Why “Drinking in Moderation” is a Devilish Deceit
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Proverbs 20:1
“Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.” Proverbs 23:31,32.
by Shaun Willcock
It is tragic that so many professing Christians have attempted, and continue to attempt, to justify the drinking of alcoholic beverages by saying, “The Bible condemns drunkenness, but it does not forbid the use of alcohol, as long as it’s used in moderation.”
Is this correct? Does the Word of God permit the moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages, which have caused such misery to countless numbers of the human race throughout history? Is it really permissible for the saints of God to drink socially? May they sit down after a hard day’s work with a beer in hand, or gather around the family table and sip glasses of wine? And may they also partake of the various other intoxicating beverages?
“Yes!” say the “sipping saints”. “Drunkenness is sinful, but we may drink alcohol in moderation. This is what the Bible says.” Does it really?
Of course the Bible strongly condemns the terrible sin of drunkenness. On this all are agreed, and thus there is no need to prove the point here. Nevertheless, the “social-drinking saints” are in great error, and it is disgraceful that so many, professing to be followers of Christ, just parrot the “drinking in moderation is fine” refrain, with little or no understanding of the Scriptures on this vitally important matter. They love their wine, beer, and other alcoholic drinks, and defend their use indignantly, with a zeal worthy of far higher causes. This in itself is tragic enough – after all, “why does a Christian need alcohol? What is the point? He hasn’t got to take the wretched stuff”. It is solely a choice which he makes. It adds nothing of value to his life. Why then defend its use? Why is it so important to so many who profess to be Christians, that they will indignantly insist on their “right” to drink it? Clearly, it is not something they are willing to forsake for the Lord Jesus Christ. Their love for it is just too great to make that sacrifice.
The truth is: the Bible does not sanction even the “moderate” drinking of alcohol. Biblically, a Christian must abstain from alcohol completely. Total abstinence is the only proper path for the believer in Christ.
When Does “Moderate” Become “Immoderate”?
(Or, How Much is Too Much?)
Professing believers who drink alcohol argue that drinking a little alcohol is acceptable; it is only drinking too much that is sinful. But this is utterly incorrect, for two very good reasons.
The first is simply that the Bible does not say this! Not at all. There is nothing in all of Scripture to indicate that we are free to drink “just a little”, but “not too much”. This will be shown in this work.
And the second is: how much is too much? At what point does drinking “in moderation” become drinking to excess? What amount of alcohol consumed is a “moderate” amount? And what is an excessive amount?
The Bible does not say how much alcohol is a “moderate” amount, and how many drinks one may consume before one is drunk. No formula to work it out is given, no percentage, no upper limit, no guidelines at all! Yet if Christians are permitted to drink “in moderation”, we would certainly need some indication, from the Lord, of what is “moderate” and what is not. The Lord would have told us plainly, in His Word, how much alcohol is “safe” to drink, before the sin of drunkenness is committed. Otherwise how are we to find out? By trial and error? Must we drink a little, and then a little more, and a little more, until a state of inebriation is reached, so that in future when we drink we can say, “Oh, I know that x amount is too much for me”? How absurd! As if the Lord would want us to discover our “limit” by first getting drunk!
“Even modern medical authorities who would claim that alcohol taken in moderation can be helpful will readily admit that in any amount intoxicating beverages may have undesirable effects. For example, Lolli refers to findings made by scientists who in testing thousands of people have found that with one drink (0.03 percent level of alcohol in the blood) most individuals do not evidence any impairment of basic physical and mental functions. But he continues with this amazing find: ‘A sizeable minority, however, can be affected unfavorably by blood alcohol concentrations even below 0.02-0.03 per cent and show signs of impaired attention, judgment, and emotional equilibrium.’”
But how would any individual know if he was in this sizeable minority unless he experimented? This is like saying, “First commit the sin of drunkenness, so that you will know how to avoid the sin of drunkenness in the future!”
Experimental scientific tests regarding the effects of alcohol on men have established that even a small drink (5 1/2 oz. of ordinary wine) will normally produce measurable impairment of reasoning skills in mental acuity tests; the same amount (just one drink) decreases one’s ability for self-evaluation of the effect of alcohol, which makes it more difficult for one to discern one’s own need to stop at one drink; and a sizeable minority of people are affected adversely by even one drink to the point where there is definite impairment of judgment and attention, as well as emotional instability.
“Tobacco, heroin, glue-sniffing; you don’t hear people say ‘We want to promote the idea of moderate addiction’. Of course not; we all know that you cannot play around with heroin or solvents. The only answer is to stay away from them and most people do. However the drug, alcohol, is responsible for more heartache and horror than all the other drugs put together…. The road to alcoholism and chronic drink problems is strewn with the carnage of broken human beings. Each father or mother or son or daughter all followed the signpost ‘Moderation’.”
Prov. 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Note that the wine itself is called a mocker, not merely the quantity one may drink! If the Lord meant us to drink a little alcohol, but not too much, He would have told us how much “a little” is; how much is safe. But He did not do so. Clearly, He is silent about what amount is safe and not sinful because the drinking of alcohol in any amount is unsafe and sinful.
Two Entirely Different Drinks, Both Called “Wine”
Very importantly, in some places Scripture commends the drinking of wine – as much as one desires; but in other places it condemns the drinking of wine as dangerous, and says it must not be drunk at all!
How can this be? If it is sinful, why does it say we may drink as much as we like? And if it is not sinful, why does it say we must not drink it at all? Is the Bible contradicting itself?
No, there is no contradiction. But there is a simple explanation, and one that fits all the facts. “Wine”, in the Bible, refers to two types of wine; two entirely different drinks. One that is good, beneficial, refreshing; and another that is dangerous. This is the key to the entire matter. This is why, in some biblical texts, wine is strongly commended; and this is why, in other texts, it is strongly condemned.
And this is also why the Bible nowhere says that drinking a little alcoholic wine is permissible. It tells us in some places not to drink wine at all; and in other places, to drink freely. The reason being that there were (and are) two different types of wine, one alcoholic and the other not. One is condemned and the other is commended. Both are called “wine” in Scripture – whether fermented and intoxicating, or unfermented and unintoxicating.
Alcoholic beverages are artificially produced. It requires technical knowledge, a carefully-controlled environment, and time, to make alcohol. It is erroneous to think that grape juice, if left alone, will eventually turn into alcoholic wine naturally. It will not. A grape on the branch does not naturally become alcoholic; it simply rots. Grape juice left alone just becomes naturally-fermented grape juice – which is spoiled grape juice. But it is not alcohol!
Some assume that people in biblical times were unable to preserve pure grape juice without it fermenting, and therefore they made alcohol, because this can be preserved. But this is not correct. The people of ancient times did know how to keep pure grape juice from fermenting and thus spoiling. One method they used was to boil it down to a thick syrup, and then, when water was later added, it became a refreshing grape drink. This method kept it sweet, and prevented it from rotting and thus going sour in the hot climate of the Middle East. And in addition to boiling, they used other methods to prevent fermentation as well. The grape juice was sweet, unfermented, and non-alcoholic.
And this non-alcoholic grape juice was called “wine”! Democritus, in the fourth century BC, and Palladius, a Greek physician, called the boiled juice of the grape “wine”. Aristotle, in the fourth century BC, stated: “The wine of Arcadia was so thick that it was necessary to scrape it from the skin bottles in which it was contained, and to dissolve the scrapings in water.” He also said of sweet wine that it would not intoxicate. Horace, in the first century BC, stated of a particular wine that “there was no wine sweeter… it was perfectly harmless, and would not produce intoxication.” Columella , in the first century AD, wrote: “Gather the grapes and expose them for three days to the sun; on the fourth, at midday, tread them; take the mustum lixivium; that is, the juice which flows into the lake before you use the press, and, when it has settled, add one ounce of powdered iris; strain the wine from its faeces, and pour it into a vessel. This wine will be sweet, firm or durable, and healthy to the body.” According to Leverett’s Lexicon, the “mustum lixivium” was “must, which flows spontaneously from grapes before they are pressed.”
Pliny, in the first century AD, wrote of a Spanish wine in his day, which was called “inerticulum”, from “iners”, meaning inert, without force or spirit, because it would not intoxicate. It was more properly called “justicus sobriani”, meaning sober wine. Nicander, in the second century BC, wrote: “And Aeneus, having squeezed the juice into hollow cups, called it wine.” Columella said that the Greeks called this unintoxicating wine “Amethyston”, which meant a wine which would not intoxicate. He said it was a harmless, good wine. Hippocrates, in the fifth century BC, said that sweet kinds of wines do not make the head heavy.
It is clear, then, that in ancient times there were two very different kinds of drinks, both called “wine”. How, then, are we to know which type of wine is being referred to, in any given text of Scripture? We have to examine the context.
Words for “Wine” and “Strong Drink” in the Bible
The Bible was written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). We will examine the main words used in the Scriptures. Knowing what these words are, and how they are used, is extremely helpful.
In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the most common word for wine is yayin. It is a generic word, which means it is not specific, but broad, in meaning. And broadly, yayin means every type of wine made from grapes, whether old or new, fermented or unfermented, intoxicating or non-intoxicating. Thus yayin can mean alcoholic wine; but it can also mean non-alcoholic grape juice.
Sadly, most lexicons omit any mention of “grape juice” as being one of the meanings of yayin (or of its Greek equivalent, oinos). But the authors of lexicons, like all other books, are not divinely inspired. Here are some biblical examples of yayin referring to non-intoxicating grape juice:
“And gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting: the treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease” (Isa.16:10). When the treaders tread on the grapes, is alcoholic wine squeezed out? Of course not – alcohol has to be manufactured, it is not natural in the grapes. The treaders tread out fresh, unfermented, non-alcoholic grape juice. And yet this fresh grape juice is called “wine.” The Hebrew word here is yayin, which plainly shows that it refers to fresh grape juice in this place. Likewise, the English word “wine” is applicable not only to alcoholic wine, but to fresh grape juice as well.