WINE AND THE BIBLE (Part 5: Arguments in Defense of Social Drinking)

Last week, the series addressed that people commonly make defenses for the recreational consumption of alcohol. Such defenses discussed last week were that the daily consumption of alcohol has health benefits and Paul advocated this defense in 1 Timothy 5:23. Likewise, Jesus made and distributed alcoholic wine at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). While this study could not discuss all the arguments that people vault against the faithful Christian to drink alcohol in one article, this article will discuss a few more arguments that people have used in order to justify social drinking.

A common argument made in defense of social drinking comes from 1 Timothy 3:8b, “…not given to much wine…” In verse 3, the qualification of an elder demands that the candidate “be not given to wine,” meaning he cannot drink it, period! Why would God allow deacons to consume alcohol and not elders? It might also interest many that the majority of people that use this defense to justify social drinking are not deacons, so this argument would not even apply to them anyway.

The deacons in the first century church commonly converted from paganism and thus accustomed to sensuality and carousing. According to the ancient Greek writings of Pliny and Athenaeus, those who were dissipated and voluptuous preferred the wine whose strength had been broken by the filter, because it enable them to drink largely without becoming intoxicated. These voluptuous drinkers continued at times all night at their feasts. “Excessive drinking, even of un-inebriating drinks, was a vice prevalent in the days of Paul, and corresponded to gluttony…” (Bible Wine by William Patton, pg. 95). Paul simply sought to guard the deacons against a vice of the day, so this warning may not even be associated with the consumption of alcoholic wine as so many assume. It may have been an admonition against a lifestyle that many represented in “given to much wine” (1 Tim. 3:8). Like the elders, the deacons represented the appearance of the church, and Paul wanted to protect their image in the community.

Still, if Paul speaks of alcoholic wine here, Bible readers need to understand that a warning against an action in excess does not imply approval for the action itself. When God says, “…be not overmuch wicked” (Eccl. 7:17) (ASV) this does not imply that approves of being over ‘a little wicked.’ When God commands, “Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness…” (James 1:21) (ASV) this does not mean that Christians can be wicked as long as it is not “overflowing.” If a method of interpretation cannot be applied in all contexts of Scripture and make sense, then the interpretation method is flawed. The principal interpretation that advocates deacons are “not to be given to much wine” means all Christian can drink ‘a little’ so long as it is not ‘much’ creates nonsensical interpretations in other passage of Scripture.

Furthermore, this line of thinking allows people to have various interpretations of what is considered “overflowing” and “much.” People could drink as they desire, and then later explain that it was not sinful because the amount that was drunk was not “much” or “overflowing.” What some consider to be excess may not be excess to others. God does not explain what constitutes “much,” henceforth, there will never be an agreement on it and no rebuke could ever be justified. Such interpretation sparks nothing but division and confusion! Stay away from biblical interpretations where no definitive borders exist, the interpreter then has the power to determine right and wrong rather than God.

A final common argument in defense of social drinking is that in Bible times people had no way of preventing fermentation, therefore they must have drunk alcoholic wine. This study has already established that the production of alcoholic wine cannot happen just by leaving grape juice out in the natural climate to rot; “red” wine is produced by the design of man. In “Part 2”, this study also explained how the ancients preserved grape juice (For more information, see Part 2). August Calmet, the learned author of the Dictionary of the Bible, born 1672, says, “The ancients possessed the secret of preserving wines sweet throughout the whole year.” Aristotle and Virgil both write of sweet wines that have been preserved through numerous different processes. Obviously, the ancients knew how to preserve grape juice. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Alcohol has many defenders, but no defense.”

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