Wine is Not Sin
“Wine is not sin.” Such a claim has caused clamor and disagreement within Christianity for centuries.Yet what does this statement mean? If God is to be consistent, why does it seem that He has inconsistent commandments about wine, which caused so much dispute among godly theologians? As best as one can generalize, there are three camps of belief regarding where the Bible stands on the morality wine consumption.
The Moderationist View holds that the Bible only deals with fermented wine within its text.It was fermented wine that was exchanged between godly men in Genesis 14:18-20; it was fermented wine which Jesus was accused of getting drunk on in Luke 7:33-35, and was also fermented wine with which Jesus practiced the Lord’s Supper.
The Abstentionist View holds that that God approves of the use of fermented wine, but only to a certain amount before drunkenness takes place. Lastly, the Prohibitionist View maintains that, although the Bible has several Greek and Hebrew words that carry a general description of wine with their meaning, one can best understand God’s condemnation of fermented wine based on the context of the passages that are often used in support of a Moderationist or Abstentionist view.
In light of these three views, this author holds that condemnation of alcoholic wine is not to be based on the amount consumed, or the properties of its content. Rather, based on God’s Word, alcoholic wine is sinful to consume because of the degrading effects it has on one’s body, because a holy God forbade its use among Old Testament and New Testament believers, and because it compromises one’s character as an ambassador of Christ. These three arguments will be fleshed out in this paper within the following facets of discussion. The Biological Ethics of Wine, the Biblical Ethics of Wine, and the Cultural Ethics of Wine.
The Biological Ethics of Wine Based on the information that rests in the physical effects of alcoholic consumption, this author proposes that the intake of wine into one’s body is damaging not only to his body, but to his image and likeness of God, and is therefore sinful. Before one considers what the Bible has to say about the bodily effects of wine consumption, he should first examine what physical processes are taking place within ones body as he consumes alcoholic wine. Physical Effects As one takes alcohol into his body, two actions take place in the brain which causes the common sensation of pleasure and calm. The brain’s inhibitory neurotransmitter is excited as the excitatory neurotransmitter is simultaneity inhibited. This slows the processing of information in the cerebral cortex, causing one to experience blurred vision, slowed senses, and the inability to think clearly.
Secondly, the consumption of alcohol “increases the amount of the chemical dopamine in the brain’s reward center, which creates the feeling of pleasure that occurs when someone takes a drink.” Here is where one feels the buzz to which he often finds himself addicted. Yet the additional effects on other parts of his body are rarely as pleasurable.The Cerebellum, which acts as the center of movement and balance within the body, grows impaired as alcohol consumption rises, resulting in a dizziness and staggering commonly seen among those whom are drunk. Additionally, there is an increase in blood flow, which heats the skin and gives one a warm sensation. This surface heats cools the body’s organs down and slows the breathing, often to a dangerous level. Lastly and most important, as one takes in more alcohol, he raises his BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration), which in the amount of alcohol in one’s bloodstream.
The higher the BAC, the more probable a heart attack, since he is starving the heart of blood.With this very simplistic explanation of what takes place as one becomes increasingly more inebriated, it also is important to consider what the definition of “drunk” means. In modern American culture, the typical sized glass of wine is 5 ounces in amount— 10% being alcohol. Therefore, three drinks equalling .6 ounces of alcohol each, if consumed within an hour, would bring a normal sized individual’s BAC to .08, which is the current legal definition of drunkenness.
As one can see, alcohol consumed by humans, has dangerous side effects, rendering its use to be unwholesome in large quantities and unwise in general. Also, because of alcohol’s addictive qualities, once begun, humans have a terrible tendency to find it hard to stop at a certain quantity. Hence in America alone, according to the CDCP, Alcohol took more than 88,000 lives between 2006-2010, meaning that 1 in 10 Americans drank themselves to death. Physical Morals Those who believe that alcohol is not addictive and label these statistics as a slippery-slope fallacy are sadly foolish. Therefore, based on this proof, one must understand that, since humans are the image bearers of God (Genesis 2:7, Psalm 139:13-15), they have the responsibility to take care of their bodies.
“To destroy our health by means of intoxicating substances means to destroy God’s temple within us.” This author echoes what Paul stated to the Corinthians, “for God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.” This first proof cannot be highlighted enough, since God has laid a serious responsibility to care for the precious life He gave us. Therefore, based on the effects of alcoholic consumption reviewed above, it is unethical to intake any amount of alcohol that would impair one’s body on a long-term or short-term scale as it is damaging to his health (1Corinthians 3:17).Yet, to do justice to the Jewish culture of the Bible, one must understand that wine in present modern times is vastly different to the contents of wine in the Old and New Testament.
As Norman Geisler clearly affirmed, “Wine today has a much higher level of alcohol than wine in the New Testament. In fact, in New Testament times one would need to drink twenty-two glasses of wine in order to consume the large amount of alcohol in two martinis today.” Since a typical martini is 37% alcohol, a glass of wine during the apostle Paul’s time would have been 3% alcohol, making it fairly difficult to get inebriated quickly. Yet even ancient civilization’s strongest drinks of 14% alcohol were often watered down with a 20-1 ratio according to Plithy and Homer’s Odyssey. Hence, as one looks at the present-day perspective of alcohol in contrast to Bible time terminology, it is easy to recognize that to truly gain a fair grasp of the alcohol issue one must also understand the literary uses of the word “wine” in the context of the Bible. Which leads one to the biblical ethics of wine.
The Biblical Ethics of Wine God not only condemns drunkenness in the Old and New Testament, but condemns the actual use of fermented wine in both Testaments. This argument follows closely to the Prohibitionist View as discussed in the introduction. Good men differ on this topic, expositing difficult passages of great length. For lack of such space and ability, this argument will only touch on a few Greek and Hebrew words, the biblical commands for use and abstinence, and three commonly misunderstood passages. Word Analysis Wine in general ancient terminology can be loosely translated as “The pressed juice of the grape, whether fermented or unfermented.” There are three words that this paper will highlight in a general attempt to do justice to the historical accuracy of wine.
The first Hebrew word is ?????? (Yayin). It is the most commonly used form for wine in the Old Testament, used 141 times throughout, and is often misinterpreted since God uses the same word to impart blessings and curses upon His people. Yet the context of the passage is important. Yes, some texts are unclear, but Robert Teachout’s tabulation of each reference breaks them down to 71 instances referring to unfermented wine, and the other 70 referring to fermented wine, while seeking to stay true to the original context of the authorial intent. The first and perhaps most famous passage in which wine is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 9:20-21 when Noah got drunk on the ?????? which he made from his vineyards and eventually shamed himself with nudity.
Wine is clearly spoken within a negative sense, and is next seen in Genesis 19:32-33 when Lot’s daughters raped him. This Hebrew word is again used in Lamentations 2:12, yet has a very different implication. As King Nebuchadnezzar sieged Jerusalem, the starving children asked their mothers, “Where is corn and wine? when they swooned as the wounded in the streets of the city.” The children were not seeking alcoholic wine as drunk by Noah, but rather this same Hebrew word yayin is best understood in context to the fact that even their children desperately needed sustenance to stay alive. Yayin is used in countless additional passages under the same unfermented context. The second word to consider is also Hebrew. ????????? (tirosh) is commonly considered to be unfermented Horace Bumstead says, “In no one of the thirty-eight passages in which it occurs does it fail to have some reference, direct or indirect, to the soil or the press or the divine agency which had been instrumental in its production.
” Simply put, yayin is the refined, fermented result of the raw product—tirosh, which is new wine. Texts such as Micah 6:15 support such claims. “Thou shalt tread the olives, but thou shalt not anoint thee with oil; And tirosh, but shalt not drink yayin.” Here the contexts supports tirosh as unfermented and yayin as fermented wine since God forbids the latter but promotes the former. As one can begin to see, the use of the Hebrew words can seem ambiguous, if not interpreted based on the context of the passage. The third word to examine is the Greek usage for wine most commonly used in the whole Bible. ????? (oinos) is the parallel to the Hebrew yayin word, and was commonly used in Greek culture to refer to any unfermented or fermented grape juice. In Ephesians 5:18, Paul commands the believers at Ephesus “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” Oinos takes on the meaning of fermented wine in this context, since drunkenness is the common result. Yet there are translations of this text which lead the reader to assume that “excess” (debauchery) is condemning drunkenness, while allowing for wine. “Wherein (?? ??) is excess” can be translated “in which is excess,” which alludes to wine in the previous clause rather than drunkenness.
Whether one agrees or not, what can be confirmed is that wine in this context is referencing fermented wine. There are multiple passages that, use oinos to describe grape juice, or new wine. One such passage records Jesus’ parable of the new and old wineskins. The culture of that day found the use of wineskins to hold and preserve “must” or, new wine. Common interpretation of this passage does an injustice to the text by claiming that Jesus was describing how to safely ferment wine as an object lesson within His parable.
According to excavator James Pritchard, this interpretation is erroneous, since within middle eastern tradition, fermenting wine took place in very large tanks that could withstand the violent pressure of fermentation for three days and then stored in sealed jars with olive oil at 65 degrees F. The Encyclopedia Biblica also asserts that the gas given off during fermentation would cause a pressure much too great for even new wine skins to withstand. Therefore, there is no way the Jesus could have been addressing how to store fermented wine, but rather was simply using oinos (new wine; grape juice) as an object lesson for a topic completely unrelated to wine.Based on this brief word analysis, one can see how important the context is when translating and interpreting the biblical meaning for wine. Yet there are many more verses that relate to the many uses of wine within the Testaments, both for God designed purposes and commands to abstain.