A reader asked:
“Can a Christian drink alcohol in moderation, assuming they don’t get drunk?”
At one point in time, I would have said that it is a sin for a Christian to drink alcohol, even in moderation (assuming it wasn’t for medicinal purposes; 1 Tim. 5:23). However, like many issues, I realized I was only parroting what I was taught and had not actually studied the topic for myself. Instead, I was guilty of only studying to confirm my preconceived belief on the topic. Growing up, I was “under the influence” (pun intended) of W.D. Jeffcoat’s book “The Bible & ‘Social’ Drinking.” In discussions about alcohol, I would refer to it and quote from it regularly.
The more I studied and the more I was challenged on this topic, I was no longer convinced by the traditional arguments and realized much of the alleged argumentation that attempts to condemn moderate drinking actually had nothing to do with moderate drinking and dealt more with drunkenness. Furthermore, the lack of consistency in the argumentation and the overstating of points made it clear to me that a biblical case could not be made against drinking alcohol in moderation.
In this article, I will look at alleged arguments against the moderate use of alcohol consumption and then I will proceed to explain why I do, indeed, believe a Christian can drink alcohol in moderation.
BEFORE WE BEGIN
The word wine used in English Bibles doesn’t always refer to alcohol. There are at least ten Hebrew words for wine in the Old Testament and five Greek words for wine in the New Testament. Some of these words have overlapping meaning, particularly the words in the Hebrew language compared to the words in Greek.
The Greek word “oinos” is the most common word translated as “wine” in the New Testament and in the Septuagint. The Hebrew word “yayin” is the most common word translated as wine in the Old Testament. Both “oinos” and “yayin” can mean either alcoholic wine or non-alcoholic wine. The context must determine which is in use.
THE “ONE DRINK DRUNK/PROCESS OF GETTING DRUNK” ARGUMENT
The Bible clearly outlines drunkenness as a sin (Romans 13:13, Galatians 5:19-21, I Timothy 3:1-7, I Peter 4:3; Eph. 5:18; etc.). Some have argued that if it takes you three beers to get drunk, and you drink one beer, then you are one-third drunk. Typically, this line of reasoning is based on Ephesians 5:18. Here, Paul says:
“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.”
Some argue that since the word “methyskesthe” (translated “to be drunk”) in Ephesians 5:18 is in the present tense in Greek, then this signifies the process of getting drunk. Since the process of getting drunk is a sin, then any alcohol consumption is sinful. Furthermore, some argue that there is no clear line that can be defined between drunkenness and sobriety, therefore, the only way to know is to abstain completely.
While the process of getting drunk is indeed a sin, the first problem with the argument above is the lack of consistency. This argument equates the process of getting drunk with any alcohol consumption. This would be the same as arguing that if it takes three plates to overeat, and I eat one plate of food, then I am one-third guilty of overeating. Furthermore, there is no definitive line that can be clearly established between when someone has eaten until they are full versus when they have stepped over the line of “overeating.”
By taking one bite to eat, am I in the process of overeating? Would that mean the only way to abstain from overeating is by never eating? How absurd! Using this same line of reasoning, you could practically condemn anything that you wanted. This “one drink drunk” argument is not only nonsensical, but it cannot be carried out consistently.
The point Paul is making is that we must be filled with the Holy Spirit and not be drunk with wine. The process of getting drunk has to do with the intent and purpose behind the drinking. When one is drinking to get drunk, then they are in the process of getting drunk (e.g., drinking parties, 1 Pet. 4:3).
One cannot rightfully argue that one is in the “process” of getting drunk simply by having one glass of alcohol at dinner no more than one could argue that one is in the “process” of overeating by consuming one plate of food at dinner.
This argumentation is very similar to the Pharisaical laws added to the Sabbath. In attempting to protect people from violating God’s laws, they made their own laws in addition to God’s, even condemning Jesus (Matthew 12:10; Mark 3:2, Lk. 6:2; John 9:14-16). There is nothing wrong with someone making a personal choice in which they deem wise. However, it is altogether different to make a law that God never did and condemn those who don’t do as you do.
THE “WHERE IT CAN LEAD/YOU CAN BECOME ADDICTED” ARGUMENT
I once heard a preacher preach a sermon against social drinking by asking a plethora of questions such as: How many people have ever become drunkards without first drinking alcohol? Do you know how many car wrecks have happened because of alcohol? Do you know how many families have been negatively impacted by alcohol? Similar to the earlier argument, the problem with this argument is that it is dealing with the abuse of alcohol, not the moderate use. You could ask the same questions about many issues.
For example, do you know how many people have become addicted to medicine without first taking it? Do you know how many car wrecks have happened because of people texting on their smartphones? Do you know how many families have been negatively impacted by computers and the time it is taking away from being together?
Anything can lead to something bad if we don’t use it appropriately or in moderation. But if this argument condemns the moderate consumption of alcohol because of where it can lead, then all forms of medication, smartphones, and computers, etc. must be dismissed on the same grounds.
THE “IT CAN HARM YOUR BODY/BRAIN & IT’S NOT GOOD FOR YOU” ARGUMENT
As respectfully as I can say this, we have many more preachers and Christians struggling with obesity and lack of self-control at church fellowship meals than we do Christians struggling with alcohol. My point is that this is the same argument anyone can make against any food or drink you might put in your mouth.
Have you heard of the vegan movement/plant-based diet? What about the anti-processed foods movement? Much research has shown how bad processed foods are. To condemn alcohol on the basis that it isn’t good for you only to down a box of cheese puffs followed by a Dr. Thunder is quite hypocritical. My point is not to condemn tasty one dollar menu items at Mickey Dee’s; my point is that this argument is guilty of oversimplifying the issue. Furthermore, all of that Facebook scrolling and Netflix binge-watching is going to do far more damage to your brain cells than a moderate glass of alcohol every now and then.
IS MODERATE ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION A SIN?
The New Testament never calls moderate alcohol consumption a sin. Romans 4:15 says, “where there is no law, there is no sin.” 1 John 3:4 says that sin takes place when a violation of the law happens. If someone believes that moderate alcohol consumption is a sin, then they are obligated to prove such. After studying the topic from both sides, I have never once come across a passage in the New Testament that equates the practice of moderate and controlled drinking with sin.
Furthermore, why would the Bible condemn drunkenness if drinking wasn’t taking place? A mother would only give her daughter a curfew if her daughter was going to be out. A curfew wouldn’t be needed if she wouldn’t be going out. In the same way, why would the Bible condemn the abuse of an already condemned action? If drinking, in and of itself is a sin, then it would be futile to condemn drunkenness. The very condemnation of drunkenness assumes that drinking is permissible.
Finally, there are exceptional passages in the Old Testament that do speak of restricting moderate drinking altogether in specific circumstances (e.g., Levitical Priesthood during priestly duties, Lev. 10:9; Nazirite Vow, Judg. 13:4-7; The Rechabites, Jer. 35:1-8, 14, Daniel/Daniel’s companions, Dan. 1:5-16, 10:3; etc.). This concept alone assumes that it is perfectly fine to be drinking moderately in normal circumstances. For example, consider the Nazirite vow found in Numbers 6:1-21. When under the Nazirite vow, one could not drink “strong drink” (Luke 1:15).
The word for “strong drink” here in Luke 1:15 is sikera and means “fermented or intoxicating drink.” If nobody was ever drinking fermented drinks in any sense, then what would be the point of this being in the vow if everybody was already abstaining completely? The fact of the matter is that exceptional passages that restrict moderate drinking or those who chose to abstain in specific instances prove that moderate drinking was a general and assumed approved practice under normal circumstances.
Drunkenness is clearly condemned in the Bible. We are not to be slaves of alcohol. We must not allow alcohol to rule us. However, to condemn moderate alcohol consumption, generally speaking, is to condemn something that the New Testament never does. Similar to one’s choice of eating and exercise, we must be careful not to condemn others who are not making identical choices to those we make.
We must all make choices we believe to be wise and healthy based upon our knowledge of Scripture and the situations and circumstances in which we find ourselves. We must be careful not to unnecessarily cause our brother or sister to stumble, but at the same time, we cannot bind where God never did.
– Kevin Pendergrass
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