What Does The Bible Say About Alcohol?

Proverbs 14:12
There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

Does the Bible support social drinking for believers or teach abstinence? A careful examination of Scripture along with prayerfully seeking God’s will should lead us to an obvious conclusion. Let us consider the following:

I. Common Words Used For Wine

A. Old Testament

Wine, (yayin) – usually fermented or alcoholic.
Strong drink, (shekar) – prepared or distilled from grain, intoxicating.
Mixed wine, (mesek) – a mixture of wine and drugs.

When wine was used for religious purposes it was customary to mix it with water, thus diluting the alcoholic content or consume moderate amounts in between courses of prepared food.

B. New Testament

Wine, (oinos) – any extract derived from a fruit or vegetable.

This word is used generically throughout the New Testament and can represent juice or fermented wine depending on the context or circumstance.

II. Examples Of Abstinence Commanded By God

A. For Priests to be sanctified in their service for God. Drinking is deemed unholy and unclean.

Leviticus 10:9-10
Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations: And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.

B. For Nazarites to be sanctified in their vow of fellowship with God. Abstinence is essential to walking with the Lord.

Numbers 6:2-3
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the LORD: He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried.

C. For Kings to be sanctified in their rule and judgment. Drinking is for the unbelievers that perish and are appointed to destruction.

Proverbs 31:4-8
It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more. Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.

D. For Church Elders to be sanctified in their office as overseers of our souls and spiritual well-being.

1 Timothy 3:3
Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous.

The phrase “not given to wine (paraoinos)” literally means: not staying near wine.

E. For Deacons to be sanctified in their office as administrators of church business.

1 Timothy 3:8
Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre.

The phrase “not given (prosecho) to much wine” means: do not let wine “hold the mind” or pay attention to it. The Bible does not contradict itself, in I Timothy 5:23 Paul advises Timothy to use a little wine for his infirmities or for medicinal purposes only.

III. Examples Of Compliance To God’s Commanded Abstinence.

A. The family of Rechabites remained obedient.

Jeremiah 35:14
The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, that he commanded his sons not to drink wine, are performed; for unto this day they drink none, but obey their father’s commandment: notwithstanding I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye hearkened not unto me.

B. Daniel in captivity at the king’s palace would not defile himself.

Daniel 1:8
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

C. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit and forbidden to drink.

Luke 1:15
For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.

IV. Warnings From God

A. God says that drinking is not only unwise but leads to self deception.

Proverbs 20:1
Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.

B. God says that drinking causes negative emotional and physical conditions and leads to sin. He says not to even look upon it.

Proverbs 23:29-35
Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.

C. God pronounces woe upon those who seek “the party life”.

Isaiah 5:11
Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!

D. God says that drinking causes irresponsibility, selfishness, and hopes of delusion.

Isaiah 56:9-12
All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea, all ye beasts in the forest. His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter. Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.

E. God says that drinking feeds our flesh and leads to lustfulness.

Romans 13:13-14
Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.

F. God says that drinking can keep the unsaved from entering Heaven unless they repent and trust in the blood of Christ.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

G. God says that drinking leads to spiritual darkness and is unacceptable to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:8-11, 18
For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.

V. Examples Of Believers Involved In Drunkenness.

A. Noah became drunk and indiscreet after God saved him through the flood.

Genesis 9:20-21
And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.

B. David tried to deceive Uriah with drunkenness after committing adultery with his wife.
2 Samuel 11:11-13
And Uriah said unto David, The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing. And David said to Uriah, Tarry here to day also, and to morrow I will let thee depart. So Uriah abode in Jerusalem that day, and the morrow. And when David had called him, he did eat and drink before him; and he made him drunk: and at even he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but went not down to his house.

Notice that Uriah, one of David’s mighty men, had more sense and dedication than the king in initially refusing to drink and that David’s wicked scheme failed before Almighty God.

C. In the Parable of the Faithful Steward, the Lord teaches us that we ought to be prepared for his coming again and not be found in a backslidden and sinful state.

Luke 12:41-48
Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all? And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath. But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

D. The believers at Corinth involved in heretical beliefs were chastised for coming to church drunk.

1 Corinthians 11:19-22
For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

We have all witnessed destroyed lives and families as a result of alcoholism and abuse. Drinking never strengthens or builds up, it only destroys and tears down.

VI. The Example Of Jesus

Turning water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana was the first recorded miracle of the Lord Jesus Christ. It not only gave proof of his deity (John 1:14) but led to the salvation of many disciples.

John 2:1-11
And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

Jesus, the Living Word of God (logos, John 1:1), could in no way act contrary to the written Word of God. The following verses will conclude that, based on this premise, what Jesus made was grape juice and not fermented or alcoholic wine:

Romans 14:21
It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.

Habakkuk 2:15
Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!

Jesus was at a formal Jewish wedding ceremony and not a party. He was there for a purpose and in the perfect will of God. He did not go there to get drunk or provide alcohol for others.


1 Thessalonians 5:21-22
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.

In order to prove what is good and acceptable before a holy and righteous God (Romans 12:1&2), we are told to refrain ourselves from anything which is remotely considered evil or sinful.

There are many humanistic programs developed to encourage people toward abstinence. Although these may be a help, they cannot break the bonds of addiction created by this destructive agent. Drinking is a sin and not a disease. The only real cure is to repent and trust the Lord Jesus Christ as personal savior. Faith in his shed blood is the only pathway to forgiveness which provides new life in Christ (II Cor. 5:17).

John 8:36
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

Please read this article by CHARLES L. QUARLES from Center for Faith and Culture

By Dr. Charles L. Quarles

Unfortunately, many Christians know little about the ancient Mediterranean world. When they read the New Testament, they naturally imagine that things there and then must have been very much like they are here and now. Famous Christian art provides many examples of such anachronisms. Artists of previous centuries often depicted biblical figures wearing the fashions and using the technology of the artist’s own time rather than those of the actual biblical world (see Gerbrand van den Eeckhout’s painting, “Vision of Cornelius the Centurion” or Rembrandt’s “The Prodigal Son in the Brothel”). We may unknowingly commit similar anachronisms when we read the New Testament.

One such anachronism relates to modern Christian views of alcohol. The New Testament clearly prohibits drunkenness (Eph. 5:18) and even insists that drunkenness is inconsistent with an authentic Christian lifestyle (1 Cor. 6:9-11). However, other texts show that the New Testament authors approved the use of wine in moderation (1 Tim. 3:3, 8; 5:23; Titus 2:3). Today’s readers reasonably conclude that the Bible approves of the use of all modern alcoholic beverages in moderation today. The unstated assumption of this argument is that modern alcoholic beverages are very similar to biblical wine. It turns out that the assumption is really a presumption. New Testament wine (by which I mean the wine ordinarily consumed in the New Testament world) was significantly different from many modern alcoholic beverages. How was this wine different?

First, ancient beverages did not contain distilled alcohol like modern alcoholic beverages often do. Distillation was invented by Arab alchemists in the 8th century long after the New Testament era. The strongest alcoholic beverage that was accessible to the New Testament authors and their original readers was natural wine that had an alcoholic content of 11-12 percent (before dilution).

Second, ancient wine was normally diluted. Even ancient pagans considered drinking wine full strength to be a barbaric practice. They typically diluted wine with large amounts of water before the wine was consumed. Ancient wine was stored undiluted in large jars called amphorae. Before it was consumed, it was poured into large bowls called kraters where it was mixed with snow or water before being poured into cups (called kylix). The ratio of wine to water varied. However, the ancients were virtually unanimous that a dilution rate of at least two parts water to one part wine was necessary. Anacreon called unmixed wine “a Scythian draught.” Scythians ranked with primitive cannibals as the most barbaric of peoples. Archippus said those who drank wine half and half were “wretches.” Mnesitheus of Athens wrote that to those “who mix [wine] and drink it moderately, it gives good cheer; but if you overstep the bounds, it brings violence. Mix it half and half, and you get madness; unmixed bodily collapse.”

One of the most helpful discussions of dilution rates appears in a work by Athenaus of Naucratis called Deipnosophistae (Banquet of the Learned; c. AD 228). Athenaus mentions several different dilution rates that he culled from ancient works.

Dilution ratio for alcohol

The alcohol content was negligible by modern standards.

The Old Testament Apocrypha also documents the practice of diluting wine with water. 2 Maccabees 15:39 states, “It is harmful to drink wine alone, or again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious and enhances one’s enjoyment.”

A careful study of the Mishnah and Talmuds shows that the normal dilution rate among the Jews was 3 parts water to 1 part wine. B. Shabbath 77a says that wine that does not mix well with three parts water is not true wine. B. Pesahim 108b states that the wine consumed during Passover was 3:1 wine. This was very likely the commonly accepted dilution rate among Jews of the NT era as well. This dilution rate reduces the alcohol content of New Testament wine to 2.75 to 3.0 percent.

Although Federal law in the US classifies a beverage with 0.5 percent or more alcohol by volume as an alcoholic beverage, state laws may differ. In some states, a beverage with the weak alcohol content of New Testament wine is not even considered an alcoholic beverage. According to Title 67 of the Mississippi Code, “wine containing five percent (5%) or less of alcohol by weight” shall not be considered an alcoholic beverage. To answer the question we posed earlier, was New Testament wine alcoholic? Certainly, it was fermented and had a modest alcohol content. But the alcohol content was negligible by modern standards.