What Does the Bible Say About Drinking Alcohol?

I used to drink too much. To be honest, I was a drunk. The Lord saved me from unbelief and addiction at the age of 21. I am now 37 and have been sober for almost 16 years. The Lord is good.

For many years, my position on alcohol was simple: alcohol is not always bad, but it is never good. However, I realize now that my thinking was not entirely based on Scripture. I knew the Bible’s warnings against alcohol, but I didn’t see any value in drinking. Since then, I’ve had to adjust my thinking on alcohol to align with Scripture.

Here is a biblical framework for thinking through this topic.

Drinking Alcohol is Not a Sin
Contrary to what many Christians have grown up hearing, it is not a sin to drink alcohol. Scripture nowhere condemns or prohibits consuming moderate levels of alcohol.

Case in point—Jesus drank wine. The religious leaders accused our Lord of being a drunkard. “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:34). Of course, Jesus never got drunk, but he did drink wine. We all know he made water into wine at a party, and it would have been customary for him to enjoy a drink with his friends (John 2:1-11). It was also tradition for Jews to drink wine at the yearly Passover meal, in which Jesus routinely participated. He also instituted the Lord’s Supper with bread and wine (Luke 22:14-20).

It's clear that drinking is not a sin; otherwise, Jesus would not have done it.

Drinking Alcohol Can be a Blessing
The Bible doesn’t present drinking in moderation as merely neutral; it is also depicted as a blessing.

The Psalmist says that in addition to the many earthly blessings God bestows, the Lord gives “wine to gladden the heart of man” (Psalm 104:15). Friends enjoying a meal together may choose to enhance their gathering by sharing drinks. Alcohol can encourage relaxation, happiness, and laughter. These are all blessings from God (see also Eccl. 9:7, Isaiah 55:1-3, Amos 9:14).  

Alcohol can also be used for medicinal purposes. “Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress.” (Proverbs 31:61, 1 Tim. 5:13). Today, we use even stronger medications, but in the past, it was alcohol that provided relief from pain. This, too, is a blessing from God. In a broken world full of pain, the Lord has provided help in our times of suffering.

Finally, the Lord promised that in the New Heavens and New Earth, there will be wine when we feast with God Himself. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” (Isaiah 25:6). The Lord will share a drink with us in heaven.

Drunkenness is a Sin
Drinking is not a sin, and it is often a God-given blessing. However, Scripture’s overwhelming testimony is that drinking alcohol can be spiritually dangerous.

Christians are allowed by God to drink alcohol, but we are forbidden to get drunk. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18; also see Proverbs 20:1, 23:20, Isaiah 5:22). This is a command from the Spirit-inspired apostle. Christians, “do not get drunk.” To get drunk, then, is a sin.

Christians who drink alcohol may raise a question here. “What does it mean to be drunk?” It’s a fair question. In most states, the blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for driving a vehicle is .08 (at this point, you are considered legally impaired). Body weight, how much one drinks, and the amount of time between drinks will determine your BAC. For example, according to some research, a male weighing 200 lbs. can consume one 12 oz beer and only reach a level of .02 BAC. Our bodies metabolize alcohol over time, and our BAC will drop .015% every hour from our last drink. (Source)

Additionally, many would argue that even though .08 is the legal standard for intoxication, that doesn’t necessarily meet the Bible’s definition of drunkenness. The positive command Paul gives to believers in contrast to drunkenness is that we should be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). The issue, then, is about control. We must be controlled by the Spirit and not alcohol. So then, drunkenness, in Paul’s mind, at least means we have lost control. I suspect most believers would say that 1-2 drinks would not cause them to lose control. All this to say, what qualifies as being drunk varies from person to person.

The command is easy: do not get drunk. Defining drunkenness, on the other hand, is not as simple. My pastoral counsel would be to err on the side of caution. Use discretion and be wise with alcohol. Like sex, it can be wonderful, but if it is not contained and appropriately used, it can also be deadly. The measurements above are a helpful guide. Suppose we define drunkenness according to the dictionary. In that case, it means “having the faculties impaired by alcohol” and reaching “a level of alcohol in the blood that exceeds a maximum prescribed by law.”

Paul’s counsel here is helpful. “’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything.” (1 Cor. 6:12).

The Dangers of Alcohol
I’d be willing to bet my last dollar that everyone reading this article has been impacted by addiction in one way or another. Either you have struggled with substance abuse, or someone you know (and probably love) has struggled. It’s an epidemic in our country, and alcohol is at the heart of it.

This is why Scripture warns against the dangers of drunkenness. Several categories must be established here.

  • Drunkenness ruins lives. “Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.” (Proverbs 23:20-21).
  • God’s judgment is on the drunkard. “Woe (a pronouncement of judgment) to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them!” (Isaiah 5:11, 22)
  • Drunkards cannot serve in church leadership. Elders must be “sober minded…and not a drunkard.” Likewise, deacons cannot be “addicted to much wine” (1 Tim. 3:2-3, 8, also see Prov. 31:4-5).
  • Drunkards are considered unbelievers in the Bible. “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (1 Peter 4:3; also see Romans 13:13, Luke 21:34, Isaiah 28:1).
  • Godliness is characterized by sober-mindedness. “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.” (Titus 2:3).
  • Drunkards will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10, also see Gal. 6:19-21).

What’s Our Motive for Drinking?
Christians are called to live every part of their lives to the glory of God, and that includes both eating and drinking: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31). If our drinking alcohol helps us in appreciating a pleasure God created, especially in fellowship with others, it can be a blessing.

Yet, if our reason for drinking is to become drunk, seek temporary escape from difficulties, or conform to the practice of others against our conscience, we are drinking to our own peril. Some Christians may also have been guilty of flaunting their freedom in defiance of the convictions of other believers or with no regard for the temptations of others to drunkenness (1 Cor. 8:8-13). As with any action we take, we must ensure it demonstrates both our love for the Lord and for others.

God created alcohol, and in many places, the Bible describes it a God-given gift and blessing. But like all things the Lord has given, we must use it with wisdom and caution. Unfortunately, because we are sinners, we tend to turn God's good gifts into idolatry and sin. Alcohol is no exception. In fact, it stands out as one of Scripture’s major themes regarding warnings and judgment against a particular kind of sin. Drunkenness, therefore, is forbidden, and for good reason. The drunkard's life is dishonoring to God and destructive to oneself, family, and friends. Worst of all, a drunkard is a slave to alcohol and demonstrates a heart where the Holy Spirit does not reside. As Scripture says, such a person will not go to heaven.

 

Brandon is the Associate Pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN and leads the TJC RE:GENERATION ministry for the church. Brandon is married to Sherrie and has a daugher, Emma.

 

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