The Church of God's beliefs on alcohol and tobacco

December 01, 2013
David Yvinec

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the King James Version.


Key Verses

"What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?"  (1 Corinthians 6:19).

 

No alcoholic beverages

 

Alcohol and tobacco

 

The Church's belief on alcohol and tobacco is that partaking of and use of intoxicating liquors, alcoholic stimulants, narcotics, tobacco, and any habit forming drug is contrary to the nature of man. While this is not a surprising belief for a church to hold, let us look in the Bible to see why this belief is deeply founded in the scriptures.

 

In the book of Proverbs we are told one reason why intoxicating drink should be avoided.

 

"It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:  Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted"  (Proverbs 31:4-5).

 

"Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes?  They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine"  (Proverbs 23:29-30).


Solomon tells us that it is already difficult enough in life to resist Satan and keep God's commandments without intoxicating substances. Drugs/alcohol makes Satan's job much more easy when we lack our sense of judgment.

 

The Apostle Luke gives a similar warning:

 

"And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares"  (Luke 21:34)


Besides the obvious health benefits of abstaining from tobacco, strong drink, and drugs, we are given several warnings in the Bible that we cannot inherit the kingdom of God if we partake of these things.

 

"Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God"  (Galatians 5:21).

 

"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).


The Bible tells us that everything we eat and drink must be sanctified with the Word of God and with prayer, and that it be partaken of in moderation. We are the temple of God in which his Holy Spirit dwells, and we should treat it as such.

 

"Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?  If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are"  (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).


Let us take steps to cleanse ourselves of all filthiness of the flesh, that we may present ourselves without spot or wrinkle before Jesus when he soon comes in glory. It is hard enough to overcome this wicked world when we live properly according to God’s Word. Resisting temptation is much harder when our bodies and blood streams are filled with poison. In order to overcome temptation and properly serve our God, we require healthy, vigorous, and strong bodies.

 

Still, some argue that the New Testament condones the moderate use of alcohol. They like to make mention of  Luke 7:33-34. In this passage, we read: "For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, he hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners."

 

Does that really imply that Jesus Christ was indulging in intoxicating beverages as many would like us to believe? If he really was drinking wine, what kind of wine was he drinking then? Was it fermented or unfermented wine? These are a few questions that will be addressed. First, one must keep in mind that Luke 7:33-34 is after all, merely accusations that Jesus' critics were holding against him in order to undermine his ministry as they did with John the Baptist.

 

Fermented and unfermented "oinos"

 

One needs to go back to the Greek to better understand the word for "wine" in Luke 7:33, as well as in other passages in the New Testament. Indeed, the Greek word for wine is "oinos" which can be either translated as 1) unfermented juice, and/or 2) fermented or intoxicating wine.

 

The above definition of “wine” may be verified by referencing a number of sources that mention "oinos". In fact, both secular and religious authors in the pre-apostolic era indeed used the Greek word “oinos” to refer to fresh grape juice. For instance, Anacreon, a Greek lyric poet (582 BC – 485 BC) writes, "Squeeze the grape, let out the wine [oinos]" (Ode 5). Nicander of Colophon (2nd century BC), another Greek poet, physician and grammarian writes of squeezing grapes and refers to the produced juice as "oinos" (Georgica, fragment 86). According to Papias  of Hieraplis, an early church father (first third of the 2nd century), when grapes were crushed they were yielding "jars of wine [oinos]" (cited by IrenaeusAgainst Heresies, 5.33.3-4). Athenaeus of Naucratis, a Greek rhetorician and grammarian (end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd century) speaks of a "sweet wine [oinos]" that "does not make the head heavy" (AthanaeusBanquet,1.54). In the same writing,  he makes mention of a man gathering grapes who "went about, and took wine [onios] from the field".  As we see, in many of these cases, mention of this fresh grape juice had no time to become fermented. Thus proving that wine, "oinos", could either mean alcoholic/intoxicating wine or unfermented grape juice.

 

The Jewish scholars who translated the Hebrews Scriptures and offered us the Greek translation known as the Septuagint (around the 3rd century BC) knew of these several uses of the Greek word "oinos". In fact, they decided to translate several Hebrew words for wine by "oinos" in the Septuagint. Since Paul and other New Testament writers were quoting from this Greek translation of the Scriptures, it is obvious they also knew of the plural meaning of the word "oinos". They were aware that it could either refer to fermented or unfermented juice from the grape. Indeed, they made use of these plural meanings of the Greek word for wine. For instance, in Ephesians 5:18 commands "be not drunk with wine [oinos]," is an obvious reference to alcoholic wine. But on the other hand, in Revelation 19:15, says of Christ that "he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God". The original Greek manuscript actually reads that "he treadeth the winepress with wine [oinos] of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty" (the term "oinos", wine, is found in all manuscripts. Since the word "winepress" implies the presence of wine, some translations choose to not include wine in their rendering of that verse. Using any Strong Concordance, this fact may be verified). Since this verse is making mention of newly pressed wine, it cannot  be in this case fermented wine but it will rather be grape juice.

 

In fact, a method used to keep grapes from fermenting was to boil them into a syrup, which is also referred to by ancient historians as "oinos" or wine. The Smith's Bible Dictionary states that "The simple wines of antiquity were incomparably less deadly than the stupefying and ardent beverages of our western nations. The wines of antiquity were more like sirups; many of them were not intoxicant; many more intoxicant in a small degree; and all of them, as a rule, taken only when largely diluted with water. They contained, even undiluted, but 4 or 5 percent of alcohol" (article on Wine, p.747).

 

It is very obvious that wine in the Bible can be intoxicating as we read in Genesis 9:20-27 andGenesis 19:30-36. These two cases are good biblical examples of the bad effects alcohol can have on human bodies. Nonetheless, as we have seen in the above paragraphs, wine [“oinos”] is not always an intoxicating beverage in the Scriptures, but can also simply be grape juice.

 

The wedding at Cana

 

In John chapter 2, we learn of  Jesus making "wine" out of water during a wedding at Cana. But was it fermented or unfermented wine?

 

In the context of that passage of the Scriptures, Jesus primary object was to "manifest forth His glory" by this miracle (John 2:11). It was Jesus' first miracle and the start of his ministry, and he was showing himself  as the holy and righteous Son of God, came forth to save mankind from sin. Are we to believe that Jesus would have shown who he was so that "his disciples believed on him" (John 2:11) by being a miraculous bartender, creating miraculously gallons of intoxicating wine for a drunken party? Of course not. Through this miracle, Jesus was showing that he had be given supernatural power to create the same grape juice of the wine that God makes annually through the process of His natural created order. He was showing that he was sent of the "Holy Father" (John 17:11), that he was "the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

 

Being the Son of God, Jesus Christ had full knowledge of the word of God. He certainly must have known of Proverbs 23:31 and of the danger inherent to alcoholic beverages, "Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright". He certainly understood the words of Habakkuk 2:15, "Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!" In such a context, he would have been highly inappropriate for Jesus, the Messiah and the Son of God, to provide alcoholic wine to a wedding party. In fact, there is medical evidence that even a small amount of alcohol can cause mental and physical defects in new formed embryo. Why then would have Jesus served and encouraged the use of alcoholic beverages at a wedding including a young bride and potentially soon mother to be? Obviously, the water Jesus changed into wine, was unfermented fruit of the vine. This is, by the way, the same unfermented fruit of the vine he would use latter during the last supper and when instituted what we call the Lord's Supper.

 

The Lord's Supper

 

It is noteworthy, that neither Luke nor any other Biblical writer uses the word wine (oinos) concerning the grape juice served during the last supper. Matthew, Mark and Luke, all used the expression "fruit of the vine" to describe it.

 

The Passover regulations in Exodus 12:14-20 prohibited, during this festival, the use of "seor", that is leaven, yeast, or any agent of fermentation. The reason why God had given these regulations, it is because fermentation symbolized corruption and sin (see Matthew 16:6, 12and 1 Corinthians 5:7-8). Thus, Jesus followed God's commandment concerning the Passover and did not use fermented wine when instituting the Lord's Supper. In the same way, unleavened bread represented the pure and uncorrupted body of Christ, the fruit of the vine represents Christs’ precious and uncorrupted blood (read 1 Peter 1:18-19). Therefore, the wine or "fruit of the vine" had to be unfermented. It still has to be unfermented today. In fact, Paul instructed the Corinthians to put away spiritual yeast such "malice and wickedness", in order to honor Christ our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). In such a context, alcoholic or fermented wine certainly cannot be used.


Paul and Timothy

 

In 1 Timothy 5:23, we learn in fact that Timothy was refusing to ingest alcoholic beverages. Paul goes and instructs him to "[d]rink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities". Timothy's stomach problems may have been caused by polluted water or by any other ailments, however, the Scriptures do not say. What we know from this passage is that Paul was simply allowing Timothy to drink "a little wine" for medicinal purposes. The text does not say if it was alcoholic wine or not, but  alcohol is known to be a mild antiseptic. Even today, some medications, such as cough medicine, contain a small amount of alcohol. Paul was certainly not giving Timothy, or any other followers of Christ, for that matter, license to indulge in the recreational use of alcohol or any other drugs.

 

Conclusion

 

Our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit and the Church of God ought to be a royal priesthood (see 1 Peter 2:5-12). Jesus Christ "hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father" (Revelation 1:6) and we ought to "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God" (Romans 12:1).

 

In Leviticus 10:9, we learn of the levitical priesthood. Priests could not enter the Tabernacle, where the Holy Spirit dwelt at the time, under the influence of alcohol.

 

"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"

In the same manner, Jesus Christ is our High Priest and the Church of God is a holy priesthood. Our bodies are the temple of God and the disciples of Christ should not drink alcohol or indulge in tobacco, narcotics and any habit forming drug. "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12). Amen!

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