Most students of the Bible conclude that drinking alcohol is not always sinful. Though the alcoholic concentration of wine during the biblical times might have been less than ours today and using wine was necessary to sterilize water, we must still conclude that alcohol was consumed without being condemned by God.
In the Bible, alcohol is advised for medicinal purposes (Pr. 31:6; Mk. 15:23; Lk. 10:34; 1 Tim. 1 Tim. 5:23). Wine was used in the Old Testament ceremonies of worship (Ex. 29:40; Lev. 23:13; Num. 15:5). It appears Jesus drank wine (Mt. 11:18-19), made a superior wine during His first miracle at Cana (John 2:1-11) and used wine when He instituted the Lord’s Supper (Mt. 26:29). In many cases, wine is described positively in the Bible (Gen. 27:28; Psm. 104:15; Psm. 104:14-15; Pro. 3:10; Ecc. 9:7; Jo. 2:24).
Some people, like Daniel, chose to abstain from wine (Dan. 1:8). Others like the Nazirites (Num. 6:3; Lk. 1:5) and the Levites (Lev. 10:9) were commanded to go without alcohol. Kings are advised to avoid it (Pr. 31:4-5). Yet I do not believe Scripture necessarily forbids a Christian from drinking alcohol. Alcohol is permitted as long as the following principles are heeded.
First, it is sinful to consume alcohol to the point of drunkenness. First Corinthians 6:10 tells us that “drunkards…will [not] inherit the kingdom of God.” In Galatians 5:21 drunkenness is listed with the other “deeds of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19). Jesus spoke against drunkenness in Luke 21:34. All the examples of drunkenness in the Bible (Noah, Nabel, Belshazzar, etc.) resulted in unfavorable consequences. Drunkenness makes it impossible to worship God as we are told in Ephesians 5:18: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” Drunkenness often leads to other moral relapses. No wonder Proverbs 20:1 instructs us, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” Drunkenness so despicable that one of the Puritans concluded: “I had rather be a sober heathen than a drunken Christian” (William Gurnall).
Second, it is sinful to consume alcohol under the legal age. In Romans 13:1 we read, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” It is our responsibility as Christians, unless commanded to sin, to obey the government God has ordained over us. By law, the drinking age is 21. Consumption before that age is not only unwise for several reasons, but is also sinful.
Third, it is sinful to become impaired as a result of drinking alcohol and then operate a motor vehicle. I’m sure we can all recall tragic stories of people we knew who were killed as a result of an intoxicated driver behind the wheel. Alcohol related vehicular accidents consume approximately 10,000 lives each year in this country alone. Matthew 7:12 says, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Drinking and driving is one of the most selfish actions we can commit.
Fourth, it is sinful to consume alcohol in the presence of another Christian who is spiritually weak in this area. In Romans 14:12 we read, “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” The same principle is repeated in 1 Corinthians 8 where we are told to not take our liberties in Christ and use them to erect “a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor. 8:9). At times, we may be required to limit our freedoms to honor those we love in Christ if drinking alcohol causes them to “stumble” into sin.
Fifth, it is sinful to consume alcohol if there is any apparent addiction. The warnings are all over the Bible. In 1 Timothy 3:3 “[Elders must] not [be] addicted to wine.” The same is true for deacons (1 Tim. 3:8). The same is true for all believers. Isaiah 5:11 says, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them!” Titus 2:3 warns “older women…to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine.” We are called to be slaves to Christ (Eph. 6:5-6) which promises liberation, not slaves to a substance which always results in unrelenting bondage (1 Cor. 6:12; 2 Pet. 2:19). Addiction could be seen in trusting alcohol more than Christ, an inability to stay within a limit of drinks, making excuses and sensing a physical or emotional need for alcohol.
In closing it must be noted that while Christians have the liberty to drink, it does not mean that drinking alcohol is always in their best interest. Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” Those who fully abstain from alcohol should not be condemned as “legalistic” nor should they be exalted as being more spiritually mature. Each person in submission to their Lord must do as the Holy Spirit leads moving forward while maintaining a pure conscience and exalting Christ Jesus in all things.