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Issues: Alcohol and the Bible
Should Christians stay away from drink?
Drinking alcohol is one of those issues which is very controversial. Six hundred or more Biblical references and centuries of Christian tradition have not yet provided a clear answer. As a whole, the Christian Church appears to send out mixed messages about alcohol. Some Christians think the only way to solve the problems of alcoholism is by total abstention - not drinking at all under any circumstances. Others believe that occasional and moderate drinking is a pleasant and harmless way of relaxing and enjoying the company of one's friends. All Christians agree, however, that too much alcohol can lead to tragic consequences. They therefore try to be self-disciplined and self-controlled whether or not they are total abstainers. There is no Eleventh Commandment saying 'Thou shalt not drink.' However, there are strong statements throughout the Bible about not getting drunk. The Book of Proverbs is full of wise sayings about every day life, including the use of alcohol. In Chapter 31:31-32 it says:
‘Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.’
As far as the writer of Proverbs is concerned, alcohol is dangerous and should be handled with care. But there are plenty of examples about the use of alcohol in the Bible. Jesus wined and dined with sinners (Matthew 11:19); St Paul advised Timothy in a letter in the New Testament to drink a little wine for his health (1 Timothy 5:23); Jesus even turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). In another verse, the Bible declares that:
'Wine... gladdens the heart of man.' (Psalm 104:15)
But, to accept this as permission to drink without thinking of the consequences is to act without exercising responsibility either for self or for others. While alcohol may be legally available (under certain conditions) not all things are helpful to us or to others. Not everything builds us up as people or brings glory to God, ‘“Everything is permissible” - but not everything is beneficial.' (1 Corinthians 10:23). A drug does not have to be illegal to be dangerous. Some people drink alcohol without any apparent problems; but millions of people are harmed as a result of drinking. The Bible does say 'don't get drunk', but it leaves it open for Christians to think about drinking. Today's enormous drink problems did not exist in First Century Palestine. First Century Jewish culture was strict about its use of alcohol, and drunkenness was condemned. Sanitation by our standards was non-existent and there was no doubt that when St Paul suggested Timothy should drink a little wine for his health he was offering sound medical advice by avoiding the local water! In the U.K. today, alcohol abuse kills many more people than substance abuse. Many Christians do not drink alcohol because they want their lifestyle to set a good example to others. Such personal 'sacrifice' encourages alcoholics to stay 'dry' and helps people to be confident about choosing an alcohol-free option.