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The Bible Does Not Forbid Alcohol

For the past few weeks I have been consumed writing a book on Bible difficulties. By “Bible difficulties" I mean the tough passages in scripture that critics (usually atheists) use to try and prove that the Bible is not the inspired Word of God. They say these verses show the Bible is instead a mere collection of fables that were penned by “Bronze Age goat-herders."

The typical objections include arguments that the Bible condones slavery and genocide, that the God of the Old Testament is cruel and wrathful, and that the Bible is full of passages and teachings that contradict one another. One website even boasts that there are 1001 contradictions in the Bible!

Help That’s Not Always Helpful

As far as I know, there is no Catholic book that addresses these issues. The only ones that have been widely published are from conservative Protestants, the two most famous examples being Gleason Archer’s The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties and Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe’s Big Book of Bible Difficulties (also calledWhen Critics Ask).

While these books do have many helpful answers, I’m always hesitant to recommend them to Catholics because they contradict Catholic doctrine in several places. For example, in Geisler and Howe’s book on the subject they argue against both the idea that Mary was ever virgin and that the Church was built on Peter (346-347) as well as the belief that the Eucharist is really Christ’s body and blood (412-413). But something that caught my eye recently was Geisler and Howe’s treatment of alcohol, or what they call, “strong drink."

The issue comes up when the duo tries to answer the following objection,

“Does the Bible contradict itself on alcohol? In some passages it says it is okay to drink alcohol but other passages say it is not okay."

Geisler and Howe’s solution is blunt, “It is clear that the scriptures condemn the use of strong drink," (122) which they interpret to mean any alcoholic beverage.

Are Geisler and Howe correct that scripture issues a blanket condemnation of alcohol? No, and here’s why.

Examining the Arguments

Geisler and Howe begin by saying,

“Leviticus 10:8 forbids the priest from drinking wine or strong drink when he is supposed to minister in the tent of meeting. Also, Proverbs forbids the use of wine or strong drink by kings or rulers, lest they pervert justice. Further, many passages warn of the deceitfulness of strong drink (Prov. 20:1) and condemn the use of it in general."

Most people aren’t allowed to drink on the job, be they priests, kings, or modern day accountants and plumbers. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy alcoholic refreshments when we aren’t at work. In addition, Geisler and Howe use passages that only condemn drunkenness in order to support their conclusion that scripture condemns the use of alcohol in general. They write,

The Bible is opposed to both strong drink and drunkenness (1 Cor. 6:9- 10 ; Eph. 5:18 ). It pronounces woes on those who drink either strong drink or who drink in excess (Isa. 5:11 ; Amos 6:1, 6 ; Micah 2:11 ). Christian leaders are urged to be temperate ( 1 Tim. 3:3 , 8 ). All are warned that too much alcohol is abhored by God (Amos 6:1-8 ). And although moderate amounts were recommended for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23 ), nowhere does the Bible commend strong drink as a beverage. The only reference to taking “strong drink" is as a painkiller in extreme circumstances: “Give strong drink to him who is perishing" (Prov. 31:6).

This approach to exegesis reminds me of what the evangelical scholar D.A. Carson once said, “A proof text without context is a pretext." These verses simply don’t support Geisler and Howe’s conclusion and only serve to overwhelm an opponent who isn’t willing to look at what each passage actually says. So what do they say?

The Old Testament

Amos 6 only condemns celebrating without mourning for Israel’s sins and its impending judgment. This same verse also condemns “anointing our faces with oil" which surely Geisler and Howe do not object to. Likewise, Micah 2:11 refers to the people rejecting the prophets and listening instead to people who will tell them whatever they want to hear, provided they are willing to pay these false prophets with alcohol. The passage makes no reference to the general use of alcohol.

Isaiah 5:11 only condemns people who “chase strong drink" and let it “inflame them," not casual drinking. In the previous eleven verses God even compares Israel to an unfruitful vineyard, which implies that Israel was as bad as a field of grapes incapable of making fruit to be used for wine, the stuff God is supposed to be against!

When it comes to “strong drink" or in Hebrew “shekar," Geisler and Howe are wrong about it only being used in emergency situations. Deuteronomy 14:26 says in regards to certain tithing allocations, “spend the money for whatever you desire, oxen, or sheep, or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves; and you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household."

Geisler and Howe try to get around this passage by saying that this alcohol would have been diluted and so there would have been no worry about becoming drunk. They write,

It was a common practice to dilute the strong drink (i.e., normally fermented grape juice) with about three parts water to one part wine. In this weaker form, imbibed with meals in moderation, there was no fear of excess. It is only in this sense that “wine" was permitted in the Scriptures and then only in a culture that was not alcoholic. While moderate drinking of this diluted wine may be permissible, in a culture shot through with alcoholism (such as ours), it is not profitable.

But if the culture of the Bible were not an “alcoholic one," then why are there dozens of passages in the Bible that warn people about drunkeness?

Now, it’s true that wine was mixed with water in order to make it weaker, but the resulting wine was still alcoholic. For example, the Roman author Pliny the Elder described how you could set Falernian wine on fire, which means it contained at least 30% alcohol (Pliny,Natural History, 14.8). Even if you diluted such a drink with three parts water it would still be more alcoholic than most beers.

The Old Testament rightfully teaches that “wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler" (Proverbs 20:1) when it is consumed in too high of quantities. But God was happy to have his people consume both wine and strong drink in moderate amounts in order to “rejoice before the Lord" (Deuteronomy 14:26).

The New Testament

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says methysoi, or drunkards, will not inherit the kingdom of God. It does not say that those who merely drink alcohol will not inherit the kingdom of God. This parallels what Paul said in Galatians 5:21 about methai and komoi, or drunkards and “carousers," not inheriting the kingdom of God.[i]

Likewise Ephesians 5:18 isn’t opposed to “strong drink," but drunkenness. It says, “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery. Instead be filled with the spirit." If Paul had wanted to condemn merely drinking wine, then he would have used the Greek word pino, which means “to drink." Instead, he uses the wordmethyskesthe, which is a form of the verb methusko and means, “to get drunk."

In regards to the pastoral letters, Geisler and Howe transform Paul’s advice to Timothy that he drink wine if he has an upset tummy (1 Timothy 5:23) into the idea that wine should only be used “for medicinal reasons." They also interpret 1 Timothy 3:3-8’s exhortations for bishops to not be “drunkards" and deacons to “not [be] addicted to much wine” to mean Christian leaders should be “temperate" or abstain from alcohol completely. But this mistaken interpretation abuses the texts so much that I almost want to call protective services.

And of course, Geisler and Howe completely skip over Jesus’ miracle at Cana where he changed water into wine, which would be absurd if drinking wine were a sin. As we’ve seen, it’s fruitless (no pun intended) to argue that this “wine" was just grape juice. The steward at the feast even explicitly comments that the wine Jesus made was the “good wine" which should have been served first (John 2:10). That’s because the guests were now too inebriated from the inferior wine to notice how good Jesus’ wine was.

Finally, Geisler and Howe make a last ditch effort to condemn alcohol by citing Romans 14:21. They write,

“In view of all these factors, it is best to conclude with the Apostle Paul, “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak" (Rom. 14:21)."

But Paul was talking about causing someone to stumble into idolatry, not alcoholism. I agree we shouldn’t pressure someone to drink or put him in a position where he will drink more than he can handle, but this use of scripture to justify mandatory and complete abstinence from alcohol is simply unfounded. Geisler and Howe should take heed of the latter part of the advice Paul gave in Romans 14:3, “Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him."

A Final Note

I want to make it clear that I don’t endorse drunkenness or excessive love of alcohol. In fact, I don’t particularly like drinking alcohol, and I have no problem with those who choose not to drink. But I can’t condone scripture being used to justify “traditions of men." This includes the tradition among some Protestants that Christians must abstain from alcohol, a position that even Calvin and Luther would have found to be strange and unbiblical.

In conclusion, a thorough examination of the Bible shows that the following observation by Hilaire Belloc about Catholic culture is one that is not opposed to the scriptural record:

“Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.

By Trent Horn



  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    With issues like whether Yahweh condones slavery and genocide, the author chooses to focus on whether alcohol is proscribed. Who cares!
    There are three truths in life:
    1. Jewish people do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
    2. Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian faith.
    3. Baptists do not recognize each other in the liquor store.

  2. Sherry Reply

    I’m sickened by hearing its OK to costume alcohol. Yeah I read the Bible and let me tell you Catholics something I’m dealing with a very confused 21 year old son who has turned from his upbringing of ” Protestant Baptist”of which he now believes is of the Devil to Catholicism and says they are the only “true Christians”. He said they say drinking alcohol is fine and has now a record for DUI and it getting lulled into thinking he should drink it whenever he wants and the cobra as the “Bible” says has its deadly bite and my son I’m afraid is getting addicted. When he kills himself or someone on the road what is your justification as to why ?? temperance is a joke OK!! What person for “real” actually stops with one or two?? I say stay away and never touch it, PERIOD!! HIS HEALTH WILL SUFFER,MY SHATTERED FAMILY IS SUFFERING,HIS WALLET IS SUFFERING,HES GOT A RECORD NOW, MAY LOSE HIS JOB AND YOU THINK I believe GOD is OK with that?? Read GOD’S word, if thy right hand offendeth thee cut it off, better to lose a body part and go to Heaven than to keep those parts and go to Hell. I know what GOD is saying…if there is ANYTHING than would cause you to sin then better to rid yourself of it than to let it cause you to willfully go against GODS commands!! Alcohol does not keep my sons focus on GOD but merely the trappings of this world. He got drunk and will continue to because men(or women) who are bent for leather to not be encumbered with rules or boundaries /limitations will not stop with one or two but whenever they can’t glut no more…until they vomit themselves to death so to speak. You need to preach to these naive people who believe your rhetoric that you are mis informed!!

    1. Patrick Gannon Reply

      Why did Jesus turn water into wine?

      Perhaps your son has issues because he is tormented by all the guilt, shame, fear and doubt that religion fills a child with, many of whom spend the rest of their lives trying to cover up that pain in ways that are harmful to themselves and others.

      As for my question about why did Jesus turn water into wine, a better question would be – why didn’t Jesus turn lead into gold and take care of the poor people? Or why didn’t he teach them something about germs and sanitation and save millions of lives from horrific deaths?

  3. John Reply

    Ephesians 5:18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
    We are not to be drunk or controlled by any foreign substance. It messes up our thinking – we loose control. Instead we are to be filled (controlled) by the Holy Spirit of God. That is true whether we are at work, home, church or where ever. The bible has a lot to say about the use of alcohol – look in Proverbs. Then to where do we draw the line between just having a few drinks and being drunk. I had one fellow tell me he used a breathalyzer. I’m not sure that’s how God determines it. There are an awful lot of destroyed marriages, families and many in a early gave due to alcohol. What you don’t start using you don’t have to worry about stopping. I don’t think alcoholics started out thinking that was where they were going to end up, but they did. You may not plan on being one, but you might end up being one. So don’t start. You can have a whole lot more fun without it, you won’t end up hung over the next day, loose your wife, or husband, children or crash your car or maybe kill someone else in the process. About an hour ago my son text me to tell me a car drove through a yard and crashed just up the street from him tonight. The fellow was drunk, maybe he just started out having a few as well. Enough said. Be smart – stay away from the booze.

    1. Patrick Gannon Reply

      How many people drink (self-medicate) in order to try and hide the pain that religion imposed on them at an early age? How many are trying toe cover up the shame, guilt and fear that was instilled in them as children when they were told they were born sick and commanded to be well? How many see life as hopeless, knowing they can never live up to the standards that religionists insist upon, else face eternal torture simply for acting out their evolved nature? People take drugs and drink when they are unhappy. Why are so many people unhappy? Christianity does not celebrate or seek out joy; instead it praises and gushes over pain and sacrifice as though these are the most important things in our short lives here. No wonder people drink and do drugs to try and hide from all that.

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