The only alcoholic drink identified in the Bible is wine. Another term that is used is strong drink; however this is still to be understood as wine. The NIV uses the term "beer" (i.e. Proverbs 20:1),
but this is a loose translation.
Alcohol in the Bible
The Old Testament uses wine symbolically as an example of God's blessing, and it was also acceptable as an offering on the altar (Exodus 29:40).
It also metaphorically represents something good that God has prepared for those who receive it (Proverbs 9:5, Isaiah 55:1).
Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding in Cana by turning water into wine (John 2:1-11), and even included the drinking of wine at
the Last Supper as remembrance of his shed blood (Matthew 26:27-29; Mark 14:23-25; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25-26).
In contrast, Scripture also reminds us that alcohol can have bad effects. After consuming too much, alcohol causes one to stagger (Isaiah 28:7), prevents rulers from
making wise choices (Proverbs 31:4-5), brings sorrow and contention, and that it "bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper" (Proverbs 23:29-35).
The writer of Proverbs even says that, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise" (Proverbs 20:1).
Be that as it may, Christians should also be wise about when they drink. Paul reminded those in his letter to the Romans that a Christian should never put a stumbling block in the way of another (Romans 14:13ff).
Paul said that he would eat no meat while the world remains, if that would put a stumbling block in the way of a brother. Christians should be aware if alcohol is a stumbling block to those around them, and if so, temporarily abstain (cf. 1 Corinthians 8).
Many Christians, especially in America, never drink because of some of the connotations and associations that cannot be separated from the drinking of alcoholic beverages in America. American Christians, however, must be careful not to judge
Christians, especially those from cultures such as Germany's, where the connotations and associations of alcohol are typically much different.
The Bible is clear in its condemnation of drunkenness. Paul tells Christians that they are to not get drunk on wine, but are to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). The idea here is that Christians are to be controlled (i.e. filled) by the Spirit
in the same way that a person is controlled by the alcohol they have consumed. The Christian must avoid anything that would gain control over him and prevent the Holy Spirit from controlling. Paul also tells us that drunkenness stems from our sinful
nature and is a "work of the flesh" (Galatians 5:19-21), and that it is a deterrent to inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10). Paul goes so far as to say that Christians should not associate with others who claim to be Christians
but are still drunkards (1 Corinthians 5:11). Lastly, those who are appointed to leadership positions in the church are also not to drink excessively (1 Timothy 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7, 2:3; see also Proverbs 31:3-7).
The term temperance can mean either "self-control" or "moderation". This is the biblical idea that can be related to the drinking of alcohol (Galatians 5:23; Titus 2:2). Christian liberty permits one to either abstain or to partake,
however this should be based on whether it will cause another Christian to stumble, or if one is aware of their own temptations to consume too much. Christians should not be afraid of consuming alcohol, but should be wise in their choices that involve
it. G. K. Chesterton gives helpful advice:
"Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice." That said, Christians
who do drink (thus claiming to have a "strong" conscience as Paul says in Romans 14) should not look down on those who have decided to totally abstain. In Jeremiah 35, the Rechabites are strongly commended for following their father Rechab's
instruction that his children should not drink alcohol, nor eat grapes, nor own a vineyard, nor even own a house, but instead live in tents (thus utterly precluding the possibility of consuming alcohol). While Rechab went much farther than even the
more extreme advocates of teetotalism would have gone, he was strongly commended by the Lord in an age of rampant drunkenness.
- The Bible and Alcohol, by Daniel B. Wallace (pseudonym)
- Wine in the Bible and the Church (PDF), G. I. Williamson
- Hearts Made Glad: A Tribute to Wine (Audio journal), St. Anne’s Public House
- Sword and Spirits, by Joe Thorn
- Alcohol and the Bible, by Daniel Whitfield
- Christians and Alcohol, Criswell Theological Review
- "Protestant Transubstantiation: Examining the use of grape juice in the Lord's Supper" by Keith Mathison from Reformed Perspectives magazine: part 1,
part 2, part 3, and part 4.
- Sermons on wine in communion by Robert Rayburn, pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Washington
A debate on the biblical understanding of beverage alcohol use between Kenneth Gentry and Stephen Reynolds in Antithesis magazine, May/June
The Case for Alcohol Abstinence, by Daniel Akin