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Legal But Lost: Alcohol
"Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise," (Proverbs 20:1). Sin, though approved by society and allowed by civil law, is no less sin before God, the consequence of which is (spiritual) death (Romans 6:23).
Civil government in general is ordained of God (Romans 13:1-7). However, God does not authorize a particular kind of government (e.g., Roman Empire, democracy, etc.). Neither does God pre-authorize specific laws of any government. The apostles found it necessary to disregard civil government on occasion when it required of them something unlawful in God's law (Acts 4:18-20; 5:28-29). However, they only disregarded civil law to the extent it required them to violate God's law. The apostles were still bound by the balance of man's law under which they lived.
When civil government allows, tolerates, legalizes, taxes or sponsors sin, to that extent faithful Christians must resort to the higher law of God over man's law. Governments sometimes legalize sin, but usually do not require participation in the same (e.g., abortion on demand [murder], prostitution, immodesty and even nudity, unscriptural remarriage, gambling, alcohol, etc.). Christians must persevere in righteousness in spite of legal permission or even compulsion to commit sin.
Liquor was outlawed in the U.S. and its territories between 1919 and 1933, though Rhode Island and Connecticut never ratified the 18th (prohibition) Amendment. In 1929 Utah became the 36th state to renounce prohibition, and later, the 21st Amendment rescinded the 18th Amendment. Several other nations also practiced prohibition in the early 20th Century, also later to repeal it. Prohibition proved itself unenforceable in view the general public outcry in favor of the pleasurable consumption of alcoholic beverages. Though their efforts failed in the face of acute opposition, several nations tried to protect their citizens from the real and identifiable perils of alcohol consumption.
Alcoholic beverages are legal today and big business for manufacturers, retailers and government. Largely, except for some dry counties and age restrictions, alcohol is legal throughout our nation. Tax receipts are sizable for liquor's 20 billion dollars in annual sales. New York has even legalized drunkenness and requires police to act as free taxi services for drunks; this shows the extent to which government has reversed itself from an opponent to a proponent of alcoholic beverages.
Alcohol is the most frequently abused drug in our nation. Alcohol abuse costs 100 billion dollars annually; it costs about five times more to address the abuse of alcohol than the money generated by retail sales of alcoholic beverages. Business, industry and government spend large amounts of money annually combating the abuse of alcohol in the work place.
Alcohol is associated with most crime; it is involved in 70% of all murders, 41% of assaults, 50% of rapes, 60% of sex crimes against children, 56% of fights and assaults in homes, 37% of suicides and 55% of all arrests.
Further, alcohol is a safety hazard; it is involved in 66% of fatal accidents, 53% of fire deaths, 36% of pedestrian accidents, 22% of home accidents, 45% of drownings, 50% of skiing accidents, more admissions to mental hospitals than any other cause, 50% of all traffic accidents (killing 25,000 and seriously injuring 1,000,000 annually), and is the #1 killer of people 25 and under (the #3 killer in America for all ages).
Alcohol is also a medical hazard. It is poisonous; half of 1% alcohol in the blood results in instant death. In addition, each alcoholic drink kills brain cells (which the body does not replace) and causes memory loss, beginning with the last things learned or memorized. Alcohol damages the stomach, liver and kidneys, too. Only cancer and heart disease claim more lives than alcohol each year. Alcohol is a depressant drug that affects the central nervous system. Furthermore, one drink (of beer, liquor or wine) produces an average of .05% alcohol in the blood and accompanying physical impairments. Alcohol combined with medication or other drugs can kill; and, alcohol consumption during pregnancy may result in birth defects (including facial abnormalities, heart defects, abnormal limb development and less than average intelligence). Even in small quantities, alcohol deadens mental activity and slows muscular response and co-ordination. It further produces fatigue and lowers physical endurance.
Considering the obvious and real dangers presented by the consumption of alcohol, it's popularity remains truly amazing. Alcohol cost much more money than it generates for manufacturers, retailers or government. It contributes greatly to crime and greatly endangers both body and mind. These observations alone should lead thoughtful people to utterly reject alcoholic beverages. However, instead, the pleasurable consumption of alcohol seems permanently seated in culture and society.
Alcoholic beverages are widely used, as any observant person can easily verify. About 71% of Americans 18 and up use alcohol; only 29% abstain from its use. Most restaurants serve alcohol (including family restaurant chains like Pizza Hut, Ground Round and Chi-Chi's). Where permitted, almost all grocery stores sell alcohol. Serving alcoholic beverages to guests upon entrance into one's home has become the norm for modern hospitality. Alcohol also accompanies most social and sporting events; also, our leaders and heroes (e.g., politicians, entertainers, athletes and most other public figures) are viewed regularly using alcoholic beverages as well.
Even some religious leaders, among whom is Billy Graham, condone its use. Also, denominational church festivals frequently offer alcoholic beverages; military chaplains commonly fellowship over cocktails. The Roman Catholic church even uses alcohol in its worship service.
Far from being hailed as sinful, in our society, alcoholism is said to be a disease. If so, it is the only disease that is taxed by governments; it is the only disease that typically leads to auto accidents, divorce, murder and rape. It is the only disease for which one can be fined for having too much of it; it is the only disease gladly accepted by its victim; it is the only disease which employs people for its manufacture; it is the only disease regulated by government; and, it is the only disease allowed or disallowed in a community by popular vote. Alcohol[ism] is the only disease bottled and sold!
From mad dogs, wild beasts, snakes and even spiders people rapidly withdraw themselves. How strange it is when our society then deploys alcohol in every aspect of life, though it has amply demonstrated itself more deadly than marauding hordes of vicious dogs and ferocious beasts. Man has sufficient evidence available by which to determine alcohol will only harm him. However, God has also warned mankind against its use.
Conservative religious people have always regarded alcohol as sinful. Some churches oppose the selling of alcoholic beverages close to their buildings or distribute literature opposing the pleasurable consumption of alcoholic beverages at all. Many elders, preachers and congregations throughout the churches of Christ oppose alcohol on biblical grounds.
The pleasurable consumption of alcohol is condemned in the Old Testament. Priests were forbidden to consume alcohol under penalty of death (Leviticus 10:8-11).
"And the Lord spake unto Aaron, saying, Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations: And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; And that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses."
Civil leaders were also forbidden to drink alcohol lest they pervert judgment (Proverbs 31:4-5). Faithful Jews were not allowed even to look upon wine in its intoxicating state (Proverbs 23:31). Alcohol was reserved for medicinal purposes (Proverbs 31:6). Furthermore, drunkenness was punishable by death (Deuteronomy 21:20-21). Too, scripture warns against alcohol because it contributes to poverty (Proverbs 23:21). Drinking alcohol demonstrates lack of wisdom as well (Proverbs 20:1). Faithful Jews were further forbidden to be in the company of those drinking alcohol (Proverbs 23:20). Alcohol leads to other immorality (Proverbs 23:29-35). Alcohol is hazardous to health and safety (Proverbs 23:29-35); it causes God's servants to err (Genesis 9:21-22).
"But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment" (Isaiah 28:7).
Drinking alcohol was considered a defilement by faithful Jews (Daniel 1:5-8). It was a crime to give alcoholic beverages to another person (Habakkuk 2:15). The Israelites were forbidden to drink alcohol in order to always know God and practice his law:
"And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot. Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink: that ye might know that I am the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 29:5-6).
Alcohol is also associated with violence (Proverbs 4:17). Total abstinence from alcohol was praised by God (Jeremiah 35:2-19).
The pleasurable consumption of alcohol is condemned in the New Testament, too. Whereas Old Testament priests were forbidden to drink alcohol, Christians are priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9) in the perfect tabernacle (the church, Hebrews 9:11; 8:2) all the time. Further, drinking alcohol is expressly forbidden (Ephesians 5:18). "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit." Drunkenness is a sin explicitly cited as keeping people from heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21). Drinking alcohol is drinking with the devil (1 Corinthians 10:21). Drinking alcohol is a work of the flesh, warring against the spirit of man (Galatians 5:19-21).
Christians are exhorted to be sober (1 Thessalonians 5:6, 8; 1 Timothy 3:2-3, 8; 1 Peter 1:13; 4:7; 5:8). Aged women are cautioned against use of alcohol (Titus 2:3). Alcohol was restricted to medicinal use (1 Timothy 5:23). Leaders of the church are especially forbidden the use of alcohol (1 Timothy 3:2-3, 8). Christians are exhorted to avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22). It is sinful to harm the body, which alcohol does (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19-20). Drinking alcohol is sinful and associated with other sins (Romans 13:13).
There is plenty of corroborating Biblical evidence for the objective student of the Bible to ascertain that the pleasurable consumption of alcohol is not sanctioned by God. All of this, of course, is additional to overwhelming statistical and factual testimony against alcohol. The child of God, therefore, should not want alcohol were it allowed by God, and God does not permit its pleasurable consumption. However, even brethren sometimes attempt one or more feeble defenses for their pet, alcohol.
Most would-be defenders of alcohol say in its defense, "Jesus turned water into wine at a marriage feast" (John 2:1-11). Billy Graham is also on record as defending the use of alcohol with such a reference to our Lord's first recorded miracle. The assumption is that Jesus made alcoholic wine, and therefore, we can drink alcoholic beverages today. However, the Greek word from which wine (oinos) is translated in John 2 can mean the grape vine, the grape, grape juice, grape juice concentrate, grape juice mixed with other flavors or alcoholic wine and can only be defined by the context in which it appears. Jesus lived under the Old Testament which forbid drinking alcohol. If Jesus, then, made alcoholic wine, he sinned and could not be the perfect sacrifice. If Jesus sinned, therefore, we all are hopelessly lost in sin, having no hope whatsoever of going to heaven. It does not follow, then, that Jesus made alcoholic wine.
About as popular as the former defense of alcohol is the contention that "The Bible condemns drunkenness, not drinking alcohol." This theory rises from a faulty distinction between drinking and drunkenness which the Bible does not make. Medically, drunkenness is only a matter of degrees; one drink alone kills brain cells and deposits alcohol in the blood stream; additional drinks only increase the concentration of alcohol in the blood. The word, drunk, even by English definition, is "having the faculties impaired by alcohol"; drunkenness is only a matter of degrees (of drunkenness). Included in commands against alcohol in God's former law is warning not to even look upon alcohol (Proverbs 23:31). The Gospel commands soberness (nepho), which by Greek definition "signifies to be free from the influence of intoxicants" (1 Thessalonians 5:6, 8; 2 Timothy 4:5; 1 Peter 1:13; 4:7; 5:8). These considerations deflate this prevalent argument in favor of alcohol.
Yet another purportedly Biblical sanction of alcohol is voiced, "Paul told Timothy to drink wine for his stomach" (1 Timothy 5:23). However, it is not conclusive that the word wine here refers to alcohol. Even if wine in 1 Timothy 5:23 is alcoholic, the medicinal purpose taught in this verse falls far short of allowing the pleasurable consumption of alcohol as a beverage.
Others say, "While elders are not allowed any alcohol, deacons are permitted some alcohol" (1 Timothy 3:3, 8). The Greek words translated wine here are paroinon and prosecho, which both mean "to be addicted to." Both passages equally condemn a disposition that is attributed to drinking alcohol. Compare the inclusion of the word much in verse 8 to these passages:
"Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?" (Ecclesiastes 7:17).
"Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you" (1 Peter 4:4).
The appearance of the word much in the first passage and the word excess in the second in no way suggests God will be pleased with a little wickedness and a little riot, respectively. No, the theory that 'elders cannot have any alcohol, the deacons, though, can have some alcohol, and (logically following) the rest of the members can have all they want' is wholly false.
Sometimes the argument is advanced that "Ancient peoples did not know how to preserve grape juice and therefore drank alcoholic wine." However, ancient peoples often preferred pure grape juice to fermented grape juice. In order to preserve grape juice, they boiled it, leaving too much sugar to ferment; or, employed filtration, getting rid of the yeast; or, used subsidence to allow the yeast to settle on the bottom before skimming the juice from the top; or, used fumigation, adding sulfur to absorb the oxygen.
Still others respond, "The word wine is used in several instances in the Bible where its use by the children of God is not condemned." The word wine, though, is represented in the Bible by 10 Hebrew and 3 Greek words. Sometimes wine means first-fruits which are ripe first (Numbers 18:12-13). It can mean the cluster of grapes (Isaiah 65:8). Wine can refer to raisins (Hosea 3:1, ASV). Sometimes wine equals the winepress (Nehemiah 13:15). Wine can be the pure juice of the grape (Proverbs 3:10). It can also refer to alcoholic wine (Genesis 9:21). The context is the overriding factor determining the definition of both the Greek and English words for wine. The argument, then, assumes what it proposes to prove, and is useless.
The evidence in favor of alcohol does not increase in verity with the addition of merely more weak assertions. Yet some urge this defense of alcohol, "The apostles in Acts 2, and Jesus in Luke 7:34 were respectively accused of being drunken and a winebibber; both accusations suggest Jews drank alcohol." However, the Jews were mocking the apostles; the verses do not conclusively argue for either alcoholic or non-alcoholic wine in view of the mocking; in any event the charge was not true. Whether any Jews were in the habit of drinking alcoholic wine does not affect whether God approved of it. In the context of Luke 7:34 (29-35) Jesus was also accused of being a glutton; other times he was said to be demon-possessed (Mark 3:22), called crazy (Mark 3:21; John 7:20) and called a Samaritan (John 8:48). Under Judaism during which time Jesus lived, gluttons and winebibbers were sentenced to death (Deuteronomy 21:20-21). Are the enemies of Jesus credible, to be believed? Neither the Christ and nor his apostle admitted to the consumption of alcohol, nor gave others permission.
Finally, others suggest, "Jesus used an illustration in a parable about wine and new and old bottles (skins) which shows the Jews customarily drank alcoholic wine" Luke 5:37-39. On the contrary, new skins were used to keep the grape juice from fermenting. Emptied old skins would develop yeast, which if transmitted to a new batch of grape juice, would ferment and burst old skins. Further, the preference for older wine in verse 39 does not prove it was alcoholic; something aged is not necessarily fermented.
Drunkenness has always been sinful. No law of man can override God's law on any topic, including alcohol. Various national, state and local governments have found cause against alcohol to legislate against it. Alcohol is a dangerous drug. Alcohol costs more than it earns in tax dollars. Alcohol is frequently associated with crime. Alcohol is a safety hazard. Alcohol is poisonous and otherwise harmful to one's health. However, the use of alcohol is deeply ingrained into nearly every aspect of society. Alcohol is the most unlikely and peculiar disease. As if man did not know it was bad for him, God denounces the consumption of alcohol as sinful. No defense can be made for alcoholic beverages. Christians must not consume any alcoholic beverages. Christians and the church must oppose this evil to whatever extent possible (James 4:7). "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Ephesians 5:11). Brethren Robert R. Taylor, Jr. and Garland Elkins have concisely and with perhaps a little alliteration penned, "Alcohol destroys internally, externally and eternally!" They could not be more right!
Barber, Calvin, Have You Wondered About The Effects Of Alcohol?, Saltillo, MS, Yokefellow Publications.
Cross, Herbert Barclay, Drinking Spoils Fun, Nashville, Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1951.
Elkins, Garland and Robert R. Taylor, Jr., Social Drinking: Unjustified, Unsocial, Unwise, Unscriptural, Memphis, Getwell church of Christ, c. 1986.
*Additional resources consulted include the King James Version of the Bible, various government and social agency materials, dictionaries, encyclopedias, newspaper clippings and Greek studies books. Doubtless nothing is new with me, I have merely arranged collections of information borrowed from various sources. Special acknowledgment is owing to the excellent pamphlet by brethren Taylor and Elkins, cited above.