9 Jan 2009

Beer & The Bible: What the Bible Really Says about It

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Contemporary Ethics, Culture, Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Ministry, Preaching


Okay! I had no intention of producing another contribution on the topic of wine, beer or alcohol and Christians after my previous blog When Wine is really Wine!

Yet there has been a great demand, both in the comments of the previous two posts and a number of private emails that suggest a deeper survey of the materials (I do recommend reading my comments near the bottom of the long list of yesterdays post). I have received a number of notes suggesting that my post was way off base and that any alcoholic beverage is simply sinful. That is the view I grew up with and received from my own beloved parents.

Temperance and teetotalism are not the same idea.  Temperance is a biblical idea.  Teetotalism is not.  I offer the words of C. S. Lewis in his classic Mere Christianity on this very point,

“Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism… [In the past,] temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotalers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion.

“Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons–marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who use them, he has taken the wrong turning.”

But I believe the teetotalism  position is simply incapable of biblical defense. So here is what I put together for one brother and have decided to put it on my blog … What follows is my response to a brother and I have just decided to place it here on my blog for a wider readership.

“Beer” and the Bible

Greetings my beloved brother. There is no doubt that I am swimming up a river of contrary thought, especially the received tradition of Southern Churches of Christ, but for the sake of truth I must stay the course.

I have to confess to you this observation. Rarely do I see a greater abuse of the the term exegesis than when it comes to sermons and tracts on wine and alcohol in the Bible. In what follows I summarize my study of the subject primarily through the use of Hebrew words. I begin with an examination of the frequent claim that wine in the bible is not really “wine” (i.e. alcoholic) but basically grape juice. Such a view is totally anachronistic.

Let me summarize my own studies at this point:

First, I do not believe any responsible – that is not forced and contrived –  reading of Scripture can demonstrate that “wine” was not really “wine” (that is alcoholic) and;

Second, Scripture on numerous occasions not only allows wine but even commands its use.  Thus for me to conclude wine (in itself) was/is “sinful” would be a serious stretch of imagination and to impugn the moral integrity of God himself.  God, and the Holy Spirit, surely knew all the supposed dangers to alcoholism, the claims to damaged reputations, etc that modern American believers make, but Scripture does not come close to the position of one drink drunk! Do you dare to imply that God was unaware of these things when HE wrote the Bible?

I will try NOT to repeat what has been said in previous posts on my blog — but I believe those posts basically have proven my position.


Yayin is the most common Hebrew term translated “wine.” Not only has the standard resources confirmed that this word is ordinary wine unless the context shows otherwise it is plainly so in numerous examples (Noah, Lot , etc drank plain old yayin). In my library I have a very helpful set called New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, edited by William A. VanGemeren. This work is a 5 volume dictionary of Hebrew words. In volume 2, pp. 439-441 yayin is studied in considerable detail and there is no doubt that it refers primarily to alcoholic wine. The passages that follow use yayin.

The Wine "process" in ancient art: harvest, pressing, placing in vases

The Wine “process” in ancient art: harvest, pressing, placing in vases

1) God commanded Israel to come before him with drink offerings of “wine.” “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar … with one-fourth of YAYIN” (Exodus 29.40; Lev. 23.13; I do not need to list ALL the references — one should be sufficient).  There is nothing in the contexts of any of these references to make one believe that this yayin is somehow different.

2) Related to my previous statement in #1 it should be noted that in Lev. 10.9 priests were forbidden yayin (with no modifying adjective to suggest anything but plain old vanilla yayin) during the course of their duties. It is quite clear that this wine in Lev 10 is the kind that can get you drunk. Likewise the Nazarite was forbidden this yayin during the period of his vow, Num. 6.3 (we will return the Nazarite in a moment since it was an important point in your note to suggest God’s “real attitude”). This proves that wine was really wine. Yayin is simply wine.


Drunkenness is to be avoided by God’s people. Drunkenness is the abuse of God’s creation and is sin. But yayin was a gift of God’s people for it “gladdens the heart.” Wine is a gift of grace from God. Note the following Scriptures, all use yayin,

How attractive and beautiful they will be!
Grain will make the young men thrive,
and new wine the young women.” (Zech 9.17 [note also v.15].

This is something the Lord sees and the Lord describes as beautiful. In chapter 10 of the same prophet God promises to care for a restored Israel . The Lord says,

Ephraim will be become like mighty men,
and their hearts will be glad as with wine . . .” (10.7)

wine press from ancient Israel

wine press from ancient Israel

Yahweh blesses his people:

He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man . . .” (Ps. 104.14-15).

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.” (Ecc. 9.10)

The Preacher continues with a proverb, “A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything.” (Ecc. 10.19)

God calls the outcasts to a feast in Isaiah 55,

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (55.1)

Wine & Proverbs

Proverbs is always selectively cherry picked by abusers of the text.  You appealed to Proverbs as a “prohibition” of any wine at all,  I suggest you have grossly abused and selectively quoted the inspired text. Proverbs 23.29-35 directly addresses the sinful abuse of God’s good gift of wine to humanity.  It speaks of the misery of drunkenness just as Proverbs speaks of the pain of adultery. It is the abuse of the gift. It is not the gift.

Sex is Gift.  Fornication is Sin.

Food is Gift. Gluttony is Sin.

Wine is Gift. Drunkenness is Sin.

Proverbs makes a clear distinction between the use of God’s gift and the abuse of God’s gift. So I ask why did you leave out verses that clearly contradict your claim? You claim that Proverbs teaches God honors tee-totalling.  How did you arrive at this claim? The Wise Man’s words are most interesting. In the following quote please note the connection between honoring God and the resulting blessing of vats of wine filled to the brim.  Notice how the inspired writer does just the opposite of what you state.

Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops;
THEN your barns will be filled to overflowing,
AND your vats will brim with new wine

(Proverbs 3.9-10, tirosh – see below and Hosea 4.11).

Lady Wisdom — the one we are to follow in the Book of Proverbs (as contrasted to Dame Folly) shares these words of invitation by the wise woman:

Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out seven pillars.
She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; . . .
Let all who are simple come in here!’ she says to those who lack judgment.
‘Come, eat my food and drink my wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways and you will live;
walk in the way of understanding
.” (Proverbs 9.1-5).

Give beer to those who are perishing,
wine to those who are in anguish;
let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more
” (Proverbs 31.6-7)

McGovern is the world's leading scholar on ancient wine. He has an extensive chapters on wine in the Bible, the Ancient Near East and specifically Israel. If you want reliable information McGovern is the place to go.

McGovern is the world’s leading scholar on ancient wine. He has an extensive chapters on wine in the Bible, the Ancient Near East and specifically Israel. If you want reliable information McGovern is the place to go.

The Law of God

Finally I return to offerings/sacrifices. Deuteronomy 14. 22-27 is highly significant in this regard. The worshiper (one who is to far to bring the tithe) is commanded to:

buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, WINE or OTHER FERMENTED DRINK, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.” (Deut. 14.26).

There is little wiggle room in this text. Not only does this text identify “yayin” as a fermented drink but it also says that the worshiper could come with another “fermented” drink — in the “presence of the Lord” no less!

From the brief survey above I fail to grasp how the God who commanded coming before him with wine, or other fermented drink, could consider that very thing sinful. Why don’t you explain that to me please.


Tirosh (see NIDOTT&E, vol. 4, pp. 289-290). The word occurs frequently in Deuteronomy’s instruction to the Israelites. Tirosh is often translated as “new wine” in English versions.  You have claimed, again I think without textual warrant, that this is simply grape juice (as we will see there is an actual Hebrew word for “grape juice” but it is not yayin or tirosh). The prophet Hosea certainly believes that tirosh, and yayin, will get you drunk.  “wine {yayin} and new wine {tirosh} take away the understanding” (Hosea 4.11).  The prophet identifies “tirosh” as alcoholic. For texts in Deuteronomy see 7.13; and 12.17 among others.


COMMENTS ON ISAIAH 27.2 and “hemer” (see, NIDOTT&E, Vol 2, pp.189f).

I cited this text earlier and was challenged on it. That is a healthy thing. It sent me to do some Bible study (always a good thing). “hemer” certainly means wine/foaming wine in full blown fermentation. The challenger suggested that have “hemed” might be the correct reading instead (meaning “pleasant”). The reading in the Masoretic Text (MT, standard Hebrew Bible) is “hmr” but in the apparatus there is a note that a few mss (manuscripts) do contain “hmd” instead.

It is almost certain the MT is correct. The discovery of the Isaiah scroll at Qumran virtually makes the MT’s reading certain. 1QIsa(a) reads “hmr” (for more on this great scroll see Ernst Wurthwein’s The Text of the Old Testament, 2nd Edition, p. 108ff).

But how do we explain going from “hmr” to “hmd?” This is more difficult to see in English but in Hebrew it is plainly evident. This type of “error” by a copiest is known by the highly technical phrase “confusion of similar letters.” Wurthwein gives numerous illustrative examples of this on pages 108 and 109. In Hebrew the difference between “d” and “r” is very slight and are easily confused in script (even in print). The change would have been unintentional. Commentaries like John Oswalts “Isaiah, vol. 1, pp. 493-4 and E. J. Young’s Book of Isaiah, vol 2, pp. 236-7 go into more detail on this textual issue but demonstrate that “hemer” is the authentic reading.

With that said and done — Yahweh maintains a vineyard that produces seriously strong wine.

The Nazarite Vow

The claim you made that God disapproves of wine because he forbade the Nazarite to drink it — thus “revealing God’s true feelings.” But to say that God’s real feelings are revealed because he forbids wine proves to much as the saying goes.

As noted above, Numbers 6 is one of the texts that proves that yayin is real wine and not mere juice. But look at the text. Not only is the N. forbidden wine (yayin) but also:

1) other fermented drink (which is interesting in light of the claim that wine is not really wine!!)
2) vinegar
3) grape juice [ahhhhhhh here is true nonalcoholic juice — the Hebrew term is “misra“]
4) grapes
5) raisins
6) funerals

Now brother are you going to claim that God disapproves, and thinks it sinful, when I eat my Raisin Bran in the morning? How about when I eat the grape itself or when I do a funeral? Are you guilty of special pleading???

But in the final analysis God did in fact let the Nazarite have wine. It was only the period of dedication that he could have ANY part of the grapevine (vinegar comes from the grapes). But at the conclusion of his vow, God said,

After that, the Nazarite MAY DRINK WINE.” (Numbers 6.20).

Surely this is the very yayin that was to be abstained from would it not?

Biblical Conclusion(s)

From the above survey, I fail to see how anyone can conclude that wine is not alcoholic in the Bible.  It is an invented position pure and simple. Nor do I see how any can conclude that its consumption is a sin. Scripture condemns the abuse of alcohol just as it does over eating:

Do not join those who drink too much yayin or gorge themselves on meat” (Pr 23.20)

If the wine is condemned in and of itself in this text then so is eating a steak at Outback!

Rather scripture celebrates wine as a part of God’s good creation and the abuse of it as an example of the vandalization of that good creation. Biblical wisdom does not embrace asceticism rather it teaches us to live a balanced life before God in all things.

I close again with a quotation from Ben Sira who captures the biblical view nicely and succinctly. I do not quote it because it is inspired but because it shows the biblical balance.

Do not try to prove your strength by wine drinking, for wine has destroyed many. As the furnace tests the works of the smith, so wine tests hearts when the insolent quarrel.

Wine is very life to human beings if taken in moderation.
What is life to one who is without wine?
It has been created to make people happy.
Wine drunk at the proper time and in moderation is rejoicing of heart
and gladness of soul.

Wine drunk to excess leads to bitterness of spirit, to quarrels and stumbling.
Drunkenness increases the anger of a fool to his own hurt, reducing his strength and and adding wounds . . .” (Sirach 31. 25-30).

Discernment is called for … not legalism.

There is an outstanding and very detailed article though in many ways out of date on “Wine” that is fairly easily accessible in M’Clintock and Strong, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol 10, pp. 1010-1017.

A smaller but still useful article is in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel Green, Scott McKnight and Howard Marshall, pp. 870-873.

Magen Broshi’s “Date Beer and Date Wine in Antiquity,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 139 (2007): 55-59

Patrick McGovern, Ancient Wine

Michael Homan, “Did the Ancient Israelites Drink Beer?” Biblical Archeology Review 36 (Sept/October 2010), 48-56, 78.

Michael Homan, “Beer, Barley, and shekhar in the Hebrew Bible” in Le-David Maskil, A Birthday Tribute for David Noel Freedman.

16 Responses to “Beer & The Bible: What the Bible Really Says about It”

  1. fraizerbaz Says:

    Right on the mark! Great job, Bobby!

    That is all. 🙂

  2. David Says:

    Thanks Bobby. As one who chooses not to drink for several reasons (the greatest being I know myself, and just like I know that strip clubs would be a problem, I could easily see my addictive personality finding a bad addiction like this to take the place of a good addiction, cf Eph. 5:18), yet sees both sides of the argument (drink is sometimes approved and commanded BUT drunkenness is sinful), it annoys me a bit when I hear some say that arguments like these are simply ‘justfications’ for those who want to socially drink. When we show the Biblical evidence unfiltered, we’re not not justifying anything…instead, we’re just trying to be faithful to the Biblical witness to see that it is a)a gift from God but like all gifts b)it can be abused.

    Like a handful of other issues, this is one of those subjects where we are FREE IN CHRIST to do what we choose, within limits. If I choose not to drink, it is not for me to look down upon my brethren who do. If I do, it is not for me to make it a stumbling block to somebody else.

    Again, thanks for the research on this as you pointed out a few scriptures I had not thought about. Maybe your next subject needs to be a timely exegesis of Romans 14:1-15:13. 🙂

  3. kingdomseeking Says:

    No where in the scriptures is drinking an alcoholic beverage condemned or prohibited. However, drunkeness is condemned and unbecoming conduct for the person of God.

    Therefore it should be obvious that the question of whether it is right for a Christian to consume an alcoholic beverage is an ethical choice. As we all know, ethical choices are just that – choices that must be made based on good judgment that involves biblical insight, reason, contextual understanding, wisdom, among other sources for living. There will always be pro and con arguments, some good and some fairly shallow.

    So what should we do? I personally like the taste of beer; never enjoyed wine; don’t have much interest in a club unless there happens to be good blues or jazz performer playing; think mixed drinks are not worth their hype; enjoy tequilla but know that something so strong could become a quick problem; do not want to climb behind the wheel of a car intoxicated even the slightest; want to always set an example; realize I can have just a much fun without any alcoholic beverage… So I pretty much never drink except that time when I brought home a quart of New York States Saranac Pale Ale (it was good). AND MY CONSCIENCE IS CLEAN.

    Grace and peace,


  4. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Beth thanks for the encouraging words.

    David we all have our hang-ups. But our hang-ups are not everyone’s. Some are addicted to food and others beer. One person’s addiction to food does not make eating a sin. Another person’s addiction to sex or porn does not make sex or even seeing a naked woman a sin … these things are GOOD and HOLY in their proper place. So it is with wine.
    Why we are afraid of the biblical witness on this I do not understand. Maybe it is because we truly are more comfortable with Law than making mature decisions about how we conduct our lives.

    Rex I am with you brother.

  5. Keith Brenton Says:

    Was it Rudolph Bultmann who wrote

    “Im Himmel gibt’s kein Bier,
    Drum trinken wir es hier.
    Denn sind wir nicht mehr hier,
    Dann trinken die andern unser Bier.” ?

    Or Jurgen Moltmann?


  6. rich constant Says:

    dang keith that had better be a drihen song from a beer fest.
    i’ ve told you before about using those funny words”’ on john marks blog 🙂 how ya doin…

    what a mess bobbie how can common sence of scripture get soooo messed up.
    what was it 7 glasses of wine at the lord’s last supper that thursday evening…. or the passover… i would say a big bunch of wine i mean at least 20 people…how big was the gobblet …

    well said bobbie….
    free indeed yesir resir…


    and we wouldn’t want to start in on HOW we DO the table of fellowship
    “lords supper when we DO church for an hour or two.and a lot of member’s resent that…
    how do you define fellowship

    that’s just me .

    blessings rich in ca.

  7. kingdomseeking Says:


    Is that in German or just the ramblings after the tenth or so stein full of German beer:-)?


  8. Josh Says:

    I really enjoyed your post. Now I’m going to go enjoy a glass of Crown Royal with Vanilla Schnapps, while watching Hero’s.


  9. Keith Brenton Says:

    It was Greek to me!

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Agree, 100%, Bobby.


  11. Royce Ogle Says:

    I appreciate your boldness to tread where no coC preacher dare go.

    As with numberless other “things” or issues, moderation is the key. There is nothing sinful about a gun or a box of matches. Both can be used in positive ways. Put into the hands of the irresponsible and unwise they are very dangerous.

    The most foolish idea passed off as “scriptural” is for some elder or preacher to insist on unleavened bread for the Lord’s Supper and then use Welch’s grape juice instead of wine. Any honest person who reads the account of Jesus at the wedding party and him turning the water into wine knows that what he made was not grape juice.


  12. cwinwc Says:

    Your post reminded me of the time when we almost merged with a local Christian Church. We held a series of meetings between the church leaders to make sure we were all on the same page and Bible so to speak. When it came to alcohol, we told the brothers that we felt the Bible taught responsible consumption if one desired. They said they agreed. We then pointed out to them that their Checklist they used for prospective Deacons and Elders required that the “candidate” refrain from drinking any kind of beverage. Their answer was, “We believe in holding our leaders to a “higher authority.””

    As you mentioned, with this and any other issue, the danger is wanting to above or below Scripture when it doesn’t fit our internal beliefs.

  13. pilgrimdan Says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. pilgrimdan Says:

    very good Bobby…

    you are definitely a professional when it comes to being a preacher…

    I like the way you show the Nazirite vow in perspective…

    if I remember right… Ecclessiastes admonishes us not to be too righteous or too wicked…

  15. brother john Says:

    Good article. I was raised Church of Christ, minister for 20, two strongly conservative degrees, left in 1994. Came into the DOC (a major change)spent time in the regular Christian and made the mistake of going into the AG. Am not pastoring right now, trying to figure out what God wants.

    That idea of alcohol has just divided the church I attend (Foursquare), advanced by an old pastor who thought he would bring everybody to a “godly pattern”. Since I will drink almost anything but not to excess, I see it as a stupid argument and one that has no basis in Bible teaching.

    But I liked the way you presented it. I also like the title Stoned-Campbell Disciple. Wish I had thought of that.

    God bless.

    John Cliver

  16. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    John I am delighted to have you stumble upon my blog. I have another post on Wine too. I am sorry to hear about your trials but the subject of wine/beer is often not rationally discussed among American Christians.

    I hope you return and contribute to other discussions. And I am glad you appreciate the “stoned-campbell” some folks do not like humor. 🙂

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