This past holiday season, celebrations of all types have been shown through television, social media, and newspapers. Numerous people prepared to celebrate and focus on the positive rather than the difficult situations that surrounded communities throughout the country. One common element seen in these celebrations was alcohol. The drink represented an outlet for stress, a symbol of celebration, and a buffer for bringing people together. Alcohol has always been an element in the holiday season, but not for everyone. Many people have reservations about alcohol. The Bible has mentioned alcohol several times. Advocates of drinking alcohol ‘responsibly’ have defended the substance by saying that Jesus Christ not only drank the beverage but handed it out to others as well. The image of Christ as one that advocates for drinking responsibly, and one that drinks alcohol Himself on special occasions has not been an unusual portrayal of the Savior in the discussions of God’s position on alcohol and whether Christians can drink it.
The discussion on alcohol in the Bible expanses beyond a short article, so for the sake of time and space, one small aspect will be examined. Can the image of Jesus who advocates for drinking socially but without being ‘drunk’ be found in the Bible? Many Christians who show hesitation from the moral aspect of drinking after being offered an alcoholic beverage have been told, “It’s cool, Jesus drank wine; we can too.” Such campaigners refer to John chapter two at the wedding in Cana of Galilee when Christ turned water into wine. This passage inevitably surfaces when the imagery of Christ drinking alcohol gets brought into question.
Christ, His mother, and His disciples attend a wedding where the best wines and refreshments would have been served in celebration (John 2:1-3). Christ converts the water into “good wine” (vs. 10). Observe the statement by the governor of the feast, “thou hast kept the good wine until now” (vs. 10). Christ transforms six water pots of stone into wine (vs. 6), and while the word “firkins” has an unknown modern-day equivalent, many biblical commentators estimate this would have been 18-27 gallons of wine (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges; Vincent Word Studies) and some estimate as much as over 100 gallons of wine (Expositor’s Greek Testament; Pulpit Commentary). Essentially, Christ provides enough wine at this wedding for a huge party.
The question then becomes, what kind of wine did Christ make? Sometimes the word “wine” means grape juice (Isa. 65:8; Eccl. 9:7) and other times the word “wine” means alcohol (Isa. 24:9; Prov. 23:30). The context determines what type of “wine” is grape juice and what type of “wine” is alcohol. If the pots contain alcoholic wine, then everyone at the wedding party would have been completely drunk, especially considering how much was made!
In context, the passage never depicts Christ drinking anything; He only produces it and gives it for His brethren to drink. If Christ gives His brethren alcoholic wine, He violates the Old Testament Law under which He was born (Gal. 4:4). Habakkuk 2:15 records, “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also…” The depiction in Habakkuk 2:15 is that of an enabler (according to the Hebrew word “shâqâh” translated “him that giveth his neighbour drink”), one who gives and initiates the drunkenness of others by continually giving them alcohol. Christ never violates the Law of God in his earthly life (Heb. 4:15). For those who use John 2 to say Christ drank alcoholic wine; first, the passage never says Christ drank anything, and second if Christ did give His brethren alcoholic wine, then Jesus would have transgressed the Law of God and sinned (1 John 3:4). The more likely scenario is that Christ produced grape juice (i.e., new wine [Isa. 65:8]), that is often considered the best type of wine (Son. 7:9), which would have been more suitable for a wedding.
Numerous passages both in the Old and New Testament forbid and warn against alcohol in recreational use; Jesus Christ would not ignore these passages and haphazardly produce alcoholic wine for His brethren disregarding the writings of His Father. Proverbs 23:31-32: “Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.” The Proverb writer warns to not even “look” at the wine much less drink it. Isaiah 5:11: “Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!” Isaiah educates the reader to the downfalls of giving in and drinking the wine; it will “inflame them,” which is an interesting word choice because alcohol increases blood pressure and the heart rate of the body making the drinker feel physically hot. God forbids the recreational use of alcohol under the New Testament Law as well. Paul explains in Galatians 5:19-21 that “drunkenness, revellings, and such like” shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Matthew writes that an evil servant is one that associates or drinks with those that are drunk; the servant does not have to be drunk just the association and participation with the drunkards is wrong (Mat. 24:48-51). Likewise, God prohibits “drinking parties” in 1 Peter 4:3, which is exactly what Christ would have created if the “wine” produced in John 2 was alcoholic.
The Christian stands as the temple of God; and therefore, should be very cautious as to what he/she allows in that temple (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The image of Christ advocating for drinking alcohol by being a drinker of alcoholic wine Himself is not an image that can be found in scripture!