by Al Maxey
Issue #826 -- August 3, 2021
Nothing more like a fool than a drunken man.
Benjamin Franklin [1706-1790]
Is there an acceptable level of alcohol intake and impact upon our bodies and emotions in the eyes of God? At what point does drinking such beverages pass from beneficial to detrimental? Disciples of Christ Jesus have pondered these questions for centuries, as have the people of God from the beginning of their covenant relationships with Him. The primary question, of course, is: Does God allow us to drink beverages that contain alcohol? If not, then we can stop our inquiries right there. If He does allow it, then how much may we drink? Where does God draw the line between approved moderation in our consumption and an unacceptable level of intoxication? At what point does God consider a person to be drunk? How do we recognize that point between "buzzed" and "bombed"? And just what is the biblical definition of drunkenness?
The definition of "drunk" provided in Webster's New World Dictionary is: "Overcome by alcoholic liquor; intoxicated; overcome by any powerful emotion." Being "drunk" can be both a physical and psychological state. The country singer Luke Bryan, in one of his hit songs ("Drunk on You"), sings, "Hey, I'm a little drunk on you, and high on summertime." Used figuratively, one can be said to be drunk on love or fame or power, etc. In the book of Revelation, the great harlot is said to be "drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus" (Revelation 17:6), and those who are seduced by her into acts of gross indecency are "drunk with the wine of her immorality" (vs. 2). In most cases, however, when we speak of one being "drunk," we have in view the person who is experiencing the negative effects of alcohol.
In the 1828 edition of Webster's Dictionary, some of these negative effects are highlighted: "Drunkenness: noun; a state in which a person is overwhelmed or overpowered with spirituous liquors, so that his reason is disordered, and he reels or staggers in walking; drunkenness renders some persons stupid, others gay, others sullen, others furious." In all of these definitions the concept of a person being overpowered or overwhelmed or overcome is very evident, as are the effects of that domination of his/her body and senses. "They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man" (Psalm 107:27; cf. Job 12:25). "They err in vision; they stumble in judgment; all their tables are full of vomit and filth; no place is clean" (Isaiah 28:7-8). "A drunken man staggers in his vomit" (Isaiah 19:14). "Drink, be drunk, and vomit; fall and rise no more" (Jeremiah 25:27). Not a pretty picture! Drunkenness can so dull one's senses and remove one's inhibitions that the drunkard may have great difficulty determining the difference between right and wrong, and thus may engage in godless activities that he/she would never consider when sober. The incident between Lot and his two daughters in Genesis 19:30-38 is one good example. I dealt with it in my article titled "The Daughters of Lot: Sodom's Seductive Sisters" (Reflections #292). Another example is Noah, the account of which we find in Genesis 9:20-27. I dealt with this sordid tale in my article "Sad Saga of a Soused Sailor: Reflecting on the Strange Account of Noah Naked and Drunk Inside His Tent" (Reflections #813).
I doubt that any of us would argue too loudly or for too long against the view that excessive use of alcoholic drinks (which is nothing other than abuse) is not only harmful and potentially fatal to the user and those around him/her, but it is also denounced repeatedly in the Scriptures as contrary to the will of God. Indeed, God has made it clear that those who are drunkards will not be a part of His eternal kingdom. "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). In Galatians 5:21, the apostle Paul lists drunkenness as one of the "works of the flesh," and he then clearly states that "those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." Punishment in this present life could also be quite harsh for those who abused alcohol. In Deuteronomy 21:18-21, parents of "a stubborn and rebellious son," one who refused to obey them, and who was "a glutton and a drunkard" (vs. 20), could have that son stoned to death.
Yes, drunkenness is not approved by God, nor is it looked upon favorably by the majority of enlightened societies. Yet, the Scriptures do not prohibit, nor do they condemn, the responsible use of alcoholic beverages. "Wine was a symbol of God's blessing on the land, and consumption of the best quality marked special occasions" [Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 357]. Even though consuming strong drink could, and in too many cases did, result in drunkenness, the Lord never banned the responsible use of such drinks, only the abuse of them. The same can be said for the sin of gluttony. Did God ban eating? Are pies and cakes outlawed by God? Of course not. His blessings are abundant (and alcoholic beverages are among those divine blessings to mankind), and He expects us to enjoy them ... but to do so responsibly and in moderation. "Although there is no absolute prohibition of the use of wine in the NT, it is clear that those who would live godly, especially those who take positions of leadership, will not be guilty of using it excessively" [The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 482]. "Although the Bible does not prescribe total abstinence as a universal rule, it does condemn all forms of intemperance" [The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 994]. "Wine was not banned in Israel" [The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 872].
"In the Bible, wine was viewed as a gift from God" [Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 1380]. "God causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine that makes glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face shine, and bread which strengthens man's heart" (Psalm 104:14-15). God informed His people that if they would honor Him with their lives and their possessions, He would in turn bless them by filling their barns and causing their vats to overflow with wine (Proverbs 3:10). Jesus blessed those gathered at the wedding festivities in Cana by making a good quantity of high quality wine for the people to drink and enjoy (John 2:1-11). Wine was even commanded by God as part of the daily offerings unto Him by His people. With the morning and evening offering of a lamb, there was to be included "one-fourth of a hin of wine as a drink offering ... a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the Lord" (Exodus 29:40-41). There was even a medicinal quality to alcoholic drinks, with a positive impact that was felt both physically and psychologically. "Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those who are bitter of heart. Let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his misery no more" (Proverbs 31:6-7). Paul instructed Timothy to "no longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities" (1 Timothy 5:23). God even informed His people that He desired them to be happy in His presence, wherever they were, and that they should spend their money "for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household" (Deuteronomy 14:26).
Clearly, it is the alcohol content of these drinks that was primarily the cause of both the positive and negative effects upon those who consumed them. Some insist that the wine of the Bible contained no alcohol, but was just unfermented grape juice. This, of course, is an absurdity. "The wine of the Bible was fermented, and therefore, when taken in excess, intoxicating. Unfermented wine is a modern concept. The ancients had not that knowledge of antiseptic precautions which would have enabled them to preserve the juice of the grape in an unfermented state" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 1, p. 314]. As previously noted, the Bible nowhere condemns the consumption of drinks containing alcohol; at certain times and under certain circumstances, in fact, it encourages their use. It is the abuse of these various beverages that is strongly condemned. Thus, there is a line drawn between responsible use and harmful abuse, and we are cautioned not to cross that line. Jesus urged His disciples to "take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the cares of this life" (Luke 21:34, New King James Version). The New Life Version reads, "Watch yourselves! Do not let yourselves be loaded down with too much eating and strong drink. Do not be troubled with the cares of this life." When we eat and drink we must exercise caution lest we cross over into gluttony and drunkenness. The Lord does not ban eating and drinking, He simply asks us not to cross the line between responsible use and godless abuse.
There is no sin in drinking alcoholic beverages. In fact, such drinks can prove beneficial when consumed responsibly, just as they can be quite destructive and deadly when they are not. The Lord "evidently regarded it as possible to draw the line between the use and the abuse of wine" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 1, p. 314]. Yet, He did not promote abstinence, only moderation. Various movements have arisen through the centuries seeking to ban the use of alcoholic beverages, but none were initiated by our Lord. "His religion was not in its essence a system of ascetic negations; it was much more than one of 'creeds which deny and restrain.' ... Christianity is a religion of principles, not of rules. ... The apostles did not fight against social ills with a new legalism. ... There was never any organized movement in the Apostolic or post-Apostolic Church against the use of strong drink. ... Clement, Cyprian, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Augustine all preached moderation. ... Neither the apostles nor the church Fathers ever dreamed of seeking legislation for the prohibition or even the restriction of the sale and use of intoxicating liquors, since it is notoriously impossible to make men sober merely by legislation" [ibid, p. 314-315]. The power of this new dispensation of Christian liberty "is that it makes every man a legislator to himself. The inordinate use of wine and strong drink becomes morally impossible for a Christian, not because there is an external law which forbids it, but because his own enlightened conscience condemns it" [ibid, p. 314].
God has blessed us with many material things which, when used responsibly, can enrich our lives. Each of these blessings can become a curse when we do not use them responsibly. The Lord cautions us not to cross that line, yet He gives us the freedom to choose whether or not we will do so. It is NOT the impact of alcohol on our bodies and minds that is sinful and harmful. In fact, when one drinks a beverage containing alcohol, it will have an impact on us. Its effects will be felt. When used responsibly, these impacts can be beneficial; when abused, these impacts can be deadly. This is equally true of almost all the many blessings which our God has created and given us to enjoy. Some would suggest (as noted in Reflections #825 - "The One Beer Apostate: Is Drinking a Single Beer a Sin?") that a person who takes a single sip of such a beverage is "one drink drunk." That is sheer foolishness! It is also contrary to the Scriptures, for one is often encouraged in these inspired writings to consume such beverages. The sin is in the excess; it is in the abuse and irresponsible use of alcohol. What God condemns is not the presence of alcohol in one's system, but the godless actions and attitudes manifested by those who have "crossed the line" into a state of harmful intoxication. How much is too much? That will vary with each individual. At what point is one "drunk"? It is when our attitudes and actions are altered to such a degree that we are thinking, feeling, and doing those things which God declares to be sinful (cursing, carousing, quarreling, etc.) and which are harmful to ourselves and others, and which we would never think of doing when sober. It is not so much the level of alcohol in one's system, but far more the level of ungodliness in one's behavior that indicates the line between use and abuse has been crossed. The Catholic Dictionary states, "On Catholic moral principles, the degree of sinfulness in excessive drinking depends on how this excess is known to affect this particular drinker. It is a grave matter if it is foreseen that this drink will cause one to lose the use of one's senses or will put one in such a state that he or she is no longer able to distinguish right from wrong." I concur completely with this well-stated perspective.
From a Reader in Mississippi:
I just read your article "The One Beer Apostate: Is Drinking a Single Beer a Sin?" (Reflections #825). Some are twisting the Scriptures to support a personal bias against drinking. There is no such thing as "one drink drunk" or "one sip soused." They are just making it up. Drunkenness is a sin, drinking alcohol is not. Self-idolization is a sin, working out in a gym is not.
From a Reader in Unknown:
The next time you see one of those "one drink drunk" preachers at a potluck, remind him that he is a "one plate glutton." (LOL)
From a Reader in Texas:
If the "one drink drunk" rule constitutes "drunkenness," then Timothy was doomed by Paul.
And Jesus sent a whole wedding party to hell. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in West Virginia:
The unimaginable silliness that can result from legislating where the Scriptures do not, looks something like this: Replace every NT instance of the word "wine" with "grape juice" -- i.e., "You have saved the best grape juice until now" or "Be not drunk with grape juice" or "These men are full of grape juice" or "not given to much grape juice." The saddest part is all those who have declined salvation because they were told they would have to give up enjoying a beer after work or a glass of wine before bedtime.
From an Elder in Missouri:
Al, "The One Beer Apostate" is a good article on a somewhat touchy subject.
From an Author in Texas:
Many Christians these days seem to be obsessed with drinking alcohol.
I'm not so sure the obsession is on the part of those Christians who drink responsibly. I really don't see any of them obsessing over it. The obsession seems to be on the part of those who "mark, malign, and condemn" those who drink, and who seek to force these "apostates" to bow to their own views and practices on the matter. It is among these religious crusaders that I observe the greatest degree of obsession. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Texas:
I sometimes wonder if we will ever grow up. I'm set against drunkenness, as I'm sure you are too. But a beer or some wine isn't the problem. The problem is overdoing anything (including making statements that can't be found in the Word). Some friends of ours went on a Christian cruise many years ago. They enjoyed an alcoholic drink with dinner, but many of the Christians scolded them for drinking that one drink. Nevertheless, this couple chose to continue having their drink. My question is this: Should they have abstained from it because it evidently bothered some of the other Christians on the cruise? I think, if it had been me, I would have not had any alcohol. Would it have been wrong for them to abstain in order to appease those other people? It wouldn't have bothered me to abstain, but would this just indicate that I was "a people pleaser"? I've wondered about this for a long time. Thanks for your writings, Al. They always make me think.
This reader has asked a truly important question, one that has often been asked by the people of God. I personally believe that the way in which we respond to certain fellow believers (if we respond to them at all) is largely determined by their own attitude toward the issue or circumstance in question. The apostle Paul, for example, circumcised Timothy, but refused to circumcise Titus. Why? It was because of the attitude and behavior of those with whom he would be seeking to share the Gospel. One group was genuinely unsettled in their faith on some matters, and Paul was willing to step back a bit in order to avoid any offence to them (which might have caused them to turn a deaf ear to his message). The other group, however, was very settled in their opinion, and also very critical, and even condemning, of those who differed with their settled convictions and preferences. Paul refused to step back, and to surrender his liberty, for those who were making law of their traditions and perceptions. He wrote that he was unwilling to "yield in subjection to them for even an hour" (Galatians 2:5), because their demands would have set back the cause of the Gospel message and would have placed those free in Christ back into a state of legalistic bondage to religious regulation. I often refer to this latter group as "professional weaker brethren." They use this concept of their faith being "weak" (as per Romans 14:1) as a "weapon" to force those with whom they differ to back off from doing what they don't like. Their "faith" is anything but "unsettled," however. Just the opposite. They are hardened and fully settled in their own minds on the matter in question, and they will thus demand that others back off and comply with their convictions. They will say that if these others do not back off, then it will cause them to stumble in their faith. That is a sham. These people are not even remotely in danger of stumbling; they simply seek to impose their own will on others, and this pretext of "weakness" is a convenient tool. Paul tells us to never give in to such people. I dealt with this is my following articles: "Professional Weaker Brethren" (Reflections #25) and "A Safety Valve for Steamed Saints: Biblical Advice for Avoiding the Big Bang" (Reflections #120). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
My favorite passage of Scripture to those who condemn the responsible drinking of alcoholic beverages is Matthew 11:18-19 - "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, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a heavy drinker, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' And yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."
From a Reader in Unknown:
Thanks for your article "The One Beer Apostate," Al. I have long struggled with this issue as a symptom of legalism that does far more damage than good. Your piece is great. Over the first 35 years of my life, I heard many sermons and Sunday School lessons that warned about the dangers of that one drink. There was no equivocation and no hesitation in the earnest declarations that any form of alcoholic drink was forbidden to a "true Christian." I sat through more than one entire sermon listening to my spiritual shepherd engage in great linguistic gymnastics to explain that Jesus never really drank wine, much less created it as His first miracle. I was assured that Paul would never have touched the stuff, and certainly there was no hint of that vile liquid at the Last Supper. However, by the time I was at the military academy I attended, I was, fortunately, liberated from such Scripture-twisting and false teaching. After studying the issue at length, it was beyond obvious that there was not one iota of biblical injunction against wine or taking that "one drink." Drunkenness, most certainly, but not drinking! It is impossible to describe the immense sense of disillusionment I felt in realizing that the spiritual leaders in my early life were so grossly in error. Had they really read their Bibles? If so, why would they strain at gnats and falsify teachings to support their point?
Realizing that the men I had respected so much had been so wrong was a near-traumatic experience in my early spiritual walk. Any reasonable person who awoke to such an insight would be foolish not to at least question every other theological point they had shared. And question I did. That produced a lifelong aversion to Scripture-twisters and legalists, and it drove me to question and examine anew every teaching for myself, and not to just accept what any man told me the Bible said. Yes, drunkenness should never be accepted. Yet, each believer must process this issue not from legalistic posturing, but rather centered on the overarching issue of love for those around us. The fact is, any shepherd who wastes time in the pulpit teaching such a lie as abstinence being biblically based is guilty of mishandling Truth. Even more, they are far more guilty than that man who treats alcohol the way God allows him to through his own study rather than legalistic pablum.
From an Author in Florida:
Al, the "one beer drunk" and the "one sip soused" view being a salvation issue, sounds more like a self-righteous Pharisee issue to me! This seems like an indictment of Jesus, who turned water to wine for a wedding party to drink. Love you, brother!
From a Reader in Alabama:
Al, it's sad at how Christians differ so much on so many issues, and yet you have explained this one about beer so that anyone should be able to agree with what you wrote. My family laughs at the craziness of so much misinterpretation. We forget that many of the medicines Church of Christ members take will make you walk off balance and stagger if you take too much. Would that be considered "drunkenness" by them? Would that be "sinful"? No wonder so many are leaving our denomination! Young ones are looking for something more realistic. No more "Campbellites" for them. Might there be punishment in store for those running them off with their dogma? Al, you and your Reflections mean a lot to us all, and I thank you for your time in study and writing them for us. Keep safe, brother.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Al, you said enough in the first paragraph of this Reflections ("The One Beer Apostate") for any sensible person to understand this lesson. It absolutely appalls the Bible-thumpers to think our Lord sat down and had a glass of wine with His friends. In fact, they argue that the wine He made for the wedding feast was non-alcoholic so as not to encourage drunkenness! Talk about straining gnats and swallowing camels! Love you, and we hope Shelly is continuing to do well with her health!
From a Reader in Georgia:
I know an old fellow that, regarding beer, once said, "I'd just as soon rather pour it back in the horse!" (LOL) He didn't like it. Here's a thought: The same people who declare the "one drink drunk" rules and regulations, have no issue with serving up the worst food possible for humans to consume at church potlucks. People who have obvious health issues are tempted beyond measure with Aunt Bea's soon to be world-famous banana pudding with umpteen grams of sugar leaching out. They don't serve wine or have cigars at these potlucks, but they don't hesitate to encourage horrible eating habits that put people at risk of serious health issues because of their weight. It's sad. In fact, I highlight this hypocrisy in my book "Honoring God With Your Body: What the Bible Teaches Us About Wellness" (which has your endorsement on the back cover). Also, I think it is interesting to note that drunkenness and gluttony are almost always mentioned together. Love ya, brother.
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