The Bible and Alcohol

Does the Bible condone moderate use of these substances?

Let's look at some Bible examples of people who used alcohol, as well as the effects it has on the body.


Aaron and his sons, the priests, were strictly forbidden to drink either wine or strong drink when they went into the tabernacle to minister before the Lord (Leviticus 10:9). Nazarites were likewise forbidden to use wine while under the vow (Numbers 6:3,20; cf. Judges 13:4-7). The Rechabites lived a noteworthy example of permanent abstinence from wine, adhering strictly to the command of their ancestor, Jonadab, to refrain from it (Jeremiah 35:2,5,6,8,14). Proverbs is replete with warnings against indulgence in wine and strong drink (Proverbs 20:1; 21:17; 23:30,31; 31:4). Wine mocks those who use it (chapter 20:1), and rewards them with woe, sorrow, strife, and wounds without cause (chapter 23:29,30). "In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper." (verse 32) The prophet Isaiah declared, "Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks." (Isaiah. 5:22 NIV) Daniel and his compatriots set a worthy example by refusing to drink of the king's wine (Daniel 1:5,8,10-16). When fasting later in life, Daniel abstained from "flesh" and "wine" (chapter 10:3).

The usual New Testament word for wine, whether fermented or unfermented, is OISNOS. Jesus likened His revolutionary teaching to new wine, which would burst the old bottles of tradition (Matthew 9:17). Paul warned believers against drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18), and declares that deacons should not be "addicted to much wine" (1 Timothy 3:8). He counseled Titus that the older women should not be "slaves to drink" (Titus 2:3).

For relief from a digestive ailment, Paul recommend "a little wine" to Timothy. Let's take a look at 1 Timothy 5:23 in particular. Physical ailments such as dysentery, often due to contaminated water, were common occurrences. Consequently, other ways to quench thirst were often recommended. Some commentators believe that Paul here was advocating the temperate use of fermented wine for medicinal purposes. They call attention to the fact that wine has, through the centuries, been used for this. Others say that Paul refers to unfermented grape juice, their reasoning being that he would not give advice inconsistent with the rest of Scripture, which warns against the use of intoxicating beverages (see Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-32). The purpose of Paul's counsel is that Timothy should be physically fit for the heavy duties that rest upon him as administrator of the churches in Asia Minor. Mental and moral alertness are closely related to physical fitness. Apparently Timothy was frequently ill. A body frequently sick is not an attractive advertisement for any kind of health reform.


Our bodies are temples of the living God via the agent of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19) God is concerned with how we treat these, His works of unsurpassed art. (1 Corinthians 3:17) The wise Solomon said, "Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise." (Proverbs 20:1 NIV) And again in verse 31, "Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly!" (Proverbs 23:31 NIV) Why?

Short-term effects of alcohol use include:

Distorted vision, hearing, and coordination altered perceptions and emotions impaired judgment bad breath; hangovers

Some problems like those above can occur after drinking over a relatively short period of time. But other problems-such as liver disease, heart disease, certain forms of cancer, and pancreatitis-often develop more gradually and may become evident only after years of drinking. Women may develop alcohol-related health problems sooner than men, and from drinking less alcohol than men. Because alcohol affects nearly every organ in the body, long-term drinking increases the risk for many serious health problems, a few of which are described below.

Alcohol-related liver disease. More than 2 million Americans suffer from alcohol-related liver disease. Some drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, as a result of heavy drinking over a long period of time. Its symptoms include fever, jaundice (abnormal yellowing of the skin, eyeballs, and urine), and abdominal pain. Alcoholic hepatitis can cause death if drinking continues. If drinking stops, the condition may be reversible. About 10 to 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop alcoholic cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. People with cirrhosis should not drink alcohol. Although treatment for the complications of cirrhosis is available, a liver transplant may be needed for someone with life-threatening cirrhosis. Alcoholic cirrhosis can cause death if drinking continues. Cirrhosis is not reversible, but if a person with cirrhosis stops drinking, the chances of survival improve considerably. People with cirrhosis often feel better, and liver function may improve, after they stop drinking. About 4 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV), which can cause liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Some heavy drinkers also have HCV infection. As a result, their livers may be damaged not only by alcohol but by HCV-related problems as well. People with HCV infection are more susceptible to alcohol-related liver damage and should think carefully about the risks when considering whether to drink alcohol.

Heart disease. The moderate use of alcohol has been reported to have beneficial effects on the heart, especially among those at greatest risk for heart attacks, such as men over the age of 45 and women after menopause. However, it is very important to know that these reports as based on observational data. but there is insufficient evidence to prove causality. It is also vital to recognize that none of these investigators has recommended those not using alcohol begin doing so! Heavy drinking increases the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and some kinds of stroke.

Cancer. Long-term heavy drinking increases the risk of certain forms of cancer, especially cancer of the esophagus, mouth, throat, and larynx (voice box). Research suggests that, in some women, as little as one drink per day can slightly raise the risk of breast cancer. Drinking may also increase the risk for developing cancer of the colon and rectum.

Pancreatitis. The pancreas helps regulate the body's blood sugar levels by producing insulin. The pancreas also has a role in digesting the food we eat. Long-term heavy drinking can lead to pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. Acute pancreatitis can cause severe abdominal pain and can be fatal. Chronic pancreatitis is associated with chronic pain, diarrhea, and weight loss.

In John 10:10 God says, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (NIV) In using alcohol we participate in destroying not only our own life but often the lives of others. God says, in Isaiah 1:18, "Come now and let us reason together." With alcohol use we temporarily and permanently stupefy our reasoning powers. So, for a Christian, is it drinkable, or unthinkable?

If you or someone you know has been drinking, there is a risk of developing serious physical, mental, and spiritual problems. Because many of these health problems can be treated, it is important to see a professional for help.

What are the historical and scriptural facts about fermented drinks in the Bible?

It is commonly supposed that in Bible times, all preserved grape juice inevitably fermented, thus many assume that all mention of "wine" in the Bible refers to the alcoholic beverage commonly called "wine" today. However, ancient civilizations had several ways of protecting fruits and fruit juices from fermentation, and thus of having non-alcoholic wine throughout the year.

Boiling the grape (or other fruit) juice and reducing it to a syrup that could then be diluted Boiling the juice with minimum evaporation and sealing it airtight with beeswax (anaerobically) in jars. Drying the fruit in the sun, and then reconstituting it to use the fluid for wine. Filtration to exclude gluten. Addition of sulphur to the fruit juice, a process that prevents fermentation.

All these methods of preservation were known to the ancients, who also practiced boiling fermented juice to eliminate the alcohol. Referring to the first method of preparation, Aristotle (b. 384 B.C.) wrote "The wine of Arcadia was so thick that it was necessary to scrape it from the skin bottles in which it was contained, and to dissolve the scrapings in water." Nott's Lectures on Biblical Temperance, p. 80.

The poet Horace (65 B.C.) wrote, "There is no wine sweeter to drink than that of Lesbos; it was like nectar, … and would not produce intoxication."

"The Mishna states that the Jews were in the habit of drinking boiled wine" (Kitto's Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, vol. 2, p. 447). Naturally this wine would be entirely alcohol-free as a result of the boiling, if not also from the manner of preservation.

"Albert Barnes, D. D., [Presbyterian] in his commentary on Jn. 2:10, wrote: "The wine of Judea was the pure juice of the grape, without any mixture of alcohol. It was the common drink of the people and did not produce intoxication."

Adam Clarke [Methodist] in his famous Bible Commentary wrote in reference to Gen. 40:11: "From this we find that wine anciently was the mere expressed juice of the grape without fermentation. The saky, or cupbearer, took the bunch [of grapes], pressed the juice into the cup, and instantly delivered it into the hands of his master. This was anciently the yayin of the Hebrews, the oinos of the Greeks, and the mustum of the ancient Latins." Clarke's historic note accords with the Scripture that declares "… the new wine is found in the cluster and one says Hurt not the wine when it is in the cluster, for there is a blessing in it." Isa. 65:8.