“Is Drunkenness All that the Bible
Condemns about Drinking Alcohol?”

Introduction. It is not uncommon to hear the assertion from time to time that all that the Bible condemns (with respect to the drinking of alcohol) is drunkenness. If this is true (so it is argued) a Christian can drink alcoholic beverages socially or within moderation without sinning. While many Christians have allowed themselves to come to believe this, it is a flawed interpretation of Scripture.
     The Bible clearly teaches that drunkenness is not the only aspect of drinking that is condemned. When all of Scripture is taken into consideration it becomes evident that Christians should abstain from socially drinking alcoholic beverages altogether.
     There are many factors that lead us to this conclusion that we could address (and either have on other occasions or plan to spell out in the future). Among these are...
A. A Christian’s influence. When non-Christians (or Christians tempted by this sin) see us using alcoholic beverages our influence is compromised. They might follow our example and become ensnared by something that enslaves them to the bottle.
B. Watchfulness. As Christians we are to be on guard, watching for opportunities for good, the dangers of temptation and the coming of Christ. Alcoholic beverages in even the smallest measure hinder keen watchfulness.
C. The Sanctification of Christians. Christians are “saints” set apart unto God. As those who both serve God and represent His word to the world we are called upon to maintain a higher more noble and controlled standard of conduct. Alcoholic beverages appeal to the baser impulses of humanity and do not help us maintain this sanctification. Finally...
D. Factors regarding ancient drink. While the Bible will speak of both Christians and non-Christians drinking what is called “wine” it is a mistake to conclude that every reference to wine describes what our world calls “wine” as distinct from nonintoxicating products of the wine. There is abundant biblical and historical evidence that those in ancient times could preserve grape juice in order to avoid fermentation or water it down to prevent its intoxicating effects.
     This morning, however, we are not going to look at these aspects, but instead consider this issue by focusing on three words that are used in Scripture that make it clear for us that Christians should not socially drink alcoholic beverages in any measure. We are going to look at two words which describe the kind of things that Christians must put off in coming to Christ, and one word which describes the kind of behavior that we should adopt. When we are finished it will become clear to each of us (if it is not already) that drunkenness is only the most extreme aspect of drinking that is condemned.

I. A Christian must avoid... A pivotal passage in this discussion is (I Peter 4:1-3) Note: 1. We are to “arm” ourselves with a Christlike mind in resisting sin (vs. 1). 2. The rest of the time “in the flesh” (i.e. while we have physical bodies we no longer live according to the “lusts of men” but for the will of God (vs. 2). 3. “We have spent enough of our past lifetime” (cf. Father who says to a child “that’s enough!” = “don’t do it anymore!” Interesting list. Note: 3 things * Drunkenness (word that refers to literally “bubbling up” with wine - i.e. intoxication), two other words...

  1. “Revelries” and...
    1. Other NT. usages: (Galatians 5:21) Note: Can’t practice and inherit the kingdom of heaven. (Romans 13:13) Improper behavior done under the cover of night.
    2. Komos - “a revel, carousal, i.e. in the Greek writers properly a nocturnal and riotous procession of half-drunken and frolicsome fellows who after supper parade through the streets with torches and music in honor of Bacchus [i.e. the god of wine] or some other deity” (Thayer, p. 367).
      1. In Herodotus it is used of celebration. The phrase kÅmÄ xr¨syai “to make the komos” = celebrate (Herodotus Bk. I, 21.2)
      2. In Euripides Herakles is rebuked by a servant when he unfittingly engages in laughter and komos when the house mourns for Alcestis (Euripides, Alcestis 804).
      3. A komos could be night long, as in Euripides’ Helen, where it involves dancing in honor of the legendary figure Hyakinthos (1469-1470).
      4. Pindar uses it of a victory procession in the Pythian games (Pythian 5, 22).
      5. Hesiod uses the verb form of a wedding procession (Shield of Herakles, 281).
    3. We know exactly the kind of thing this is talking about. This isn’t the kind of thing where one is so effected that they can’t walk - this is the wild celebration. * The wedding reception where champaign is served, * The ball game where beers are passed around, the * Mardi Gras celebration where inhibitions are lowered. Its not total drunkenness but it is wrong!
  2. “Drinking Parties.”
    1. 1. I Peter 4:3 only instance in NT.
    2. Greek OT - “banquet” Est. 6:14, in Daniel 5:10 used “(house of the) banquet,” Est 5:6 “banquet of wine” “feasting” or “feast” in Jer. 16:8 “(house of) feasting” Job 1:4, 5; Est. 1:5,2:18; 1 Kings 3:5; 2 Sam. 3:20; 1 Sam. 25:36 (w. drunkenness); Judges 14:10,12,17; Gen. 19:3; 40:20 (Pharaoh's birthday). “drinking” Est.1:5-8 describes feast where drinking was (uncustomarily) not compulsory]
    3. Potos a drinking or a carousing” (Thayer, p. 533).
      1. Equivalent to the Symposium - a drinking party that goes on after a meal that can involve either a long period of compulsory drink leading to drunkenness and fornication or if it is agreed upon simply drinking and discussion.
      2. Plato’s Symposium 176a-e it is agreed not to push their drinking to the point of drunkenness, but to let each drink as he chooses. [Note: in this example one of those participating in this drinking party even gives a discourse in which he condemns drunkenness. This shows clearly that although he was participating in a potos it was not the equivalent of drunkenness]
    4. We know exactly what this kind of thing is too. * Its that after work cocktail with our boss, or a prospective client. * Its that backyard barbeque with a few friends, * Its that drink with a meal to “unwind.” Its not drunkenness, but the Holy Spirit says “that’s enough” - Christians can’t act that way.

II. A Christians must be...

  1. “Temperate.”
    1. Three instances in the NT - “temperate” I Tim. 3:2 (elders); I Tim. 3:11 (deacon’s wives); “sober” Titus 2:2 (older men). Note: If elders are to be examples (I Peter 5:3) it only follows then that what is taught regarding elders, older men and deacons wives should be true of all Christians.
    2. Nephaleos - “sober, temperate, abstaining from wine...” (Thayer, p. 425).
    3. In Attic inscriptions the word is used to denote wineless altars and offerings - Intro. to Greek Epigraphy , E. S. Roberts & E. A. Gardner. Cambridge: University Press, 1905 - Vol. II, pp.379-380; 387-388.
    4. The Alexandrian Jew named Philo - Special Laws I, 100;IV, 191 uses the word in reference to the manner in which the priests were to go before the altar, suggesting they even abstained from any medicine that might impair their judgment or self-control. [cf. Lev. 10:9,10]
    5. The 1st century Jewish historian Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews 3.12.2 - uses the word of priests also claiming that they keep themselves “pure and nephaleos concerning all things, not drinking wine while they wear the priestly garment” [cf. Lev. 10:9,10].
    6. Consider the use of this word in light of what the Bible says about Christians. (I Peter 2:4-5 & 9-10) If the Holy Spirit deliberately uses a word that in ancient times was used of wineless offerings and the purity of the priests when they offered sacrifice - there can be no question that the Lord is asking us to have this same purity as living sacrifices and a holy priesthood.

Conclusion. We have seen clearly that the Bible condemns more than just drunkenness with respect to the use of alcoholic beverages. Christians are called upon to maintain a vigilant sobriety in our service to the Lord as we stay on guard for the dangers that could beset us as well as those which could overtake others.
     On New Year’s Eve in New York’s Time square something took place on December 31, 2001 that I had never seen before in my life. Alcohol was banned! That is the “party-place” they always let go! Why the change? September 11, 2001 made New York and all the world realize that there are dangers out there that are so threatening even when we enjoy ourselves we must stay on guard. For a Christian that is not new information. From the spiritual cradle of baptism until the glorious departure of our souls from our physical bodies the Christian faces foes that would threaten our salvation. We must be just as watchful as we guard against such dangers.