Wine has always played a prominent role in ancient Middle Eastern societies, so it should come as no surprise that the Bible refers to it quite a bit. However, the debate over whether it’s good or bad for the people drinking it tends to get a little muddy. After all, you can find arguments on both sides throughout this revered text.
For example, in Proverbs 20:1 of the King James Version of the Old Testament, we read, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Yet in Psalms 104:15, the author (likely King David) praises God for all His creations, including “wine that maketh glad the heart of man.” And, of course, let’s not forget that Jesus not only drank wine, He turned water into wine for the benefit of all who attended a wedding feast.
It’s critical to note here that Bible scholars disagree about whether the wine referred to in scripture was indeed alcoholic, and if so, to what degree. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states that “unfermented grape juice is a very difficult thing to keep without the aid of modern antiseptic precautions, and its preservation in the warm and not overly-clean conditions of ancient Palestine was impossible.” From this, we can deduce that most “wine” in the Bible, except for freshly-pressed and drunk grape juice, contained some amount of alcohol.
In addition, Scott J. Shifferd, a Biblical scholar and evangelist, points out that the wine used anciently differs significantly from wine produced today. In his article, What Kind of Wine Did Jesus Drink? he writes that the natural airborne yeast from the grapes could only ferment up to 3% to 4% alcohol. Vinters had to add yeast to raise the alcohol levels, but those would never rise much beyond 10% because alcohol would begin to kill the yeast. By contrast, modern wines typically have an alcohol level of 10% to 20% due to advanced fermentation technologies.
So back to our question: Is drinking wine good or bad according to scripture?
Ironically enough, we find our answer by going back to the Bible. We just have to dig a little deeper and look at things in context:
1. Good and Pleasant
The writers of the Bible felt that, overall, wine was a special gift from God for obedience to His commandments. When the Children of Israel were worthy and doing what the Lord asked, they could enjoy the land’s bounties, including grains and wine.
Holy scripture references alcohol 247 times, according to Brad Whittington’s book, What Would Jesus Drink? Whittington says these references fall into three categories: positive, negative, and neutral. You might be surprised to learn that only 40 references are negative, 62 are neutral, and an overwhelming 145 are positive.
Wine was a crucial factor in family and cultural celebrations and religious gatherings like the Passover. Isaiah spoke of having great feasts with “rich food, … [and] well-aged wine” in Christ’s Kingdom (Isaiah 25:6-9), while Jeremiah talked about how people would celebrate the bounty of the grain, wine, oil, and meat the Lord will provide at His second coming (Jeremiah 31:12-13).
Christ also ate bread and drank wine during the last supper with His apostles shortly before His crucifixion. Known as the Sacrament, the bread and wine He gave them signified His body and blood that He would soon sacrifice for all humanity as a payment for sin. This sacred ritual symbolized the covenant He made with them that they would always have His spirit to be with them if they remembered Him.
Finally, God required the Children of Israel to offer wine as part of their daily morning and evening sacrifices(Exodus 29:40)while the prophet Moses led them in the wilderness. These sacrifices also included grain, meat, and oil.
2. Medicinal Value
In Luke, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan coming to rescue the injured Jew. In His account, the Samaritan “bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, … and took care of him” (Luke 10:34). Later in the New Testament, Paul instructs Timothy, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (1 Timothy 5:23).
The Old Testament also mentions using wine to help those in distress. In Proverbs 31:6, Bathsheba tells her son, King Lemuel, that it’s appropriate to give strong drink to those about to die and wine to people who are heavy of heart or sad. Again, the context here is critical. Society didn’t have anesthetics or readily available drugs to ease the pain of dying or severe physical torment. Giving a person alcohol for this purpose was an act of mercy and kindness.
Another thing to remember is that wine was considered a blessing to gladden men’s hearts. Without any modern knowledge of psychology or addiction, it’s natural to assume that even a wise woman like Bathsheba would think a little wine might help someone who is sad feel better. However, we know that drinking alcohol is not a healthy coping mechanism for mental or emotional stressors.
Like any good thing we receive from God, we can use it to our detriment. Alcohol is one of those two-edged gifts. The following two lessons from the Bible about wine and strong drink clearly lay out what God, His ancient prophets, and early Christians thought about drinking to excess.
3. Drunkenness Is a Sin
Let’s go back to Bathsheba and her son in Proverbs. Looking at the verses right before (Proverbs 31:4-5), she counsels him not to drink wine or strong drink because these could cause him to “forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.”
Earlier in Proverbs the general admonition not to be a “drunkard” is clear, as it will bring a person only poverty and disappointment (Proverbs 23:19-21). And in the New Testament, Paul reinforced this point, telling the Galatians that those who succumb to drunkenness and other sinful behavior “will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:23).
In Leviticus, God commanded the Levite priests not to drink wine or strong drink so they could tell between the “holy and unholy, and between clean and unclean” (Leviticus 10:9-11). They were teachers and judges in Israel and, as such, needed mental clarity to fulfill their duties.
4. Alcohol Can Be Dangerous
The Bible is replete with examples of horrible things going down when people are drunk, including death, rape, and incest. For instance, in 1 Kings 16: 8-10, King Asa is killed by his servant while lying drunk in his house.
Lot was tricked by his daughters, who got him drunk and then essentially raped him to get pregnant (Genesis 19: 33-36). And the prophet Noah was passed out drunk in his tent when Ham saw him naked. And while we don’t know precisely what Ham did other than witness his unclothed parent, it was enough to get his son, Canaan, and all of his posterity cursed by God (Genesis 9:21-27).
As you can see, the Bible has a lot to say about alcohol, referring to it as both wine and strong drink. In contemplating our earlier question of whether or not the Bible condones drinking alcohol, we come to our final, perhaps most important, lesson of all:
5. Moderation Is Key; Often Abstinence Is Better
Wine is an ancient symbol of health, friendship, happiness, and hospitality. The presence of wine at meals, celebrations, and other festive occasions was considered one of God’s many blessings. In many faith traditions, it still is. However, God’s approval is limited. He draws the line at drunkenness.
Furthermore, He also accepts abstinence as a sign of faithfulness. As Paul wrote to the Romans, saying, “Let not him that eateth [or drinketh] despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth [or drinketh]” (Romans 14:3). Some faith communities, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), directs its members not to partake of alcohol at all, in any form.
As a Christian-based rehabilitation center whose programming is based on LDS gospel principles, Renaissance Ranch believes that the Bible teaches us total sobriety is the best path forward for all, not just for those who suffer from substance abuse.
If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol or drug addiction, you can learn more about our faith-based recovery programs in Utah and Idaho by calling (855) 736-7262.