Some of my earliest memories of my grandfather include a Scotch in his hand. Every time he would visit us, he would go to the store and buy some.
The bottles would get stored high up in my parent’s pantry. When he passed away several years ago, my parents offered me his collection of Scotch bottles that had been collecting dust in their pantry over the years.
For many people, the topic of drinking is deeply personal. Some people were raised in a church or home where drinking was forbidden. Others had alcohol as a staple of family get-togethers.
No matter how you were raised, it is often hard for us to take a step back and be willing to consider the question: “What does the Bible say about drinking?”
Is what we’ve always believed accurate?
In a world where it is impossible to attend sporting events without being surrounded by open consumption or even a celebration of drinking culture, how should followers of Jesus approach the topic?
Does the Bible consider drinking a sin?
First, is the consumption of alcohol a sinful act? Wine is mentioned 216 times in the NIV translation of the Bible. The first mention of wine is in Genesis 9:20 when Noah, following the flood, plants a vineyard and gets drunk on the wine he produces from it.
Later in the Bible, Jesus, while celebrating at a wedding, turns water into wine (John 2:3-11). Not just wine, either, but the best wine of the whole wedding.
“When the headwaiter tasted the water (after it had become wine) … He called the groom and told him, “Everyone sets out the fine wine first, then, after people are drunk, the inferior. But you have kept the fine wine until now.” (John 2:9,10).
Jesus does the opposite of the custom of the day. When he has an opportunity to provide for the party, he gives the best.
Later in the New Testament, Paul, in a letter to his friend Timothy, wrote:
“Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:23).
Paul is encouraging his friend to drink for medicinal purposes, which was a common use.
When we go back to the Old Testament, the prophet Amos shared that when God restores the people of Israel to their land they will:
“plant vineyards and drink their wine, make gardens and eat their produce” (Amos 9:14).
In this prophetic vision from God, when Jesus’ Kingdom comes, the curse that has afflicted the created world will be lifted, and in that restored land will be planted a vineyard that will have the best wine. They will not only plant and produce the wine, but they will also drink it as well.
Is the consumption of alcohol a sin? In the previous passages, it appears that partaking in drink in itself is not against God’s design. In other passages throughout the Old Testament, wine is used in a positive light. It’s used for sacrificial rituals in the temple, and to this day in Jewish rituals wine and its consumption is used. Now are there uses for alcohol that makes its consumption a sin? Let’s continue to look:
When does drinking become a sin?
First, the Bible is clear that when the consumption of alcohol is against the law that would be sinful behavior.
“Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).
Later in verse 5, Paul shared that why we submit has more to do with our conscience—that in following the law we are honoring those that God permits to rule over us. Other than government, this can also include schools or places of employment where an agreement is signed or a manual is explained with a policy where it’s not permitted during a specific time.
Bible verses about drinking
Many passages equate drunkenness to other blatantly sinful desires.
“Carrying on in unrestrained behavior, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies…” (1 Peter 4:3).
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity,… envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar” (Galatians 5:19-21a).
“Let us walk with decency, as in the daytime: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy” (Romans 13:13).
“Don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
Even in wisdom literature, drinking and the effects of consumption are painted in a bad light.
“Wine is a mocker, beer is a brawler; whoever goes astray because of them is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1).
“Don’t gaze at wine because it’s red, because it gleams in the cup and goes down smoothly” (Proverbs 23:31).
“It is not for kings, Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine or for rollers to desire beer. Otherwise, he will drink, forget what is decreed, and pervert justice for all the oppressed” (Proverbs 31:4-5).
While the simple partaking of a drink may not be sinful, scripture is clear in that drinking to the point where one is “affected by alcohol to the extent of losing control of one’s faculties or behavior” (Oxford Dictionary) would be an act of sin.
When is it okay for a Christian to drink alcohol?
With all of that in mind, when it comes to navigating is it okay for a follower of Jesus to drink—that has to be determined at a personal level. If you’re being controlled by alcohol its continued use is a sin. If that is you, know that you are not alone.
The beauty of the body of Christ is that we can join together to help one another. Please reach out to us or contact a local Alcoholics Anonymous to start taking steps.
A way to determine if alcohol is controlling you would be to ask yourself the question, “Am I enjoying this for what it is or what it does?” You can think about this also by asking, am I controlling the drinking, or is the drinking controlling me? Paul wrote in his first letter to the church in Corinth:
“Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
Individual believers need to ask themselves is this beneficial? To myself? For my family? For my co-workers? Has this mastered me? Could I fast from this for a week? How about a month? Would it be ok if I never had this again?
Something I have done in my life to make sure that I am not mastered by alcohol is I ask permission from my wife if I’m allowed to have a drink. I don’t have to ask permission, but I want someone else to help me navigate if having that Coke & Rum would be beneficial or wise at that moment.
Something else that would be wise to consider is how consumption of alcohol can affect others. As Christ’s representatives in the world it is on us to be mindful of the people around us and how what we do or say can move the gospel forward or even potentially backward.
More scriptures about drinking
“For if your brother or sister is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy, by what you eat, someone for whom Christ died. Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit… Do not tear down God’s work because of food. Everything is clean, but it is wrong to make someone fall by what he eats. It is a good thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble” (Romans 14:15-17, 20-21).
“Although I am free from all and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people… To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel, so that I may share in the blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19, 22-23).
One of my favorite passages that I think all of us need to chew on is when Jesus shared these words:
“I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10).
Are we willing to give up or restrict things in our life that we enjoy, that the world might not have a problem with, in order for us to experience that abundant life that Jesus came to give us? Am I willing to, like Christ, give of myself for the sake of others? Let us, as we navigate the topic of alcohol in our lives, be willing to love others well.
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Matt grew up in southeast Michigan, in between Detroit and Ann Arbor. From an early age, he saw the impact that serving the local church can have through his parents’ involvement. During his senior year of high school, he began serving in the middle school ministry of his church and hasn’t looked back. After his call to ministry, Matt attended Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. In 2016, Matt joined the staff as the Student Pastor for the Lansing campus. He loves helping people become more like Jesus in the same way that others have helped him.
Matt and his wife, Hillary, love spending time with their kids (McKinley & Greyson) as well as playing board games, watching sports, and enjoying competitive reality tv shows.