(Note – A few years ago, while on a trip down South to visit relatives, I began this article on the dangers of drink but didn’t find myself with enough time to complete what had been started. Today, with the mounting pressures on Christians through the philosophies of the world and the lies of the Enemy, I felt it necessary to dig it up, do extensive editing, and carve out the time required to complete my thoughts in the hopes that the fainthearted will be encouraged.)
A Biblically Biased View
To be clear, all of us approach life and its issues with a certain amount of bias and experiential prejudices. Whether it is on the subject of love or the topic of money, our experiences and sources of education will almost always play a role in any given situation. This is no less true than with the issue of drinking alcohol. Therefore, let me be transparent…I am not an alcoholic. But I used to be. There was a time in my late teens and early twenties when the main motivating force of my life was to drink for the purpose of getting drunk. It allowed me to deal with some of the pain of my past. It allowed me to accept the disappointments of my present. It allowed me to handle awkward social situations. It allowed me the excuse to act in whatever way my fallen nature was leading me on any given day.
But that was nineteen years ago last month. In October of 1999, God saved me through His Son, Jesus Christ, filled me with His Holy Spirit, and delivered me from the grip that alcohol had upon my life. Since that day of salvation, I have not drank a drop of alcohol, not because I can’t but because I have no desire to.
“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 (NASB95)
So in all fairness, that is the bias that I bring to the table when approaching the touchy topic of alcohol and strong drink. But also in all fairness, my worldview is largely influenced by God’s holy, inspired Word. In fact, I would like to think that my perspective is primarily informed by what Scripture says rather than what I personally see from my experiences. This is my daily aim, to allow the wisdom and insight of the Lord to be the interpreting factor of my experiences and the issues of life. In short, I strive to live a life of biblical exegesis and not eisegesis. Therefore, this is my bias; informed both biblically and experientially.
When considering what the Bible has to say about the topic of drunkenness, the act of drinking a fermented liquid for the purpose of inebriation (and I guess some would say for its great taste) is clearly condemned. For instance, in the Old Testament, indulgence in drink is warned against as a deep misery and wretchedness. In the fifith chapter of Isaiah, the Lord speaking through His prophet declares a list of several “woes.” Two of those have to do with drunkenness, which is not insignificant.
“Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, Who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them!” Isaiah 5:11 (NASB95)
“Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wineAnd valiant men in mixing strong drink,” Isaiah 5:22 (NASB95)
Again, in the wisdom literature of Proverbs, where the thesis statement of the book and gateway into the proverbs is, “fear the Lord,” Solomon explains that drunkenness is associated with foolishness.
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” Proverbs 20:1 (NASB95)
If one pauses to ponder for a moment, this is an interesting play on words within the context of Proverbs. On the one hand, the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. On the other hand, the indulgence of drunkenness is seen as an indulgence of foolishness which can be assumed is also a rejection of the fear of the Lord, otherwise it would not be termed so strongly as foolishness. I can certainly attest to this from my past as I foolishly pursued a lifestyle of drunkenness, all the while also rejecting the ways of the Lord. It seems the two are not compatible and are in fact at odds with each other.
In the context of the New Testament, the condemnation of drunkenness continues to be a topic that is addressed, even pointing to its tragic consequences. One example of the eternal effects of a life spent in pursuit of drink is this:
“……nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:10(NASB95)
Either a person will enter the kingdom of God or they will not. Those who desire to identify with their fallen nature, whether it be as a thief or as an alcoholic, will reap the fruit of that choice. But on the other hand, in Christ, there is another option that we can identify with, as that passage of Scripture goes on to say:
“Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:11 (NASB95)
Furthermore, the concept of drunkenness is often used in a negative way in prophetic and apocalyptic writings. For example, intoxication is used to illustrate the influence of Babylon upon the world in the end times as a great tragedy of excess.
“For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality.” Revelation 18:3(NASB95)
Clearly, drunkenness is a concept that is viewed by both Old Testament and New Testament in a very negative light and clearly condemned as sinful by the Lord.
An Extremely Gray Area
While the biblical evidence against drunkenness gained through alcohol is very clear, in modern Christian culture there is a tremendous amount of confusion regarding the exact characteristics that define a person who is given to “drunkenness.” Is it a person who wakes up and the first thing they do is pour themselves a bloody Mary in preparation of a day of alcoholic pursuits? Is it a person who drinks a twelve pack with his buddies every Sunday afternoon while watching the game on TV? Is it the person who has a glass of wine with their meal at a fancy Italian restaurant?
What it truly boils down to is a subjective interpretation whereby it is largely dependent upon the individual to determine drunkenness. The effects of inebriation are different for every person. Some may be able to handle their liquor in a more tolerable way than others because of a number of different factors, such as body mass, stomach contents, interaction with prescription drugs, gender, and even their ethnic background (BGSU, Factors that Affect Intoxication). Therefore, because of the wide range of factors that may contribute to an individual’s intoxication, it is almost impossible to make a generalized statement defining exactly how much alcohol it will take to cause a person to become drunk.
Along with this gray area, there is the slippery-like-a-snake process of inebriation to be considered. The effects of alcohol, once again depending on several outside contributing factors, such as stomach contents and hydration, are not immediately felt. A person may finish their first beer and begin indulging in their second before the full effects of the first have peaked. Add to this the reality that every situation of drinking is not going to be the same. A person may be well-rested, well-fed, and well-hydrated enabling them to consume a couple of glasses of wine without feeling its effects. But maybe the next time their condition will be depleted of those things resulting in intoxication happening more easily and quickly. Both of these factors present a dangerous scenario for the person who stands on the biblical teaching against drunkenness but yet pursues their personal privilege of drinking.
Inebriation is paramount to Russian roulette, whereby you can never tell when the chamber with the bullet in it is going to roll around. Will it be this round of drinks or the next? Will it be as my glass of wine becomes half empty or will it be after the final swallow as the glass is filled back up? Only time will tell. But obviously, at that juncture, if the point of no return has been crossed, it will be too late to undo what has been done. The blood stream has already been poisoned, drunkenness has already been achieved (albeit probably not the slobbering, falling over in the street kind we may stereotype), and sin has happened. For the person who stands against drunkenness but pursues their right to social drinking, this could be devastating…at least assuming they have a conscience that is still soft enough to be able to be spoken to by the Lord and a full understanding of the consequences of sin.
The Ancient Boundary
While the biblical evidence, along with the uncertainty of playing footsie with the viper of alcohol, is probably enough evidence to steer most born-again Christians towards the pursuit of a life of teetotalism, there are other factors to consider that are extremely relevant to the discussion.
In our fallen culture, which has been fallen for millennia and will not get any better until Jesus returns and redeems the heavens and the earth into a place in which righteousness dwells, alcohol has often been a tool in the hands of sinners that has effectively contributed to the struggle and continual downward spiral of societies. Consider some of the statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
- In 2015, it was estimated that 15.1 million American adults struggled with alcoholism
- In 2010, alcohol abuse cost the U.S. 249 billion dollars in medical, legal, and rehabilitation fees
- In 2010, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 88,424 deaths in the U. S. that were directly related to alcohol, including almost 10,000 in alcohol related driving fatalities
- Globally, alcohol misuse is the leading cause of death among people aged 15-49
The statistics stagger the mind. With this much potential harm that can come from the misuse of alcohol, it is no wonder that some have been awakened to its tragedy and have wisely adopted pledges of abstinence.
While traveling through Arkansas a few years ago for a wedding, I found myself at a location where they had some historic pieces of their culture on display. There were artifacts from native Indians who had once lived in the area. There were old pieces of mining equipment from some of the first settlers. There were old black and white pictures of people who had domesticated the wild terrain of the Ozark Mountains. Also among those pictures of times gone by, there was an interesting document that was framed in a glass case. It was a Family Temperance Pledge dated from 1892. This document was based on an earlier document copyrighted by the Library of Congress in 1887. This form was a statement that could be signed by family members who recognized the dangers of alcohol upon a family and society. Therefore, it was resolved with the help and guidance provided by a sovereign God, to avoid any and all consumption of alcohol. It wasn’t merely a commitment to moderation but abstinence, whereby the signers agreed to not only avoid juggling the hot potato of intoxication, but to avoid playing the game in the first place.
Its twelve tenets as stated on the document are as follows:
- Moderate drinking tends to drunkenness, while total abstinence directly from it.
- While no one means to become a drunkard, there is said to be over six hundred thousand confirmed drunkards in our country today.
- Intoxicating drinks can do no good as a beverage, and there are always safer and surer remedies to use in case of sickness.
- The idea of moderation is full of deceit, and our estimate of the power of our own will is usually a mistaken one.
- The drinking habit is the cause of the larger portion of the misery, poverty and crime in our land.
- Both science and experience prove that even moderate drinking is injurious to health.
- Eternal interests are often forfeited through drink, for the Bible declares that no drunkard shall enter heaven.
- The Bible pronounces no blessing upon drinking, but many upon total abstinence.
- It is easier to keep a pledge publicly, solemnly given than a simple resolution.
- The pledge protects us from the solicitations of friends and removes us from the temptations of the saloon.
- Persons miscalculate their ability to drink in moderation, and become slaves to the drinking habit before they are aware of it.
- Intemperance obstructs civilization, education, religion and every useful reform.
While history shows that many of our American forefathers advocated drinking alcohol in various amounts, it also seemed appropriate to some of our other American ancestors to establish a clear-cut boundary in regards to alcohol. To avoid the potential overindulgence and abuse that a sinful creature can create with minimal resources, they perceived the wisest path was abstinence. Considering the explosion of excess that has happened in the years since this document was produced, the need for that cry has not diminished, but rather, should be proclaimed all the louder. Therefore, it seems wise to harken to the wisdom of Proverbs again, where it says:
“Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set.” Proverbs 22:28 (NASB95)
In Part Two of this topic, I will address further the Christian calling for abstinence, common arguments in favor of drinking alcohol, why those arguments are shallow and unreliable, and the way of the Nazirite Vow. Until then:
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,” Ephesians 5:18 (NASB95)