Monday, January 27, 2014

Drink Your Wine with a Merry Heart: What the Bible Says about Alcoholic Beverages

I haven't engaged in a debate in a while, so this has been fun. I am currently discussing with a Protestant friend of mine what the Bible says about drinking wine. He is of the opinion that it is forbidden. I believe, as the Catholic Church teaches, that drinking wine with temperance is permissible.

Now, other people chimed in on this (it happened on Facebook, after all), but I'm only interested in presenting my exchange with him. That said, I will be providing his words to other people that also happened to bear upon the points I raised. I think this is the best way to present his side as faithfully as possible without belaboring this post with so many different voices. His words are indented and italicized.
This is a fantastic article. I'm not judging anyone who drinks...but if you're a believer and you drink, at least read this article. It's one of the most balanced I've read on the subject because it's not coming from a spirit of judgement. The last line says it best..."the question really isn’t CAN A CHRISTIAN DRINK? Rather, it is: SHOULD A CHRISTIAN DRINK?"
[. . .]
There was a time in my life when I drank. I'm not condemning anyone certainly. But the bible says to flee even the 'appearance' of evil. So that's a pretty high standard.
[. . .]
the Greek text bears out that the wine that was drunk in those days was non-alcoholic essentially. Never mind the fact that Jesus, Who is the Word of God made flesh (John 1) would never do something that violated that word...that would be sin and Jesus lived a sinless life.
[. . .]
Not to mention the fact that there are probably 50+ scriptures that instruct us that [the different types of wine found in the Bible] are harmful and we should abstain. I've studied this out out of curiosity (English, Greek and Hebrew) and to me it's pretty clear.
[. . .]
I would rather err on the side of caution for my sake and the sake of others. But again, I'm not going to judge you if you decided differently. In the end, it' s a decision that's between you and God...but it's something that most definitely can affect someone's decision to accept Christ or not.

If I could add my own 2 cents, Jesus and the Apostles all took wine to drink at the Last Supper (cf. Mt 26:27,29). The Son of man came “eating and drinking” (Lk 7:33-34). As for the OT evidence, the prophet Nehemiah commands the people to drink wine (cf. Neh 8:10). The sacrifices that God required often included wine as a drink offering (cf. Exo 29:40; Lev 23:13; Num 15:5,10; 28:7,14). The Psalmist says that God gives man plants so that he may make from them "wine to gladden the heart of man" (Psa 104: 14-15). In Proverbs we receive this counsel: “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress” (Prov 31:9). Wine is even used as a symbol of new life and of the fulfillment of God’s promises to mankind (cf. Isa 25:6; Amos 9:14; Zech 10:7).

You seem to believe that because the same Greek word (oinos) is used that every instance is the same drink. I think this is a mistaken exegetical view. Greek and English (as you all know) often do not align perfectly...hence the various translations of the Bible into English. For example we say love to mean everything from, "I love cheeseburgers" to "I love my wife". Those are obviously different meanings for the same word. In Greek, we see agape, phileo, and eros, all meaning love in its different forms. A good modern day look at this is how in the south some call every soft drink Coke. While Pepsi, Mt. Dew, etc are options, some use the word Coke as a euphemism for every type of soft drink. If we can go from one word (love) in English, to 3 words in Greek, doesn't it stand to reason that the process could work the other way as well? Isn't it possible that the Greek word (oinos) could be applied more broadly while in modern English we might parse words for different levels of fermentation (from plain grape juice to 100 year old wine)? I think that's a logical way to approach this. We have to see that Jesus would never violate God's word (and I've listed several places where the scriptures are clear about abstaining from alcoholic, highly fermented wine). Also, often times, especially in the OT, we see wine associated with the wine presses. Wine is not wine in the alcoholic sense when it is straight out of the presses. It's simply juice.

So, would you say that it was customary to drink grape juice during the Passover Meal and not fermented wine? That seems very highly unlikely to me. Also, look at Lk 7:33-34 again:
33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, 'He has a demon.' 34 The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, 'Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'
It seems to me from this that the drink in question is the type that intoxicates a person, that has the potential to make him a drunkard.

Regarding the passages I provided from the OT, how does grape juice "gladden the heart of man" (Psa 104:14-15; Zech 10:7)? It is "strong drink" not grape juice that Prov 31:9 instructs us to give. The Mosaic Law allowed the people to purchase strong drink and even consume it "before the LORD your God and rejoice" (Deut 14:23-26). This seems strange if it was actually forbidden.

We must also remember that the whole reason why wine (as in, the fermented beverage) is a symbol of eschatological hope is because the merriment and festivity it provides is a foretaste (pun intended) of the joy that the Messiah will bring. Grape juice cannot carry the weight of this symbolic value.

One of the passages I provided in this regard was Isa 25:6 "On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined." According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, the "lees" is:
Solid matter that settles out of wine during the fermentation process. In ancient Palestine, wine was allowed to remain on the lees to increase its strength and flavor. Such wine "on the lees" was much preferred to the newly fermented product. At Isaiah 25:6, a banquet of wine on the well-refined lees symbolizes God's people enjoying the best God can offer.
Consequently, this is also why the absence of this kind of wine is used as a symbol of God's judgment (cf. Isa 24:7-9; Joel 1:5-13), because it will mean for sinners the end of merriment and festivity.

I also mentioned that wine was used as a drink offering. Num 28:7 specifically says that the drink offering should be "of strong drink" to the Lord.

I think you make valid points. I can't say it changes my mind though. I still feel the preponderance of scriptural evidence points to the abstaining from (or at the very least a strong, strong caution against) alcohol. When you consider just the common sense side of how many rapes, murders, DUI's, etc. have alcohol use/abuse as an underlying cause, you can see the case against it, even if you set the scriptures aside. Also, I think it can be a deterrent to people accepting the Gospel if they see a believer drinking (this is especially in the south where we're taught from a social standpoint that alcohol should be avoided). I believe there should be a difference between the world and the church. If we act like the world, there is no separation to warrant someone looking for a better way. We're to be in the world, but not of the world. In other words, we can't act like everyone else and expect someone to be drawn to Jesus. Just my two cents.

I understand what you're saying. But, I also think there is a way to drink that allows one to still be firmly in the world but not of the world. Between the two extremes of drinking too much and none at all is the third way, what I would call the real Catholic way to drink: with temperance. For a non-believer, this third way is much more appealing b/c it reveals that, in accepting Christ, one does not have to forsake everything that brings him joy. Like you said, the Christian is still IN the world, he is just not OF the world, and the good Catholic takes this seriously. He does not drink as the world drinks, which is to excess. By drinking with temperance he still shows that he is a man set apart, and I can tell you from my own experience drinking in this way that people genuinely respect it when I say, "No thank you, I think I've had quite enough." This third way of drinking is one of discipline, but it is also one of thanking God for His many gifts.

For more on the "third way", see this article written by Sean P. Dailey, "The Lost Art of Catholic Drinking".

That said, I am curious as to what the rebuttal would be to the various passages I provided, and quite perplexed that they are not sufficient enough to change your mind. The provision from the Mosaic Law in particular seems quite unavoidable (cf. Deut 14:23-26). Oh, and if I could add another:
"Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already approved what you do." (Eccl 9:7)
This whole Catholic-quoting-Scripture thing is quite bothersome, isn't it!

- - - - - - - - - -

It's been four days since my last comment, which on Facebook is, like, forever, so I imagine this is the end of it. But, if he does respond then I will update this post. For more on what the bible says about drinking wine, see the following articles:
Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

1 comment:

Restless Pilgrim said...

Hey Nicholas,

I've also had to respond to this before.

In my argument I also drew upon the historical tradition of using wine at weddings, seders and the Eucharistic chalice.

There are also several other passages which make no sense if you apply them to grape juice (Titus 2:3, 1 Tim 3:8, Deut 14:25-26).

Cheers,

David.

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