My dear friend and counselor wrote this. I find it very helpful and insightful. This is something I believe to be true and live by myself as a Christian.
What is the Biblical Prohibition Against Drinking Alcohol?
Drunkenness is a horribly destructive behavior. The Bible calls it sin. My parents were alcoholics so, I can speak from personal experience when I say that this behavior is very damaging. Drunkenness hurts the person who drinks abusively and those who are in relationship with them. I’m personally very uncomfortable around those who abuse alcohol. The boundary and consequence that I set with my parents after I became an adult with children of my own was, “If I come over and you’re drinking I will leave. I love you, but I will not expose my children, or myself to that.” Thankfully my parents overcame their addiction.
Having said all this, I see no biblical prohibition against responsible drinking. The biblical prohibition against drinking alcohol is restricted to becoming drunk. So, the biblical standard for drinking is Sobriety. There’s no verse in the Bible that forbids drinking in moderation. The only prohibition is drunkenness.
We see in the scriptures that Jesus drank wine. In fact, he made wine a part of the sacrament of holy communion. Some would say that the wine Jesus drank was not fermented. I would say that’s an assumption. There is no biblical proof text for thatat all. Psalms 104:15 says that, “God has given wine to make the heart glad.” So, from this verse I would conclude that not all drinking is bad or sinful.
An alcoholic’s drinking always leads to drunkenness. The alcoholic cannot drink one drop of alcohol because like a diabetic they have a sensitivity to a substance that when consumed has an adverse effect on them. When an addict drinks it always ends in moral failure. If a person is not an alcoholic they can drink because they keep the biblical standard of sobriety. They can drink alcohol without becoming drunk. What churches that teach abstinence for all need to understand is that the alcoholic is going to drink even if no one else on the planet does. So, prohibiting everyone from drinking alcohol will not stop the addict from drinking and getting drunk.
Here’s a moral equivalent. The Bible calls sex outside of marriage a sin. But, what if the church in an effort to stop sexual immorality said that married people should not say that they have sex for enjoyment because it might tempt those who are unmarried, to engage in immoral sexual behavior. I know that sounds ridiculous because sex in marriage is not a sin, but neither is drinking without drunkenness.
The Church’s Focus
Drunkenness is a very serious spiritual problem that has a very serious spiritual consequence. The Bible says in I Corinthians 6:10 that the drunkard will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some churches (with I’m sure very good intentions) in an effort to control the destructive behavior of drunkenness tryto implement legalistic rules about abstinence for all. The church’s focus should be on addiction and the immoral behavior of drunkenness, not the elimination of drinking alcohol for all because the Bible does not direct abstinence for all. There’s nothing shameful, or immoral about drinking, as long as it’s not abused.
Also, hitting addicts over the head with the law doesn’t work. It just causes them to feel more shame and to go evendeeper into hiding and denial, or it totally pushes them awayfrom the church all together. What the church needs to understand about addiction is that shame fuels addiction. So, if you don’t want an addict to fail, don’t shame them. Instead share with them about the grace of God which has the power tochange their heart and behavior. Also point them to a recovery group where they can get the help that they need to heal in a non-shaming, grace giving support system. But putting restrictions on all drinking so that some won’t sin by getting drunk isn’t the answer to the problem. This is similar the “Hedge Laws” in Judaism that I will address next.
Judaism also tried to ensure that the laws in the Torah were not violated. They did this by implementing Hedge Laws, which were hundreds of extra rules around the law added to the Talmud to make sure a person would not accidently sin. Jesus hated their legalistic system and often angered the Pharisees by breaking the Hedge Laws.
For instance, the law said not to work on the Sabbath. One of the Hedge Laws around that law was that no one could spit on the Sabbath because the spit could land on a seed and cause it to germinate which would be considered working because it produced a crop. So, what did Jesus do? He healed a blind man on the Sabbath by spitting on the Sabbath, and worked on the Sabbath by making mud to put on the blind man’s eyes. Jesus could have just healed him, but his actions said, “You’re taking these, extra-rule too far Pharisees.” Those who put restrictions on all drinking to prevent those with a drinking problem fromdrink are adding to the biblical directive to not become drunk. Again, this prohibition against all drinking will not stop the addict from drinking at all.
The Wedding of Canna
The best biblical example of social drinking in scripture is the wedding of Canna where Jesus performed his first miracle by turning water into wine. If Jesus would have been concerned about the possibility of addicts in the crowd being tempted to sin by seeing others drinking, he wouldn’t have made wine available. Was he tempting people to get drunk? No, of course not. Neither Jesus, nor anyone else is responsible for another person’s choice to sin. Abstaining from responsible social drinking so that you will not be a bad example and tempt someone to get drunk is not a biblical directive. If it was then Jesus would not have made the wedding wine.
Causing Someone to Stumble
But, doesn’t the Bible instruct us in Romans 14:21 to abstain from drinking alcohol so that we don’t temp someone to stumble and sin by drinking and getting drunk? No. There’s no mention of drunkenness in this verse at all. This verse isreferring to a matter of conscious. This portion of scripture was addressing weak, immature Christians who were struggling witheating certain foods and drinking wine. But, mature Christianswere not concerned about it at all. Paul said in Romans 14:14, “As one who is in the Lord Jesus I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself.” But then he goes on to say if another Christian feels it is, and is distressed about what you eat or drinkyou are no longer acting in love if you do it. So, in the interest of unity Paul says that the stronger, more mature Christian should consider the weaker Christians feelings. Again, this is a matter of conscious not morality.
In view of this verse, I would not drink in front of someonewith a weak conscious who feels that it’s wrong. If I was with someone like that I would respect their feelings. Nor would I drink in front of someone I knew was an alcoholic even though the Bible doesn’t forbid it. That’s just my personal feelings, although my conscious is clear that it’s not wrong for someone to drink, as long as they don’t drink abusively.
The question I would ask you is, based on this verse wouldyou stop eating meat as well as drinking wine because the verse is referring to both? If you’re with a vegetarian who thinks it wrong to eat meat would you stop eating meat? If your answer is yes does that mean you would stop eating meat all together or only around the person who believes it’s wrong? We take this verse too far when we forbit all drinking of alcohol and eating meat for everyone and all the time.
In being biblically balanced we must be careful in our interpretation not to add to or take anything away from scripture. Drinking alcohol is not a biblical forbidden fruit. Drunkenness is. The biblical directive is sobriety. Telling everyone to stop drinking is not the cure because, one last time, the addict will drink even if everyone on the planet stops.
Legalism or Hedge Laws will not correct the problem. What heals the alcoholic, and any other sinner, is God’s love and grace. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can give a person a desire, and the strength to change. The church needs to focus on giving addicts truth plus grace, and encourage them to get involved in a recovery program to heal. The only way an addict can heal is in a grace giving, non-shaming environment.