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Drinking

Question: Many Christians are against drinking alcoholic beverages, but didn't Jesus turn water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana in Galilee?

Answer: The term "wine" as used in Scripture, need not imply a beverage with alcoholic content. The word "wine," like the word "cider" in modern English, may be used to refer to a non-alcoholic drink.

There is nothing intrinsically evil about grapes and grape juice. In fact Deuteronomy 32:14 speaks of the "pure blood of the grape." But after fermentation, a decay process hastened by yeast or leaven, which in Scripture is invariably a symbol of corruption, causes grape juice to have an alcoholic content.

When we read that Jesus made "wine" (John 2:9) we assume that he made the alcoholic beverage that we know as "wine." However, the wine that is purchased today is much stronger than it was in biblical times and really falls under the category of "strong drink" (Leviticus 10:9; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 28:7). Even fermented wine in biblical times was diluted with water. It was more "red-colored water," or "purified water" than present-day "wine."

The Holy Spirit, the divine Author of Scripture, was very careful not to use the term "wine" in connection with the Lord's Supper. When the inspired authors of the New Testament Scriptures spoke about the supper, they used the term "fruit of the vine" instead of "wine" (Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18).

Alcoholic wine is the product of putrefaction and decay and, because of the use of leaven in the fermentation process, is not a fit emblem of the life-giving efficacy of the blood of Christ.

Some claim that they can drink without becoming inebriated. Allegedly, they know when to stop. However, even small amounts of alcohol produce at least a measure of drunkenness. There will be some degree of impairment even though it may not be discernible to the drinker, or those around him. Even the smallest amounts of alcohol in the bloodstream may sufficiently slow down the reflexes of an automobile driver that he or she is unable to avoid hitting a child playing in the street. When lives are at stake, who wants to quibble over the precise definition of "drunk"?

Alcohol raises blood pressure, suppresses the immune system, and interferes with proper nutrient absorption by the body. Because alcohol impedes glycogen storage in the liver (affecting one's stamina) and impairs muscular coordination, alcoholic beverages are harmful to those who want to be in the best of physical condition. Every once in a while someone will do a study that seems to suggest that wine drinkers have less heart attacks than those who don't drink wine. However, the beneficial ingredients are the flavonoids, not the alcohol. Those who drink grape juice would get the same benefit as those who drink wine without the intoxication.

Proverbs warns that "wine is a mocker" (20:1), and asks: "Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without a cause? They that tarry long at the wine" (23:29-30). In addition to the ruin that drunkenness brought on Noah, other examples of individuals whose drinking proved destructive were Nabal (1 Samuel 25:36), Elah (1 Kings 16:9), the watchmen of Israel (Isaiah 56:12) and the kings of Israel (Hosea 7:5).

Drinkers are bad company. The prophet warns: "Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!" (Habakkuk 2:15). The Rechabites were commended by God because of their voluntary abstinence from strong drink (Jeremiah 35:5-6, 19). Rather than being drunk with wine, the Christian is to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

These passages ought to frame our understanding of Proverbs 31:6: "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts." Verses 4 and 5 reveal that wine is not for kings and princes lest they pervert justice. If anything, this passage condemns the use of alcoholic beverages. They are not for people of responsibility. Giving strong drink to the perishing is equivalent to calling the anesthesiologist before performing an appendectomy.

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