When you search Google for “Can a Christian…”, invariably one of the suggestions to pop up will be “drink alcohol.” Apparently, it is an extremely common question with many opinions. But I’m not going to give my opinion. I’m going to shoot straight with exactly what the word of God says.
The first thing that needs to be said is that there is no direct prohibition regarding the moderate drinking of alcohol anywhere in the Bible. The only exception to this was when a person took a special vow. But besides that, there is no direct command.
It also should be noted that most people in the Bible drank some kind of alcohol from time to time. From Noah, when he was drunk and naked after getting off the ark, to the disciples gathering around the table to celebrate the Lord’s supper.
Contrary to being forbidden, good wine was celebrated throughout the Bible and seen as a blessing from God. (Genesis 27:28, Deuteronomy 7:14, Psalm 104:14-15, Jeremiah 31:12, Joel 3:18, etc.)
Wine was also practical. It was a clean beverage with antiseptic properties that wouldn’t go bad after a few days (but get better). It was easy to store, good for multiple purposes (e.g. cleaning wounds – Luke 10:34, settling stomachs – 1 Tim 5:23), and a social drink to enjoy with visiting family and friends. Wine was common and accepted among even the most devout religious observers, with Jesus himself not only drinking it, but supernaturally producing an abundance of high quality wine for a wedding (see John 2).
Wine in the New Testament was not grape juice, as some like to claim. If it were so, it would be foolish for Paul to write: ‘be not drunk with wine’ (Eph 5:18). Nor would it make any sense for the people to accuse the disciples of being ‘full of new wine’ (i.e. drunk) in Acts chapter two. New wine is cheap wine. It would have been the first choice of the drunks in that day, the same way that cheap beer is the choice of drunks today. Even cheap wine in those days had plenty of alcohol for those who desired to get drunk.
A reader of the Bible would in no way come away from reading with the impression that a moderate use of alcohol is forbidden or even discouraged. Drunkenness is spoken against (Ephesians 5:18), but not moderation.
However, there is more to be said on this subject. Alcohol has been the ruin of many people and families. Many people struggle with the practice of moderation. Many people are weak in regard to alcohol, and an overindulgence of it often proves too much a temptation to resist. And while the world may dismiss such people to deal with their own problems, we as Christians have a different calling. We are commanded to be careful not to allow our liberties to become a stumbling block for the weak. As a matter of fact, if we engage in any kind of Christian freedom without regard to a weaker brother, the Bible says that we sin against them, against Christ, and put their soul at peril of being lost (See 1 Corinthians 8).
Therefore, since alcohol is still an enormous problem in our world today, we cannot be thoughtless in even a moderate use of alcohol. If your honest conviction is that drinking is permissible by God, you still must ask yourself these important questions:
- Am I drinking to the glory of God?
- Am I drinking in a way that is consistent with my Christian witness?
- Am I confident that I am able to drink moderately or am I tempted to go overboard?
- Am I confident that my liberty will not cause a weak brother or sister to stumble?
We must remember that, as Christians, we are called to ‘not please ourselves,’ but to ‘bear with the failings of the weak’ (Romans 15:1). Drinking wine or beer or any kind of alcoholic drink, especially in modern times, serves hardly any other purpose other than to please ourselves. The practicality of alcohol is not why modern people drink it. They drink for pleasure. This isn’t a sufficient reason to be rid of it completely, however, for God has richly given us all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17). But it is a sufficient reason for us to be extremely cautious, knowing that a little bit of worldly pleasure is not worth the damage our actions might do to a weak brother or sister.
There’s more that can be said on this subject. The book of proverbs has many admonitions against the love of wine or strong drink. But for our purposes here, I think I’ve written enough. The bottom line is that the Christian is free to drink. He is not free, however, to use liberty as a cloak for vice. Nor is he free to prefer his liberties over a brother or sister’s welfare. Nor is he free to destroy his Christian witness for the sake of pleasure. These are things we must always keep in mind.
Paul said, ‘it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble’ (Romans 14:21). It is with this attitude that we must eat, drink, speak, act, and clothe ourselves. For ‘the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14:17).