At the risk of opening a can of worms, I’m compelled to disagree with Taylor Beck’s biblical assessment regarding the consumption of alcohol (“Money valued more than morals?”, Saturday, Jan. 18). While I appreciate his sincerity of thought, the evidence of history and the Bible demonstrate that one can be sincere, yet sincerely wrong. The Bible clearly does not condemn the consumption of alcohol. Rather, it condemns the misuse, abuse and overuse of alcohol.
There are a few instances in the Old Testament (O.T.) where rulers were instructed never to consume alcohol (wine, or “ya-yin” in the original Hebrew language), so as not to cloud their thoughts or judgment in their performance of duties. Additionally, the Nazarites were forbidden to consume grapes, any part of the grape, or any beverage derived from grape, whether that be vinegar (acetic acid resulting from contamination during fermentation) or wine (ya-yin) itself. However, the Bible makes it obvious in both Old and New Testaments that wine was a common part of everyday life. Wine was frequently safer to drink than water drawn from local supplies, which often contained harmful pathogens.
The phrase “wine and strong drink” appear several times in the O.T.. The words “wine” and “strong drink” are often used together to put the focus on the potential intoxicating (“se-kar,” in Hebrew) effects of consuming too much alcohol. Today, when we read the words “wine and strong drink,” we tend to view the two words in an either-or context, as either wine or strong drink. Many Bible commentaries suggest that the two words are used together in a single phrase to imply heavy consumption of one or both drinks, not to drawn distinction to the two. Mr. Beck cited Proverbs 20:1 as a singular example. However, Proverbs 23 clarifies the issue: v. 20 – “Do not join those who drink too much wine…” (italics are mine), referring to those who do as “drunkards”; and v.29 reads, “Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long (italics are mine) over wine…” It’s the excess consumption of alcohol that is discouraged, not its consumption in moderation.
In citing the New Testament (N.T.), Mr. Taylor mentions Ephesians 5:18 which says, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit”). The word “wine” in the N.T. Greek is generally expressed as “oinos, oinon, or oino”; “be drunk” in the original language is “methyskesthe”; and “is excess” (“asotia”) can also be translated in English as “debauchery.”
Christians are admonished not to drink wine to a level of drunkenness that manifests itself in debauchery. Rather, the controlling factor in a Christian’s life should be the Holy Spirit, not alcohol. The context suggests it’s the consumption in excess that is to be avoided by Christians; moderate consumption is not condemned.
The apostle Paul backs that up in his first letter to Timothy: “Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued or given to much wine (oino; 1 Timothy 3:8). He also instructed to Timothy directly, “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine (oino) for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments (1 Timothy 5:23). As Mr. Beck noted in Galations 5:21, “Those who participate in “drunkenness,” among other sinful actions, “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” The emphasis is on drunken excess, not occasional imbibing.
I can’t think of a stronger case for the occasional consumption of wine than that in John, Chapter 2, where Jesus performs his first miracle at the wedding in Cana, turning water into wine. To refresh everyone’s memory, Jesus’ mother, Mary, made Him aware that the wedding party had run out of wine (oinou). Though Jesus initially expressed reluctance in resolving the problem, Mary instructed the attending servants to follow Jesus’ instructions. Jesus observed six stone waterpots (20-30 gallons each, according scripture) and told the servants to fill them with water. The servants obeyed and filled each “to the brim.” Jesus then instructed the servants to draw a sample and take it to the headwaiter. The headwaiter, unaware of what had just transpired “tasted the water that had become wine (oinon)” and called the bridegroom over. He said to the bridegroom, “Every man serves the good wine (oinon) first, and when men might have drunk freely, then that which is poorer; you have kept the good wine (oinon) until now.” There is consistency in the terminology used throughout that passage.
What is there to learn from Jesus’ first miracle? First, the Greek word for “drunk freely” in the passage above is “methysthosin” – the same root word used in Ephesians 5 admonishing Christians not to be “methyskesthe” with wine, but rather be filled by the Holy Spirit. So we know that the wine the wedding guests were drinking was alcoholic in nature. Secondly, the headwaiter stated a known fact that consuming alcohol eventually dulls the senses, including the sense of taste. Which is why the custom of the day was to serve the best wine first, hoping that guests wouldn’t notice the lower quality wine served to them later. Lastly, there can be no argument that Jesus’ first recorded miracle was making the best wine (oinon) of the day – and not just a few jugs, but 120 to 180 gallons! The wedding was a special occasion, after all, and the celebrants were participating in a special event. Yes, some guests may have drunk to excess during the festivities; that’s implied. But any “over consumption” was limited to that occasion and there is no indication that having made wine available at the wedding resulted in any negative effects or consequences. Jesus certainly didn’t condemn it.
The one scripture I do agree on one-hundred percent with Mr. Beck is Romans 14:21, which refers to eating and drinking wine (“or do anything”) when it would offend a fellow Christian or cause a new Christian to stumble in his or her faith. The corollary in Romans 14 is that we are admonished not to despise or pass judgment on others who consume food different than that which we personally approve or accept to be good. The apostle Paul cites Christ Himself in that chapter noting that nothing is unclean, except to those who personally believe it is unclean. (Many early Christians were former Jews and still held beliefs regarding food that was clean and unclean.) Today, if I were to have dinner with Mr. Beck, knowing what his beliefs are regarding the consumption of alcohol, I would not remotely consider ordering a beer or glass of wine with my meal. If I’m dining with like-minded Christians, however, having an adult beverage might be an option for me. Personal choice, in those situations, has to be balanced against the convictions of others.