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 thoughts on “Did You Know? (On Alcohol, Wine, and the Bible)”

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

  2. 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… :)

  3. Rick,

    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. 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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Use your Gravatar-enabled email address while commenting to automatically enhance your comment with some of Gravatar's open profile data.

Comments must be made in accordance with the comment policy. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam; learn how your comment data is processed.

You may use Markdown to format your comments; additionally, these HTML tags and attributes may be used: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

the Rick Beckman archive
Scroll to Top