In the following essay I will attempt to argue that alcohol was created by God as something good to be enjoyed by His people. A good that has been perverted by the human heart, and abused by sin. Many Christians have alcohol in the “evil” category, or at “worst” in the neutral category, and I believe this is unbiblical, so let us begin.
Why does God create anything? Ultimately we do not know fully, but we do know that part of it is to bring God Himself Glory. How did God create everything? Genesis tells us that God created everything good (inferred is when it is used for the correct purpose in the correct relationship), Gen 1:31. Everything includes natural things like hemlock. Everything includes things able to be created by man, like alcohol. Everything includes things done by man, like sex. So, the question I am posing today is simply: how does God view alcohol and namely its use by Christians? The answer might surprise you (to the American Christian): as something ultimately good.
When dealing with things like sex or alcohol, things that originate from a more complex material interaction of different material objects, we always must ask the question first: how is it being used, and is this use what God intended. We see right away that sex is intended by God for procreation of a species, and for humans it is only to be used inside of a marriage relationship. So the “rightness” of sex depends on how it is used, and within what relationship is it used, but can we likewise find God’s plan for alcohol? Let’s just cut to the chase, clearly Scripture forbids the abusing of alcohol, just as it does sex, and while many will try to argue that even the use of alcohol is abuse, this is not what Scripture teaches. I will not provide the evidence for why being drunk and abusing alcohol is wrong from Scripture, because frankly there is little argument against the fact, the only debate is what does it mean to be drunk, and to abuse alcohol. The simple answer to these questions is, it probably depends on each person, and each person, when honestly looking at their own heart, will be able to answer as to when they are abusing alcohol.
Am I crazy for wanting to argue for the good of alcohol in this day and age where it is abused and lives are destroyed by its misuse? If you think so then you would consider me equally delusional for arguing the good of sex in this day and age where it is abused and lives are destroyed by its misuse. What about food, it too is being misused and abused today to the destruction of many lives. People, it is called sin, the subsequent abuse and perversion of God’s good gifts, and just because people can misuse something good, doesn’t mean the thing is inherently bad or should be completely avoided. Let’s look and see if Scripture gives us anything positive to say about alcohol, but before I do, let me just point out that Scripture often just describes what happens and doesn’t give a moral argument either way. I have already mentioned the text where God declares His creation good, so let’s see if alcohol (namely wine) is included in that description. Let us begin:
- In Gen 9:20 we see that Noah plants a vineyard (he isn’t condemned for this behavior), from which he eventually gets drunk from (which clearly is condemned, if not by the context, by the rest of Scripture). It is important to note that when people planted vineyards in the Bible the intention was not grapes for grape juice, but to eat and make wine.
- Moses writes in the law that God commands people regarding their vineyards in Ex 22:5, which is important to note that God doesn’t prohibit His people from growing things that can make wine.
- God wants the poor to have access to grapes in Lev 19:10,
- and even includes the giving of vineyards as an inheritance to His people in Deut 6:11. When men went to war, if they had just bought a vineyard, they were commanded by God to go back and enjoy the fruit (clearly this can mean enjoy the wine made by it) and not fight in the war.
- If you don’t think they made wine, in Judges 9:27, we see that they used the grapes from the vineyards to make wine (as Noah did).
- God’s people are described as a vineyard in Jer 12:10. So it seems that God has a positive view of vineyards, and yes it can be argued that vineyards are only meant to have the fruit eaten and not made into wine, but I don’t think that makes sense considering the historical proof that the vineyards being discussed in the Bible were often used to make wine, so now let us look and see what the Bible says anything positive about wine.
First let us look through the Older Testament:
- Melchizedek gave wine to Abraham, and he was called a priest of God in Gen 14.18.
- Wine is used as a blessing in Gen 27:28
- and also drank by Issac in Gen 27:25.
- Looking at Ex 29:40 we see God commanding the use of wine as a drink offering.
- Even God likes the smell of wine in Num 15:7.
- Clearly God expects them to make wine with their vineyards, because He commands they give the priests apart of their best wine in Num 18:12, are we to then believe they didn’t drink the wine that God commanded to be given to them?
- Deut 7:13 we see God promising wine as apart of their covenantal blessing for obeying His Word as well as in Deut 11:14.
- In the worship of God, His people are to drink wine Deut 14:23,
- and buy wine to drink in worship in Deut 14:26 (if you didn’t catch the significance of this verse, let me reiterate: God is commanding His people to buy and drink wine – and beer – as apart of their worship of Him).
- When keeping the Feasts wine is included in the worship Deut 16:13.
- Interestingly enough God says that to not be able to make and drink wine is a curse as seen in Deut 28:39 and Deut 28:51.
- The promise land is considered a land of wine, Deut 33:28.
- On a holy day to the Lord wine is commanded to be drunk, Neh 8:10.
- Our hearts are meant to be gladdened by wine in Psalm 104.15.
- A wise man will have much wine in Prov 3:10.
- Give wine to those in distress as told in Prov 31:6.
- Even the wise preacher tells us to enjoy wine with a merry heart because God approves of it in Ecclesiastes 9:7.
- Over and over we see wine being used in the love poem of Song of Solomon.
- We are commanded to buy wine from God as a metaphor for receiving His mercy per Isaiah 55:1.
- God promises to restore Israel to being able to plant vineyards and drink wine again in Amos 9:14.
Now let us consider what the Newer Testament has to say on the subject:
- Right off the bat we do notice that Jesus’ first public miracle was making wine, so that the party may continue as told in John 2:10.
- He was called a drunkard in Luke 7:34, which makes us wonder how much wine Jesus was drinking all the time. It wasn’t as if the rulers didn’t notice those who didn’t drink, like John the Baptist, so clearly Jesus had to be drinking wine, and enough (or frequently enough) that he was called a drunkard.
- We are commanded to not be drunk with wine, but not to avoid drinking it completely in Eph 5:18,
- While 1 Tim 3:8 allows leaders in the church to drink wine, but not be drunks,
- While even the Apostle Paul commands Timothy to take wine for his stomach.
- The book Titus tells us that mature women in the faith are not to be slaves to much wine, but it doesn’t forbid them from drinking at all.
- Not to mention that Jesus institutes communion with wine and expects to drink it in Heaven Luke 22,
- And Paul doesn’t criticize the use of wine in communion, but only that people were getting drunk 1 Cor 11:21.
Some interesting prohibitions on wine drinking that should be noted, since they are often wrongly cited as forbidding wine universally. First let us look at the Nazarite vow, which often people cite as the rule for anyone who seriously wants to please God. Right off the bat we note that the vow was intended to be temporary, and not necessarily for one’s lifetime. Looking even closer we see that no grapes or grape juice is even allowed and no wine vinegar or malt vinegar. If this was intended as a permanent rule for the Christian, then those Christians who think so should stop having grape juice at communion (water might be safe) and they need to avoid these vinegars as well if they are truly attempting to be consistent, this is found in Num 6:3. These Christians, besides not seeing the grape use and vinegar use being forbidden, seem to stop reading and not continuing on when in just a few verses later, verse 20, the Nazarite is allowed to drink wine, when his vow is completed, as directly commanded by God. Also the texts like Eph 5:18 which prohibit being drunk, do not say anything about the simple drinking of wine. Likewise 1 Cor 5:11 forbids us from associating with drunkards, and if we press that to mean those who drink wine at all, then it also means we cannot associate with those who do business, or have sex (even with their spouses alone), because this list is considering those who abuse, what are to be considered normally good things. Sex is clearly ok inside of marriage, but this list is speaking of those who are sexually immoral, which means the moral kind is ok. Likewise, greed is the righteous desire for profit perverted, and thus doing business for profit isn’t criticized, but just the wrong desires in business. Lastly let us quickly look at the main text that anti-alcohol Christians use, Rom 14.
Surely every Christian who has thought about the issue of alcohol and the Christian life is aware of Romans chapter 14, the famous text which commands Christians to not stumble their brother in what they drink. I have written this whole essay, in a sense, to comment on this lonely chapter, because I think we must not take verses out of context when attempting to understand their meaning and application. While looking back at the Older Testament we see God including the drinking of wine and the owning of vineyards within His law and the celebration of His commanded feasts for His people’s worship of Him. Looking forward to the Newer we see Jesus creating wine out of water, being called a drunk, and even using wine in Communion while expecting to drink wine in Heaven. Now, considering all this data about wine, how should we look at Romans 14? Clearly Paul knew all these things going in, so we should assume he already was thinking about these things as he wrote. Right away we see in verses 3 and 4 that Paul clearly doesn’t think Christians should worry about those who do or don’t drink alcohol. Verse 5 tells Christians they need to be fully convinced of their view, and in verse 6 Paul tells us to drink or not drink to the glory of God. Passing of judgement is again forbidden in verse 10, and verse 11. Paul affirms that nothing is unclean in the Lord in verse 14.
With all of this in the background, noting that Paul considers the weaker brother the one who cannot drink, verse 2, and actually doesn’t address wine until verse 21 (I am just giving the benefit of the doubt that he meant it to be included in his discussion of food), Paul says to not drink wine is going above and beyond what is required and is showing ultimate love to your brother verse 15. But immediately admonishes the believer who is not drinking for the sake of his brother to not let the good be spoken of as evil, verse 16, and that eating and drinking are not what the kingdom is about, verse 17. Again he says that everything is clean in verse 20, but we shouldn’t make someone stumble. In verse 22 Paul tells us to not let a person’s weakness when it comes to alcohol make us change our mind about it’s rightness, or make us feel bad for enjoying it.
When considering Rom 14 in context and with the teaching of the rest of Scripture in mind, it seems that Paul is making the point that alcohol isn’t wrong to drink, but that one must drink it with a clear conscience in a desire to glorify God. Clearly he believes that it is the weaker Christian who thinks alcohol is a sin to drink, and commands that Christian to not judge those who drink. Lastly, Paul, seeking to promote love and be practical, says, if the Christians cannot agree to disagree in love, he asks the more mature Christian (the one who can drink alcohol) to not drink in a way that will stumble the weaker Christian, and in that I infer that means only in a way that causes the Christian to forsake Christ, and until that Christian can at least become mature enough to not judge the drinker anymore, or even better, until that Christian becomes mature enough to glorify God with his own drinking.
If Paul only had in mind the idea of having alcohol around someone who either thinks it wrong to drink, or is an abuser of alcohol, then he might be pronouncing judgment on Jesus who, in His first Miracle remember, created an abundance of wine for a party where many people were probably at least close to being drunk, and perhaps some had drinking issues. Clearly Jesus didn’t sin by making wine for such a group, so maybe we need to reconsider what Paul means when he warns against stumbling. It is also interesting to note that Paul seems awfully concerned with idols and idol’s temples and perhaps his concern was Christians eating food and wine that was in a temple, and the weaker Christians were thinking the mature Christians had forsaken Christ and had gone back to worshiping the idol, and so they would forsake Christ and go back to the idol too.
Clearly Paul considers those who think drinking is a sin as immature Christians, and he is always admonishing immature Christians to mature, and if maturing means seeing alcohol (and all food) as clean and ok to enjoy for God’s glory (even when offered to idols), then he is hoping that his letter and the discipling of the Church will eventually help the immature Christians go through the stages of maturing as I before mentioned: thinking alcohol is evil and being judgmental, to thinking it is evil for oneself but not judging others, and understanding that it is ok for oneself and others when enjoyed properly before God. Even looking at 1 Cor 8, the other passaged used, we see a similar pattern to Rom 14, namely the interworking of immature and mature Christians and what the rule of love (not law) requires.
Clearly as we look back at the rest of this essay we can see that God seems to have a positive view of alcohol, if rightly used according to His commands. That is, like all of God’s creation, alcohol exists to bring Him glory, and can you not consider the possibility that rightly used by the Christian, it can bring God glory? Does not the enjoyment of a good fruit created by God bring God glory? What about a fabulous meal prepared by an expert, do we forgo this feast simply because we may be tempted to be a glutton? Likewise, why can we not enjoy alcohol, in a proper way, giving glory to God for something that tastes so good and makes one’s heart merry? Consider the fact that the proper response to gluttony isn’t to give up food altogether, nor the sex addict to give up sex forever, but rather to rethink their use of food and sex, and place them back into their proper context for moral use.
So, why is alcohol different? Where in Scripture are we told to think about the sin of drunkenness different from all other sins? What is the purpose of the law with all sins (we seem to leave out drunkenness), is it not the restoration of the right use of the thing with which we were sinning? Isn’t the definition of sin, the wrong use of a good thing God created? Doesn’t a wrong use denote a good use is possible? Those who wrongly worship God or an Idol are not commanded to stop worshiping all together, but to change their mode and direction of worship back to the true God. So too are those who take the Lord’s name in vain not told to stop speaking, but to start speaking truth about God, and those who do not keep the Sabbath correctly are not prohibited from keeping all Holy days, but are encouraged back to a right view of rest. Moving down the 10 commandments further we see that those who do not honor their parents, are expected to not leave their parents but to start honoring them. Murderers are expected to save life, but not avoid killing in self defense. Adulterers are not expected to stop having sex, but to return to only having sex within their marriage (or to get married). Becoming mute is not what is expected of converted liars, but they are expected to speak the truth. A thief is expected to work with his hands, not give up all property ownership. Those who covet are expected to focus their desires on the things God gives to them, not to remove all desire completely. So, even the supposed 11th commandment, do not be drunk (at least this is how many seem to think of the topic) likewise doesn’t expect all abusers of alcohol to stop drinking forever, and altogether, but to stop abusing God’s good gift and use it for His glory (if they are mature enough), for surely, at least, they will again drink in Heaven with their Savior.
My goal in this essay isn’t to discuss all the nuances of how to deal with idolatry and abuse of alcohol and how to heal or council those who are in the clutches of sin, but rather to realign people’s thinking on what the nature of Alcohol is, as created by God for His purposes. Clearly Alcohol is something good created by God to be used for His glory and the enjoyment of men. Absolutely God commands men to not abuse His good gift by being drunks, or abusing alcohol in any way. Yet, we must hold alcohol in the category of sex: something created by God as good — in its proper context — that is often abused by sinful men. Thus the right response to abuse isn’t to condemn the abused (that would be like saying that those robbed are evil not the thief), but to deal with the abuser. If alcohol is a good gift from God, and it is abused by men, then it is men, as the abusers, who should be condemned, not the gift being abused. How this works out in all the practical ways in counseling sinners in their sin is not the point of this article and is for another time, my only goal was to challenge people’s view on the nature of Alcohol and how God sees it and what possibly we are to do with it.
P.S. I realize that Scripture only discusses the alcohol types of wine and beer, and there may be a further discussion about “hard” liquors and their use, but for this article I lumped them all together, if the only offense you have is that I assumed all alcohol is good, then simply modify my view to only include those specifically mentioned: wine and beer are good gifts from God at least.
Now to the most dangerous and practical part and conclusion of my essay. Should those who have issues with alcohol seek to be restored to being able to drink? My argument is yes, just as all of God’s creation is to be enjoyed in its proper context so too is alcohol. The only clear exception to this from Scripture that I see is when the rule of love is in play, and one is abstaining for a period and in a context out of love for a weaker brother.
Surely I am not an expert in chemical addiction, physiology, or psychology, so my comments are not meant to take their place, but are from a more practical common sense sort of place. If we understand drunkenness as the abuse of God’s gift of alcohol, and admit that there is a proper use of alcohol for God’s glory, then we can start thinking about how to remedy the situation. The truth of the matter is we are all fallen in sin, and are corrupt in everything we do, that is we pervert all of God’s good gifts, all the time. Clearly the remedy to sin, is not by default an absolute abstaining, but a reorienting of our minds and hearts back to the right use of whatever we were perverting and thus sinning in. If our goal with a glutton is the proper use and enjoyment of food without an excess, and obviously we cannot start a glutton on a no food diet, then why is our response to a drunk a no drink diet? Surely, we have chemical addictions to our food, ask anyone who drinks a few sodas a day or coffee to stop cold turkey. Perhaps the chemical addiction to alcohol is greater, and so a different tact might need to be used, and clearly food is necessary for the sustaining of life, while alcohol isn’t, yet are they so different that we see no similarities between them and thus no common response to their abuse?
As I have said before, when we (regenerate Christians) look into our own hearts honestly, we will all see our propensity to sin, and know when we are sinning in a certain area. I am not saying that a drunk cannot nor should not abstain from alcohol for a time while they seek to get their hearts right in respect to their view and use of alcohol. The truth of the matter is all sin is in a sense our attempt to make an idol to worship and trust in, not God, and alcohol is no different. What I am advocating here is a different approach than we have had in the past, a more consistent approach to sin, all sin, rather then the fractured and often uncritical approach we have had before. That is: we ought to seek the restoration in right use of what we once used as sin. If you are a glutton, then seek to view and eat food with the proper thought to enjoying and honoring God in thankfulness. To the sexually immoral, seek to view your sexuality as God intended and use it only inside marriage as He commands, you do not necessarily have to be celibate and unmarried your whole life, just because you abused sex. Do you have lots of money and material possessions? Seek to view them in light of God’s provision, seeking the provider above all, do not seek to ride yourself of them all and live a life of poverty. Are you a thief? Learn contentment in what God gives you and get a job and work hard. Are you a drunk? Realize you are abusing God’s gift of enjoyment for your own selfish desires instead of glorifying God who provides not one the essentials for life but also niceties too.
Like many things in life, alcohol is neither good nor evil in and of itself, but rather the use of it may be good or evil (God created it for the good). Just as sin must be addressed, and usually by abandoning the wrong use of the thing with the right use, so too must drunkenness be addressed, not with abstaining, but a changed heart and mind about the right and proper use of alcohol. I have taken to writing this essay, not because this is the most important topic out there, but because I have a desire to not see God’s good name besmirched. If God created all things good, and there-by created alcohol with a good purpose, showed us the purpose in Scripture, and there are literally millions of Christians who think alcohol is evil, then those Christians are giving God a bad name, and there-by I have felt the need to write as such.