Alcohol in the Bible: Some Thoughts for Christians in Recovery

If you are an alcoholic and have stepped into the journey of recovery, as a Christian you might be wondering about the role of alcohol in the Bible. Just what does the good book have to say about drinking and drunkenness and the role of alcohol in a Christian’s life?

To start with, alcohol is mentioned throughout the Bible. Wine, beer, and something referred to as “strong drink” are mentioned, which are spirits, as well as wine by-products called “must” and “lees.” Archeological evidence indicates that Israel was a grape-growing region during biblical times, and that evidence of wine making (presses and other equipment) has been found. There is some question as to whether fresh juice that had not been fermented was also consumed but ample evidence indicates that wine was made and drunk during the time of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Of Two Minds

It seems like the Bible is basically of two minds when it comes to alcohol. On the one hand, alcoholic beverages are clearly not considered problematic when they are consumed as part of holy rituals such as Eucharist. Jesus’s ability to turn water into wine was seen as a wondrous miracle, and Paul actually counsels Timothy to drink wine for his health (in addition to water).

Two passages are often cited as support of the positive view of alcohol, and specifically wine, in the Bible. In Psalm 104:14 it says, “[The LORD] makes … plants for man to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.” Thus the idea that it is the Lord that makes the wine, or at least provides for it to be made, and that it is a good thing to have it and enjoy it is present in this passage.

In Eccleistastes 9:7-17 we are instructed, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do” it is clear that drinking wine and being happy are seen as positive and in harmony with being a good Christian.

On the other hand, excess or drunkenness is depicted as problematic and specifically counseled against. In the following passages, Isaiah 5:11-30 it says, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands.”

Galatians 5:19–21: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: … drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Proverbs 23:20f imparts to us, “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.”

Ephesians 5:18: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

It is clear that drunkenness is seen as not only sinful or bad, but leading to worse behavior and a cascade of sins.

But What About Today

So one possible take-home message from exploring the Biblical perspective on alcohol is that while “social” drinking is acceptable, drinking to excess is not. What does this mean to the Christian in recovery? Remember to accept who you are and what alcohol means to you, first and foremost. If you are an alcoholic, then social drinking, or even ritual drinking (such as Eucharist or festivals or special occasions), is not safe and not recommended. Take heed from the passages that describe the problems that “drunkenness” can lead to and think back over your drinking career.

The Bible was written before a clear understanding of alcoholism existed, and most people believed that drunkenness was a bad habit at best and a personal character flaw at worst. Now that we know that alcoholism can best be understood as a disease, take good care of yourself and protect your recovery. While the Bible might not promote abstinence it certainly is a source of support for eschewing excess.