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Got Wine?

Some time ago a young single friend confided in me that she was looking for a godly man to marry. She wanted a husband who shared her Christian values, so she joined an online dating service and completed a profile with the attributes of the man of her dreams.

As I looked over her answers to the profile questions, I thought that she might have some misconceptions about what constituted a “godly” man. So I posed a hypothetical question to her: If Jesus were walking the earth today and he joined the same online dating service, would you want his profile to match yours? Of course, she said. So I went on to point out that the online profile she completed would exclude Jesus as a match. In particular, her answer to the question about how often her perfect match drank wine—”never”—presented an obstacle. She selected this response because she believed a godly man would not ever drink alcohol.

Jesus drank. In fact, he drank wine—the fermented kind, not grape juice, as some will claim—and apparently he drank a fair amount of it. More on that shortly, but first, let me point out that my friend is not alone in her thinking.

For example, Saddleback Church, a Southern Baptist mega-church in Southern California (led by Pastor Rick Warren, author of the popular book The Purpose-Driven Life) would apparently exclude Jesus as a staff member: The church’s “Maturity-Leadership Requirements” ask that each staff member “commit willingly to refrain from . . . consuming alcohol.”

Similarly, it seems that Mormons would not allow Jesus to enter their temples because perpetual abstinence from alcohol is required for entry. For that matter, some Christian denominations might even refuse Jesus membership in their churches.

So it seems that many believe that a godly man should never drink. Is this scriptural?

Did Jesus Drink?

Jesus apparently drank enough wine that he was accused of drinking to excess. In his own words he proclaimed, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard’” (Luke 7:34). So Jesus was accused of being a drunk.

The Greek word translated as “drunkard” in the above passage isoinopotes, which means a winebibber, one who drinks much wine. In fact, the first part of the word comes from the Greek word for wine,oinos, which occurs several times in the New Testament.

Some claim that Jesus drank grape juice or must (unfermented wine). But then why accuse him of being a drunkard? Other scriptural passages where oinos is found clearly indicate that, indeed, fermented wine, not grape juice, is being discussed.

For example, consider “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; if it is, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (Matt. 9:17; see also Mark 2:22, Luke 5:37-38). The old skins burst because the wine contains yeast—the catalyst of fermentation—which causes expansion.

Similarly, “no one after drinking old wine desires new; for he says, ‘The old is good’” (Luke 5:39). Even in New Testament times it was known that wine gets better with age; grape juice does not.

Old Testament passages also discuss wine. Unless otherwise noted, these passages translate the word “wine” from the Hebrew wordyayin, meaning fermented wine. The following passages show that, indeed, fermented wine is what is intended to be understood by this word:

  • Behold, my heart is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins, it is ready to burst (Job 32:19).
  • Wine and new wine take away the understanding (Hos. 4:11). Could grape juice do such a thing? Note that “new wine” is translated from the Hebrew word tiyrowsh which can also refer to unfermented wine (e.g., Num. 18:12; Deut. 14:23), but clearly it is not intended to be understood that way here.
  • Awake, you drunkards, and weep; and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth (Joel 1:5). Would drunkards care if grape juice was cut off from their mouths? “Sweet wine” is translated from the Hebrew wordaciyc which can also refer to unfermented wine, but that is not intended here either.

Is Drinking a Sin?

Drinking wine—or other alcoholic beverages for that matter—is not, in itself, sinful. Let’s look at a few scripture passages that support this claim. First, consider what happened at the wedding at Cana when the wine ran out:

Jesus said to [the servants], "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast." So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now." (John 2:7-10)

Apparently Jesus was a pretty good vintner! The wine steward’s comments seem to indicate that it was the usual practice to serve good wine until the guests drank enough that they either weren’t picky about the quality of the wine they were drinking, or they simply could no longer tell the difference between good wine and not-so-good wine. Whichever the case, this story clearly indicates that Jesus approved of drinking wine.

So did Paul. We know this from his instructions to Timothy: “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim. 5:23). Interestingly, present-day research indicates that drinking wine has health benefits.

But the approval of drinking wine goes back further than New Testament times. Several passages from the Old Testament indicate that drinking has been acceptable for a long time:

  • Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more (Prov. 31:6-7).
  • Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High (Gen. 14:18).
  • [Jacob] brought [Isaac] wine, and he drank (Gen. 27:25).
  • [S]pend the money for whatever you desire, oxen, or sheep, or wine or strong drink . . . (Deut. 14:26).
  • Thou dost cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the heart of man . . . (Ps. 104:14-15).
  • Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already approved what you do (Eccles. 9:7).1
  • On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined (Is. 25:6). Note that the Hebrew word translated as “wine on the lees” here is shemer, indicating fermentation.

Israel’s burnt offering requirements—required by God—included the use of wine, the leftover of which could be drunk by Aaron and his sons: “[A]nd with the first lamb a tenth measure of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a libation” (Ex. 29:40; see also Lev. 23:13; Num. 15:5, 7, 10; 28:7, 14). Note that Numbers 28:7 uses the Hebrew word shekar, meaning “strong wine” (or other strong alcoholic drink).

What about Intoxication?

Clearly, God has always allowed his followers to drink. With that in mind, we can understand easily why the Catholic Church does not consider drinking, in itself, to be sinful. That said, the Church does caution against excessive drinking. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air” (CCC 2290, emphasis in original).

This teaching, too, is supported by Scripture. For example, Paul often warned against drunkenness:

  • Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness . . . (Rom. 13:13).
  • I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one (1 Cor. 5:11).
  • Neither . . . thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
  • . . . envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:21).
  • And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
  • A bishop must be . . . no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money (1 Tim. 3:2-3).
  • For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard . . . (Titus 1:7).

Peter taught similarly: “Let the time that is past suffice for doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry” (1 Pet. 4:3). The Greek word translated in this passage as drunkenness is oinophlugia, also derived from oinos.

Again, such teaching was not new to Christianity—the Old Testament taught likewise:

  • Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler; and whoever is led astray by it is not wise (Prov. 20:1).
  • Be not among winebibbers, or among gluttonous eaters of meat (Prov. 23:20). Another Hebrew word, caba, translated as “drunkard” or “winebibber,” is used in this passage.
  • Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening till wine inflames them! (Is. 5:11). “Strong drink” is translated from the Hebrew word shekar—this applies also to Is. 5:22.
  • Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink (Is 5:22).

See also the story related in Proverbs 23, verses 29-35.

Should We Abstain?

So far we have seen from Scripture that drinking, in itself, is not sinful but excessive drinking is clearly warned against. But Scripture passages also indicate that there are circumstances in which one should not drink at all.

For example, when it would lead someone else into sin: “Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for any one to make others fall by what he eats; it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble” (Rom. 14:20-21). This seems clear enough—when you’re with an alcoholic it is good to be careful not to tempt him to drink. But this doesn’t mean you should never drink.

In the Old Testament, God forbids Aaron and his sons from drinking on occasion:

“Drink no wine nor strong drink, you nor your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die; it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations.” (Lev. 10:9)

We also find in the Old Testament a special sort of consecration to God through vows which included not drinking: “When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink . . .” (Num. 6:2-3; cf. Judg. 13:7). It is possible that John the Baptist took such vows—see Luke 7:33.

We can see, then, that if we take Scripture as our guide, then drinking, in itself, is not a sin, but we should not drink excessively. Cheers!

Written by Jim Blackburn



  1. Doug Reply

    As a practicing Catholic, a vegan and a lover of wine, I can really relate to these passages.

  2. Patrick Gannon Reply

    So, is smoking grass still a sin? I don’t see anything in the passages quoted that would suggest that it is. All the justifications for a glass of Pinot Noir apply to a toke on a joint, don’t they? If not, why not? Pot is almost surely going to end up being decriminalized and eventually legalized. Does this cause the Church any heartburn? I was told that it was sinful back in the 70s, but in my readings of the bible, I have failed to find anything on the subject. I don’t know it’s current status as a sin (and am only curious from an intellectual standpoint), so if it’s still sinful – why is that exactly? What would apply to pot, which is far less harmful than alcohol and has never killed anyone, that would not apply to wine or other alcoholic beverages? If wine is OK, then beer or liquor is OK, right? Why is pot wrong, when it’s not nearly as harmful as alcohol, and indeed may have significant medical uses?
    Will the Church backtrack and say it’s no longer a sin when it becomes legal, or will they persist and continue to drive out the next generation? I think it’s a lose/lose. If they admit they were wrong, then that adds to the long list of things the RCC has been wrong about. If they persist, they will continue to empty the pews.

  3. Doug Reply

    “The church” is not a single entity unless a church law comes from the actual church’s pope. Representatives might speak on behalf of the church and can relate what is currently going on socially; however, it’s really difficult to pin down any announcement of “the church” outside of official pronouncements from the pope. If I were to be asked that question, I’d have to say that smoking weed has no medical value and that smoking anything is harmful. We aren’t designed to metabolize nutrients through carbon or smoke in our lungs. That’s not to say that hemp oil has no medical value; I believe it has many. But, to the frustration of pot smokers (I have been in the same room with weed about a million times back in the seventies and eighties), hitting the bong isn’t exactly medical use. Hemp oil’s medicinal use does not get a person high. Wine,on the other hand, is known to possess absolute components that fight cancer, cholesterol build-up and many other maladies – by drinking it. Intoxication, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. Intoxication to the point of creating a problem for anyone, is certainly wrong. As hard as one tries, I think it’s probably difficult to smoke a joint without getting intoxicated, at least to some degree. If “the church” declares that smoking pot isn’t sinful, it’ll probably be because it is no longer illegal and may be found to be harmless in certain ways of using it. I find that unlikely, since pot smoke contains a litany of carcinogenic elements at any level of use. From what I understand, breaking the law of society is a sin, in virtually all cases. I was (and still am to some degree) wary and resentful of the changes from the Second Vatican Council that declared what was sinful is now OK. It actually isn’t this way at all. I once saw this as backtracking; however, now, I see it as the church replanting it’s posture on rules that the church itself established. Who can undo a rule except those who wrote it in the first place? The term “sin” means to me, the same as the term as “insult.” I can “sin” against a person or an organization while not committing a “sin” as many define it from “ten commandment” sin. Like eating meat on Fridays. It is now only forbidden during Lent and used to be forbidden on all Fridays. We now fast for a hour before Mass. We used to fast all day till after communion. We used to kneel to receive the body of Christ from a priest. Now, we stand up and take it by our own hands from someone we were at the movies with last night. I don’t know … It’s all so confusing. I need clarification … Where’s my bong?

    1. Patrick Gannon Reply

      Doug, I’m not an expert on the matter, but I don’t think it’s a question of smoking pot having no medical value. There are various components in the substance; and as you pointed out, one gets you high (THC) and one appears to have numerous medical benefits (CBD), and some folks say both together produce the best results for specific maladies. However the substance can be absorbed through smoking or eating. When you say “hemp oil,” I think you’re referring to the CBD oil that has been developed so young kids, in particular, don’t have to smoke to get the benefits. It has had remarkable success with some serious childhood afflictions.
      As to being harmless; I think that depends on how you define that word. I don’t think anything in excess is good for us, but to the best of my knowledge there isn’t a single incidence in history of a person overdosing and dying as a result of ingesting pot through smoking or any other method. As we all know, people die every die frequently from drinking too much.
      You mention the carcinogenic properties of smoking carbon, but more and more people are using vaporizers, and these don’t burn anything, so those compounds are all (apparently) eliminated. I guess you get a THC and/or CBD infused vapor (water) instead, and don’t get all the crap from cigarette papers or burning the plant itself in a bong or pipe.
      I read that the original word “sin” is an archery term that means to fall short of the mark. Now it seems to primarily mean doing something without clothes on that Bible God doesn’t want you to do. I do understand your point about changes in the Church. In another column someone asked why the fundies are gaining members while the RCC and other mainline churches are losing them – at least in western countries. Part of it may be that they stick to their guns. The world was created in 6 days and that’s all there is to it, the facts and evolution be damned. The RCC on the other hand, has adapted slowly, but every time it does, it admits, by way of changing its policies and doctrines, that it was wrong before, and it doesn’t really know any more about gods and afterlives than anyone else. I like fish, so I was OK with meatless Fridays, but I remember thinking when I was young and they repealed it: “it’s a mortal sin if you know a thing is bad – (eating meat on Friday), and you know it’s wrong because the priest says so, but you do it anyway (because a new McDonald’s opened and your friends dragged you along – then you get hit by a car and die before confession. Ouch. Mortal sin. Direct path to Hell, do not pass Go, do not collect $200; turn up the fryer, we got a new one coming in boss!” Now all of a sudden it’s not a sin, and as a kid I’m wondering about that poor slob in Hell because he ate a hamburger on Friday when it was a sin; while if he had just waited a little longer, it would have been perfectly OK. Does God let them out of Hell after the Pope decides it’s not a sin to eat meat on Friday anymore, or are you there forever because it was a sin at the time you committed it? How can a thing be sinful then (like eating shellfish or wearing two types of clothing, or working on the Sabbath, or loaning money with interest – the list of old sins that we no longer worry about goes on and on. How can a thing be sinful before Jesus and not be sinful after Jesus? It makes the word “sin” pretty useless if you ask me.

  4. Doug Reply

    I agree. Hemp has much to contribute if the true product is researched properly and if the marijuana aspect isn’t used an an “opiate of the masses” for political purposes. The term “sin” is, I believe, very misused and misunderstood. I truly believe that a sin today may not be a sin tomorrow, unless it is a sin as prescribed by God as a sin against God. A sin against church protocol is no longer a sin after the church changes it’s protocol. I still have some trouble with changes in the church but after all, it is a human institution and not all church matters are established ex-cathedra. Some matters, rules and opinions can be changed. That doesn’t mean that they were originally in error.

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