Rev. Mark H. Creech
Drinking: continuing the conversation
By Rev. Mark H. Creech
April 23, 2013

In 1972 an earthquake destroyed the city of Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. More than a decade after the tragedy, the city remained a sea of rubble. But the citizens of Managua didn't seem to notice. When giving directions, they continued to refer to landmarks and buildings that hadn't existed since the earthquake.

Last week, this author wrote an article titled Drinking and Jesus Turning Water to Wine. As expected, the piece stirred considerable opposition on the part of many professing Christians against the view that the wine Jesus miraculously provided at the wedding in Cana was not fermented. Nevertheless, it remains that the counter arguments made in favor of an alcoholic-wine are largely references to old talking points that become like rubble in light of all the evidence.

It is true Christianity is not served well when one's presuppositions are imposed on Scripture and interpreted accordingly, rather than allowing Scripture to interpret one's own presuppositions. But this seems to be the exact problem of those who argue the wine Jesus provided was fermented, and therefore use such to justify social drinking.

Perhaps it would be beneficial to continue the conversation.

To argue, as many have done, that Jesus created and encouraged the use of an alcoholic wine at the wedding in Cana because John 2:10 says the guests drank to intoxication is not a strong argument. The KJV says that the guests had "well drunk." The NBV says, "drunk freely." The NCV says, "been drinking awhile." The NIV reads, "too much to drink." Adam Clarke (1760-1832), a tremendous British Methodist scholar, deals with the text in this manner:
    "The original word bears a widely different meaning from that which the objection forces upon it. The verbs mequskw and mequw, from mequ, wine, which, from meta quein, to drink after sacrificing, signify not only to inebriate, but to take wine, to drink wine, to drink enough: and in this sense the verb is evidently used in the Septuagint, Genesis 43:34; So v. 1: 1 Macc.xvi. 16: Haggai i. 6; Ecclus. 1. 16. And the prophet Isaiah, Isa. 58:11, speaking of the abundant blessings of the godly, compares them to a watered garden, which the Septuagint translate, wv khpov mequwn, by which is certainly understood, not a garden drowned with water, but one sufficiently saturated with it, not having one drop too much, nor too little." [1]
In other words, careful examination of the text in John shows the statement by the master of the feast can simply be seen as a general statement. The word translated could mean intoxication, but does not always mean such. The text can simply mean filled or basically to satiate. One can be full of alcohol and drunk, or one can be filled with grape juice to the point of wanting no more.

It could also be a general statement by the master of the feast referring to an all-too-common occurrence of drunkenness at wedding feasts, but does not prove that was the case at this particular wedding. But if it was, as many have suggested, already a drunken party, then one must effectively address the question of why Jesus, much like an unscrupulous bar tender, would continue providing alcohol for those who had already had too much to drink?

Second, some argue that Jesus, undoubtedly, drank fermented wine, siting Matthew 11:18-19, which reads: "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and 'sinners.'" This is certainly a poor text for proving that Jesus drank alcoholic wine. It only references a couple of the unjust accusations that Jesus says were made against him. Jesus was also accused of being demon possessed (John 2:20-21). Can it rightly be assumed, therefore, that the accusation had any substance of truth? Jesus was accused of subverting the nation (Luke 23:2). Is that ample evidence that he was indeed involved in some covert political action to overthrow the government? Yet this is the same kind of flawed logic that assumes that because Jesus was accused of being a wine-bibber, it meant he was given to drinking alcoholic wine.

The text in Matthew actually does no more than state the unreasonable assumptions of some in Jesus' day that because he was a socialite he was guilty of drinking something other than the fresh, natural fruit of the vine, and because he ate, he over indulged.

The accusation reminds this author of a time several years ago when he was drinking Pepsi-Cola from a can while driving. A passing motorist, who knew and despised him, wrongfully accused him of drinking from an open container of beer. Could one properly assume that because this writer was drinking from an aluminum can that it was a beer can? No, the assumption, as well as the accusation, was preposterous.

Matthew 11 provides no surer word than the accusations leveled at Jesus had no credibility. It certainly can't be used to make a strong case for Jesus drinking alcoholic wine.

Others claim that it isn't likely the wine of Jesus' day was non-alcoholic. Even Jesus himself described the fermentation process in Matthew 9:17, saying, "Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved." This, it is argued, supposedly shows the prevalence of the use of alcoholic wine in Jesus' day.

But the fact is, in Jesus's day, unlike our own, there was no word for alcohol. The only word was "wine" and sometimes it described a non-alcoholic wine and other times an alcoholic wine. Much like the word drinking today may speak to drinking an alcoholic drink or a soft drink.

But to assume from Matthew 9:17 that the references Jesus made to wine were always meant to be taken as alcoholic in nature is too much.

The new wine mentioned in this text, once it started to ferment, would burst both new and old wineskins. Once again, this author wishes to quote the excellent work of David R. Brumbelow in Ancient Wine and the Bible:
    "The point here is that the new wine be kept from fermenting; that new wine be preserved. Old wineskins would be impossible to clean and the new wine would be infected with old ferment and yeast. Jesus emphasized new wine and compared it to His ministry and the New Covenant. He contrasted it with the old wine of the law and Old Testament... Finally, Jesus here calls "wine" (oinos) that which is unfermented. This is another example of non-alcoholic wine being called wine." [2]
And then, some would justify drinking by claiming that because I Corinthians 11 says some of the members of that carnal fellowship were drunk while partaking of the Lord's Supper, this is proof believers of that period had no qualms with the use of alcoholic wine, even for something as sacred as a church sacrament. That assertion too, like all the rest, is purely an assumption, with no strong evidence to substantiate it.

The word "drunken" in the text, like mentioned previously in this article with reference to John 2:10 can also be rightly translated as "filled." In every case it does not refer to intoxication. Some scholars argue that a better understanding of the text is that those more "well-heeled" in the congregation were bringing their provisions and failing to share with those who had little or nothing. Therefore, Paul chided them that it wasn't right that some were hungry, while others were "filled." Yet, even if this is not the proper interpretation and they were using alcoholic wine, it's critical to note that the apostle was not commending, but condemning.

It seems improbable that one could make the case for the legitimate use of alcoholic wine by the Corinthians for the Lord's Supper or any other fellowship, when one considers:
    "Nowhere in the accounts of the Lord's Supper is wine found. 'He took the cup' (Matt.26:27) refers to the cup just used during the Passover where no ferment was allowed, not even in the house where the supper was prepared (Ex. 12:15). When Jesus spoke of the account of the cup he called it the fruit of the vine (Matt. 26:29). Mark gives the same report of the occasion (Mark 14:22-25), and Luke's version is quite similar (Luke 22:14-20). One is backed by good witnesses when he declares that in instituting the Memorial Supper the Lord did not use intoxicating wine; he used the natural "blood of the grape" for it was to symbolize for future ages the blood he shed as the Paschal Lamb (John 1:29, 36). [3]
Certainly, there are people who will vehemently reject these arguments and declare the Bible never says in any passage that it's a sin to drink. The Bible only condemns drunkenness. Quite frankly, it is this writer's belief; however, such an assertion at best is but a cursory look at the subject.

The Bible never declares in any one passage that slavery is sinful. Still, the practice is seriously undermined and destroyed by the high and lofty principles set forth throughout the whole of Scripture. When one considers the general teachings of the Bible concerning alcohol, such as the way that those most devoted to God avoided it (Nazarites, Daniel, John the Baptist), its condemnations not just of drunkenness but strong warnings about alcohol's inherent dangers (Prov. 20:1, Isa. 28:7), its admonishments to care for the body (Rom. 12:1-2, I Cor. 6:19, 2 Cor. 6:16-7:1), its commands to shun being an impediment to others (Romans 14:13, 21, I Cor. 8:9), its counsel to be in control of one's own mind and actions (I Thess. 5:6, I Peter 1:13, I Peter 4:7, I peter 5:8), it then becomes most apparent that the whole of Scripture points to the condemnation of drinking in modern times and not the other way around.

Before, during, and for quite some time after Prohibition, the rejection of imbibing alcoholic beverages was widely accepted by some of the nation's greatest leaders. Peter Lumpkins has rightly stated:
    "University presidents, seminary professors, medical professionals, linguists, Classics scholars, New Testament and Old Testament theologians and scholars alike argued tirelessly in professional journals, books, pamphlets, and speeches not only the personal virtue of abstaining from intoxicating beverages but also the public vice of manufacturing, distributing, and selling, and consuming alcoholic beverages for social and recreational purposes." [4]
Make no mistake. This author doesn't mean to argue for the return of Prohibition, nor does he mean to infringe upon the Christian liberty of others. He only means to challenge his Christian brethren to examine critically the most common claims made from the Bible in favor of drinking.

Those who would contend this issue doesn't matter – those who would say there are much more important issues to discuss – are wrong! The question of whether to drink or not to drink is a very important one. Alcohol is the nation's number one drug problem, impacting either directly or indirectly almost every other social issue of major concern. And it is this author's firm belief that arguing from the Scriptures for the justification of social drinking is similar to the Nicaraguans who gave directions from landmarks that weren't there. What is more, social drinking is to give one's affirmation to a baneful industry that lends to the culture's rubble from excess and extreme.

No, abstinence is the stronger argument.


[1] Adam Clarke Commentary, quoted from Brumbelow, David R. Ancient Wine and the Bible. Carollton, Ga. Free Church Press, 2011, pg. 149

[2] Ibid, pg. 118

[3] Freeman, John D. Shadow Over America. Nashville, Tenn., Convention Press, 1957, pgs. 92, 93

[4] Lumpkins, Peter. Alcohol: Abstinence in an Age of Indulgence, Garland, Tx., Hannibal Books 2009, pg. 42

© Rev. Mark H. Creech


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Rev. Mark H. Creech

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

Rev. Creech is a prolific speaker and writer, and has served as a radio commentator for Christians In Action, a daily program featuring Rev. Creech's commentary on social issues from a Christian worldview.

In addition to, his weekly editorials are featured on the Christian Action League website and Agape Press, a national Christian newswire.


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