By Brenda Lee Renwick
One of the issues of minor importance—on which many committed Christians fervently disagree—is the matter of drinking alcoholic beverages. Opinions range from the absolute abstainers to the moderates to the unabashed partakers. I, myself, fall into the lower range of the ‘moderates,’ and will show in this essay the Biblical basis for my belief.
The absolute abstainers quote Ephesians 5:18 as the reason for their stand. “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation (excess); but be filled with the Spirit.” I have to point out, respectfully, that it does not say do not drink wine, but simply: do not be drunk with wine. (When drunk, a person is controlled by alcohol. This verse is admonishing people to be controlled by the Holy Spirit.) The diehards in this camp will then go on to say: “well, it’s better not to drink any at all than to take the risk of getting drunk.”
I think the Lord is advising self-control, not total abstinence. The apostle Paul advises the young preacher, Timothy, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.” (I Timothy 5:23) Again, my abstainer friends will argue that this is only grape juice, but these are the same people who will argue rightly, in other cases and issues, that ‘the Bible means what it says.’
John 2:1-10 disproves the grape juice theory. This passage is the first of Jesus’ recorded miracles. When the hosts of the wedding feast, who are friends of His mother, run out of wine, in order to spare them embarrassment Mary brings the problem to Jesus. The miracle occurs without a lot of fanfare. He simply has the servants fill several water pots with water and then draw some out to take to the ‘steward of the feast’ (rather like an MC.)
The fact that this wine is not merely grape juice is proven in verse 10. The MC goes to the bridegroom and says, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now.”
Could the guests have got to the point of not knowing the difference between good and bad wine on merely grape juice? Of course not. Would Jesus have created wine out of water if He had forbidden his followers to drink it? Again, of course not. If He teaches his disciples to pray ‘and lead us not into temptation,’ He’s certainly not going to lay a trap for them; Jesus was always consistent.
This passage leads the abstainers into another dead-end. Not only does it overturn the ‘only grape juice’ contention, it also exposes their pretensions to being holier than Jesus. Jesus turned water into wine; Jesus drank wine and offered it to others (at the Last Supper).
Grape harvest was only once a year, and there was no refrigeration. Therefore, grape juice stayed juice for only a brief period of time. Fermentation was inevitable. Where the Bible means grape juice it either says ‘juice of the grape’ (speaking in reference to Nazirites) or calls it ‘new wine.’ The parable of putting new wine into old wine skins emphasizes this point (Luke 5:37-39 and Matthew 9:17). New wine is only new for a short time, and then it ferments—which would cause old skins to burst since they’d already been stretched.
It was customary, at that time and in that place, to drink watered wine. The purpose could have been to make the water more palatable or the wine less potent, and was advisable because the water sources were often questionable.
At the other extreme are the unabashed partakers. There are several passages to refer to in this instance; one of them has already been cited above. Another is in Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is lead astray by it is not wise.” Many verses in the Bible warn against drunkenness, and only in the case of Nazirites—usually a temporary commitment—is alcohol expressly forbidden.
Drunkenness is considered a sin, but then—so is gluttony. No one ever gives up eating entirely so that they won’t stumble into sin. Promiscuity and fornication are also sins, but few give up physical intimacy entirely. Notice that drunkenness, gluttony, promiscuity, and fornication are all the extremes. Food, alcohol, and intimacy all have their place in our lives, in moderation and under the right conditions.
It is commendable to choose not to drink alcohol, even beer or wine, but don’t make a point of doctrine out of it. Save passion for priorities.
© 2003 Brenda Lee Renwick.
All Rights Reserved.
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