A Christian and Alcohol
Over the years I have heard many arguments for and against the use of alcohol by Christians. So I thought I would study the matter systematically. In so doing, I have attempted to be as objective as possible. (If, from this post, you can tell what my personal opinion is on this issue – I have failed to be objective.) There are three parts to this post:
1. Arguments for the use of alcohol
2. Arguments against the use of alcohol
3. The conclusion of the matter?
Obviously, it makes absolutely no sense to read just one part of this paper without reading the other parts.
A. Arguments for the use of alcohol
1. The Bible only condemns drunkenness.
Look at the following examples.
Romans 13:13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.
Galatians 5:19, 21 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: …. drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Peter 4:3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.
1 Corinthians 5:11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.
In Paul’s lists of leadership characteristics, he mentions:
1 Timothy 3:3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.
1 Timothy 3:8 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain,
Titus 1:7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain…
And just because someone drinks alcohol in moderation, it does not necessarily mean that it will lead to excess or drunkenness. This is a common refrain I have heard. Advocates against the use of alcohol point to alcoholics and assume that every person who drinks in moderation will end up as an alcoholic. This is not true – the statistics of alcohol abusers are much lower than those who drink alcohol in moderation.
2. Christian freedom.
The Christian faith, in the New Testament, as opposed to Judaism in the Old Testament (or any other religion, for that matter) is not about following rules and regulations, especially about food and drink.
Colossians 2:16-17 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
3. Health Benefits
Every now and then there is a random study that points to the health benefits of consumption of 1-2 four-ounce glasses a day of wine.
a. Reduces Heart-Attack Risk. Moderate drinkers suffering from high blood pressure are 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack than nondrinkers, per a 16-year Harvard School of Public Health study of 11,711 men, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 2007.
b. Lowers Risk of Heart Disease. Red-wine tannins contain procyanidins, which protect against heart disease. Wines from Sardinia and southwest France have more procyanidins than other wines, per a study at Queen Mary University in London, published in Nature, 2006.
c. Reduces Risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Moderate drinkers have 30 percent less risk than nondrinkers of developing type 2 diabetes, per a research on 369,862 individuals studied over an average of 12 years each, at Amsterdam’s VU University Medical Center, published in Diabetes Care, 2005.
d. Lowers Risk of Stroke. The possibility of suffering a blood clot–related stroke drops by about 50 percent in people who consume moderate amounts of alcohol, per a Columbia University study of 3,176 individuals over an eight-year period, published in Stroke, 2006.
e. Cuts Risk of Cataracts. Moderate drinkers are 32 percent less likely to get cataracts than nondrinkers, per a study of 1,379 individuals in Iceland, published in Nature, 2003.
f. Cuts Risk of Colon Cancer. Moderate consumption of wine (especially red) cuts the risk of colon cancer by 45 percent, per a Stony Brook University study of 2,291 individuals over a four-year period, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2005.
g. Slows Brain Decline. Brain function declines at a markedly faster rate in nondrinkers than in moderate drinkers, per a Columbia University study of 1,416 people, published in Neuroepidemiology, 2006. (1)
4. Jesus and his disciples drank wine.
The only people in the bible that were told explicitly told not to drink wine were the Nazirites (Numbers 6:1–4). Jesus was not a Nazirite; He was a “Nazarene,” a native of the town of Nazareth (Luke 18:37) and did not take the Nazirite vow.
He turned water into wine. John 2:10–11.
Other verses that show that Jesus drank wine:
Luke 7:33–44 Jesus said, “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”
The Passover celebration included the drink of wine: Matthew 26:27–29; Mark 14:23–25; Luke 22:17–18. Of course, Christ participated in drinking from the Passover cup – Mark 14:23 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
I have heard arguments suggesting that the wine in the Cana marriage did not have time to get fermented. But that is an unnecessary point since every use of the word wine in all the verses mentioned above is οἶνος (oinos), which means fermented, alcoholic wine. And the wine that he made at Cana was described as “good wine” – so it is likely that part of the miracle was the simultaneous fermentation of the wine when it was converted from the water.
Paul also mentions the drinking of wine: 1 Timothy 5:23 No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.
B. Arguments against the use of alcohol
1. Destructive Nature.
The Bible clearly warns about the destructive nature of alcohol.
Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler…
Proverbs 21:17 He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; He who loves wine and oil will not become rich.
Proverbs 23:29- 35 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long over wine, Those who go to taste mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it goes down smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things And your mind will utter perverse things. And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, Or like one who lies down on the top of a mast. “They struck me, but I did not become ill; They beat me, but I did not know it. When shall I awake? I will seek another drink.”
Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.
According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, Inc:
a. Alcohol and crime
Alcohol is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes today, and according to the Department of Justice, 37% of almost 2 million convicted offenders currently in jail, report that they were drinking at the time of their arrest.
Alcohol, more than any illegal drug, was found to be closely associated with violent crimes, including murder, rape, assault, child and spousal abuse. About 3 million violent crimes occur each year in which victims perceive the offender to have been drinking and … about half of all homicides and assaults are committed when the offender, victim, or both have been drinking. Among violent crimes, with the exception of robberies, the offender is far more likely to have been drinking than under the influence of other drugs.
More than one million people are arrested annually for driving while intoxicated, which is the third most commonly reported crime in the United States. Drinking and drugged driving is the number one cause of death, injury and disability of young people under the age of 21, and nearly 40% of all traffic fatalities are alcohol related. Every day 36 people die and approximately 700 are injured in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver.
c. Alcohol and Violence in College
Each year, more than 600,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
95% of all violent crime on college campuses involves the use of alcohol by the assailant, victim or both.
90% of acquaintance rape and sexual assault on college campuses involves the use of alcohol by the assailant, victim or both.
d. Alcohol and Domestic Violence
Among victims of domestic violence, alcohol played a role in 55% of the cases, while drugs played a role in only 9% of the cases; for spousal violence, alcohol was a factor in 65% of the cases, versus only 5% for drugs.
e. Alcohol and Child Abuse
Nearly 4 in 10 child victimizers reported that they had been drinking at the time of the crime. (2)
Sometimes people bring up the argument of the addictiveness of coffee (in the next section) to compare the addictiveness of alcohol. I think that is a silly argument and that is why I put it in this section because I’m not sure there are individuals and families that have been destroyed because of the use of coffee.
2. Addictive Potential
The Bible seems to suggest that the use of anything that has addictive potential should be avoided. 1 Corinthians 6:12 … All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.
The addictive nature of alcohol and the resulting effect on a society is mind blowing. Alcohol is the most expensive of all the addictions with an estimated annual cost of $166 billion. (This is more than smoking, drugs, gluttony, and gambling). (3)
3. Stumbling block
Mature Christians should avoid causing others to stumble in the use of their own freedoms… Paul talks about a common task as eating meat, and therefore by extension any of the things we do.
Romans 14:21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
A study from the National Institute of Health (NIH) shows that almost 10% of people in America have a history or are connected to someone with a history of alcohol abuse. (4)
More than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent with alcohol problems. (5)
Thus, of all the people that you meet/know, there are about 10% that have a history of alcohol abuse or know someone personally with a history of alcohol abuse. You can be a stumbling block to them because of your use of alcohol.
4. Constant Clarity
1 Peter 4:7 (NIV 1984) says: The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. And (1 Thessalonians 5:17) ‘pray without ceasing’
When you combined the two verses together, one should not be in any elective position where the mind is not clear – so that you can be in a position to pray at any time, indeed always. I specify elective – because there are times for medical reasons that you have to use narcotics that can cloud your senses and your mind.
Even ONE glass of wine can lower your inhibition and reduce your clarity. Having a lowered inhibition prevents us from practicing self-control, causes us to act in ways we wouldn’t otherwise, lowers the resolve to resist temptation, and can sully our judgments
A photographer captured various people after 1, 2 and 3 glasses of wine and the lowering of inhibition is self-evident. (6)
A lowered self-inhibition in today’s highly public culture can be significantly detrimental in numerous ways and can result in the simplest of mistakes that can result in life-altering consequences. For example, Mark Asay, 53 was convicted of killing Robert Booker and Robert McDowell in 1987 and on August 24, 2017, was executed at Florida State Prison. This was his last interview about the circumstances that led to that incident: (7)
5. Health reasons
Even though I mentioned some health benefits present in alcohol, the most evidence remains for the negative effects of alcohol. The following diseases are attributed to the use of alcohol.
a. Breast Cancer
Just ONE alcoholic drink per day—even a teeny one—increases the risk of breast cancer, says the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research fund that looked at 119 studies involving 12 million women globally.
Although a typical alcoholic beverage contains 14 grams of alcohol, the report finds that even a small glass of wine, beer, or spirits (one with as little as 10 grams of alcohol) is tied to a 5 percent increased cancer risk in pre-menopausal women and 9 percent in post-menopausal women, indicating there may be “no level of alcohol use that is completely safe” when it comes to breast cancer, per Ann McTiernan, one of the study’s lead authors. (8) That is, even if taken in ‘moderation’.
b. Multiple Cancers
There is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites in the body and probably others. Current estimates suggest that alcohol-attributable cancers at these sites make up 5.8% of all cancer deaths worldwide. The seven sites are: liver, colon, rectum, breast, oropharynx, larynx, and esophagus. This is true even if taken in small amounts, ie, in moderation. (9)
c. Numerous other diseases
In 2014, the World Health Organization reported that alcohol contributed to more than 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions. (10)
If your body were the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), why would anyone want to intentionally harm that body?
One may argue that if even one drink is so harmful, why did Paul ask Timothy to take a little bit for his illnesses? My counter to that argument is that with the existing diet, culture, available medication and health – it was probably true that a small amount of alcohol at that time was beneficial for the stomach. But two thousand years later, with a different diet, culture, available medication and advances in health, it is not necessary to drink wine for ‘stomach benefits’. People who used that verse to argue for the use of alcohol and it’s “beneficial effects” should also resort to the medical recommendations that were prevalent at that time.
6. The Law of Diminishing Returns
This is a law in economics which states that in all productive processes, adding more of one factor of production while holding all others constant will at some point yield lower incremental per-unit returns. (11)
What does this mean for substance use? It means that to get the same effect, all other variables being constant, a person will need more of the same substance. So, for a cocaine addict, if 1mg of cocaine gave him the desired effect, as time goes on, more is needed to maintain the same effect.
Even though it is true that not all people who drink in moderation end up becoming alcoholics, it is true that 100% of the alcoholics started off with one glass. This likely resulted from the law of diminishing returns causing a person to consume more and more alcohol for the same initial effect resulting in eventual alcoholism.
7. The Next Generation
A 1999 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that children of substance-abusing parents were almost three times likelier to be abused and more than four times likelier to be neglected than children of parents who are not substance abusers. (12)
It is hard for us to predict what kind of adults our kids may develop into. Your children may have or develop an addictive or obsessive personality. Is there the slightest possibility that our kids, watching our “moderate” consumption of substances, could progress to full blown addiction in their futures? If the answer is yes (even a remote yes), is it worth that risk?
Both sides agree the drunkenness is wrong.
The question is: Can somebody drink a little bit. One side says you should not and the other side says you can. Since these are opposed to each other, it cannot be that both are true – it is either one or the other.
The question is not can a Christian drink alcohol. Of course, the Christian can drink alcohol – there is no direct command against it.
The real question is: considering the weight of the pros and cons should a Christian drink alcohol today. If a Christian is trying to fully please God in all that they do – should he or should he not.
When people usually have discussions about this topic, the discussion usually degenerates into a nonsensical, pointless, futile back and forth. The reason I believe this is the case is that the argument and counter argument is usually point-by-point. By doing a point-by-point argument it is impossible to convince a person one way or the other because there is no direct command one way or the other. I believe that in lieu of a point-by-point argument, the way to look at this matter is similar to the arguments that look at the existence of God.
When we look at the arguments for the existence of God, there is not one argument that will definitely convince a person that God exists. The Leibnizian cosmological argument or the poetic argument or the argument from fine-tuning by themselves are not enough to convince a skeptical person that God exists. But when all the arguments are taken as a whole, it is more PROBABLE than not that God exists.
Similarly, taking the arguments for or against the use of alcohol point-by-point is completely futile. Instead, I believe a person should take the entire argument FOR the use of alcohol versus AGAINST, and consider not whether there is conclusive evidence for or against, but rather: is it more PROBABLE than not that one is more lined up with God’s will than the other, and do accordingly. And since, as we have said above, both cannot be true, we are forced to choose sides – teetotalling vs moderation.
I will leave the conclusion to your own biblically-influenced, God-honoring conscience.
Let me know if you have other reasons for or against the issue: firstname.lastname@example.org
All scripture quoted from the NASB, unless otherwise indicated.
NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE Copyright (C) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977,1995 by THE LOCKMAN FOUNDATION A Corporation Not for Profit LA HABRA, CA All Rights Reserved
1. http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/8-health-benefits-of-drinking-wine, accessed July 10, 2017
2. https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol-drugs-and-crime, Accessed July 10, 2017
3. Tom Van Riper, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/2006/10/02/addictions-most-expensive-biz-cx_tvr_1003addictions.html, Accessed July 10, 2017
5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Data Spotlight: More than 7 Million Children Live with a Parent with Alcohol Problems, 2012; http://archive.samhsa.gov/data/spotlight/Spot061ChildrenOfAlcoholics2012.pdf, Accessed July 10, 2017
7. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4821604/Florida-executes-man-racist-double-homicide.html. Accessed August 25, 2017
10. World Health Organization (WHO). Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health. p. XIII. 2014 ed. Available at: http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_alcohol_report/msb_gsr_2014_1.pdf?ua=1(link is external). Accessed July 10, 2017
11. Samuelson, Paul A.; Nordhaus, William D. (2001). Microeconomics (17th ed.). McGraw-Hill. p. 110.
12. https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol-drugs-and-crime, Accessed July 10, 2017