The Bible and Wine
The Bible contains many warnings against the intemperate use of alcohol (Proverbs 23:29-30). But nowhere does the Bible say that alcohol is evil—quite the contrary. The Bible commends the beneficial effects of wine and tells us that it is God’s gift: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23). “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart” (Psalm 104:14, 15).
The Bible condemns drunkenness plainly: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral . . . nor drunkards . . . will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). But the cause of alcohol abuse is not in material things. Jesus said: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery” (Mark 7:20, 21).
Some people deprive their families by their extravagant consumption of alcohol. Of course, this is a wrong (1 Timothy 5:8). But this does not really have anything to do with alcohol; it is extravagance. If a person spends his money on golf or another pastime to the economic detriment of his family, he has committed the same sin.
Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10 warn us not to encourage others to violate their own consciences and faith. These passages do not press us to live under the ethical tyranny of those who may not like what we do. There is no better example of holiness than Jesus Christ. If the above passages mean something other than this, then our Lord would have sinned when he drank in front of the Pharisees, for they got upset at his drinking. They lied about him and called him a drunkard, but Jesus never got drunk (Luke 7:33-34). Jesus got those Pharisees very upset because of his temperate drinking, but he never caused a believer to stumble into sin by his example. Jesus never sinned (2 Corinthians 5:21).
It is not a sin not to drink as long as our motives are right. Furthermore, we should never forget the warning of Proverbs 23:29, 30. We can easily be deceived when it comes to alcohol. There is often only a thin line between temperance and intemperance. No one really needs to go beyond one, or two glasses of wine. But let us not think that our Lord sinned by his temperate use of alcohol.
Not only did Jesus drink wine, he also made it. In the second chapter of John’s gospel, we find the account of Jesus’ turning the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. Some people have said that this was just grape juice “unfermented wine.” But this is to read into the passage something that is not there, as can be seen by verse ten: “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now” (John 2:10). The meaning is quite obvious: when someone has a party, he puts the wine from the best year in the bowl first, and then after the guests have had a glass and their taste buds are not as discerning, the host has the cheaper wine put into the bowl. This was what astounded the steward of the feast—when he tasted the wine that Jesus had made, he knew that it was fine wine—the finest vintage on earth.
In 1 Corinthians 11:20-22, Paul rebukes the church in Corinth because certain people took considerably more than their share of the wine and became drunk. If this had simply been grape juice, how could anyone have gotten drunk from it? What the New Testament Church used was wine, the fermented juice of the grape. That is the common meaning of the Greek word used for wine, OINOS. There was another Greek word that meant unfermented grape juice, TRUX, but that word is not used in the New Testament [Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 1830.].
For one who has put his trust in the Lord Jesus, all of life takes on a new responsibility: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). But it also takes on a new perspective—gratitude and freedom, living under God’s free grace: “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5).