Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Alcohol Abstinence: Bias or Biblical?


“Ethyl alcohol or ethanol, known commonly as alcohol, is the same whether the beverage is wine, beer, or hard liquor. Beverage alcohol is a drug that depresses the central nervous system, like barbiturates, sedatives, and anesthetics….Alcohol has no nutritional value….The brain, liver, heart, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, and every other organ and tissue system are infiltrated by alcohol within minutes after it passes into the blood stream…. Drugs such as marijuana and cocaine which are used, like alcohol, for "recreational" purposes have different, but similarly harmful, physical effects.” (Dunlap, 2001) available at http://www.oregoncounseling.org/ArticlesPapers/Documents/ETOHBIOFx.htm

“That we urge upon our pastors, churches, our schools and colleges, our Sunday School Board and all other teaching and educational agencies connected with our denominational life, that they be constant and diligent in setting forth the facts as to the evil effects of alcohol in all forms and urging upon our people the necessity for total abstinence from all alcoholic drinks as the wise and proper course for the individual.” (from SBC resolution, 1935)


The course of my current understanding of the Bible and alcohol looks more like a roller coaster than a NASCAR event. It has not been a simple continuous growth in abstinence. In fact, ten years ago, after I graduated from Southeastern Seminary, I believed the Bible condemned drunkenness but not moderation. However, I felt we should practice abstinence because of our witness.

Over the last three years my view has undergone revision. I have come to believe the Bible teaches abstinence from today’s alcoholic beverages. I will defend this position and then explain why the moderation position is Biblically lacking. I do admit a bias. I have personally seen the pain of alcohol in the life of my wife. When we were engaged, she lost her father to cirrhosis of the liver. He was 42. I’m not sure anything hurts more, than seeing those you love, hurt. However, it was the questions of the students I taught at Southeastern College, which provided the impetus for my renewed interest in this.

The Case for Abstinence:

1. Wine in the New Testament was Normally Diluted.
New Testament Scholar Robert Stein has demonstrated unequivocally that the normal use for the NT word for wine (oinos) was fermented grape juice mixed with water. The purpose of this mixture was two-fold: 1) to purify the water; and 2) to extend the harvest.
Yet, like today’s society, there were numerous individuals who enjoyed the buzz and drunken state produced from hard liquor. It would have been easy for them to get to the wine that had yet to be mixed for daily consumption. This would explain the prohibitions of drunkenness while maintaining the integrity of the meaning of “oinos."
The Moderation insistence that "oinos" must ALWAYS mean "intoxicating drink" when translated is convenient but neglects its normal use. Hermenuetics demand that we interpret a word according to its normal use unless the text demands otherwise. If the text makes clear that the normal use would not make sense then we look for its secondary use.

2. The Bible Looks Negatively on Strong Drink (Proverbs 20:1; Proverbs 31:4-5; Isa. 28:7; Hab. 2:15-16).

3. The Alcoholic Content of Alcoholic Beverages Today is Closer to Strong Drink than to Oinos.

4. The Example that the Pastor is to Set for the Flock is Abstinence.
The Bible holds the pastor to the standard of abstinence (1 Timothy 3:3). Further, the standards given to pastors are given, in part, for the purpose of upholding an example of God’s perfect will.
Abstinence, in that day, was an extremely high standard, for it usually required partaking of “dead water” which, was at times unhealthy (perhaps the ailment from which Timothy suffered). To make this a requirement for pastor’s, especially in that day, is telling.

5. Even if it is a Grey-Area, Wisdom Warrants Abstinence.
Even if one were to assume this a grey-area, Feinberg’s guidelines for questionable activities are helpful: 1) Am I fully persuaded that it is right?; 2) Can I do it as unto the Lord?; 3) Can I do it without being a stumbling block to my brother or sister in Christ? 4) Does it bring peace? 5) Does it edify my brother? 6) Is it profitable? 7) Does it enslave me? 8) Does it bring glory to God? (Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World, 1993).

The Case Against Moderation:

1. The Assumption that “If Scripture Does Not Condemn Something Then it Condones it,” is Erroneous.
There appears to be an assumption among moderationists that if it is not condemned in Scripture then it is condoned. This erroneous hermeneutic allows for the practice of cloning, drug use, suicide, slavery, cursing, obscene gestures, revealing dress, and even abortion. For none of these is condemned in Scripture. Inevitably the moderationist will cry, “but there are principles gained from Scripture which condemns them” – Exactly!

2. The Conflating of Oinos for Medicinal and Survival Purposes with Strong Drink for Enjoyment Purposes is Overlooked.

3. The Biblical Call to Stay Far Away from Sin is Neglected.
Innate in the moderation position is the implication that we are free to get as close to sin (drunkenness) as possible, without sinning. It appears to me that such logic is in opposition to God’s command to be Holy. In other words the NT implies “get as close to God and as far from sin as possible.”

4. The Implication that Jesus Contributed to the Sin of Others is Ignored.
Inherent in the moderation position is the idea that Jesus contributed to sin. They claim that drunkenness is sin. Further they postulate that people got drunk at weddings. Thus, the host would serve the best alcohol first and the worst last (after the guest were inebriated and could not tell the difference). If this is the case, then Jesus knowingly contributed to drunkenness. (By the way, when I have company, I always serve the best first – that does not make it intoxicating).

5. The Principles of Hermeneutics are Abused.
Moderationists misuse texts like Deuteronomy 14:26, as proof texts for their position. They take a phrase or two located in the larger context of tithing and develop a fermentology. And yet, these same individuals seem to treat Proverbs 23:29-34 (Where the context IS alcohol) as void of application. Hermeneutical principles require us to take clear texts on a subject as authoritative to unclear texts, and to interpret the unclear texts through the filter of clear texts. Dr. Stephen Reynolds has done this in his article “The Biblical Approach to Alcohol” available at http://www.alcoholandthebible.org/biblical_approach.htm

6. The Assumption that Drinking Makes us Acceptable to the World is Appalling.
The idea that the world will accept us and listen to the gospel if we drink with them verges on apostasy. One blogger implied a lady was saved as a result of his affirmation of wine. Such theological naiveté assumes that alcoholic spirits move the Holy Spirit…how sacrilegious!

7. The Treating of Alcohol as Different from Other Barbiturates is Inconsistent.
Other than drunkenness what biblical reason does a moderationist have for prohibiting any drug? Alcohol is a mind-altering drug like other barbiturates. And if drunkenness is the ONLY Biblical prohibition for barbiturates then to hold alcohol to a different application then the others is duplicitous. In other words, a consistent moderationist should not be opposed to the legalization of marijuana, cocaine, and/or other drugs. Further, he must affirm one may partake of these vices provided one does not get drunk. Finally, he must honestly answer the question: what would be biblically wrong with legalizing underage drinking/drug use?

8. The Toll that Alcohol Exacts on the Body is Dismissed.
The effect of alcohol on the mind is apparently neglected by moderationists. They claim that the abuse of alcohol is wrong because of its effects? But at what point is abuse reached? Is it at .08 BAC or .10 or .06? This subjectivity begs the question: Could alcohol effect the body before drunkenness? The assumption that alcohol does NOT affect the brain until one abuses it, is contrary to both science and logic. Galen Bosely has shown that even moderate drinking destroys brain cells that will never be replaced and Dr. L. A. Cala revealed that even light drinkers have brain shrinkage in their frontal lobes (the area of decision-making). At what point does purposeful destruction of our bodies become sin?

9. The Apparent Contrast Between Drinking and the Self-Controlled Spirit-Filled Life is Disregarded.
It is compelling that the Greek word for sober (self-control) in numerous passages (1 Thess 5:6; 1 Thess 5:8; 1 Tim. 3:2; 1 Tim. 3:11; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8) is a word that also means, “holding no wine” (Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of New Testament). Interesting!
Further Paul contrasts wine that leads to drunkenness with the Spirit that leads to fullness. The Bible says, “be not drunk with wine…but be filled with the Spirit.” The words “drunk” and “filled” are contrasted, as are the words “wine” and “Spirit”. To say the least, this is thought-provoking. Paul seems to be implying that instead of turning to wine for enjoyment, turn to the Holy Spirit.

10. There is an apparent neglect of Daniel 1; where Daniel says he would not DEFILE himself with the King's wine but asked for water instead.

I cannot say taking a drink is ALWAYS a sin, but I can say abstinence is certainly not sin. Bottom line – Scripture looks negatively on strong drink. NT oinos was not strong drink. Today’s alcohol is.


Mike Woodward said...

Your summary:

"I cannot say taking a drink is ALWAYS a sin, but I can say abstinence is certainly not sin. Bottom line – Scripture looks negatively on strong drink. NT oinos was not strong drink. Today’s alcohol is."

Sincere question: Isn't that a point for the moderation argument? Am I simply stumbling over the terminology? Personally, I use the word refrain, as it implies I voluntarily set aside my rights, whereas abstain implies a mandate. Am I splitting hairs?

brad reynolds said...

Thanks for stopping by. I would say that those who feel it is a grey area are wise to use the word "refrain." I personally do not feel Scripture allows it to be grey.

You bring up a good point which I should clarify.

When I say "I cannot say taking a drink is ALWAYS a sin," I am leaving the door open for medicinal and survival purposes but I hope my post has made it clear that I have closed the door for enjoyment purposes.

brad reynolds said...

For those interested I have responded to ConcernedSBCer again (2nd time) under my comments from the post (Alcohol Study Methodology)


Mike Woodward said...

More to the point...

Per your understanding of Scripture, is it sin to say I have the right to drink alcohol in moderation, yet I refrain? Is the wisdom principle espoused in your arguments synonymous with practical holiness?

Christopher Redman said...

Dr. Reynolds,

You said:

In response to CSBCer someone has asked me to put into context my response…thus I have below."

I think it is probably good to remove me from the equation now. It appears that both you and concernedsbcer have each other's number now.

However, I am still hoping that when your attention turns to truth of Calvinism that you will equally hold the founders of the SBC and John MacArthur in as high esteem as you have throughout your abstentionist arguments.

(BTW, he/she has done it again. He/she has responded to your response to his... well you know what I mean.)

God Bless,

brad reynolds said...

Anytime I say "I have the right..." I believe I err.

I do think one is wrong to say "The Bible teaches Moderation but I abstain."

And yes the wisdom principle has to do with practical holiness...but practical holiness is obviously not limited to the wisdom principle (ie - there are some things that are just wrong).

brad reynolds said...

I have already posted my second (or third, I'm losing count) response to him/her:)
Under my comments - Alcohol study Methodology

I will certainly hold those men in high-esteem but as the Founders brethren have made aboundantly clear, good men can err:)

Tim Batchelor said...

Interestingly, today in our associational pastor's conference the speaker shared with us the struggle he had with this 18 year old son who wanted to smoke marajuana. The son used exactly the arguments the "moderationists" use to support the recreational use of alcohol. It is created by God. Show me a Scripture. I just use enough to make me feel happy (see the misues of psalm 104). This is a kid who grew up in church; who knew the Bible well enough but fell into the misguided principles of interpretation our friends are using. The son went on to become a user fully convniced the Bible authorizese marajuana use.

Another interesting note is that in our local newspaper a guest editoral was published written by a Southern Baptist supporting alcohol and outling the same general arguments I have read on this board. Sadly, I am left to wonder why fellows like this or Benjamin Cole feel a need to air disagreements among family in the secular press. I find such efforts reprehensible.

brad reynolds said...

Wisdom is the friend you have brought with you.

I have yet to hear the majority of moderationist defend the use of marijuana. They are inconsistent. At least the pastor's son is consistent, wrong but consistent, and sadly he is on the destructive road to which such moderation leads.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
IN HIS NAME said...

It looks like your friend SBC Pastor has shut down his Blog or will not take comments. I think we have lost our witness to the LOST WORLD by passing another man made rule. I have posted on my Blog what I think we have become. I know this not the way JESUS CHRIST would want it to be, as he taught us to witness.

I'm praying for you and Yours.
A Brother in CHRIST

brad reynolds said...

in his name
Hopefully all here are friends. I agree we have lost our witness. But for other reasons.

brad reynolds said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Christopher Redman said...


The "anonymous" post here is spam.


sbc pastor said...

I have disabled comments on my blog for the near future - but will continue to post and comment on other blogs. I simply do not have time to keep up with it all. Furthermore, I was getting tired of dealing with all of the liberals with potty mouths.

brad reynolds said...

Thanks I did not know that about the anonymous post. I am technically-challenged and your insight is most helpful.

If you are positive it is SPAM. I will remove it.

Grosey's Messages said...

G'day Brad from Australia.
Moderation.. I have heard that term from pastors that went on a retreat together and spent most of the week drunk..
Moderation.... I heard that term as a child. not realising then that drinking 3 pints of beer as a 12 year old was not a good idea.
Moderation... I heard that term when the Australian Bereau of Statistics released the information that 1 in 3 Australian adults drinks to a dangerous level each week.
Moderation... I heard that term when a dear brother greatly used by God in the past lost his ministry, his wife and his children from alcoholism.
Moderation... is that another term for "stumbling block"?

brad reynolds said...

Welcome my brother from Australia. I've always wanted to go there.

You have some wise words. I have not even touched the effects of alcohol...You reveal how wicked our hearts are...if we allow moderation we will excuse excess.

Thanks my friend

dinesh said...

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Ronald Robey said...

I believe that the Word of God clearly teaches abstinence in Proverbs 23:31 when it says "Look not."

Notice the two previous verses are not on the wine, but on drunkards. "Those who tarry long at the wine, those that go to seek mixed wine."

But when one gets to verse 31, the focus is no longer on the persons, but on the wine itself..."Look not upon the wine when it is red,..."

One is clearly told not to look at the wine at a specific time. That time is given to us. It does not say 'when you begin to feel tipsy,' nor does it say 'after you have drunk a glass or two." No, it says we are not to look upon it 'when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright."

This is speaking of a fermented wine. The Septuagint says 'yi kith addam' which is translated 'when it makes itself red,' or, 'when it becomes alcoholic.

The instruction to abstain is there, and the studious reader, the one who applies himself or herself to the study of God's Word will see it.