The Bible contains many references to alcohol and drinking. While the Bible recognizes that alcohol can be misused and lead to drunkenness, it does not forbid alcohol altogether. Instead, the Bible encourages moderation and self-control when it comes to alcohol consumption. Here is an overview of some of the key biblical passages that mention alcohol and drinking:
Wine as a Blessing from God
Several passages in the Bible present wine in a positive light, as a gift and blessing from God when used rightly. For example:
“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10)
“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7)
“You [God] 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)
These verses do not promote drunkenness, but rather depict wine as one of God’s good gifts to be enjoyed and shared among people. The Bible affirms that God created wine to gladden human hearts.
Warnings Against Drunkenness
While the Bible allows moderate drinking, it strongly warns against drunkenness and addiction to alcohol. For example:
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)
“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” (Romans 13:13)
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life.” (Luke 21:34)
These verses reveal that the Bible condemns drunkenness and excessive drinking. Christians are instructed to avoid addictions to alcohol and to maintain self-control.
Alcohol and Spiritual Leaders
The Bible holds spiritual leaders to an even higher standard when it comes to alcohol use. Those in positions of spiritual authority are expected to exercise wisdom, sobriety and self-restraint:
“Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.” (1 Timothy 3:8)
“For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain […]” (Titus 1:7)
While deacons and elders are permitted to drink alcohol in moderation, they are held to a higher standard of self-control and are warned not to allow alcohol to impact their ability to lead spiritually.
Abstaining Out of Conscience or Weakness
The New Testament recognizes that some Christians may feel convicted to abstain from alcohol altogether, either due to conscience or sensitivity to addiction. Paul addresses this in Romans 14:
“Whoever abstains [from wine] for the sake of conscience—not his own conscience, but the other’s—he will be blessed, because he is not condemning himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:21-23)
The Bible acknowledges that some believers may have moral or medical reasons to avoid alcohol altogether. If this conviction comes from a desire to honor God and love others, it should be respected.
Avoiding Addiction and Excess
A major biblical theme when it comes to alcohol is avoiding addiction, dependence and life-dominating bondage to any substance. Scripture emphasizes maintaining sobriety and clear judgment:
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded […]” (2 Timothy 4:2-5)
While the Bible permits alcohol in moderation, it unequivocally condemns drunkenness, addiction and all forms of substance abuse that impair judgment and self-control. Christians are called to sobriety of mind and are warned strongly against alcohol dependence.
Setting an Example for Other Believers
Several passages in the New Testament instruct mature Christians to willingly limit their freedom to consume alcohol for the sake of setting a godly example to other believers and avoiding causing them to stumble:
“Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” (Romans 14:20-21)
“Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:13)
The Bible teaches that one’s personal freedom should at times be set aside out of loving concern for fellow Christians who may be weaker in faith or struggling with addiction. Mature believers are called to willingly limit behaviors such as alcohol consumption for the sake of not causing others to stumble.
Drunkenness as Self-Destructive and Dangerous
Beyond the spiritual dangers of alcohol abuse, the Bible recognizes its very real physical and social consequences. Habitual drunkenness leads to poverty, injury, poor health and damaged relationships:
“Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
Those who tarry long over wine;
those who go to try mixed wine.
Do not look at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
In the end it bites like a serpent
and stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and your heart utter perverse things.” (Proverbs 23:29-33)
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,
and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1)
Scripture paints a sobering picture of the real-world dangers and destructiveness of alcohol addiction. The Bible’s wisdom literature especially warns against naivete about alcohol’s ability to ruin lives.
Moderation, Not Abstinence, as the Biblical Norm
In summary, the Bible promotes moderation and self-control when it comes to alcohol, but does not require complete abstinence for all Christians in all situations. As Psalm 104 indicates, God gave wine as a gift to gladden human hearts when used maturity. Drunkenness is always condemned, but the moderate consumption of alcohol appears to be the biblical norm. However, those with sensitivities to alcohol or in positions of spiritual leadership are held to a higher standard of self-restraint for the sake of others. The Bible leaves room for differing Christian convictions on this issue, but emphasizes loving one another, avoiding addiction, and exercising wisdom and sobriety in all things.
Old Testament References to Alcohol
In addition to the New Testament passages mentioned above, the Old Testament also contains many references to alcohol. Here is a brief survey of some key Old Testament verses about wine and strong drink:
– Wine is listed among God’s blessings for obedience: “He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you.” (Deuteronomy 7:13)
– Melchizedek brought wine when blessing Abram: “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High).” (Genesis 14:18)
– Wine was used in sacrificial offerings: “Along with their fellowship offering of thanksgiving they are to present an offering with cakes of bread made with yeast. They are to bring one of each kind as an offering, a contribution to the LORD: a cake from the first of your ground meal and from the first of your winepress.” (Numbers 15:19-20)
– Kings drank wine regularly: “Solomon’s daily provisions were thirty cors of the finest flour and sixty cors of meal, ten head of stall-fed cattle, twenty of pasture-fed cattle and a hundred sheep and goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roebucks and choice fowl. For he ruled over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza, and had peace on all sides. He had twelve district governors over all Israel, who supplied provisions for the king and the royal household. Each one had to provide supplies for one month in the year. They brought in the provisions in shifts during the assigned month. Each district governor was responsible for supplying: 30,000 pounds of flour, 60,000 pounds of barley, 420 sheep, goats, and cattle fattened in pasture, 500 head of stall-fed cattle, 3,750 gallons of olive oil.” (1 Kings 4:22-23, 27-28)
– Priests were forbidden from drinking while serving in the tabernacle: “Then the LORD said to Aaron, “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.” (Leviticus 10:8-9)
– Nazirites took vows of abstinence from alcohol: “He must not drink wine or other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins.” (Numbers 6:3)
– Wisdom literature emphasizes avoiding drunkenness: “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1)
So while the Old Testament, like the New Testament, contains warnings against alcohol abuse, it does not condemn moderate and wise use of alcohol. Drunkenness is viewed negatively, but wine itself is seen as a gift from God to be enjoyed in proper measure.
Wine in Biblical Imagery and Parables
In addition to direct references to alcohol, the Bible also uses wine in metaphorical imagery and parables:
– In Isaiah, wine is a symbol of blessing and abundance: “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines.” (Isaiah 25:6)
– Jesus’ first miracle was turning water to wine at a wedding feast in John 2. This sign displayed God’s blessing and the joy of the kingdom of God.
– Jesus frequently used wine and vineyards in his parables, like the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Matt 21:33-46), the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matt 22:1-14), and the Parable of Drawing Wine and Wineskins (Luke 5:33-39). The imagery depends on wine as a good gift when used rightly.
– The love between a husband and wife is compared to wine by Solomon: “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer— may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love.” (Proverbs 5:18-19)
– In Revelation, wine both represents God’s wrath and the coming joy and abundance in the new creation: “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. […] Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.) Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” (Revelation 8:3-5; 19:6-9)
So biblical imagery often uses wine positively as a symbol of blessing, joy, and the redemption to come. But it can also represent God’s judgment and wrath when people abuse the gift.
Practical Principles for Christians on Alcohol Use
When evaluating alcohol use as Christians today, several biblical principles can provide practical guidance:
– Our bodies belong to God, so we should care for them and maintain self-control (1 Cor 6:19-20).
– We should avoid addiction to anything, which leads to bondage (1 Cor 6:12).
– We should avoid causing other believers to stumble through our freedom (1 Cor 8:9).
– We should avoid drunkenness, which leads to debauchery (Eph 5:18).
– We should make sure our mind and judgment stay sober-minded (1 Pet 1:13).
– While we have freedom in Christ, we should ensure we remain under the Spirit’s control (Gal 5:13).
– We glorify God by enjoying His gifts wisely and moderately, with hearts full of thanksgiving (1 Tim 4:3-4).
In summary, the Bible promotes personal responsibility and wise, loving self-control when partaking of alcohol. The essential principle is keeping alcohol from controlling us while allowing moderate use for enjoying God’s creation. Our bodies and minds belong to the Lord, so we must care for them well.