Did Jesus and Paul Approve the Use of Alcohol?
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Reader Question: I am in total agreement about the abuse of alcohol but I’m not clear precisely on total abstinence. Scripture states that Jesus consecrated bread and wine. His first miracle was to turn water into wine. I believe that frequenting bars etc is walking a tight rope over sin, as is the foolish trend to get drunk, but is it wrong to have a glass of wine at dinner or to toast a friend’s marriage? Did Jesus then defile His body by consuming wine? I totally applaud anyone who makes the choice to abstain from alcohol but does the bible condemn those who may consume as above. Is it then a question of personal intention and moderation. I would really love to have your insight on this.
Answer: I certainly appreciate your question and concern. It is a question that is asked often. I have an unpublished manuscript on the subject that I prepared some years ago.
I have given fifty or so copies away.
I plan to have it published later this year or next year. I have copied chapter three of that manuscript for you. I hope it will provide some answers for you. I will look forward to hearing your response.
Did Jesus and the Apostle Paul Approve the Use of Alcoholic Beverages?
It is often said Jesus and the Apostle Paul approved the use of alcohol in moderation. It is important to take a careful look at the scriptures to ensure that is an accurate perspective.
Was Jesus, in fact, giving his approval for the use of alcohol when He turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee?
Jesus said: “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” (Matthew 15:11 KJV)
The context of the passage in Matthew 15:11 is not discussing the right or wrong of various meats and drinks.
It is very important to keep a passage of Scripture within its context accurately, if the danger of proof-text or misusing the Holy Word to prove a particular point or belief, is to be avoided.
Read my post: Can Christians Drink Alcohol?
The context of Matthew 15:11 is a discussion about the doctrines and teachings of the religious leaders of Israel.
A group of Pharisees and Scribes from Jerusalem had come to Jesus and asked him why the Disciples were not following the laws of washing before a meal.
Jesus answered their question with a question. “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?”
Jesus began reviewing the laws of tradition the Pharisees practiced.
He then pointed out the commandments of God they violated by not obeying them. He ended the review by declaring they drew near to God with lips of worship but their heart was far from Him.
Then He answered their original question by saying that unwashed when eating does not defile the person (“not that which goeth in the mouth defileth a man”). The words that come out of their mouth will defile a person (Matt. 15:15-20).
This Scripture, often used to justify the use of alcohol, is being taken completely out of context and is inappropriate. It violates hermeneutics and good Scriptural study practices.
Was Jesus placing His stamp of approval upon the use of alcohol when He turned the water into wine?
The argument is usually presented as follows: “After all, the guests were drinking alcohol and when the wine ran out, Jesus helped supply them with more. Even the Governor of the wedding feast declared the guests drunk, exclaiming, ‘Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now’” (John 2:10 KJV).
Does this give clear approval from Jesus to drink wine and the casual drinking of alcohol?
Three questions must be answered about this event.
- Did the Governor in fact declare the guests drunk?
- What was it about the water turned into wine that caused the host to make the proclamation, “You have kept the good wine until now?”
- Did the Holy Son of God violate the rest of Scripture by placing approval upon drunkenness?
Barnes Notes give excellent insight into these matters about the wine Jesus created at the wedding in Cana of Galilee:
“[The good wine] This shows that this had all the qualities of real wine. We should not be deceived by the phrase ‘good wine.’ We often use the phrase to denote that it is good in proportion to its strength and its power to intoxicate; but no such sense is to be attached to the word here. Pliny, Plutarch, and Horace describe wine as “good,” or mention that as “the best wine,” which was harmless or “innocent”-poculo vini “innocentis.” The most useful wine-“utilissimum vinum”-was that which had little strength; and the most wholesome wine-“saluberrimum vinum” -was that which had not been adulterated by “the addition of anything to themust’ or juice.” Pliny expressly says that a good wine was one that was destitute of spirit (lib. iv. c. 13). It should not be assumed, therefore, that the “good wine” was “stronger” than the other: it is rather to be presumed that it was milder.
The wine referred to here was doubtless such as was commonly drunk in Palestine. That was the pure juice of the grape. It was not brandied wine, nor drugged wine, nor wine compounded of various substances, such as we drink in this land. The common wine drunk in Palestine was that which was the simple juice of the grape. WE use the word “wine” now to denote the kind of liquid which passes under that name in this country-always containing a considerable portion of alcohol not only the alcohol produced by fermentation, but alcohol “added” to keep it or make it stronger. But we have no right to take THAT sense of the word, and go with it to the interpretation of the Scriptures. We should endeavor to place ourselves in the exact circumstances of those times, ascertain precisely what idea the word would convey to those who used it then, and apply THAT sense to the word in the interpretation of the Bible; and there is not the slightest evidence that the word so used would have conveyed any idea but that of the pure juice of the grape, nor the slightest circumstance mentioned in this account that would not be fully met by such a supposition.
No man should adduce THIS instance in favor of drinking wine unless he can prove that the wine made in the waterpots of Cana was JUST LIKE the wine which he proposes to drink. The Saviour’s example may be always pleaded JUST AS IT WAS; but it is a matter of obvious and simple justice that we should find out exactly what the example was before we plead it. There is, moreover, no evidence that any other part of the water was converted into wine than that which was “drawn out” of the water-casks for the use of the guests. On this supposition, certainly, all the circumstances of the case are met, and the miracle would be more striking. All that was needed was to furnish a “supply” when the wine that had been prepared was nearly exhausted. The object was not to furnish a large quantity for future use. The miracle, too, would in this way be more apparent and impressive. On this supposition, the casks would APPEAR to be filled with water ONLY; as it was drawn out, it was pure wine. Who could doubt, then, that there was the exertion of miraculous power? All, therefore, that has been said about the Redeemer’s furnishing a large quantity of wine for the newly-married pair, and about his benevolence in doing it, is wholly gratuitous. There is no evidence of it whatever; and it is not necessary to suppose it in order to an explanation of the circumstances of the case.” (Emphasis is in the original text)
Adam Clarke, British evangelist and one of England’s great theologians, gives further insight about the miracle Jesus performed at the wedding in Cana.
“A question has been asked, “Did our Lord turn all the water into wine which the six measures contained?” To which I answer: There is no proof that he did; and I take it for granted that he did not. It may be asked, “How could a part be turned into wine, and not the whole?” To which I answer: The water, in all likelihood, was changed into wine as it was drawn out, and not otherwise. “But did not our Lord by this miracle minister to vice, by producing an excess of inebriating liquor? “No; for the following reasons:
1.The company was a select and holy company, where no excess could be permitted. And,
2.Our Lord does not appear to have furnished any extra quantity, but only what was necessary.
“But it is intimated in the text that the guests were hearty intoxicated before this miraculous addition to their wine took place; for the evangelist says, methusthoosin (NT:3182), when they have become intoxicated. “I answer:
It is not intimated, even in the most indirect manner, that these guests were at all intoxicated.
The words are not spoken of the persons at that wedding at all: the governor of the feast only states that such was the common custom at feasts of this nature; without intimating that any such custom prevailed there.
The original word bears a widely different meaning from that which the objection forces upon it. The verbs muthuskoo (NT:3182) and methuoo (NT:3184), from methee (NT:3178) wine, which, from metathuein, to drink after sacrificing, signify not only to inebriate, but to take wine, to drink wine, to drink enough: and in this sense the verb is evidently used in the Septuagint, Gen 43:34; Song 5:1; 1 Macc. 16:16; Hag 1:6; Ecclesiasticus 1:16. And the Prophet Isaiah, Isa 58:11, speaking of the abundant blessings of the godly, compares them to a watered garden, which the Septuagint translates, hoos keepos methuoon, by which is certainly understood, not a garden drowned with water, but one sufficiently saturated with it, not having one drop too much, nor too little.
Did Jesus give clear reference to His personal use alcoholic beverages?
“But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.”
Barnes gives the following answer:
[Neither eating nor drinking] That is, abstaining from some kinds of food and wine, as a Nazarite. It does not mean that he did not eat at all, but that he was remarkable for abstinence. [He hath a devil] He is actuated by a bad spirit. He is irregular, strange, and cannot be a good man.
[The Son of man came eating and drinking] That is, living as others do; not practicing austerity; and they accuse him of being fond of excess, and seeking the society of the wicked.
[Gluttonous] One given to excessive eating.
[Wine-bibber] One who drinks much wine. Jesus undoubtedly lived according to the general customs of the people of his time. He did not affect singularity; he did not separate himself as a Nazarite; he did not practice severe austerities. He ate that which was common and drank that which was common. As wine was a common article of beverage among the people, he drank it. It was the pure juice of the grape, and for anything that can be proved, it was without fermentation. In regard to the kind of wine which was used, see the notes at John 2:10. No one should plead the example, at any rate, in favor of making use of the wines that are commonly used in this country-wines, many of which are manufactured here, and without a particle of the pure juice of the grape, and most of which are mixed with noxious drugs to give them color and flavor.
What about the Apostle Paul? Did he give approval for the use of alcoholic beverages when he told Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach ailment?
Did the Apostle give approval for leaders to use alcohol casually, when he wrote the qualifications for Bishop and Deacon, as long as they drank in moderation?
Again, lets allow our two commentators to give us insight into these matters.
[Not given to wine] Margin, “Not ready to quarrel and offer wrong, as one in wine.” The Greek word paroinos (NT:3943) occurs in the New Testament only here and in Titus 1:7. It means, properly, “by wine;” i.e., spoken of what takes place “by” or “over” wine, as revelry, drinking songs, etc. Then it denotes, as it does here, one who sits “by” wine; that is, who is in the habit of drinking it. It cannot be inferred, from the use of the word here, that wine was absolutely and entirely prohibited; for the word does not properly express that idea. It means that one who is in the HABIT of drinking wine, or who is accustomed to sit with those who indulge in it, should not be admitted to the ministry. The way in which the apostle mentions the subject here would lead us fairly to suppose that he did not mean to commend its use in any sense; that he regarded its use as dangerous, and that he would wish the ministers of religion to avoid it altogether. In regard to its use at all, except at the communion or as a medicine, it may be remarked, that a minister will do no injury to himself or others by letting it entirely alone; he MAY do injury by indulging in it. No man is under any “obligation” of courtesy or Christian duty to use it; thousands of ministers of the gospel have brought ruin on themselves, and disgrace on the ministry, by its use.
An eighth article in his character is, he must not be given to wine; mee (NT:3361) paroinon (NT:3943). This word not only signifies one who is inordinately attached to wine, a winebibber or tippler, but also one who is imperious, abusive, insolent, whether through wine or otherwise. Kypke contends for this latter acceptation here. See his proofs and examples.
The Apostle Paul was not giving his approval for leaders to use alcoholic beverages in moderation, rather, he was warning of the dangers and urging them to abstinence.
The same warning is given in Titus 1:7 and 2:3.
“For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre.” (1:7 KJV).
“The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things.” (2:3 KJV).
Thank you for your response. I have also thought about this topic. I have some experience with the problems that come from drinking, both with myself and with my fellow christians. The people I live with think that Jesus and the apostles drank real wine and they themselves have shown some real godlessness in doing so. Me too, in my own way although differently. Its hard to say and be sure of what they meant with wine in those days because the word apparently can mean different things.
What I´ve been thinking about is the word that Jesus said about cutting off your arm if it´s tempting you to sin. -That it´s better to walk into the Kingdom of Heaven without an arm than to burn in hell forver. I think this could be the right approach to wine drinking.
I’ve just just read your treatise on drinking wine (I assume you mean any alcohol) and I’m sorry but although your article well researched it still seemed to say that it’s up to the individual to determine whether or not our Lord Jesus Christ meant straight grape juice or the juice of the fermented grape or both when he referred to drinking wine.
So with that I’ll stick with my old fall backs of do all things in moderation and to do nothing that would hurt others.
Both of which are not easy to do.
Thank for your article and your time and may God Bless you and yours.