusades, Royal Oak,
Michigan, page 85

² Gleason Archer "Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 1982, the
Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan, page 149

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