Christians love Jesus. Many Christians also oppose any alcohol consumption. But, Jesus’ first miracle in John 2:1–12 was turning water into wine at a wedding reception when supply diminished. Jesus made a lot of wine – perhaps upward of a few hundred gallons – in sacred washing basins for all the guests. Making the story even more intriguing, it was His mother, Mary, who asked Him to do it!
Today, this would be like Jesus hanging out at a church wedding reception, the caterer running out of wine, and Jesus asking the deacons to fill up the baptismal so He could turn it all into a very expensive Pinot Noir for the guests – starting with His mom. Yes, this is complicated.
In his book God Gave Wine, Kenneth Gentry Jr. describes three basic positions regarding alcohol, which are common among Bible-believing Christians. Gentry’s work is particularly helpful because while he argues for the biblical freedom among God’s people to consume alcohol in moderation, he himself does not consume any alcohol and is therefore not seeking to defend any particular position.
First, red-light prohibitionists teach that all drinking is a sin and that alcohol itself is an evil. This position is untenable because the Bible teaches that God makes “wine that gladdens human hearts” (Psalm 104:15). Scripture is clear that Jesus’ first miracle was creating wine at a wedding party, and Jesus ate enough food and drank enough alcohol to be accused of gluttony and drunkenness (John 2:1–11; Matthew 11:19). So, if alcohol is inherently evil, then God is evil because He makes it, and Jesus is sinful because He drank it.
Alcohol most assuredly can be used in an evil manner, but that does not make it inherently evil. I recently read a story about a guy who got drunk and bashed another guy over the head with a baseball bat – but that does not mean we should outlaw alcohol and baseball bats. Why? Because both are morally neutral and can be used for good or evil.
Second, red-light abstentionists teach that drinking is not sinful but that all Christians should avoid drinking out of love for others and a desire to not cause anyone to stumble.
The Bible is clear that Christians should avoid such things as drinking in the presence of others who are unable to practice moderation and self-control (Romans 14:21; 1 Corinthians 10:31–32). Practically, this means that if you are married to a former alcoholic, you should abstain and not bring alcohol into the home or their presence, out of love for them. Or, if you are part of a home fellowship group that is open to guests, you should not have alcohol so that the group is a safe place for minors and recovering alcoholics.
There is a big difference between giving something and having it taken. In fact, that is the difference between being generous and being robbed. When it comes to our freedom in Christ, it is a good thing for Christians to give up some of their freedoms for the sake of loving others and maintaining healthy relationships. A problem occurs when all alcohol consumption is forbidden for all Christians across all cultures for all times because the freedom is no longer given through love but rather taken through law. At the very least, we have to acknowledge some occasions that the Bible gives for moderate alcohol consumption:
- Celebration (Genesis 14)
- The Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18)
- Medicinal purposes (Proverbs 31:6; 1 Timothy 5:23)
- Worship (Exodus 29:40; Numbers 28:14; Matthew 26:27; 1 Corinthians 11:25–26).
- Thanksgiving to God (Proverbs 3:9–10)
- Happiness (Deuteronomy 14:26)
Jesus drank alcohol even though there were undoubtedly people in His day who were alcoholics (Matthew 11:19). Paul says that only a demon would compel Bible teachers to forbid things that God made good (1 Timothy 4:1–5) and that drinking can be done in a way that glorifies God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Christians should avoid causing an actual person to actually stumble, but to seek to avoid causing a hypothetical person to hypothetically stumble is unreasonable, if not impossible, when applied to every single issue.
For example, if a healthy people eat dessert in front of people battling their gluttony, they could be tempted to sin by also eating dessert. So, in love, the healthy people should forego eating dessert when hanging out with their non-healthy friends. But, to tell the healthy person to never eat dessert again because someone, somewhere, who eats cakes by the sheet instead of the slice, may hear about the dessert consumption and be thrown into a frosting frenzy, is unreasonable.
Sinful people sin with everything and anything. If we forbid everything that is used sinfully we will be left with literally nothing. False teachers even abuse the Bible but the answer is not to outlaw the Bible because people are sinning with it. Anticipating this kind of thinking, Martin Luther once wryly said, “Do you suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused? Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women?”
Third, yellow-light moderationists teach that drinking is not a sin and that Christian conscience must guide each person without Christians of differing convictions judging one another.
This position is both reasonable and biblical because wine itself is neutral and can be used in both good and bad ways (1 Samuel 1:14, 24; 1 Samuel 25:18, 37; Joel 1:9–10). When used in a right and redeemed way, alcohol is a gift from God to be drunk in moderation with gladness, particularly when associated with feasting (Psalm 104:14–15; Ecclesiastes 9:7, 10:19). When used in this way, feasting and drinking is a foretaste of the Kingdom that will contain new wine (Joel 2:24; Isaiah 25:6; 27:2–6; Jeremiah 31:12; Hosea 2:22; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13–14). This also explains why in Scripture a lack of wine reflects the absence of joy (Isaiah 16:10; Joel 1:5, 12). This is the view that I hold. And, at our church, we model this for people by having both wine and grape juice at our weekly communion to allow people to abide by their conscience.
Which view do you hold regarding alcohol?