I’m a teetotaler. Not because I think there’s anything wrong with reasonable use of alcohol to relax. I just don’t enjoy it personally. Many people do think it’s wrong, though, and judge others for it. The Bible, I believe, is all for drinking wine in moderation- if your conscience permits.

One caveat: If I don’t convince you 100% that alcohol’s okay, don’t drink it! If you think it might be wrong for you to drink liquor, then it is wrong for you to drink liquor. You are only supposed to do things God and your conscience agree are correct. However, I hope to show you that there’s no reason to condemn moderate drinkers like they were breaking a moral command. I know Paul said not to get into disputes over these things, but he did issue a definitive statement affirming the eating of meat and drinking of wine when he did.

That’s one of my proofs. Paul didn’t want people drinking wine and eating meat if they had scruples about it, but he himself didn’t. He said, “I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself, but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (Romans 14:14, KJV). In such a context, he mentions wine as one of the adiaphora, that is, things that a Christian can take or leave as long as they do so in a spirit of honoring God and respect their fellow Christian’s conscience. “It is good neither to eat flesh nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth or is offended or is made weak” (14:21, KJV). However, as far as adding moral restrictions other than being considerate of a brother or sister in Christ, I think wine was part of what Paul was talking about when he told the Colossians, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat or in drink…” (2:16, KJV). In other words, he was not in favor of imposing teetotalism as a moral obligation on everyone, just the ones who already considered it wrong.

In fact, the Bible speaks of wine as one of God’s blessings. It is grateful for “wine to gladden the heart of man” in Psalm 104. Vats overflowing with wine is a reward of honoring God in Proverbs 3:10 the same as grain in the barn. Ecclesiastes 10:19 and Zechariah 10:7 speak of wine as something to be enjoyed, and countless references to it in the prophetic books show that it was a part of everyday life for God’s people, albeit frequently abused. Judges 9:13 goes so far as to say that wine delights God as well as man, which doesn’t seem far-fetched when you consider how Jesus said at the Lord’s Supper He would drink it with us in His Father’s Kingdom. Jesus was willing to make very good wine to make a wedding celebration all the merrier and save a groom and his family from serious embarrassment. In fact, it was better than the wine the bridegroom had put out first to make the best impression on his guests.

And, though the Bible says not to drink wine if it violates your conscience, there are a couple of instances when God commanded it. Jesus handed wine to His apostles and told them, “Take, drink.” Paul famously told Timothy, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (I Timothy 5:23, KJV).

Now, I live in a heavily Baptist part of the country, so I’ve heard numerous arguments against the above. I can summarize them as: the Bible refers to people drinking grape juice or a form of wine so low in alcohol content that they wouldn’t get drunk from it, and in any event they were excused because it was safer than the water. Well, I think I can answer these objections.

First of all, the Bible seems to know the difference between wine and grape juice. It distinguishes between wine, vinegar, and grape juice in the Nazirite vow (none of which a Nazirite was allowed to drink) in Numbers 6. (By the way, why would God specify that Nazirites couldn’t drink wine as part of their vow if He had already forbidden anyone to drink it at all?) If every reference above to “wine” being good is supposed to be referring to grape juice and every reference to wine being bad is supposed to be referring to fermented grape juice, I think we’d see more references to “juice of grapes” like you have in Numbers rather than the standard term for wine used again and again. In fact, I can’t think of another instance of “juice of grapes” being used in the Bible, good or bad. Would God use the exact same word for one of His gifts as for something we’re totally forbidden to partake? That would be really confusing.

As for low alcohol content, I really don’t see any evidence of that. The Bible presents wine having the same effects on people then that it has today. Belshazzar becomes merrily drunk and does something egregiously stupid. What about the wine gladdening man’s heart in Psalm 104? By the time of Jesus’s Passover, the Jews by tradition drank four cups of wine. They poured it, however, out of a mixer where they put three parts water to one part wine, an unlikely precaution if it was grape juice or 2-proof wine. Also, drinking a little grape juice or 2-proof wine in Timothy’s case makes no sense. First of all, if there was that little alcohol in it, what good would a little of it make, and why would he specify to drink only a little if it wasn’t likely to intoxicate him? It is abundantly clear that the first Christians used alcoholic wine in the Lord’s Supper because, to Paul’s horror, the privileged Corinthians were getting drunk at Communion!

As for excusing it as a safety precaution against risky water, while wine was safer than water (and in the Middle Ages a low-proof beer was used for the same purpose), that wouldn’t actually excuse people from something that would be a sin for us today. The traditional Protestant position, as found in the Heidelberg Catechism, is that we should rather die than commit a sin. If it was okay for them, it should be okay for us.

I did hear one argument along the lines of: The Bible forbids drunkenness. It’s hard to tell when precisely you have become drunk. Therefore, it’s not safe to drink anything. Well, the Bible also forbids gluttony, and it’s hard to tell when you’ve crossed the line into gluttony, but we shouldn’t stop eating because of it. There are plenty of issues the Bible puts before us where we have to decide from something on a continuum. When are you being glorious in overlooking an offense and covering a multitude of sins like Proverbs says, and when are you disgracing the Church of God in your tolerance for sin like the Corinthians? When are you answering a fool according to his folly so he won’t become wise in his own eyes, and when are you not answering a fool according to his folly so you won’t become like him? Clearly many things Scripture calls us to do require judgment to steer between two different courses of action, each of which is appropriate in its time. Just because each case is not black-and-white doesn’t mean we have to retreat from the situation entirely. I don’t think people generally get drunk with one serving of an alcoholic beverage.

I hope I’ve convinced you, but if I haven’t, go right on with your teetotaling. It won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t drink. What would hurt them is you judging those who do partake when the Bible never issues a blanket prohibition against alcohol and in fact encourages it in moderation. I think Paul’s solution to areas of Christian liberty where the strong enjoy their liberty away from the weak’s eyes and the weak don’t condemn them for it is fair enough, but we often have a hard time distinguishing between an area of Christian liberty and an area of Christian necessity. I hope I’ve switched alcohol for my Baptist readers from it being a sin to partake at all to something that may be good for some people.

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