What does the Bible say about drinking alcohol or wine?
Does the Bible condone moderate drinking of alcohol?
Let's look at some Bible examples of people who used alcohol, as well as the effects it has on the body.
In the Old Testament, Aaron and his sons, the priests, were strictly forbidden to drink either wine or strong drink when they went into the tabernacle to minister before the Lord (see Leviticus 10:9). Nazarites were likewise forbidden to use wine while under their vow (see Numbers 6:1-3, 20; Judges 13:4-7). The Rechabites lived as noteworthy examples of permanent abstinence from wine, adhering strictly to the command of their ancestor, Jonadab, to refrain from it (see Jeremiah 35:1-8, 14).
The Bible book of Proverbs is filled with warnings against indulging in wine and strong drink (see Proverbs 20:1; 21:17; 23:29-35; 31:4). Wine mocks those who use it (see Proverbs 20:1) and rewards them with woe, sorrow, strife, and wounds without cause (see Proverbs 23:29, 30). “In the end it [wine] bites like a snake and poisons like a viper” (verse 32, NIV). The prophet Isaiah declared, “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks” (Isaiah 5:22, NIV). Daniel and his companions set a worthy example by refusing to drink the king’s wine (see Daniel 1:5-16). When fasting later in life, Daniel abstained from wine (see Daniel 10:3).
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In the New Testament, the usual word for wine, whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic, is οινος (oinos). Jesus likened His revolutionary teaching to new wine, which would burst the old bottles of tradition (Matthew 9:17). Paul warned believers against drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18), and declared that deacons should not be "addicted to much wine" (1 Timothy 3:8). He counseled Titus that the older women should not be "slaves to drink" (Titus 2:3).
Yet, Paul did recommend that his friend Timothy should “use a little wine” for relief from a digestive ailment (1 Timothy 5:23, NIV). Let’s take a look at this counsel more closely. In those days, physical ailments, such as dysentery, were common occurrences—often due to contaminated water. Consequently, other ways of quenching thirst were often recommended. Some Bible scholars believe that in this verse, Paul was advocating the temperate use of fermented wine for medicinal purposes. They call attention to the fact that through the centuries wine has been used in this way.
Other Bible scholars say that Paul is referring to unfermented grape juice. Since the Greek word translated “wine” can mean either fermented wine or unfermented grape juice, they believe Paul would not give advice inconsistent with the rest of Scripture, which warns strongly against the use of intoxicating beverages—and that he is, therefore, advising Timothy to drink pure, unfermented grape juice.
Obviously, Paul wanted Timothy to be healthy and physically fit for the heavy duties that rested upon him as administrator of the churches in Asia Minor. Mental and moral alertness are closely related to physical fitness, and the use of alcohol would not be helpful in this regard.
Effects of alcohol and wine on our bodies
The Bible is clear that our bodies are temples of the living God via the agent of the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received of God? . . . . Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19, NIV). God is concerned with how we treat our bodies, including what we eat or drink. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV). The wise Solomon said, “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1, NIV). “Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper” (Proverbs 23:31, NIV).
Short-term effects of alcohol
Short-term effects of alcohol include distorted vision, hearing, coordination, altered perceptions and emotions, impaired judgment, bad breath and hangovers. Such problems can occur after drinking over a relatively short period of time.
Long-term effects of alcohol
Other problems such as liver disease, heart disease, certain forms of cancer, and pancreatitis—often develop more gradually and may become evident only after years of drinking. Women may develop alcohol-related health problems sooner than men and from drinking less alcohol than men. Because alcohol affects nearly every organ in the body, long-term drinking increases the risk for many serious health problems.
The moderate use of alcohol has been reported to have beneficial effects on the heart, especially among those at greatest risk for heart attacks, such as men over the age of forty-five and women after menopause. However, it is very important to know that these reports are based on observational data, but there is insufficient evidence to prove causality. It is also significant that none of these investigators has recommended those not using alcohol to begin doing so! Heavy drinking increases the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and some kinds of stroke.
Long-term heavy drinking increases the risk of certain forms of cancer, especially cancer of the esophagus, mouth, throat, and larynx (voice box). Research suggests that for some women as little as one drink per day can slightly raise the risk of breast cancer. Drinking may also increase the risk for developing cancer of the colon and rectum.
The pancreas helps regulate the body’s blood sugar levels by producing insulin. The pancreas also has a role in digesting the food we eat. Long-term heavy drinking can lead to pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. Acute pancreatitis can cause severe abdominal pain and can be fatal. Chronic pancreatitis is associated with chronic pain, diarrhea, and weight loss.
Alcohol-related liver disease
More than 2 million Americans suffer from an alcohol-related liver disease. Some drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, as a result of heavy drinking over a long period of time. Its symptoms include fever, jaundice (abnormal yellowing of the skin, eyeballs, and urine), and abdominal pain. Alcoholic hepatitis can cause death if drinking continues. If drinking stops, the condition may be reversible.
About 10-20% of heavy drinkers develop alcoholic cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. People with cirrhosis should not drink alcohol. Although treatment for the complications of cirrhosis is available, a liver transplant may be needed for someone with life-threatening cirrhosis. Alcoholic cirrhosis can cause death if drinking continues. Cirrhosis is not reversible, but if a person with cirrhosis stops drinking, the chances of survival improve considerably. People with cirrhosis often feel better, and liver function may improve, after they stop drinking.
About 4 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV), which can cause liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Some heavy drinkers also have HCV infection. As a result, their livers may be damaged not only by alcohol but by HCV-related problems as well. People with HCV infection are more susceptible to alcohol-related liver damage and should think carefully about the risks when considering whether to drink alcohol.
Find the abundant life
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, NKJV). By using alcohol we participate in destroying not only our own life, but often the lives of others. Even in moderation, alcohol use causes significant problems—physically, mentally, and spiritually. It’s no wonder the Bible consistently warns against it. God says, in Isaiah 1:18, "Come now and let us reason together." With alcohol use we temporarily and permanently stupefy our reasoning powers. So, for a Christian, is it drinkable, or unthinkable?