Summary: May a Christian drink alcohol?
Sense & Nonsense about Alcohol
May a Christian drink? What about what Paul said about not eating or drinking if it caused offense? What about alcoholics? What about Jesus turning water into wine? What about respecting each other when there are differences of opinion?
The Gospel is Like Wine
Booze, white lightning, firewater, grog, joy juice, moonshine, hooch, rot-gut, amber brew and a thousand other names have been used to describe the many beverages which contain ethanol. Ethanol is a natural substance formed when certain species of yeast metabolize sugar. Its largest use today is as a fuel. It has been used since ancient times as a natural preservative.
In Matthew 9:17 the gospel is compared to this fermentation process wherein ethanol is produced. New wine or fresh squeezed grape juice in the early stages of fermentation was placed in a sack formed from animal skin where it fermented into wine. During that process, the skin stretched and was thus only able to be safely used once.
If an old animal skin was used, there was the great danger that it had already reached its elastic limit, and would burst during fermentation, losing both the wine and the skin bag. The new wine being prepared pictures the freshness of the gospel, represented by Jesus. The old wineskins represent the old restrictive religion with its regulations about touch not and taste not, which cannot contain the gospel.
Some Christians believe that abstinence from all alcohol is taught in the Bible, whereas others believe that the Bible encourages moderation. Others even proudly announce as a measure of their righteousness, that they have never had a drop of alcohol in their lives.
Certain well-meaning Christians treat the topic with a degree of hysteria or even methyphobia (a fear of alcohol). A few will have a wine, but never a beer or liqueur. Virtually no Christian believes that drunkenness is right. This is a brief introduction to the main causes of division regarding how and if alcohol may be used by Christians.
Almost every Bible commentary and almost every theologian agrees that the terms for "wine" in the Bible’s original languages refer to fermented, that is alcoholic grape juice. There is no indication otherwise, except for those who wish to read their prejudice into the Bible.
Until 1869 when Thomas Welch discovered how to pasteurize grape juice and his son Charles Welch found it profitable to market, the common method of preserving grape juice was allowing it to ferment. Alcohol is a natural preservative created by God. It is not evil. Certainly, alcoholism and drunkenness are evils. It was also a problem in ancient times. The Bible contains a number of warnings against the abuse of alcohol.
The Word Temperance
Some Christians believe that the word temperance means abstinence from alcohol. It does not. Let’s look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23 where some Bible translations use the word temperance. The temperance movement which bans even moderate alcohol use takes its name from this word.
Because of this confusion, dictionaries now define the English word temperance as either moderation or abstinence. But languages change and total abstinence from alcohol is not what the Bible demands at all. That is why a modern translation of the Bible will use the word self-control in Galatians 5, because that's what the original Greek meant, self-control not abstinence.
Wine or Grape Juice
Some people believe that the “fruit of the vine” described in the Bible was unfermented grape juice. But this is a misunderstanding of history and science. Until pasteurization and refrigeration, fresh squeezed grape juice always fermented within a very few days. Certainly "new wine" placed in wineskins is almost totally unfermented. However, this differs from today’s processed grape juice. It has not been killed by pasteurization, and within a short time takes on that characteristic tang of alcohol production. You may have tasted that same zest when you sugared sliced peaches and left them in the refrigerator a day or so. Fresh apple cider will also begin to get tangy or “hard” within a few days.
The idea that some have of ancient peoples keeping bunches of grapes for six months from the autumn harvest to the spring Passover festival so that they could squeeze out grape juice is naÃ¯ve. Not only is it a preposterous misrepresentation of ancient culture, but grapes would surely have rotted or turned to raisins by that time.
Jesus’ First Miracle
Jesus’ first recorded miracle was at a wedding in Cana (John 2), where he turned water into wine. It was wine and not grape juice. In accordance with Jewish custom, they were drinking real wine. It was a joyful wedding with probably several hundred people attending, so Jesus helped when the wine supply became prematurely exhausted. If he had given them mere grape juice instead of the finest wine, there would have been complaints rather than compliments.