The Bible on Alcohol and Drinking Wine

In America, we live in a church culture where the prohibition movements that began in the 1840s and culminated in the Prohibition in 1920 have played a huge role in shaping our nation and our church.  These movements, birthed out of good intentions, have warped an honest and historical interpretation of Scripture into one that declares that alcohol is forbidden.  Some churches that were firm on prohibition have made abstinence from alcohol a key issue to who they are.

Others in our society dislike drinking because of terrible family situations they have been in.  They have experience a father or mother drinking too much alcohol.  There hatred of alcohol from their experience is understandable, but the issue in these situations is not consuming alcohol in moderation; it is about people getting totally blitzed , becoming a slave to alcohol, and allowing that slavery to justify abandoning their responsibilities as a father or mother.  My sympathy goes out to people who are living in or have experienced situations like that. 

The larger issue disguised in the alcohol discussion isn't really about alcohol but the practice of making Scriptures forbid something that it does not forbid.  In the case of alcohol, they are actually forbidding something that Scripture encourages in places.  This is a dangerous step to take because it produces a Bible study method that can make the Bible say anything. 

Here are some clear verses on the issue. 

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.
Psalms 104:14-15 (ESV)
No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. 1 Tim 5:23 (ESV)
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 misery no more.
Prov 31:6-7 (ESV)

The verses that are against drunkenness need to be read in the understanding that there are verses that encourage drinking like the ones listed above.

The following verses show that wine is bad in excess.  By only addressing the excess, the honest conclusion can be that drinking in moderation is okay.
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.  1 Tim 3:8 (ESV) 
You can be a deacon and a drinker, just not addicted to much wine.  Paul could have easily said, "No drinking wine."  But he said "not addicted to much wine."
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.
Titus 2:3 (ESV)
In Matthew, Jesus claims that he came “eating and drinking.” This is in contrast to John the Baptist who came “neither eating nor drinking.” Obviously, John drank liquids or he would have been dead. What Jesus is saying is that he came drinking, in the way that people claim to go down to the bar and have a drink (Matthew 11:19). Jesus was a drinker.

Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding in Cana where they ran out of wine. If John, the writer, wanted to emphasize that it was non-alcoholic grape juice, there was a word that he could have used to describe it as such. Instead, he used a different word, the word to describe wine. So we see that Jesus had no problem going to a wedding where they were drinking. Nowadays, unless you can turn water into wine, you would have to run down to the store and buy more alcohol, but Jesus took the barrel of water and turned it into wine right on the spot so that the hosts would not be humiliated for running out of wine (John 2:1-11).

Paul wrote Timothy and told him to drink some wine for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). We see that Jesus drank alcohol, that he provided alcohol at a party, and that Paul followed that up by recommending alcohol for medicinal purposes. Wherever the prohibition attitude started, it was not through an honest reading of Scripture

Do not indulge in much wine or get drunk is sound doctrine. It is also sound doctrine that it is okay to drink. What is not sound doctrine is saying that drinking is forbidden; that teaching is a precept of man birthed out the early twentieth century and is not sound doctrine from Scripture. We often confuse sound tradition with sound doctrine.

Science also agrees that drinking in moderation is beneficial.

Alcohol in Moderation Is Good for Sick Hearts Too, Italian Study Suggests
Alcohol heart benefits show up even after bypass surgery
AJCN study shows moderate alcohol consumption related to stronger bones
Moderate alcohol consumption may help seniors keep disabilities at bay
Why Alcohol Is Good for You

In the end, what science says does not really matter because scientific conclusions change with the passing of time.  But in this case, they line up with Scripture and explain for those who are adamantly opposed to alcohol why it is actually good in moderation.  Despite these medical benefits of alcohol, I would argue that the best benefit of alcohol is, like David said,  that it gladdens the heart and opens us up a little bit to make better relationships.

Abstaining from alcohol is not a bad thing to do.  One would be completely justified in taking that approach.  The problem is when people make their abstention from alcohol a requirement despite the Scripture giving clear teaching that it is not something a follower of Jesus needs to abstain from.

We must remember that all good things in life have risks.  Alcohol can be very damaging to one's health, family, and job if consumed in excess.  But that does not mean that it is not beneficial in moderation.  Most things that are beneficial and enjoyable in moderation can be destructive in excess.  Finally, if someone can't participate in a beneficial pleasure in moderation, then they should abstain from it, whether that is alcohol, television, music, sex, sport, or any other pleasure that can take control of our lives, but that does not mean that we have the liberty to make a blanket statement prohibiting alcohol because Scripture does otherwise.