Tuesday 10 January 2023

Did Jesus Drink Alcohol?


Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine but did He in fact drink? What does the Bible tell us?

John 2:1-11 describes the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. According to Jewish wedding tradition, fermented wine was always served at weddings. In this Gospel account, Jesus, His mother and His disciples are invited to a wedding and when the wine runs out, Jesus delivers the first of his signs by turning water into wine. John 2:11 says that “it revealed His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.”

While Jesus turning water into wine doesn’t prove He drank water at the wedding, the likelihood is very high as traditional Jewish celebrations included drinking wine. Jesus likely drank wine during those celebrations in moderation.

We also know that the Nazirites are the only group who are instructed to never drink wine/alcohol (Numbers 6:1-4). Jesus was a Nazarene given He was from the town of Nazareth. Since He was not a Nazirite, He did not take vows to abstain from alcohol.

Luke 7 does indicate that Jesus drank alcohol at times. Jesus surely shared the Passover cup. We know from Scripture that John the Baptist didn’t drink wine, but it is implied that Jesus did drink wine. The religious leaders of the day accused Jesus of being a drunk. Jesus said, "For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" (Luke 7:33–34). Despite this accusation, Jesus was never drunk or gluttonous. We know this because He lived a sinless life.

While the Bible doesn’t prohibit drinking, it does prohibit drunkenness. If millions of Americans have been brutalized and devastated by the abuse of alcohol, what message does drinking or refraining from it send? We can turn to Scripture for the answers.

Jesus Himself warned against drunkenness because it prevents people from being ready for His return (Luke 21:34-36). The Bible also forbids drunkenness. Ephesians 5:18 says, “And do not get drunk with win, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…” Drinking wine isn’t a sin, but there are consequences if we overindulge and abuse it.

We see from reading Romans chapter 14 that everything we do as Christians needs to be done with wisdom. If eating meat, which is not a sin, can in some circumstances be an offense to someone who may see the association with idolatry as the issue, then clearly there are applications here for other practices as well. In the case of the Romans 14 example, the real issue is one of protecting the weak believer from stumbling through observation of conduct on the part of other Christians which might lead that weak believer into sin whether or not the observed conduct is sinful.

The issue of the passage is not the way we may look at believers who may not agree with what we are doing but won’t be tripped up by our behavior, whatever the non-sinful behavior we are talking about may be. Rather, the issue is the spiritual welfare of our fellow believers who may have preconceived notions about certain behaviors and who may be tripped up in their faith when they see others have violated these notions.

It is important for Christians to do what is right and to avoid what is wrong, to have a good reputation and to comport ourselves in a respectful way. But it is also important not to be intimidated by legalism. For example there are many cultures in the world where drinking without drunkenness has always been part of the social norm. An evangelist in such cultures who made a point of abstaining might be sending exactly the wrong message. This, however, is not a valid defense for recreational drinking under all circumstances in our own culture, which can also send the wrong message.

While the Bible does prohibit drunkenness, the Bible does not prohibit drinking. Virtually every great believer you can name in Scripture drank wine. Proverbs 23:29-35 outlines some of the dangers of drinking, but elsewhere Proverbs commends wine under certain circumstances. There are New Testament passages which condemn being unduly under the influence (Ephesians 5:18), but Paul actually tells Timothy to have some wine on account of his ailments (1 Timothy 5:23) and of course, our Lord turned water into wine (John 2). These and similar well-known passages would seem to indicate that drinking is acceptable as long as one does not become drunk. But it is important to note that the culture of the ancient world was very different from ours.

For instance, the water could be very bad, and mixing some wine with the water was known to neutralize some of the bacteria. That was the point of Paul’s command to Timothy. Also, it was rare in Mediterranean culture to drink wine straight, so that it took a great conscious effort to become drunk than is generally true for us today. Finally, the culture of that day was very much oriented to wine as a staple, similar to how we drink orange juice or milk with our breakfast. The idea that someone might deliberately refrain from drinking wine would have struck the average person in biblical times as peculiar. In short, the message sent by a Christian who drinks in American culture is very much different from that of Peter or Paul having wine at dinner time.

Drinking alcohol has been a hot topic among Christians that has been argued and discussed for thousands of years. God warns us to not be drunk and describes certain situations where some should not drink, but the Bible never says that alcohol is wrong. If we could drink and never go over the line and never give offense, then there would be very little problem with drinking. On the other hand, if this is a standard that is deemed difficult to uphold, then the issue of drinking, particularly public drinking should be given some serious thought.

Since the Bible doesn’t absolutely forbid drinking alcohol, whether or not you should drink is a personal decision you must make for yourself. Consider the impact of drinking not only on your personal life, but also the lives of the people around you.

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