Is Wine Evil?
by Mitch Cervinka

There are many Christians in our day who suppose that it is sinful to drink even a little wine. Yet, Scripture, in several places, indicates that wine is not inherently evil, but only that it can easily be abused through overindulgence. It is true that drinking an excessive amount of wine will cause intoxication and debauchery. However, wine can be enjoyed in moderation without producing sinful effects.

Wine is one of God's good gifts to mankind, and, like all of God's gifts, many have abused it, bringing harm to themselves and others.

Good uses of wine.
Scripture tells us that Jesus' very first miracle was to turn water into wine (John 2:1-11), and that this miracle manifested His glory and caused His disciples to believe in Him…
John 2:11 – This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.
Surely our Lord would not have provided something evil for the wedding festivities… something which could only make people drunk and lawless!

Because Scripture calls it "good wine," there are some who suppose that this wine was a non-alcoholic variety. However, it was the headwaiter of the marriage feast who called it "good," and he compared it to the good wine which men usually serve to their guests at the beginning of a feast…

John 2:9-10 – When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now."
From the passage, it is clear that that "good wine" and "poorer wine" are meant in the sense usually intended when people describe various wines… a "good wine" is one which has better flavor, fragrance, color and clarity than a "poorer wine".

We also see from the passage that the "poorer wine" was usually reserved for later, after the people had "drunk freely" of the "good wine." The headwaiter understood that people would be less discriminating after several drinks. This suggests that normal (alcoholic) wine was the topic of discussion.

Likewise, at the "Last Supper," our Lord ordained a cup of wine to symbolize His blood shed for sinners. Surely, He would not use an evil, poisonous drink to represent His life-giving blood!

Does "oinos" mean "Grape Juice"?
Those who advocate abstinence will often respond to these observations by saying that the Greek word oinos, translated wine in the New Testament, sometimes refers to unfermented grape juice. Yet, there is not one passage of Scripture from which such an assertion can be established! This is a flagrant example of reading personal opinion and prejudice into the Scriptures, rather than carefully and prayerfully reading the Scriptures to learn from God's Word.

The lexicons maintain that oinos refers to wine, not grape juice…

Strong's Concordance
(Nashville: Crusade Bible Publishers, Inc.)
    3631  oinoV oinos oy'-nos; a primary word (or perhaps of Hebrew origin [8196]); "wine" (lit. or fig.):—wine.
An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon
Founded upon the Seventh Edition of
Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon
(London: Oxford University Press, 1975)
OINOS, 'o, Lat vinum, wine, Hom., etc.; par' oinw over one's wine, Lat. inter pocula, Soph. ; oinoV ek kriqwn barley-wine, a kind of beer, Hdt.
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature
by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich
(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957)
oinoV, ou, ¢o (Hom. + ; inscr., pap., LXX, Philo; Jos., Ant. 3, 279 al.; Test. 12 Patr.) wine, normally the fermented juice of the grape (cf. Hastings, Dict of the Bible '99, 2, 33f); the word for 'must', or unfermented grape juice, is trux (Anacr. +; pap.).
The Liddell and Scott Intermediate Lexicon, referenced above, confirms the statement by Arndt and Gingrich that the word for unfermented grape juice is trux (trux)
trux, 'h, gen. trugoV, (akin to trugh) new wine not yet fermented, wine with the lees in it, must, Lat. mustum, Hdt., Ar. II. the lees of wine, Lat. Faex, Hde., Ar.:—metaph. of an old man or woman, Ar.

What about "New Wine"?
When Scripture refers to new wine, as in Matthew 9:17 and its parallel passages in Mark 2:22 and Luke 5:37-38, it clearly refers to partially fermented wine, since it is the ongoing fermentation process, producing carbon dioxide, which would rupture the wineskins.
Matthew 9:17 – "Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved."
Other instances, where wine is not qualified as being new, would normally refer to aged wine which has completed the fermentation process.

Prohibitions against wine.
Of the 30+ occurrences of oinos listed in The Englishman's Greek Concordance of the New Testament, the context in each case favors the meaning fermented wine (although Rev. 14:8, 10; 16:19; 17:2; 18:3; 19:15 use the term in a figurative sense). Moreover, the prohibitions against the use of wine are against the excessive use of wine..
1 Timothy 3:8 – Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.

Titus 2:3 – Let the aged women likewise be in reverent behavior, not slanderers, not enslaved by much wine, teachers of good;

The use of the word "much" implies that moderation, rather than abstinence, is what is intended. If deacons were not to drink wine at all, then "not indulging in any wine" would be the proper way to say so.

When Paul set forth the qualifications for an overseer in the church, it was addiction to wine, and not the mere drinking of wine that was at issue…

1 Timothy 3:2-3 – An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.
There are no doubt some who suppose that a single drink will invariably cause addiction, but there is such overwhelming evidence to the contrary that no informed person could honestly hold such a view.

In Ephesians 5:18, the key words are drunk and debauchery.

Ephesians 5:18 – Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
Both words have in mind a changed behavior caused by the wine, and are contrasted with the changed behavior produced by being filled with the Holy Spirit. When does drinking produce a markedly changed behavior? One or two drinks will no doubt affect an individual, making the heart cheerful (Psalm 104:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7), but it takes more than a couple of drinks to produce drunkenness and debauchery.

Regarding the word translated debauchery, Strong writes..

810 aswtia asotia as-o-tee'-ah; from a compound of 1 (as a negative particle) and a presumed derivative of 4982; prop. unsavedness, i.e. (by implication) profligacy:—excess, riot.
I have personally known people who exercise moderation in the use of wine, and not one of them could be accused of engaging in excess or riot, nor yet in profligacy. It is clearly excessive drinking that leads to such things, and that is clearly what is meant by the term drunk, not only in the language of Scripture, but in the English language as well.

Moreover, being drunk with wine is contrasted with being filled with the Spirit. The word filled does not mean merely influenced.. it has the idea of being filled up, or being greatly influenced. Again, it is the excessive use of wine that fits the context. When one is filled with the Spirit, he is like a new person… he does not bear the same character he has when he is not so filled. Likewise, a person who is drunk with wine bears an altogether different character from that which he has when sober. One or two drinks does not produce this changed character.

Christ's Example.
Our Lord Himself was accused of being a drunkard. If He drank no fermented wine at all, then such an accusation would have been ludicrous. On the other hand, if He often drank a little wine (but never enough to sin by becoming drunk) then some might have wrongly assumed that He at times overindulged.
Luke 7:33-34 – For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." '
Notice the correspondence here between drunkenness and gluttony.  The remedy for gluttony is not total abstinence, but moderation in what one eats.  Likewise, the remedy for drunkenness is to avoid excess in drinking wineto exercise moderation in what one drinks.

Neither of the accusations were trueour Lord did not commit either of the sins of gluttony or drunkenness.  However, the Pharisees had more reason to suspect our Lord of committing these sins than they had of John.

Who What He Did 
(according to Jesus)
the Pharisees' Accusation
John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine "He has a demon"
The Son of Man (i.e. Jesus) came eating (bread) and drinking (wine) "Here is a glutton and a drunkard..."
Notice that it was our Lord Himself who said of John the Baptist that he "came neither eating bread nor drinking wine".  Again, it was our Lord Himself, who contrasted His own behavior with John's, by saying "The Son of Man came eating and drinking".  Clearly, our Lord was saying that, what John did not do (eat bread or drink wine), Jesus Himself did do.  Because John abstained from bread and wine, the Pharisees thought he was crazy or demon-possessed.  Because our Lord did eat bread and drink wine, the Pharisees falsely accused Him of engaging in sinful excess.

But mark it wellour Lord here acknowledges that He did not totally abstain from wine as John had done.  Since we know that our Lord never committed any sin whatever, we must conclude that there is no sin whatever in drinking wine in moderation.

Wine in the Old Testament.
The Jewish priests were forbidden to drink wine when they entered the tabernacle...
Leviticus 10:9 Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations—

Ezekiel 44:21 Nor shall any of the priests drink wine when they enter the inner court.

However, the qualification "when you come into the tent of meeting" and "when they enter the inner court" clearly indicates that this prohibition did not apply at all times and in all places.  It was to be enforced only when the priests were engaged in their priestly duties in the tabernacle.  At other times, it is understood that they were freely permitted to drink wine or strong drink, although never in such excess as to cause intoxication.

When a Jewish man took the vow of a Nazirite, he was forbidden to drink wine or strong drink.  However, he was also forbidden to drink grape juice or vinegar, and was forbidden to eat grapes or raisins.  Certainly, this was abstinence with a capital "A"!!

Numbers 6:3he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes.
However, once his vow was completed, Scripture gave him explicit permission to drink wine...
Numbers 6:20Then the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the LORD. It is holy for the priest, together with the breast offered by waving and the thigh offered by lifting up; and afterward the Nazirite may drink wine.
Each year, at the harvest time, the Jews were to bring a tithe of their produce to the temple and eat a portion of it in fellowship with the Lord.  Those who lived far away could sell their produce for money and then use the money to purchase produce for themselves when they arrived at the temple.  God gave them the liberty to purchase "wine or strong drink" for themselves, and commanded them to consume it in His presence, rejoicing...
Deuteronomy 14:26You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.
Each of these passages demonstrates that abstinence was required only at special times and under special situationsfor the priests while on duty in the temple, and for the Nazirite until his vow was completed.  At all other times, the drinking of wine and strong drink was permitted, so long as it was consumed in moderation so as to avoid drunkenness.

The witness of Gill and the Reformers.
It is well known that Luther and most of the Reformers held that drinking in moderation was perfectly lawful. But Baptists have held this view as well. John Gill, for example, expressed this viewpoint in his commentary on Ephesians 5:18. Gill was a Calvinistic Baptist and a very gifted and prolific commentator and writer. Spurgeon highly recommended Gill's commentary to his students. Here is what Gill has to say on the subject…
Ver. 18. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, &c. The sin of drunkenness here dehorted from, is a custom, or habit, of voluntary excessive drinking of any strong liquor, whereby the mind is disturbed, and deprived of the use of reason: though wine is only here mentioned, that being the usual liquor drank in the eastern countries, yet the same holds good of any other strong liquor, as of that; nor is drinking wine for necessary use prohibited, nor for honest delight and lawful pleasure; but excessive drinking of it, and this voluntary, and with design, and on purpose; otherwise persons may be overtaken and intoxicated, through ignorance of the strength of the liquor, and their own weakness; and it is a custom, or habit of excessive drinking, for not a single act, but a series of actions, a course of living in this sin, denominates a man a drunkard; and generally speaking, excessive drinking deprives persons of the use of reason, though not always; and such are criminal, who are mighty to drink wine, and strong to mingle strong drink; as are also such, who though not guilty of this sin themselves, are the means of it in others: the sin is very sinful; it is one of the works of the flesh; it is an abuse of the creature; it is opposed to walking honestly; for it persons are to be excluded from the communion of the church; and, without the grace of true repentance, shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven: many things might be said to dissuade from it; it hurts the mind, memory, and judgment; deprives of reason, and sets a man below a beast; it brings diseases on the body, and wastes the estate; it unfits for business and duty; it opens a door for every sin, and exposes to shame and danger; and therefore should be carefully avoided, and especially by professors of religion:

but be filled with the Spirit; that is, "with the Holy Spirit", as read the Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions; with the gifts and graces of the Spirit: some have been filled with them in an extraordinary way, as the apostles on the day of Pentecost; and others in an ordinary manner, as common believers; and who may be said to be filled with the Spirit, as with wine, or instead of it, or in opposition to it, when the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts by the Spirit, which is compared to wine, for its antiquity, purity, and refreshing nature; and they are filled with it, who have a comfortable sense of it, and a firm persuasion of interest in it, and are delighted with the views of it, and are as it were inebriated with it; and they are filled with the Spirit, in whom his grace is a well of living water, and out of whose belly flow rivers of it; and who have a large measure of spiritual peace and joy, expressed in the following manner.

If John Gill were alive today, would he be welcomed as a leader in your church ... or rejected the same as a drunkard or drug addict?  What about Martin Luther?  Don't praise these men as great Christians if you view them as unfit for Christian leadership!

Observations concerning the abstinence position.
The practice of interpreting oinos to mean "fermented wine" whenever Scripture warns against the evils of it, and to mean "unfermented grape juice" whenever Scripture speaks well of it, is a glaring example of eisegesis. Eisegesis is the practice of reading your preconceived ideas into the Scriptures, rather than allowing the Bible to speak for itself, and then submitting to its teaching.

There is an "all or nothing" attitude which argues that, if drinking much wine produces sinful drunkenness, then wine must be inherently evil, and we should not drink even a little. We could apply the same reasoning to automobiles… Every day someone is seriously injured or killed in an automobile accident… is it therefore sinful to touch an automobile? A pencil could be used to hurt someone, so should we prohibit the use of pencils? Such examples could be multiplied endlessly.

I am convinced that the abstinence dogma had its roots, not in Scripture, but in the frenzy of the so-called "Temperance Movement" of the 1800's and early 1900's, which protested the drunkenness which was prevalent at the time. I suspect at first it truly was a temperance movement, calling upon men to be more temperate (i.e. moderate) in their use of alcohol. However, as drunkenness continued, the movement became more aggressive and emotions took over where Scriptural exhortation and calm reason had formerly prevailed.

A plea for Christian liberty.
This issue, in itself, should not top our list of priorities as Christians. However, it does concern me that those who forbid the drinking of wine often exclude otherwise sound, spiritual men of God from ministering as elders or deacons for no other reason than that they on occasion drink a little wine "for honest delight and lawful pleasure." They base this exclusion upon the prohibition given in 1 Timothy 3:3 that overseers not be addicted to wine, or in 1 Timothy 3:8 that deacons not indulge in much wine.

To prohibit the drinking of wine deprives Christian men and women of a lawful, God-ordained pleasure and binds the consciences of ordinary Christian men and women, inflicting guilt and shame where no sin has been committed. This is not usually the motive of those who forbid drinking, but it is often the result nonetheless.

Christian liberty is always the loser when unscriptural taboos are imposed upon God's people.

Discretion in drinking wine.
Let no one assume that I condone excessive drinking or drunkenness. When wine is consumed in excess, it will lead to drunkenness, and that is clearly forbidden in Scripture. To drink responsibly, one must set limits for himself and abide by them.

Wine, drunk even in small amounts, does influence an individual. Scripture does not regard this as drunkenness until the influence produces a marked change in character and behavior. The minor influence resulting from drinking in moderation is considered to be a good effect… cheering the heart (Psalm 104:15; Zechariah 10:7).

Yet, in our technological culture, this minor influence can prove deadly when it slows the reflexes of one driving an automobile or operating machinery. Let us not be presumptuous in our liberty, but let us use discretion.

The weaker brother.
What about the "weaker brother"? We should never do anything which might make a weaker brother "stumble."
Romans 14:21 —It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
But we need to carefully consider what this passage means. Does it mean that, when we are in the company of a brother who thinks it is wrong to drink wine that we are obligated to follow his scruples on the matter?

The issue here is that of stumbling. We are not to encourage a brother to violate his conscience. If he thinks it is wrong to drink wine, then, even though Scripture does not prohibit the drinking of wine, yet it would be wrong for him, because it would violate his conscience.

If I, by drinking wine, induce him to drink wine also (contrary to his conscience), then I have caused him to stumble, and that is wrong. If he is strong in his convictions, and would not be tempted by my example, then it would not necessarily be wrong for me to drink a glass of wine in his presence.

Whether he is strong or weak, if I explain to him why it is not wrong to drink wine in moderation, and demonstrate this from God's Word, then perhaps he will come to a different conviction on the matter, and then he also could drink without sinning against his conscience.

We need to be especially sensitive to a brother who has recovered from alcoholism… one who has demonstrated an addiction to wine. Such a person may find it especially hard to resist the temptation to take a drink, and the first drink may, for him, lead to a disastrous spiral of many more. In such a case, the principle is clear… we should avoid drinking wine in the presence of one who is known to have such a weakness.

In Conclusion.
Wine is a good gift from God, who intended it to be enjoyed by men and women. When wine is drunk in moderation, it is pleasant and refreshing, and does not lead to violent or degrading behavior. However, wine, like many of God's gifts, has the potential for abuse.

Our Lord drank wine, and so did His disciples. He turned water into wine. Paul prescribed wine as a medicine (1 Timothy 5:23). The Holy Spirit is likened to wine (Ephesians 5:18). Wine was given as the symbol of our Lord's redeeming blood (1 Corinthians 10:16). When Scripture speaks well of wine in such a variety of ways, is it not evil for us to condemn wine as though it could never be good?

Let us therefore…

May our blessed Lord be pleased to grant unity among the saints on these matters!

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