by Mike Harding
This is the Third in a continuing series of articles on the issue of alcohol. Today we offer a Christian rationale for abstaining from alcohol.
Bible-believing Christians have widely been known for abstaining from beverage alcohol. These attitudes are now under pressure from within the Christian community. There are a number of good reasons why Christians should continue to hold to an abstinence position. In our earlier article we considered the first of them:
1. Wine in the NT era and wine today are not identical.
Wine in the NT era clearly did not have as high an alcohol content as modern alcoholic beverages do, on average. In addition, the practice of drinking wine in the NT era was to drink wine diluted as a check on drunkenness among other things. From these facts we argue that modern alcohol consumption cannot really be compared to that of the NT era. We, therefore, strongly advocate abstinence for Christians today.
2. The use of diluted wine is no longer necessary today in modern society.
In the NT era there was little else to drink. It would have been quite difficult not to drink wine in those times and under those conditions. The alcohol content made wine one of the safest liquids to drink, because the water supplies were often contaminated. Alcohol had a medicinal effect in that case. With modern purification of water and a host of alternatives that are completely safe, it is not necessary today to drink diluted wine, even for one’s health.
The American Heart Association does not normally recommend alcoholic beverages as a treatment for heart conditions, in spite of the advocacy of wine enthusiasts. Whatever minimal health benefits are offered by a moderate drinking of wine can be obtained by the use of pasteurized grape juice. Should Christians run the risk of addiction when safe alternatives are readily available?
3. Drunkenness is clearly forbidden as it has the potential to replace the influence of the Spirit in a believer’s life (Eph 5:18-20).
Christians are not to associate with so-called Christians who get drunk (1 Cor 5:11). Drunkards will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9ff; Gal 5:19ff). Many NT passages call Christians to sobriety (napho; 1 Thess 5:1-11; 2 Tim 4:5; 1 Pet 1:13, 4:7, 5:8) and temperance (naphalios; 1 Tim 3:2, 11; Titus 2:2; Otto Bauernfeind, argues that both these terms include a literal as well as a figurative sobriety).
Can those who advocate for moderate drinking say they have never been drunk? How do they define drunkenness? Does drunkenness occur only when someone is staggering and falling over or does what our states call impairment or intoxication for the purposes of driving qualify as drunkenness? We think it does. Christians should abstain because of the risk of drunkenness.
4. In the NT era Christians used diluted wine.
1 Timothy 5:22-23 says, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (NIV; cf. Luke 10:33ff). Timothy was avoiding the use of diluted wine perhaps out of motivation to be pure (1 Tim 5:22a). It is clear here that diluted wine had a necessary medicinal value to Timothy for his digestive system. God’s people could use it as such. In vs. 23 ‘Drink no longer water’ (hudropoteo) means “to drink water without wine mixed in” (Gordon Fee, Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, p. 92). Paul commands Timothy to drink diluted wine as a medical necessity and to stop drinking plain water. For this reason pastors and deacons were not to be “beside wine” or partakers of “much wine.” (1 Tim 3.3, 8) These men could drink diluted wine as long as it did not impair their judgment.
We find here that the practice of NT Christians mirrored that of their society, but with extra cautions in place. Christians were admonished to make very controlled use of diluted wine, and we see from Timothy’s normal practice that he completely abstained from wine. Paul urges its use only for medicinal reasons.
In the drinking culture of North America, should Christians consume a substance that wasn’t even known in NT times, and such substance as was known was treated with such caution by Christians? The Christians of the NT era had few such safe alternatives as we have. Again, we urge abstinence on God’s people today.
To be continued…
Mike Harding is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Troy, Michigan and a member of the FBFI Executive Board.
This article is excerpted from a single, longer piece by pastor Harding. Proclaim & Defend will make the original article available in pdf format when our serialization is complete.
- Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964] 5:165] [↩]