Is drinking alcohol a sin?

In the Christian community, the topic of drinking alcohol has been overwrought by misinterpretation, personal conviction, good intentions, and defensiveness. Drinking alcohol is a modern symbol for the whole of the Christian walk—grace and responsibility meet in a way that makes it impossible for us to remain immature, and meet in a way that shows the issue really shouldn't be that big of a deal.

Wine was a common beverage in the time of the Bible. Water was unsanitary, germs had yet to be discovered, and wine kept longer than both milk and other fruit juices. Jesus made wine (John 2:10-11), He drank it, and He gave it to His disciples to drink (Matthew 26:27-29). The only specific injunctions about refraining from alcohol are for on-duty priests (Leviticus 10:9) and those who have taken a Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:3), a special, voluntary vow separating the person for special duty to God.

The Bible does warn against too much alcohol (Ephesians 5:18; Proverbs 23:29-35), as well as addiction (1 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Peter 2:19). Paul gives specific instruction that "overseers," or elders, are not to be characterized by drinking alcohol (1 Timothy 3:3), and deacons are not to drink too much (1 Timothy 3:8). But the Bible does not state that even pastors are to completely refrain from alcohol during social times, although church leaders should be sensitive to the possibility of their liberty causing a brother to "stumble" (Romans 14:21). Paul even exhorted Timothy to drink wine when his stomach was upset, presumably because the water was causing his digestion problems (1 Timothy 5:23).

What the Bible addresses only indirectly is the effect of a moderate amount of alcohol. Ecclesiastes 9:7 says, "drink your wine with a merry heart," and Psalm 104:14-15 says God gives wine "to gladden the heart of man." Studies have shown this to be true, literally, as red wine has been found to fight heart disease. But relying on alcohol, even in moderation, for feelings is a dangerous slope. John 15:1-11 explains that abiding in Christ, the true vine, will give us His joy and make our own joy complete. Drinking a nightly glass to calm down from a busy day can be a substitute for the joy we should only find in Christ.

As in many things, occasional, limited drinking of alcohol is a matter between each believer and God. Part of developing into a mature Christian is recognizing that we are given both freedom and responsibility. We should not be made to feel that drinking is a sin (1 Corinthians 10:30), although, at times, it may be inappropriate (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). Certainly, recovering alcoholics should not drink, and those with a family history should be extra cautious. Abstaining among more immature Christians is a thornier subject. It may be that seeing Christians drink will give them the wrong idea about such liberties, but it may be that they need to see alcohol used in a responsible, biblical manner. Instead of insisting on our own point of view regarding alcohol, we should study the scriptures and take the opportunity to develop freedom and responsibility in our Christian walk.

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