But on more than one occasion I’ve been asked how I could possibly defend my enjoyment of alcohol being a Christian.
I believe the more we embrace a Biblical worldview, the more we will learn to appreciate the good gifts God has given to us, and that includes wine.
I also understand there are some who believe differently than me in this matter. It is not my point here to “quarrel over opinions” (Romans 14:1). Food and drink are not central matters when it comes to gospel-living. As Paul said, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (v.17).
My only point here is to share with you some of what I’ve learned from God’s Word that has informed my opinions about alcohol. Why do I think it is biblical to appreciate wine?
What I’m Not Saying…
1. I’m not saying we should all drink wine (or even like the taste of it). I believe the Bible speaks of wine as a blessing, just like food is a blessing, but that does not mean that we are obligated to enjoy wine personally.
2. I’m not saying we should appreciate the abuse of alcohol. Everywhere the Bible speaks negatively of drunkenness. Examples of this are abundant.
Rebellious children who lived lives of gluttony and drunkenness were commanded to be stoned in ancient Israel (Deuteronomy 21:20). Drunkenness is one of the reasons why Israel and Judah went into exile (Isaiah 5:11-12,22; Hosea 4:10-11; Amos 6:4-7). As such, fathers counseled their children, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,” because no one who is led astray by alcohol becomes wise (Proverbs 20:1).
Proverbs 23:29-35 vividly paints the life an alcoholic. Such people linger over their glass of sparkling red wine and relish in it as it goes down smoothly, but in the end it stings them (v.31-32). Such people have woe, sorrow, strife, are always complaining, and are always hurting themselves (v.29). In their drunkenness their eyes see strange things and their hearts think perverse thoughts (v.33). They stumble and pass out like men who have been struck down, but then they dream of waking so they can have another drink (v.34-35).
The apostle Peter described the “flood of debauchery” that is typical among the pagan nations— “sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry”—and he urges his Christian readers to no longer live for these human passions but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-5). Paul commands his readers to be filled with the Spirit rather than being “drunk with wine.” This he calls a life of “debauchery,” meaning depravity, licentiousness, decadence, and wastefulness (Ephesians 5:18).
3. I’m not saying there aren’t times to wisely abstain from drinking altogether. There are many examples of people in the Scriptures who abstained from alcohol for specific reasons.
- Priests who served in God’s tabernacle were forbidden from drinking any wine or strong drink prior to their priestly duties (Leviticus 10:9; Ezekiel 44:21).
- Nazarites were men who took a special vow of service to God, and these men were commanded to separate themselves from wine (Numbers 6:3,20; Amos 2:12).
- In the Old Testament, kings and princes were told to stay away from wine or strong drink so they wouldn’t pervert justice (Proverbs 31:4).
- The prophet Daniel, even though it was his custom to drink wine (Daniel 10:3), chose not to drink the king’s wine when he was preparing for service in the king’s court in Babylon (Daniel 1:16).
- While Jesus was dying an excruciating death on the cross, He was offered wine mixed with myrrh. Tradition tells us that respected women of Jerusalem supplied this wine as a narcotic to criminals being crucified. Jesus refused this wine (Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:23) choosing to endure with full consciousness the pain of the cross.
- Paul speaks of abstaining from wine if drinking it grieves another brother in Christ or causes him to stumble (Romans 14:15,21).
What I Am Saying…
What I am talking about is attitude. When you think of a glass of wine, or for that matter, vats of wine overflowing, do you count such a thing as a blessing? When you think about the calm, relaxation, and contentment one feels after enjoying a glass or two of good wine, do you praise God for this good gift? Do you believe you can drink wine in honor of the Lord and to His glory (Romans 14:6; 1 Corinthians 10:31)?
A Note on Alcoholic Content
There is no shortage of materials available trying to answer the question about the alcoholic content of wine mentioned in the Bible. Some take the position that any time wine is praised in the Scriptures, it must be talking about the non-alcoholic variety (i.e. grape juice). I take serious issue with this for several reasons, but space doesn’t permit me to go into it here.
I refer my readers to the fine paper written by Kenneth Gentry, Jr., “The Bible and the Question of Alcoholic Beverages” (pdf), published in Criswell Theological Review in the Spring of 2008. In this article he sets out to prove, among other things, that “the wine of the Bible was a fermented quality, alcoholic-content, potentially inebriating beverage.”
10 Biblical Reasons We Should Appreciate Wine
1. Wine was a blessing from God for wise and obedient living.
Proverbs 3:9-10 states that when we honor the Lord with our wealth and with the firstfruits of our land, “then your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Repeatedly wine is listed among the abundant blessings God promises to Israel if they keep His covenant (Deuteronomy 7:13; 11:14; 33:28).
2. The loss of wine was evidence of God’s curse.
Moses warned God’s people that if they disobeyed the voice of the Lord, many curses would overtake them. They would work in their vineyards but never taste the wine (Deuteronomy 28:39). Foreign nations would rob them of their crops, including their vineyards (v.51). On several occasion God dries up the wine of his disobedient people (Hosea 9:2; Joel 1:10; Amos 5:11; Micah 6:15; Zephaniah 1:13; Hagai 1:11). Twice God curses the land of Moab drying up their winepresses (Isaiah 16:10; Jeremiah 48:33).
3. Wine was an acceptable sacrifice to give to God.
Wine and other intoxicating drinks were poured over sacrificial offerings on the altar as drink offerings (Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:5,7,10 18:12; 28:7,14; Deuteronomy 18:4; 1 Samuel 1:24; 2 Chronicles 31:5; Ezra 6:9; 7:22; Nehemiah 5:11; 10:37,39; 13:12). Even the Levites received wine for themselves from the tithes of given by worshipers (Numbers 18:30).
4. God gives us wine to settle our stomachs.
Paul counsels his son in the faith, Timothy, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23). This home-remedy for poor digestion has actually been confirmed by modern studies. Fermented drinks like beer, sherry, or wine are powerful stimulants of gastric acid secretion, and can even speed up the emptying of the stomach. Red wine also contain polyphenols that trigger the release of nitric oxide which relaxes the stomach wall, thus optimizing digestion.
5. God gives us wine to lighten our hearts.
Wine “cheers God and men” (Judges 9:13). The psalmist praises God for his provision: “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:14-15).
6. Abundant wine is one of the blessings of the age to come.
On the day God swallows up death forever and wipes away every tear, the Lord “will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, or aged wine will refined” (Isaiah 24:6). On that day God will again be God to all the clans of Israel, He will restore their fortunes, “they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine” (Amos 9:14), “they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil” (Jeremiah 31:12). God promises to restore to Israel the years that the swarming locust has eaten: the threshing floors will be full of grain and “the vats shall overflow with wine and oil” (Joel 2:24-25).
7. God invites His people to celebrate in His presence by drinking wine.
Year after year the Lord’s people brought a tithe of their crops to Jerusalem. There, where God made his name to dwell, He said they should eat the tithe of their grain, oil, meat, and even their wine. This regular feast in God’s holy presence was instituted so that they might “learn to fear the Lord your God always” (Deuteronomy 14:23).
Others had a longer journey to Jerusalem so they sold their crops, took the money with them, and purchased goods for the feast when they arrived. Listen to the very liberal and celebratory words God speaks to them: “spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household” (Deuteronomy 14:26). Whatever you desire, whatever you prefer, even if it is wine or strong drink, buy it and bring it to the worship feast. (This is the same word translated “covet” in the tenth commandment in Deuteronomy 5:21.)
God says the same thing about the age to come. In that day, Israel’s oppressors will never rob them of grain or wine again, “but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather it shall drink it in the courts of my sanctuary” (Isaiah 62:9).
8. Wine can be very appropriate for celebrations.
The bride who sings in the Song of Solomon says, “He brought me to the banqueting house,” (or literally translated, his “house of wine”), “and his banner over me is love” (Song of Solomon 2:4). In Hebrew tradition, wine was very popular at weddings. We see this in the wedding feast Jesus attends in Cana. There, for His first miracle, Jesus miraculously produced more than one hundred and twenty gallons of fine wine for the wedding feast (John 2:6-11).
That day at the wedding in Cana, before the festivities began, the groom’s father would likely have held high a cup of fine wine and spoke a cheerful blessing over the new couple. When Jesus multiplied that wine in Cana, He was, in effect, multiplying that blessing of joy and happiness for the bride and groom.
9. Jesus banqueted with wine to demonstrate the joy of the nearness of the kingdom of God.
One of the marks of Jesus’ ministry was table fellowship. Jesus is often found eating in other’s homes or hosting meals. These instances of table fellowship left a deep mark on those who observed them or participated in them. These were not merely times to share food, but were platforms for Jesus to challenge social norms and make profound theological statements about himself and the kingdom of God.
What were these moments of table fellowship like? The Gospel of Luke offers us many glimpses. These were far from casual meals. Repentant sinners impacted by Jesus’ message would hold great feasts, and together Jesus and his disciples would recline with tax collectors and other notorious individuals (Luke 5:29). Jesus would even host his own banquets (Luke 15:2). These joyful feasts were settings where Jesus would call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32), where men publicly turned from sin (Luke 19:1-9), and where Jesus spoke of the joy of the angels when even one sinner repents (Luke 15:7,10). The meals might even be interrupted with sobering moments of remorseful weeping as Jesus declared sinners forgiven (Luke 7:48). Some were miraculously healed (Luke 14:4). During these times, eager listeners would sit at His feet to listen (Luke 10:39). He would rebuke hypocrisy and empty religion (Luke 11:37-52), teach about genuine humility and honor (Luke 14:7-11), and challenged the social norms that divided rich and poor (Luke 14:12-14).
And yes, these would be feasts—often feasts accompanied with wine—and yes, Jesus drank. “John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine,” Jesus told the crowds. But “the Son of Man has come eating and drinking ” (Luke 7:33-34). Many scholars believe John the Baptist was a Nazarite from birth. The angel Gabriel told John’s father, “he must not drink wine or strong drink” (Luke 1:15). John was a man of the wilderness; he and his disciples would often fast (Matthew 9:14; Mark 1:6). But Jesus, by contrast, was known for his joyful feasting, so much so He even gained the unjust reputation of “a glutton and a drunkard” from his critics (Luke 7:34).
On the heels of the banquet at Levi’s home, Jesus asked the questioning Pharisees and scribes, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” (Luke 5:34). The bridegroom of God’s people had come. The kingdom of God was at hand. This was no time for mourning, but celebration.
10. Jesus chose wine to represent his blood.
During Jesus’ last Passover meal, several cups of wine were shared among the disciples (Luke 22:17-18,20). Right after the meal, Jesus picked up cup of wine, gave a word of thanks to His Father, and then said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:27-29). Paul called this cup of wine “the cup of blessing” (1 Corinthians 10:16) and “the cup of the Lord” (v.22).
By faith in His blood, Jesus is our atonement (Romans 3:25). By drinking His blood we have eternal life (John 6:53). By His blood we are justified in God’s sight (Romans 5:9), we have peace with God (Colossians 1:20), we are redeemed and made God’s own (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Revelation 5:9), brought near to Him (Ephesians 2:13), ransomed from our futile ways (1 Peter 1:18-19), cleansed of all sin (1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5), and sanctified (Hebrews 13:12). By His blood our consciences are cleansed (Hebrews 9:14) so we can have the boldness to draw near to God in the Holiest Place (Hebrews 10:19).
And of all the things Jesus chose to represent his blood to us, he used wine.