Some Christians think it is perfectly fine to drink alcohol, while others believe it is sinful to partake. Which view is correct?
Alcohol consumption is a tough topic, because it is associated with both joyful and tragic situations. People go to weddings and special events and see those in attendance lifting glasses of champagne in celebration. Try finding a Super Bowl party where alcohol isn’t part of the festivities. Commercials, advertisements, social media, movies, and television heavily promote beer, wine, and liquor as means to having a fun and active social life.
On the other hand, everyone reading this most likely knows someone who has been hurt in some way because of alcohol. You may live with an alcoholic or know someone who does. You may know a family whose relative has died in an accident caused by the consumption of alcohol. I personally have experienced both of these situations.
What does the Bible have to say about the topic of alcohol use? Many Christians completely abstain from consuming any alcohol, since they believe Scripture declares it to be sinful. Others point to the fact that Jesus not only drank wine, but he also made wine at a wedding in Cana where the host had run out of his own supply in the middle of the celebration. Jesus’ own mother, Mary, actually brought the situation to his attention (John 2:3–5).
Alcohol is not evil in itself. It is one of God’s good gifts that can be—and often is—abused (Psa. 1o4:14–15). There are numerous Bible verses that extol alcohol and ones that give dire warnings regarding its intake. OpenBible.com lists 75 passages from the Bible about drinking alcohol.
One Bible verse that clearly supports the intake of alcohol is the apostle Paul’s admonition to Timothy to drink wine for health reasons:
No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. (1 Tim. 5:23)
Jesus had the following to say regarding people who criticized him for drinking alcohol:
“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (Matt. 11:18–19)
Here are two Bible verses that warn against excessive use of alcohol:
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise. (Prov. 20:1)
Envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:21)
There are clearly more verses in the Bible warning about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption than there are verses extolling its virtues. Alcohol use impairs a person's judgment, reaction time, and coordination. This is why combining drinking alcohol with the operation of any kind of machinery, including a motor vehicle, is so dangerous. Scripture warns kings not to crave alcohol because a ruler needs a clear mind to uphold justice and protect the oppressed (Prov. 31:4–5). Excessive use of alcohol can lead to many short and long-term health problems as well.
Some people point out that wine drinking combated the problem of poor water quality in biblical times as the ingredients in wine killed harmful microorganisms present in raw water. Another possible explanation for the apparent acceptability of alcohol consumption in the Bible is that the wine back then most likely contained lower levels of alcohol and was therefore less intoxicating. Many of today’s varieties use modern fermentation methods that produce higher levels of alcohol than could ever have been achieved in biblical times.
While wine may not have contained as much alcohol in ancient times as it does today, fermented beverages in biblical times clearly had the capacity to make people drunk. This is why so many Scripture passages warn against excessive consumption of wine and strong drink (a beverage containing a significant amount of alcohol; some Bible verses that mention "strong drink" include Lev. 10:9; Isa. 5:11; Luke 1:15).
Even in light of the many biblical warnings regarding the abuse of alcohol, Christians have the liberty to enjoy this gift from God within the boundaries of God’s moral law. Believers who feel it is safer not to drink any alcohol have the freedom to abstain. Those who choose to drink alcoholic beverages must always do so responsibly—doing no harm to others or themselves. Paul also exhorts Christians to abstain from drinking alcohol in situations where doing so could cause their brothers or sisters in Christ to stumble (Rom. 14:21). We should always seek to bring honor to the Lord in all our activities:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)
Drinking alcoholic beverages needs to be approached with maturity, wisdom, restraint, and most of all, love for God and our neighbor (Mark 12:30–31). We are commanded to heed civil laws (e.g. age restrictions for alcohol consumption, intoxication level limits while driving a vehicle, etc.) that are put in place for our protection in God’s providence (Rom. 13:1). The apostle Peter reminds believers, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Christians should always be sober-minded and watchful:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph. 5:15–21)
Jesus is our King who rules over us not in an oppressive way, but rather to care for us, protect us from harm, and grow us in holiness through the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. Enjoy wine, beer, or any other alcoholic beverage if you so choose, but only as is honoring to Christ and your fellow human beings.
Episode 269 | Dr. Michael Horton and Adriel Sanchez answer questions about family devotions, feeling saved, God's command to slaughter people in the Old Testament, and how to understand God's work...