Did You Know? (On Alcohol, Wine, and the Bible)

Did you know…

  • that Saint Gall, a mis­sion­ary to the Celts, was a renowned brewer?
  • that after Charle­mag­ne’s reign, Europe’s exclu­sive brew­er was the church?
  • that the ori­gin of the word “bridal” is “bride’s ale,” which was brewed for her by her church?
  • that John Calv­in’s salary includ­ed 250 gal­lons or more of wine for him and his guests?
  • that Mar­tin Luther’s wife was a skilled brew­er and that love let­ters to her when they were apart lament­ed his inabil­i­ty to drink her beer?
  • that the first per­ma­nent build­ing the Puri­tans(!) erect­ed after land­ing at Ply­mouth Rock was a brewery?
  • that pro­hi­bi­tion of all alco­hol in Amer­i­ca is close­ly tied to wom­en’s suf­frage and the rise of fem­i­nism with­in the church?
  • that Dr. Thomas Welch first pro­duced Welch’s Grape Juice as a more “Chris­t­ian” alter­na­tive to the com­mu­nion wine?
  • that the Bible lists at least six occa­sions when drink­ing alco­hol is per­fect­ly accept­able, in mod­er­a­tion?
    • cel­e­bra­tion (Gen­e­sis 14:17–20)
    • the Lord’s sup­per (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18)
    • med­i­c­i­nal pur­pos­es (Proverbs 31:6; 1 Tim­o­thy 5:23)
    • wor­ship (Exo­dus 29:40; Num­bers 28:14; Matthew 26:27; 1 Corinthi­ans 11:25–26)
    • thanks­giv­ing to God (Proverbs 3:9–10)
    • hap­pi­ness (Deuteron­o­my 14:26)
  • that Mar­tin Luther asked, “Do you sup­pose that abus­es are elim­i­nat­ed by destroy­ing the object which is abused? Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then pro­hib­it and abol­ish women?”?
  • that a lack of joy and a lack of wine are just about inter­change­ably in Scrip­ture (Isa­iah 17:10; Joel 1:5, 12)?
  • that the Lord Jesus drank ate enough food and drank enough wine that he was mocked as a glut­ton and drunk­ard for it? (It’s hard to accuse some­one of being a drunk­ard for gulp­ing down non-alco­holic grape juice.)
  • that the Lord Jesus attend­ed par­ties and social affairs where wine was not only present but run­ning out of it was a major faux pas?
  • that the Lord Jesus hap­pi­ly made more wine so that the par­ty could be con­tin­ued unhindered?

List source: The Rad­i­cal Reformis­sion (chap­ter 6) by Mark Driscoll.

I did­n’t. Those items which per­tain to the Bible direct­ly I knew in pass­ing but despite hav­ing a pro­fessed faith in the inerran­cy and absolute truth of the Scrip­ture, I was taught to explain away such pas­sages by forc­ing grape juice into them. In doing so, I was able to read the Bible allow­ing it to speak of alco­holic wine in neg­a­tive con­texts and non-alco­holic wine in the pos­i­tive con­texts. Such incon­sis­ten­cy is cer­tain­ly not the mark of truth.

I would call this a mat­ter of Chris­t­ian lib­er­ty, but it seems more than that. For mil­len­nia before the First Advent, peo­ple were enjoy­ing alco­hol in mod­er­a­tion (drunk­en­ness is and always has been sin). The com­ing of Christ and the free­dom afford­ed by redemp­tion would seem to, rather than out­law­ing alco­hol com­plete­ly, jus­ti­fy a Chris­tian’s drink­ing of spir­its. After all, to the pure all things are pure (Titus 1:15).

Paul makes an impor­tant point in Romans 14. In explain­ing to the Chris­t­ian Romans our respon­si­bil­i­ty to each oth­er, espe­cial­ly in mat­ters of con­tro­ver­sy, the sub­ject turns to food. That con­tro­ver­sy is still around today — do we eat meat or not? do we drink wine or not? how many carbs should one meal have? — and it shows no sign of going away.

The point Paul makes is that, on a per­son­al lev­el, all things are pure for us. Meats, wines, and even those things which were unclean to the Jews are good for food for the Chris­t­ian. Romans 14:20–21 says, “For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. 21It is good nei­ther to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing where­by thy broth­er stum­bleth, or is offend­ed, or is made weak.”

It is pos­si­ble to destroy the work of God by hav­ing a wrong atti­tude about this. If you are fine with wine, drink and be mer­ry. But don’t be a drunk­ard. If you are fine with meats, eat and be mer­ry. But don’t be a glut­ton. If you would fall into sin by doing either, don’t do them, but don’t judge your brethren who do eat. And if your brethren will fall by you eat­ing and drink­ing around them, don’t do it, for you are your broth­er’s keep­er and you ought to be con­cerned for them.

I’ve nev­er drank, and the only com­mu­nion “wine” I’ve ever had was grape juice. Indeed, I’ve only ever been offered a drink 3 or 4 times in my entire life.

Much ill has been wrought in my Chris­t­ian life stem­ming from how the King James Ver­sion ren­ders 1 Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans 5:22, “Abstain from all appear­ance of evil.”

But wait, did­n’t Jesus appear like a glut­ton? Did he appear like a drunk­ard? Did­n’t he hang out with those who were? Did­n’t the vir­gin con­cep­tion give Mary the appear­ance of immorality?

If the appear­ance of evil is a sin, we have no Savior!

But it is the appear­ance of evil which is one of the great­est sins I have been taught about in the past. Don’t go to bars, even to share the gospel, because some­one with­in your church might see you and think you’re a drunk­ard. Don’t lis­ten to con­tem­po­rary Chris­t­ian music because peo­ple might think you’re lis­ten­ing to that sec­u­lar rock stuff! Don’t do this. Don’t do that.

My life became increas­ing­ly ascetic as I was com­plete­ly immersed in absti­nent Chris­tian­i­ty. “Where­fore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudi­ments of the world, why, as though liv­ing in the world, are ye sub­ject to ordi­nances, 21(Touch not; taste not; han­dle not; 22Which all are to per­ish with the using;) after the com­mand­ments and doc­trines of men? 23Which things have indeed a shew of wis­dom in will wor­ship, and humil­i­ty, and neglect­ing of the body; not in any hon­our to the sat­is­fy­ing of the flesh.” (Colos­sians 2:20–23, KJV).

That’s the dan­ger of using tra­di­tion to define sin. All the self-imposed rules in the world are pow­er­less against my flesh’s indul­gence. I set up the rule that I can’t drink alco­hol, and I replace what isn’t a sin with the sin of look­ing down upon those who do drink. I drink caf­feinat­ed soft drinks at prob­a­bly glut­to­nous pro­por­tions but think myself okay because at least I’m not drink­ing beer like “the sinners.”

That atti­tude also was described well in Scrip­ture, this time by Jesus: “The Phar­isee stood and prayed thus with him­self, God, I thank thee, that I am not as oth­er men are, extor­tion­ers, unjust, adul­ter­ers, or even as this pub­li­can.” (Luke 18:11, KJV).

I need ref­or­ma­tion with­in my own heart. If I am ever to live the life Jesus gives abun­dant­ly. If I am ever going to serve the Lord to the fullest.

I need reformation.

Fea­tured image: source, license






6 responses to “Did You Know? (On Alcohol, Wine, and the Bible)”

  1. Stephen Avatar


    As you know, I could­n’t agree more.


  2. Steve Avatar

    Inter­est­ing stuff, thanks. The quote from Luther is very insight­ful. He might be com­par­ing apples to oranges, but it is worth think­ing through nonetheless.

  3. Justin Avatar

    No, I did not know any of that. Thanks for shar­ing. I’ll still prob­a­bly be a tee­to­taller, but at least now I know the Bible does­n’t say I have to. Have a great day to every­one! I go back to school, today. Yay… :)

  4. Glen Avatar

    Good stuff Rick. Enjoyed the read

  5. David Avatar


    Bud­dy, you need to become a pro­fes­sor or some­thing. Very good gath­er­ing of infor­ma­tion and very good pre­sen­ta­tion of the material.

    I’m glad you liked Driscol­l’s book Rad­i­cal Reformis­sion. The thought of going into our com­mu­ni­ty to make dis­ci­ples is, in this present cul­ture, rad­i­cal. The ethos from the book cer­tain­ly should be con­sid­ered and applied as we “enter in” to the lives of the peo­ple in our city.


    - David

    1. Rick Beckman Avatar

      I hope you’re not refer­ring to the list at the begin­ning of the post. All of that came pret­ty much straight from a cou­ple of pages of Driscol­l’s book. Though, I would love to teach if the oppor­tu­ni­ty ever arose!

      And you’re very right about the ideas pre­sent­ed in that book. Much more rad­i­cal than sim­ply knock­ing on doors, which I’ve done, or hand­ing out tracts, which I’ve also done. And I can’t recall one per­son actu­al­ly com­ing to church as a result of such efforts, at least on my part. I always thought it was kind of a shal­low approach, but I was very young (spir­i­tu­al­ly) and was taught that’s the way to do things, so I fig­ured it was bet­ter to be right and inef­fec­tive than wrong and effec­tive (if it were pos­si­ble to be effec­tive at all).

      Any­way, I’m ram­bling, so I’m done.

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Rick Beckman