Tag Archives: social drinking

Editorial: More Thoughts On What The Bible Says About Drinking (October, 2018) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

The editorial from the last issue of the Carolina Messenger started a study on what the Bible says about drinking alcoholic beverages. We looked at the definitions of the Greek words translated “drunkenness” (Gal. 5:21), and “drunkards” (1 Cor. 6:10). We examined how the definition of the Greek term translated “get drunk” (Eph. 5:18) — methusko — is an inceptive verb condemning the entire process of becoming drunk. We saw how the Greek word for “sober” (1 Thess. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 5:8) — nepho — literally means “to be free from the influence of intoxicants” (Vine), “…to abstain from wine (keep sober)…” (Strong), and “to be temperate…” (Thayer). We looked at how nepho is the verbal form of nephaleon (“temperate,” 1 Tim. 3:2, 11; Tit. 2:2), and how an early form of nephaleonnephalios — means “sober: and of drink, without wine, wineless” (Liddell and Scott). Therefore we came to the conclusion that, with the exception of ingesting small amounts of intoxication for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23), our Lord wishes us to abstain from drinking intoxicating beverages, the practice sometimes known as “social drinking.” Several medical authorities and other official reports and statements were cited to show how even the first sips and drinks of alcoholic beverages immediately act upon our brains in an intoxicating fashion. We also studied how the wine which Christ miraculously made from water at the wedding feast (John 2:1-11) was not intoxicating in nature because the Hebrew and Greek terms translated “wine” in the Bible could refer not only to intoxicating beverages (Prov. 20:1) but also to freshly trodden grape juice (Is. 16:10), clusters of grapes which were just gathered (Jer. 40:10), or the grapevine itself (Num. 6:4).

We will now continue our study on what the Bible says about drinking by examining objections commonly made to the aforementioned fact that “wine” in the Bible is defined not only as an intoxicating beverage, but in other contexts fresh grape juice. One such objection is the notion that “wine” in biblical times exclusively indicated a fermented, intoxicating drink. Yet Aristotle (Meteorologica 4.9), Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae 1. 27; 5199), and Pliny (Natural History 14.11) all spoke of unfermented wine existing in their time. In Pliny’s case, he talked about a Spanish wine which was called inerticulam, (“inert, not affecting the nerves”); it was also called justius sobriam (“more justly, sober wine”) as well as viribus innoxiam: siquidem temulentiam sola non facit (“harmless to the strength, as of itself it does not cause intoxication”). Columella, a Roman agricultural writer, spoke of this wine being called by the Greeks amethyston (“unintoxicating”), inerticula (“not intoxicating”), innoxia, quod iners habetur in tentandis nervis, quamvis in gustu non sit hebes (“harmless because guiltless of disturbing the nerves, though it was not wanting in flavor”), thus showing that unintoxicating wine was both known and appreciated during biblical times (De Re Rustica 3.2).

Others object by claiming that there were no methods of keeping grape juice free from fermentation during biblical times. For example, the removal of moisture from grapes keeps them from fermenting. Columella wrote of drying grapes before the skin was broken and preserving them in that condition in order to produce, even after a considerable period of time, an unfermented beverage after they had been soaked in water, calling it the Roman term passum because the grapes had been spread out in order to dry (De Re Rustica 12. 39). He also wrote of how the Romans had boiled wines by boiling the grapes. The boiling evaporated the water and thus prevented fermentation. Grape juice boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit and ethyl alcohol evaporates at 172 degrees Fahrenheit; thus boiling was a great way to expel alcohol from the juice. Additionally, Columella and Pliny also wrote of lining earthen containers with pitch, filling them with fresh juice before sealing them, and then sinking them in water or burying them in the ground in order to prevent air from coming into contact with the juice and causing fermentation (De Re Rustica 120; Natural History 14.11).

Returning our focus to Scripture, the Old Testament says about consumption of intoxicating beverages. The first sin on record in Scripture after the flood was drunkenness, committed, unfortunately, by Noah himself and leading to further sin by his son Ham and the cursing of Canaan by his grandfather (Gen. 9:20-27). Drunkenness also led to the downfall of Lot, another righteous man who had previously stood out as a light among a sin-filled culture only to be taken down by imbibing intoxicating drink and becoming drunk to the point of committing incest with his daughters (Gen. 19:30-38). So it should not surprise us that God refers to intoxicating wine and strong drink as “a mocker…a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). We should understand why he attributes “tarry(ing) long over wine” and “go(ing) to try mixed wine” as the cause for those who have woe, sorrow, strife and complaining before telling us not to even look at these intoxicating drinks and warning of the adverse effects they will have on us (Prov. 23:29-35). We should heed his caution that “wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest” (Hab. 2:5) and understand why he pronounced a “woe” upon “him who makes his neighbors drink” (Hab. 2:15-16) … yet another reason why the wine Christ miraculously made for his fellow wedding guests was not intoxicating in nature. These admonitions combined with the direct commands found throughout the New Testament in the Greek terms for “sober” (1 Thess. 5:6-8) and “do not get drunk” (Eph. 5:18) should make it very clear to all of us that our Lord does not want us drinking alcoholic beverages.

Yet the objections still come. For example, some point to Deuteronomy 14:24-26, which records God telling the Israelites to spend their money on whatever they want, including “wine or strong drink.” The thought is that if God told Israel to spend their money on “wine or strong drink,” then he must have permitted them to be social drinkers. Again, it must be pointed out that “wine” (yayin in Hebrew) is used biblically in both an alcoholic andnon-alcoholic sense depending on the context; since elsewhere in the Old Testament God strongly disapproves of ingesting intoxicating yayin, it is clear that the yayin of the Deuteronomy passage is non-alcoholic in nature. The same can be said for “strong drink.” Just as most today automatically associate intoxicating beverages with the term “wine,” such is even more so the case with “strong drink,” and understandably so. Yet “strong drink” comes from the Hebrew term shekar, and like yayin with “wine” scholars have also acknowledged that shekar can refer to the sweet, either fermented or unfermented, juice of many fruits other than grapes (some of which possibly having a particularly strong taste, thus earning the term “strong drink”). For example, the Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature says shekar “was much broader than ‘strong drink,’” listing other definitions which include “luscious, saccharine drink or sweet syrup, especially sugar or honey of dates, or of the palm-tree; also, by accommodation, occasionally the sweet fruit itself…”, and “date or palm wine in its fresh and unfermented state…” (emphasis mine). Thus, if one is to take the Bible in its entirety (Ps. 119:160a), it is clear that God was not commanding Israel to buy alcoholic wine and alcoholic strong drink, but rather grape juice (“wine,” yayin) and sweet fruit drinks (“strong drink,” shekar).

Another objection is centered around the words of the mother of King Lemuel to her son in which she says, “Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their poverty and remember their misery no more” (Prov. 31:6-7). Clearly the context surrounding verses 6-7 promote the definition of intoxicating beverages, but one must go further to determine if divine support for social drinking is found here. For example, we could look at the previous two verses where his mother says to Lemuel, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (vs. 4-5). The question must be asked as to why God and this obviously wise woman would warn about the dangers of alcoholic consumption for royalty in one sentence and then in  the very next sentence promote alcoholic consumption and its dangerous results for the dying and impoverished. Since the ethyl alcohol within intoxicating drinks is a medically proven toxic poison, why would God tell us to poison the dying and poor in the same book where he provided instruction to prevent early deaths and care for the poor (cf. Prov. 2:18-19; 5:23; 14:21; 17:5)? Why would God promote “drinking our worries away,” an obvious reference to drunkenness? It is clear when one takes into account the entirety of the Bible’s condemnation of the consumption of alcoholic beverages, including in the immediate context of Proverbs 31:6-7, that King Lemuel’s mother is not advocating social drinking. On the contrary, she is emphasizing the warning she had just given her son in verses 4-5. She is basically saying, “When you become king, remember that kings shouldn’t drink. Bad things will happen if you do. You’ll forget important policies and treat your subjects in an unjust way. Look at those out on the street who are dying and poor. With some, their alcoholism got them there and keeps them there by helping them forget their troubles and taking away their motivation to fix themselves. Don’t be like them.”

More could be studied concerning the biblical admonitions against drinking as well as the objections some have to them, but it is our hope that the study produced in this editorial as well as the one in the previous issue will make it clear to the reader that it is not God’s will that they socially drink alcohol. We are called to be lovingly obedient to our God (John 14:15) and an excellent example to our fellow man (Matt. 5:16; 18:6-7; Rom. 14:21; 1 Cor. 10:32; 1 Pet. 2:12).

It’s simply impossible to do that with a beer or wineglass in your hand.

— Jon

Editorial: What Does The Bible Say About Drinking? (September, 2018) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

This is a subject which should be addressed within the body of Christ. My wife once told me about one of her co-workers, a very religious lady, who talked freely of storing six packs of beer in her automobile’s trunk. Some college friends of mine who profess Christianity drink alcoholic beverages socially and defend the practice. Some leaders and teachers in the church also defend the practice or hesitate to see anything wrong with it. Thus, we see a great need for biblical teaching on this subject (Hos. 4:6). In addressing it, my goal is to present the evidence of Scripture to the reader and respectfully and kindly encourage them to have God’s will as their highest priority (Col. 3:17), recognizing that this is a sensitive and controversial subject (Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).

To my knowledge, all who want to follow the Bible will acknowledge that drunkenness is listed among the works of the flesh which condemn those who practice them as not inheriting God’s kingdom (Gal. 5:19-21). The point of disagreement lies around the question of when one is drunk scripturally. When does God consider someone to be drunk?

The Greek-English lexicographer W.E. Vine cites “drunkenness” (Gal. 5:21) as methe in the original Greek, defining it as “‘strong drink’…denotes ‘drunkenness, habitual intoxication’… Vine also ascribes the word translated “drunkards” (1 Cor. 6:10) to the adjective methusos, defining it as “‘drunken’…used as a noun…in the plural…‘drunkards’…” So far proponents of social drinking completely agree because in their minds there is a difference between consuming one margarita and being drunk. I understand that reasoning, yet also am reminded of God’s warning in Isaiah 55:8-9.

With that warning in mind, note that Vine also cites the verb translated “get drunk” in the command against doing so (Eph. 5:18) as methusko, which “signifies ‘to make drunk, or to grow drunk’…an inceptive verb, marking the process…‘to become intoxicated’…” (emphasis mine). Vine specifically includes in the definition of the verb “get drunk” not only what the proponents of social drinking would call the end result of several drinks (drunkenness), but also the entire process of becoming drunk. Robert Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible defines methusko as “to begin to be softened.” Therefore, the word which the Spirit of God inspired Paul to use in this command against drunkenness would not only condemn the inebriation resulting from a consumed six-pack of beer, but also the entire process one would undergo to reach that state of inebriation (social drinking).

Elsewhere, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul and Peter to command us to be “sober” (1 Thess. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 5:8). Paul’s command is part of a contrast between the Christian being of the day and thus awake and sober rather than of the night and sleeping the sleep of drunkenness. Peter’s command is part of a warning to be continually on the lookout for the devil who is always on the prowl like a lion, seeking someone to eat. The Greek word they used which is translated “sober” is nepho, which Vine defines as “to be free from the influence of intoxicants.” Greek authority James Strong defines it as “…to abstain from wine (keep sober)…” Joseph Thayer’s second definition of nepho says, “to be temperate, dispassionate, circumspect” (emphasis mine). Regarding the term “temperate,” social drinking proponents cite how it is sometimes defined as moderation with regards to consumption of alcohol. As we examine that notion, it is worthy to note that nepho is the verbal form of nephaleon (“temperate,” 1 Tim. 3:2, 11; Tit. 2:2). Lexicographers Henry Liddell and Robert Scott define nephalios, an early form of nephaleon, as “sober: and of drink, without wine, wineless.” Thus, the promotion of total abstinence from wine in Vine and Strong’s definitions of nepho and Liddell and Scott’s definitions of its derivative of nephalios and nephaleon leads us to conclude that Thayer had in mind the definition of “temperance” found in The New World Dictionary for his definition of nepho: “total abstinence from alcoholic drinks.”

This shows us that by inspiring Paul to use a word which in the Greek meant total abstinence from intoxicating drinks, God’s idea of “sober” (1 Thess. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 5:8) is more along the lines of how Alcoholics Anonymous use the word when they ask their members, “Are you sober?” When AA says “sober,” they do not mean, “Does your blood alcohol content meet the legal requirements to operate a vehicle?” Rather, they are asking, “Have you totally abstained from consuming alcoholic beverages?” That is what nepho means in the New Testament, which has this command completely in sync with Ephesians 5:18’s condemnation of methusko, the entire process which would result in methe, drunkenness.

The only divinely approved allowance of the ingestion of any intoxicating beverage would be small amounts for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23). There is no comparison between the command to “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” and the notion to have a cocktail at dinner or a can or two of beer at the party. Concerning the latter, drunkenness results much sooner than one might think.

Remember that God created us and thus knows our bodies and how they react to social consumption of intoxicating beverages. Dr. Haven Emmerson wrote Alcohol, Its Effects on Man, in which he reported that even the first sips of an alcoholic beverage causes changes in mood or behavior. He cited studies of how the first measurable effects on younger, inexperienced drinkers were detected after half a can of beer, the equivalent to half a cocktail or half a glass of wine, while on adults who are occasional drinkers the first measurable effects were detected after only one beer or cocktail. Toxicologist Clarence Muehlberger wrote an article on drunkenness for the 1959 Encyclopaedia Britannica in which he said, “The higher nerve functions of the forebrain, such as reasoning, judgment, and social restraint are impaired by very low concentrations of alcohol in the blood.” Dr. Donald Gerard wrote in his article “Intoxication and Addiction” in Drinking and Intoxication that “judgment and inhibitions are affected” with “the first few ‘social’ drinks.” The 1971 First Special Report to the U.S. Congress on Alcohol and Health reported that even the first few sips of an alcoholic beverage can cause changes in mood or behavior. The American Automobile Association said, “The effects of alcohol begin with the first drink…The first effects are impairment of judgment and reasoning and weakening of self-control and normal inhibitions.”

Yet objections to these clear biblical and biological facts still come. A common one centers around how Christ turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). The wine in question is understandably assumed to be an intoxicating beverage, since that’s what wine is today. Because of this, some have even gone so far as to assume the master of the feast saying that the guests were already drunk by the time Jesus made the good wine (v. 10), defining “good” as “best for getting smashed.” However, in biblical times the terms translated “wine” could refer not only to an intoxicating beverage (Prov. 20:1), but also to the grapevine itself (Num. 6:4), clusters of grape which were just gathered (Jer. 40:10), or freshly trodden grapes (Is. 16:10). Furthermore, Strong defines the master of the feast’s phrase “drunk freely” (methuo) not only as “to drink to intoxication,” but also adds another definition: “drink well.” Liddell and Scott, along with lexicographer Samuel Bloomfield, agree and state that it could refer to the quantity of drinking without necessarily indicating as to whether the drink was intoxicating. Also, Thayer defines the “good” wine (kalos) as “beautiful” and “excellent,” which logically correlates much more to taste or appearance than supposed intoxicating qualities.

Thus, the wine Jesus made was not intoxicating in nature, but rather sweet grape juice. The master of the feast was accordingly saying that normally the best tasting and looking wine was served first with the sub-quality being saved for after the guests had drank well, or all, of the former. To claim otherwise would have Christ making intoxicating wine for guests who had already become tipsy at best (cf. Hab. 2:15). Such does not correspond with Christ’s nature.

More study will be given to this topic in the next editorial. I pray this study will be beneficial to the reader and glorify God.   — Jon

This Preacher’s First A.A. Meeting — Neil Richey

It’s true. I went to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting last week. I didn’t know what to expect. I had no idea who I might meet there, what I would hear or what I would say. I had no thoughts of how it would be organized, how the session would go, or if it would even have any personal benefit for me.

Truth is, none of that mattered. I wasn’t there for me. I went to support a friend and to encourage this friend who has struggled with addiction for years.

I learned that at A.A. it’s typical for there to be a discussion leader, who has been sober for quite some time, to share his thoughts and experiences and then motivate the other attendees with words of encouragement and hope. Then, the other folks in the room would take turns sharing themselves. Many of those I heard from had been sober for years, but despite length of one’s sobriety, everyone introduced themselves in the same way. They said, “Hello, my name is ______________________, and I am an alcoholic.” It was as if they were saying, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.

At the conclusion of the meeting one of the attendees, a leader within the local group I take it, handed out chips (looked like poker chips) to various individuals who were celebrating milestones in their path to coping with their addiction–1 month sobriety, 6 months, 1 year, etc. I’m happy to say that my friend received a six month chip last week.

Addiction is a terrible thing. It’s deceitful, manipulative, and painful. “It takes you further than you want to go, and teaches you more than you want to know. It costs you more than you want to pay, and keeps you longer than you want to stay.”

The following remarks were made several years ago by a member of A.A. in a letter to Ann Landers:

  • We drank for happiness and became unhappy.
  • We drank for joy and became miserable.
  • We drank for sociability and became argumentative.
  • We drank for sophistication and became obnoxious.
  • We drank for friendship and made enemies.
  • We drank for sleep and awakened without rest.
  • We drank for strength and felt weak.
  • We drank “medicinally” and acquired health problems.
  • We drank for relaxation and got the shakes.
  • We drank for bravery and became afraid.
  • We drank for confidence and became doubtful.
  • We drank to make conversation easier and slurred our speech.
  • We drank to feel heavenly and ended up feeling like hell.
  • We drank to forget and were forever haunted.
  • We drank for freedom and became slaves.
  • We drank to erase problems and saw them multiply.
  • We drank to cope with life and invited death.

The good book tells us that alcohol is something that hurts and does not help.

“Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder” (Pro. 23:29-32).

You know what’s interesting about this text? The writer transitions from those who are drunk to those who are just looking at it. What’s the point you ask? God, through His penman, is not regulating the behavior of the drunk (not approving it to be sure) but is rather challenging those who are sober and thinking about taking their first drink.

As I listened to the group participants at last week’s A.A. meeting, I got the impression that some if not most of them would have agreed with the Proverbs writer.

Some will argue that drinking is not the problem, but drunkenness is. Do you think any one of these folks at the meeting thought, “I’m going to take my first drink so I can become an alcoholic?” Do you suppose some of them said, “I’m thankful that my drinking cost me my marriage, my kids, my job, and sent me to jail?” Not one spoke favorably about what alcohol did for them. Not one of them started out saying “I want to be an alcoholic.” You know something else they had in common? Their problem with alcohol started by looking, and then taking their first drink.

I have no idea what it’s like to be drunk. I’ve never had a beer or glass of wine. I don’t know what it’s like to struggle with alcohol or drug addiction. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose relationships because of addiction. However, my friend does. Thankfully, my friend is doing so much better, but has a long way to go.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction of any kind, the best words of encouragement I can give you are these: love, patience, hope, positive re-enforcement, and friendship. Come to think of it, I can summarize it in one word — Jesus.

http://www.neilrichey.com