Last week, we looked at the three most prevalent views that American Christians seem to believe about alcohol. We also explored the flaws with all three of those views and I promised to propose a 4th view that I think is more biblical. But before I do that, I want to take some time to make sure we’re on the same page by making some helpful distinctions.
First, any satisfactory view on alcohol has to be reconcilable with at least four different types of Bible verses (you may be able to think of more, if so please comment and let me know). I’ve nicknamed this group “the gauntlet.”
- There are verses like Proverbs 20:1 or Proverbs 21:17 that are very clearly against drunkards and those who idolize alcohol.
- But then you’ve got verses like Song of Solomon 8:2 or 1 Kings 4:20, which very clearly permit (and maybe even encourage?) alcoholic consumption during times of celebration.
- Next you find verses like 1 Timothy 5:23, which actually instruct the usage of alcohol (at least in small amounts). As far as I can surmise, these verses are extremely rare and the only other one I know of right now is Ecclesiastes 9:7.
- But, the most challenging for any view to incorporate is the account of Jesus’ first miracle in John 2:1-10. He essentially gave 120-180 gallons of wine to people who had already had “too much to drink” for them to be able to tell the difference between good wine and bad wine. In other words, Jesus gave more wine to people who were already drunk! He did this in a house in a small village in the middle of the desert. I’m going to guess there were, at most, 100 adults in the crowd (this is just a guess, but even if there were 500 that’s about 40 ounces of wine per adult). And, by the way, Jesus was without sin (Hebrews 4:15), so the burden of understanding how Jesus’ actions were not sinful rests on us.
Hear me clearly: no view is complete until it addresses all four of these different types of verses/passages. A failure for any “rule” to be flexible enough to apply to all four of these passages should cause us to reject it.
Getting Drunk vs. Being Drunken
Second, I think a distinction needs to be made between “getting drunk” and “drunkenness.” Food is the perfect example: there’s a huge difference between “feasting” and “gluttony.” We all feast on Thanksgiving, but if we were to follow an endless pattern of gluttony (i.e. Thanksgiving dinner for every dinner), we would soon find ourselves morbidly obese with a host of health problems. In the same way, I believe that occasional drinking (even to the degree of being drunk) is acceptable under certain conditions but a continual lifestyle of drunkenness is sinful.
The difference is essentially this: are you adding alcohol to something or are you going to alcohol for something? Is it a spice added to a celebration or is it an obsession that provides comfort? There’s a huge difference between those two mentalities, but few people I know have actually taken the time to consider such a possibility. We just assume that all forms of alcoholic consumption are the same, but they’re not. One is merry-making; the other is idol-making.
Why the hair-splitting?
The reason I make this distinction is because Jesus forces me to. As I mentioned earlier, the greatest challenge to any theology of alcohol is the miracle of Jesus turning water to wine. The way I understand this part of the Gospel is that Jesus was at a celebration in a culture that did not have the weird views on alcohol that we do. They were all celebrating (thus adding alcohol to something) and no one there had a troubled conscience by the drinking. Thus, I feel it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that an occasional indulgence is actually permissible, whereas a lifestyle of drunkenness is sinful.
Now, please don’t take this where I’m not taking it! I never said that a binge is a wise idea, nor do I plan on it. Also, I don’t honestly think anyone who is trying to honor God is going to take the drinking of alcohol that far. But, how else do you describe 150 gallons as the refill at a wedding?! So, now that we’ve laid down the gauntlet and made a few distinctions, I’m ready to propose my view on alcohol…next week!