Question:

I was reviewing your articles on alcohol. I realize that you are not the author of all of the articles, but I did not see a reference to Proverbs 31:6-7. Proverbs 31 specifically does not condemn strong drink. However, you have a sermon, Drinking in the Old Testament, posted on your web site that claims that strong drink is only approved in two places and it neglects Proverbs 31.

"Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more" (Proverbs 31:6-7). When combined with James 1:13 this takes into question the temperance tradition of the church since God does not tempt man. Here in Proverbs 31 He encourages giving strong drink and wine to certain people.

Drunkenness as described in Ephesians 5:18 uses a Greek word, which Strong describes as "A prolonged (transitive) form of G3184; to intoxicate: - be drunk (-en)." This would seem to indicate a person who spent a prolonged period intoxicated. Further in Ephesians 5:18 drunk is contrasted with being filled with the Spirit. We are not to be filled with the Spirit on the occasional Friday night, but continually. This leaves credence to the understanding that Ephesians 5:18's prohibition on being drunk is not a prohibition on drinking, but one who is perpetually drunk rather than sober and filled with the Spirit. Or in other words one who is filled with drink on a regular basis rather than one who is regularly filled with the Spirit.

"And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" ( Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person" (Mark 7:18-23). I am concerned that by teaching that alcohol that is outside the body, defiles the body, we are contradicting Scripture. We do not need to encourage consumption of alcohol, but to claim that Scripture forbids it is adding to Scripture.

I see in much of your articles and sermons posted to your web site you make use of the fact that there is only one word for grape beverages. There is also only one word used to describe man and husband and wife and woman. We can't selectively choose when to use the alternative definition but need to be guided by the Bible itself. I did find your articles and sermons far better researched and reasoned than most. I will try to do as the Bereans and examine the Scriptures to see if things are so and hope you do the same and at least correct the sermon outline referenced above.


Answer:

Proverbs 31 is briefly mentioned in Alcohol. You only quoted half the statement dealing with alcohol from Proverbs 31.

"It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes intoxicating drink; lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the justice of all the afflicted. Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those who are bitter of heart. Let him drink and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more" (Proverbs 31:4-7).

Rulers were forbidden to drink because alcohol interferes with thinking and making just decisions. In an interesting article, "Why Does Drinking Release the Rage? Understand Alcohol-Related Anger and Aggression", John Lee notes that

  • Alcohol interferes with the ability to process information from multiple sources; thus, what someone says or does is not tempered by body language. You can't see the intention behind the words or action.
  • Alcohol interferes with the ability to think ahead to the consequences; the drinker isn't concerned with the negative consequences of his behavior.
  • And alcohol puts the executive command center, involved in making judgments, to sleep; thus, making the drinker impulsive.

The last point is the same point that Lemuel's mother made. Instead, she said that if alcohol must be used, give it to people who are dying or who are in pain. Alcohol is a depressant and can be used to manage pain, though we have better pain medications today. When someone is severely depressed or in anguish, alcohol can take the edge off for a while, though we have better antidepressants today. But like the medications of today, continued use after the need is gone is not good for a person.

Alcohol as a medication is useful. "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities" (I Timothy 5:23). However, this does not lead to the conclusion that casual use of alcohol is recommended. Therefore, Proverbs 31:6-7 is not justification for casual use of alcohol. I did not include this passage because the whole passage (Proverbs 31:4-7) does condemn the use of alcohol in situations that are not medically necessary.

Ephesians 5:18 is handled in Doesn't Ephesians 5:18 imply that some use of alcohol is permitted? Strong's dictionary is overly brief and to base an argument on its definitions is not wise. Methuskesthe, is the passive form of the methuo. It refers to the process of getting drunk, though it can also be used to refer the process of being filled with either food or drink. It can be seen in how it is used in: "But if that slave says in his heart, 'My master will be a long time in coming,' and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk" (Luke 12:45). You changed this definition from the process of getting drunk to being continually drunk, which is not supported by the definition or its usage.

A prohibition on getting drunk does not imply approval for casual use.

Alcohol was never listed among the unclean foods in the Law of Moses; thus, to claim that Jesus gave approval of alcohol because he declared all foods clean is misapplying the passage. You also are assuming that alcohol was considered a food.

Neither the article on Old Testament Beverages or the article on New Testament Beverages state that only one word is used for grape beverages. What is stated is that both the Hebrew and Greek language has a generic word that covers both fresh grape juice and fermented grape juice. Those generic words are used more frequently than other terms. Context has to determine whether the drink under consideration was alcoholic or not. You cannot assume it always is alcoholic just because the generic word is used in a passage.