Doesn't the Bible indicate that God accepts alcohol?




Doesn't the Scriptures say that God accepts alcohol? It was used for blessings (Genesis 14:18; 27:28; Proverbs 3:10). He gave permission to use strong drink (Deuteronomy 14:26). It was used in the drink offering (Exodus 29:41).

God made the grape, which would make the wine, which makes man's hearts glad (Psalm 104:15).

It is true that today's alcohol is stronger than that used in Bible times, but so long as you are careful with how much you drink and not get drunk, there is nothing wrong with using small quantities of alcohol.

First, let us note that all arguments are being made based on Old Testament teachings. Even if these Scriptures proved a case that alcoholic beverages were used in the past, it is still insufficient proof that use of alcohol is permitted for Christians.

"Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High" (Genesis 14:18). The Hebrew word translated as "wine" here is the word yayin. Yayin is a generic word for any liquid product made from grapes. That a variety of products can be yayin is seen in Nehemiah 5:18, "Now that which was prepared daily was one ox and six choice sheep. Also fowl were prepared for me, and once every ten days an abundance of all kinds of wine." Yayin does not refer to a single type of grape product. It can refer to non-alcoholic drink as in, "Gladness and joy are taken away from the fruitful field; In the vineyards also there will be no cries of joy or jubilant shouting, No treader treads out wine in the presses, For I have made the shouting to cease" (Isaiah 16:10). The juice in the grape, waiting to be squeezed out by treading, is called yayin and is translated as "wine." It can also refer to alcoholic beverages, as in "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise" (Proverbs 20:1). Since grape juice does not affect a person's mental capacity, it is obvious that the wine (yayin) in this verse refers to an alcoholic beverage.

Returning to Genesis 14:18, there is insufficient information in the context of the verse to determine whether the wine (yayin) mentioned contains alcohol. Any assumption is wishful thinking. It does not prove nor disprove that alcoholic wine was served by Melchizedek.

"Therefore may God give you of the dew of heaven, of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine" (Genesis 27:28). The word translated as "wine"in this verse is tirosh in Hebrew. Tirosh, when the context makes the definition clear, always refers to fresh, unfermented grape juice. Generally you find tirosh translated as "new wine." "As the new wine is found in the cluster" (Isaiah 65:8). Here tirosh refers to the juice of grapes before they are squeezed. "Your vats will overflow with new wine." (Proverbs 3:10). The juice pouring freely from the presses at harvest is called tirosh. Tirosh never refers to an intoxicating beverage. Hence, this verse does not prove that a desire for alcoholic beverages was given as a part of a blessing.

"So your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine" (Proverbs 3:10). The phrase "new wine" in this verse comes from the Hebrew word tirosh. The translators understood that alcoholic beverages was not indicated so they used the adjective "new" to indicate that it was unfermented grape juice. Once again the point that alcoholic beverages was used as a blessing is not proven.

"And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household" (Deuteronomy 14:26). Two words are used in this verse. "Wine" comes from the Hebrew word yayin, and "similar drink," or "strong drink" in many translations, comes from the Hebrew word shekar. Shekar refers to any fermented drink made from fruit or grain. The reason some translations avoid "strong drink" is that we tend to think of extremely potent drinks, such as whiskey or vodka, as strong drinks. In biblical days any alcoholic beverage was shekar. The technology to enhance the alcoholic content of a beverage above natural levels was not commonly used in biblical days and may have not been known. Hence, natural wines (not fortified) or beer would be equivalent to the commonly available shekar of the Old Testament.

At first glance, it does appear that God gave the Israelites permission to consume alcoholic beverages in His presence as part of giving a tithe to Him. That is until you read a bit further. "You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you. At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do" (Deuteronomy 14:27-29). The feast was to be shared with the Levites and the poor in the region. Yet God told the priests, "Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations" (Leviticus 10:9). "Intoxicating drink" comes from the Hebrew word shekar. Hence, we must conclude that only Levites who were not priests could share in a feast that included shekar, or that the shekar was not directly consumed, being used in the cooking where the alcohol would evaporate or as a flambeau.

Let us assume for the moment that they did consume alcohol once a year as part of the harvest tithe offering. Christians do not have a harvest tithe offering. This does not prove that Christians are allowed to consume alcohol any more than the Hebrews use of instrumental music in their worship proves that Christians used instrumental music in their worship. Hence, no proof was made. All that has been proven is the possibility that alcoholic beverages were used in some fashion in an offering that was consumed. It should be noted that excepted in two verses where shekar is connected with an offering, its use is consistently and always condemned. Shekar was not for casual consumption.

"And the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; and you shall offer with it the grain offering and the drink offering, as in the morning, for a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the LORD" (Exodus 29:41). "Drink offering" comes from the Hebrew word necek. Necek refers to something that is poured out; hence, it can refer to a libation or even a idol cast from molten metal. What was to be poured out was specified in Exodus 29:40, "With the one lamb shall be one-tenth of an ephah of flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of pressed oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine as a drink offering." The word "wine" is our old friend yayin. Hence, we cannot conclude that it was fermented or non-fermented. Besides, the yayin was not consumed. It was poured out upon the altar and burnt in the fire. This does not prove that alcoholic beverages were approved by God for consumption.

"And wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread which strengthens man's heart" (Psalm 104:15). The word translated "wine" is once again yayin. Some will claim that "makes glad the heart" indicates that it was alcoholic. Such is an assumption. Generally, the consumption of alcohol is noted to cause depression. "Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, Those who go in search of mixed wine" (Proverbs 23:29-30). By the way the "wine" in Proverbs 23:30 is also yayin. The improved feeling that users of alcoholic beverages initially feel is related to its numbing or depressing affect on the mind. Since it deadens the feelings of problems and concerns, it causes a relative feeling of an improved situation. Of course it doesn't bring true joy because once the effect of the alcohol wears off, the problems that the user sought to escape still remain.

Taken in context the gladness is not an artificial, temporary "gladness" but a true gladness brought about by prosperity. The same word for "gladness" is used in "And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the LORD your God has blessed you" (Deuteronomy 12:7). The use of "gladness" does not prove that yayin in Psalm 104:15 was alcoholic.

The case for the use of alcoholic beverages for casual consumption has not been made. For greater details on this subject, see:

Old Testament Beverages
New Testament Beverages

See also:

Questions and Answers regarding Alcohol
Articles regarding Alcohol
Sermons regarding Alcohol

March 15, 2005