WINE AND THE BIBLE (Part 3: Social Drinking)

Most Christians would agree that God condemns drunkenness (Gal. 5:21; Rom. 13:13), but several Christians would argue that the Lord accepts social drinking. Social drinking is drinking in moderation, not exhibiting the outward signs of intoxication while consuming alcohol. Let us consider what the Bible states about the act of social drinking.  

While many Bible readers think that the Bible only addresses drunkenness, the Scriptures actually mention drinking alcohol to any degree in many passages. In the Old Testament one will find Proverbs 20:1 stating, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Solomon writes to warn people who think drinking alcohol to any extent with the mindset that nothing bad will happen has fooled themselves. Alcohol is dangerous, especially when drunk recreationally. Furthermore,

Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. 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.

Proverbs 23:29-32

Solomon describes the effects of drunkenness and explains that the best way to avoid such problems is not to drink alcohol at all. If God forbids the Israelites from even looking at the wine to keep them from temptation, then He obviously would not approve their drinking of it for fun, even if they do so ‘responsibly.’ Simply put, you never have to worry about the sin of drunkenness if you never drink alcohol.

In the New Testament, the same warnings and commands appear. Peter writes, “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries (1 Peter 4:3).” The Greek word translated “banquetings” is πότος [pot’-os] meaning a drinking bout or carousal (Strong’s Greek Lexicon). Thayer states that the word means “a drinking.” Potos is a derivative and the alternate of the Greek word pinō meaning to drink (Strong). The New King James translates the word “banquetings” to “drinking parties,” which is more accurate to our modern English usage. In 1611, banqueting was the gathering of people in a celebratory fashion in which drinking in moderation was practiced. The word potos is never translated drunkenness, always carousing, drinking parties, or banquetings. God makes a distinction between “banquetings/drinking parties/carousing” and “excess of wine/drunkenness.” Drinking parties is not the same thing as drunkenness.

The esteemed biblical commentator, Albert Barnes, writes of this verse, “The idea in the passage is that it is improper for Christians to meet together for the purpose of drinking.” In further comments on the phrase “drinking parties/banquetings” Barnes notes, “It would forbid, therefore, an attendance on all those celebrations in which drinking toasts is understood to be an essential part of the festivities, and all those where hilarity and joyfulness are sought to be produced by the intoxicating bowl. Such are not proper places for Christians.” It doesn’t matter how little one drinks alcohol, if one drinks for social levity or recreational gatherings then it is a sin. 1 Peter 4:3 decisively condemns social drinking.

In Ephesians 5:18, the KJV says, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” The phrase, “be not drunk,” is translated from the Greek word μεθύσκω [meth-oos’-ko] meaning: 1) “to begin to be softened,” (Young Analytical Concordance); 2) “to moisten, or to be moistened with liquor, and in the figurative sense, to be saturated with drink,” (S.T. Bloomfield); 3) “to grow drunk (marking the beginning of methuo), (E.W. Bullinger). Methusko is an inceptive verb. It is a word that marks the process of becoming drunk. What God commands in Ephesians 5:18 is, “Do not begin the process of becoming drunk.”

When a person consumes alcohol, he/she begins to be softened and moistened with liquor. Ephesians 5:18 implies that people begin to be drunk when they drink alcohol. The Journal of the American Medical Association stated, “There is no minimum (blood-alcohol concentrate or BAC) which can be set, at which there will be absolutely no effect.” The Scriptures don’t describe the fine line between drinking and drunkenness, which becomes subjective the more a person drinks. How many drinks constitutes too many? No definitive answer exists! When people start drinking for fun, it never stops.

The defender of social drinking might consider the word “excess” in the verse and argue that God doesn’t condemn drinking in moderation only the drinking in excess. The word “excess” does not refer to an excessive amount of alcohol; it refers to excessive ungodly behavior. The American Standard Version (ASV), reads, “And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot…” This better conveys the meaning of the passage, do not begin drinking alcohol which brings ungodly behavior. Ephesians 5:18 absolutely forbids social drinking and drinking in moderation.

Peter further writes in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” The Greek word translated “sober” is νήφω [nay’-fo], which means “to abstain from wine (keep sober), that is, (figuratively) be discreet: – be sober, watch” (Strong). The inspired writers of the New Testament use this word 6 times (1 Thess. 5:6; 1 Thess. 5:8; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 5:8; translated “watch” in 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:5). Alcohol compromises a person’s judgment and behavior, and there exist no time in which a Christian can be compromised because Satan continually seeks to corrupt the Christian.

While most commentators focus on the amount of alcohol consumed to the be the determining factor in sinfulness, the Scripture focuses more on the mindset and motivation behind the use of alcohol just as much as the drink itself. Alcohol itself is not evil; it has several useful properties. Alcohol contains enzymes that help the stomach in digestion (1 Tim. 5:23) and helps to kill germs, an excellent disinfectant (people often use it in mouthwash). However, when people use alcohol for the wrong reasons, such as recreational drinking (Luke 12:45-46) or manipulation (Hab. 2:15), the drinkers endanger themselves and those around them.

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