T 18.1 The Prohibition Tradition in Some Modern Churches

Today’s topic is an emotionally charged one.  Many of us know or have known people who have been affected by the destructive power of the overuse of alcohol. God forbid that you know someone who has killed someone while driving drunk, or lost their house, job, and/or marriage because of the inability to overcome the lure of drinking to the point that some people do. Or just the poor decisions or poor health that can happen due to forming a dependence on alcohol.

Or perhaps you have been ingrained with the doctrine that any use of alcohol is sin, to the point where you have not only committed yourself to not using it, but also to be one preaching against all alcohol use.

I’m going to ask you to just consider these words. We are interested in learning and adhering to the word and will of God. What is God’s viewpoint, and direction on this important matter?

Remember we are comparing modern traditions with the apostles’ traditions in original Christianity which we are charged to do in Scripture (2Th 2:15). The Apostles’ traditions are both the beliefs and practices handed down by the apostles.  And, in fact, 2Thessalonians 3:6 says to avoid the fellowship of those who don’t follow the apostles’ traditions. Jesus taught that the traditions of men, including religious ones, make void the word of God. (Matt 15:3-6)

We are going to look at the ban on alcohol which is part of some churches’ traditions today and see whether it is apostles’ tradition or man’s tradition.

The doctrine of prohibition, the banning of alcohol, in the churches is relatively new. In fact, in the United States, the Temperance movement was established in the early nineteenth century when it picked up enough support from evangelical preachers who started preaching that any alcohol drinking was sinful[1]. This is despite the fact that there is a long history in the Scriptures that show the acceptance of alcoholic beverages from ancient days through the book of Acts.

The Law definitely supports the use of alcoholic spirits.

You shall trade the money for whatever your soul desires, for cattle, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatever your soul asks of you; and you shall eat there before Yahweh your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. (Deu 14:26 WEB)

This verse endorses that it is acceptable to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages, in this case as part of the tithe.

The word for wine above is yayin in Hebrew, H3196 in Strongs, and has the root of effervesce as in fermented.  Strong drink is shekar in Hebrew, H7941 and means intoxicant.  There is another Hebrew word for wine, tiyrosh, which means new wine, which was not the mature wine that yayin is. In this article we will be talking about yayin and shekar .

Strong drink always refers to alcoholic beverages, and yayin wine is an intoxicating beverage.  With this verse in the law establishing fermented wine as acceptable as tithe along with what the words for wine and strong drink mean we see that there is no question that alcoholic beverages are what is being discussed here.  Next, look at this in the New Testament.

And be not drunk with wine, in which is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;  (Eph 5:18 Webster)

This is an instruction by the Apostle Paul which certainly qualifies as part of the apostles’ tradition.  It sets a standard for drinking alcohol.   The word drunk is methusko, G3182, and means intoxicated or impaired, and this is reinforced with the word excess, asotia, G810, which means profligacy, excess, or riot.  Drinking a glass of wine is moderate, drinking a whole bottle of wine is excessive or riotous.  This verse is not a ban on all drinking, rather it is a warning to not drink excessively to the point of not being clear headed enough to follow the spirit.  The phrase “in which is excess” clearly draws a line between acceptable moderate drinking and unacceptable drunkenness, and makes this the central issue in the verse.

Paul advised Timothy to drink wine moderately.

Be no longer a drinker of water only, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities. (1Ti 5:23 WEB)

This verse not only lists wine as an acceptable thing to drink, but as a recommended practice in certain circumstances.  The next set of verses is about Jesus’s first miracle as described in the Gospel of John.

The third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus also was invited, with his disciples, to the marriage. When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with you and me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever he says to you, do it.” Now there were six water pots of stone set there after the Jews’ way of purifying, containing two or three metretes apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the water pots with water.” They filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the ruler of the feast.” So they took it. When the ruler of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and didn’t know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the ruler of the feast called the bridegroom, and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the guests have drunk freely, then that which is worse. You have kept the good wine until now!” This beginning of his signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (Joh 2:1-11 WEB)

Wine was part of celebrations worldwide thousands of years before Christ.  We mentioned Deuteronomy 14:26 above, but the truth is that wine as part of celebrations is a theme in the Old testament. Wine is part of the celebration of the conquering of death. Wine is part of the communion memorial.  Notice the next verse says choice wines. That is not grape juice, ladies and gentlemen. That is choice, fermented, wine.

This next verse is a proclamation of a feast by Yahweh, and it includes choice wines.  Surely you are not saying Yahweh is sinning here by serving yayin, intoxicating wine?

In this mountain, Yahweh of Armies will make all peoples a feast of choice meat, a feast of choice wines, of choice meat full of marrow, of well refined choice wines. (Isa 25:6 WEB)

After the book of Acts, there is a long history of acceptance of alcoholic beverages including Christians, ministers, and churches all not only consuming alcoholic beverages but making them.

In the second century, Clement of Alexandria affirmed the use of alcohol in the church then with these words in his book Paedagogus:

“And he bound, it is said, the colt to the vine, having bound this simple and childlike people to the word, whom He figuratively represents as a vine. For the vine produces wine, as the Word produces blood, and both drink for health to men — wine for the body, blood for the spirit.[2]

Brett McCracken documents the use of alcohol by Christians throughout the ages including at ministry functions like ordinations[3].

In fact, at a relatively recent Southern Baptist Convention, the topic of allowing alcohol was brought up again with some people on the side of no longer banning alcohol consumption. And things that were brought up included the fact that it was a Baptist minister named Elijah Craig that invented bourbon whiskey[4].

Drinking of alcoholic beverages was not forbidden for 18 centuries after Christ.  Look at this quote acknowledging that from an anti-alcohol book:

“ In the 17th century all Old England and New England drank. The Puritans were no exception. Puritans’ soldiers drank heavily. Farmers, doctors, laborers, lawyers, magistrates, ministers, mothers, selectmen, governors, judges, babies, the sad, the gay, the well, the sick – all drank.”

This quote is from a 1943 book put out by the Southern Baptist Convention against drinking.[5]

What the above timeline establishes is that the doctrine of drinking alcohol as sinful is a modern doctrine and not one that traces back to the apostles.  In the 19th century, a movement started to counter the damaging effects of the excessive consumption of alcohol. That movement was called the temperance movement. And eventually, laws were enacted to ban alcohol from society. Those laws were called prohibition.  This movement really got traction when it was adopted by some churches.

It’s not that the bible doesn’t warn against the dangers of overconsumption.

The Lord has sent among them a spirit of error: and by them Egypt is turned out of the right way in all her doings, as a man overcome by wine is uncertain in his steps. And in Egypt there will be no work for any man, head or tail, high or low, to do.  (Isa 19:14-15 BBE)

This verse above clearly describes the state of being overcome with wine as being uncertain in your steps.  Or how about this one?

They made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father. He didn’t know when she lay down, nor when she arose.  (Gen 19:33 WEB)

Lot’s daughters got their father so drunk he didn’t know he was having intercourse with them?  Now, who says wine in the bible isn’t that alcoholic?  This next verse equates drunkenness with ruination.

Do not get drunk with wine, which will only ruin you; instead, be filled with the Spirit. (Eph 5:18 GNB)

There are many more verses that pronounce the dangers of drunkenness.  Here’s one:

Those who stay long at the wine; those who go to seek out mixed wine. Don’t look at the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly. In the end, it bites like a snake, and poisons like a viper. (Pro 23:30-32 WEB)

“Those who stay long at the wine” refers to overindulging and the effect is likened to being bit and poisoned.  Next, here’s one that includes what effect drunkenness has on the ministers and prophets.

They also reel with wine, and stagger with strong drink. The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink. They are swallowed up by wine. They stagger with strong drink. They err in vision. They stumble in judgment.  (Isa 28:7 WEB)

Drunkenness blocks the spiritual connection with Yahweh.  Drunk prophets err in vision. Drunk ministers stumble in judgment.

But it is twisting scripture to turn a scriptural ban on drunkenness into a ban on drinking in moderate amounts.  For example, the Alcohol THE DESTROYER book cites this verse as a denunciation by Habakkuk on all drinking[6]:

“Woe to him who gives his neighbor drink, pouring your inflaming wine until they are drunk, so that you may gaze at their naked bodies! You are filled with shame, and not glory. You will also drink, and be exposed! The cup of Yahweh’s right hand will come around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory. (Hab 2:15-16 WEB)

Context, context, context!  Yes, there are people that get other people to drink to the point where they will agree to have sex with them, and that is clearly a maneuver of the adversary. It is wrong and no one disputes that. Alcohol overindulgence is a major problem and we can never forget that.

But every Presbyterian or Methodist sipping a glass of wine at home or at a restaurant is not pouring wine down their neighbor’s throat to see them naked!  Habbakuk 2:15-16 are verses against overindulgence, not against moderate use of alcohol.  But it is twisted in the prohibition literature to make it look like it is saying something it is not.  And so are a lot of verses.

Yes, there are many verses on the dangers of overconsumption. Shouldn’t all those warnings be the overriding factor?

In civil law here in the United States, decisions are based upon the preponderance of the evidence weighing more heavily on one side or the other.  Both sides present their cases and the judge or jury decides who will win.  Sometimes I think that some people think that the word of God is like that, especially in cases like this.  If someone can present more verses that point to the dangers of something, in this case, drinking alcohol, than verses that can be found allowing for alcohol consumption then the alcohol banning folk should win their case, according to that logic.   But the word of God is not like that.  If there are verses that allow something under certain circumstances, then even if there are more verses against overconsumption of alcohol, they will never be sufficient to overrule the sanctioned use of alcohol in the word of God

So again, as stated above, the moderate use of alcohol is something sanctioned by the Father.  The moderate use of alcohol is allowed with many warnings against overindulgence given.

Remember the two sources of wisdom; the wisdom from above, and the wisdom of the world, ultimately from the adversary. If God the Father gives us something to enjoy then denying people that enjoyment goes against the purposes of God even if there is a problem with overconsumption. The correct response to the overconsumption of alcohol is to stop over-consuming, not to ban it.

That is not to say that some individuals don’t need to stop themselves from drinking, at least in the short term, and possibly long-term.  So I’m not saying that people in AA shouldn’t be in AA or going to counseling.  Some people need programs to stop the destruction that alcohol can cause when people lose control. But, making laws that ban alcohol, in general, is a man-made doctrine in the tradition of men.  And the people twisting scripture to say that the biblical standard is to ban alcohol make void the Word of God.

Remember this too. It may be okay for you to drink, but if you are with someone who has a problem with alcohol, then you don’t want to be a source of temptation for that person.  As Paul wrote, all things are lawful for us, but not all things are expedient. We don’t want our liberty to be a stumbling block for someone who is weak. (Romans 14:21)

Here are some anti-alcohol teaching statements in the anti-alcohol tradition taught that make void the word of God:

“The Bible gives principles of Christian living, not rules.… If Christ were in our midst today, there can be no doubt in the light of truth that he would utterly condemn the liquor traffic and oppose the drinking of alcoholic beverages on the part of his followers.”[7]

This is nowhere taught or practiced by the Apostles.  Jesus not would not condemn the drinking of alcohol.  He is going to be at the Yahweh for armies party with wine.  He ate and drank while he was here!

“One who opens the door to physical indulgences such as drink closes his ears to the voice of his finer sensibilities.”

The context of this statement is not the overindulgence of drink, it is regarding any drinking of alcohol whatsoever, contrary to what the bible teaches.  While having a lot of wine impairs judgement, having a little wine does not close someone’s ears to their sensibilities, or else Jesus would not have drank (Luke 5:27-32).

“Beverage alcohol is the foe of spiritual living and the destroyer of everything dear to the heart of my Lord.”[8]

This statement is part of a Baptist pledge. This statement goes way beyond preaching against the dangers of overindulgence while allowing for the temperate use of alcohol that the Bible teaches. I’ll agree that alcoholism is a foe, and can work to destroy people, but statements like this twist the Scriptures into what looks like an attempt to manipulate people away from any use of alcohol at all.  Jesus told us that the truth sets us free, but unfortunately, this isn’t it.  The scriptural standard is not to avoid alcohol or you are a lost sinner. That standard makes the Lutheran and Episcopalian having a glass of wine or beer an unbeliever or at the very least a lost Christian. Having a glass of wine does not destroy everything dear to the heart of the Lord.

Here are more scriptures that show moderate alcohol use as part of God’s wisdom.  Wine was acceptable as part of the drink offering instituted by the Lord.

and for the drink offering you shall offer the third part of a hin of wine, of a pleasant aroma to Yahweh.  (Num 15:7 WEB)

The word for wine there is the word yayin in Hebrew, meaning fermented drink. We know that yayin was intoxicating because the first time yayin was used the person got drunk from drinking it.

He drank of the wine and got drunk. (Gen 9:21a WEB)

We’re not talking about grape juice here.  He got drunk from it!  Again, the wine talked about in these verses is intoxicating!  Intoxicating wine is in this next verse:

When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bulls, and one ephah of meal, and a container of wine, and brought him to Yahweh’s house in Shiloh. The child was young. (1Sa 1:24 WEB)

These verses show where intoxicating wine was part of the offering that Yahweh told his people to offer, and thus wine was included in offerings to the Lord.  If God calls something acceptable and pleasant who are men to say otherwise?

Or is the Lord compared to a sinner in this verse?

Then the Lord awakened as one out of sleep, like a mighty man who shouts by reason of wine. (Psa 78:65 WEB)

No, this is a favorable comparison where the Lord was awakened with the force like someone shouting with wine.  Or look at these verses that include wine as one of the blessings of the Father who created us.  Psalm 104 is a litany on the blessings of the Lord and wine is listed in the long list of favors Yahweh has granted:

He sends springs into the valleys. They run among the mountains. They give drink to every animal of the field. The wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the sky nest by them. They sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his rooms. The earth is filled with the fruit of your works. He causes the grass to grow for the livestock, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may produce food out of the earth: wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face to shine, and bread that strengthens man’s heart. Yahweh’s trees are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon, which he has planted; (Psa 104:10-16 WEB)

“Wine that makes glad the heart of man” is listed with animals drinking freely from springs in valleys and on mountains, the grass growing for livestock to feed upon, oil to make a man’s face shine, and bread to strengthen a man’s heart as great blessings from the Lord!  And there are many more blessings listed in this psalm for which the psalmist praises the Lord.

“Wine that makes glad the heart of man” is a blessing from the Lord, so says the psalmist, and calling all alcohol use sinful makes that verse wrong!  Again, wine there is yayin in Hebrew, intoxicating drink!  Wine, intoxicating drink, was given to make glad the heart of man?  Saying otherwise is nullifying the word of God.

Or are you going to throw out this wisdom?

Give strong drink to him who is ready to perish; and wine to the bitter in soul: (Pro 31:6 WEB)

This verse says a little wine to ease bitterness or ease someone who is suffering or dying is a good thing.  Saying otherwise nullifies the word of God!

Or is this actually a good thing that Yahweh does in this verse when it is prophesied that wine will stop being produced for these people?  Remember, this is supposed to be something bad happening because these people were not following the Lord.

Gladness is taken away, and joy out of the fruitful field; and in the vineyards there will be no singing, neither joyful noise. Nobody will tread out wine in the presses. I have made the shouting stop. (Isa 16:10 WEB)

The same thing is seen here.

The earth also is polluted under its inhabitants, because they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore the curse has devoured the earth, and those who dwell therein are found guilty. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left. The new wine mourns. The vine languishes. All the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of tambourines ceases. The sound of those who rejoice ends. The joy of the harp ceases. They will not drink wine with a song. Strong drink will be bitter to those who drink it. (Isa 24:5-9 WEB)

These sections are talking about being cursed, the opposite of being blessed by the Lord. So, these people are cursed (v. 6).  Part of the curse is that singing and celebrating has stopped.  “They will not drink wine with a song” is presented as something that shows the blessing of God is stopped.  But if intoxicating wine use is sinful then how are they cursed?  The answer is that they are cursed and part of the curse is that they no longer drink wine with a song!  Drinking wine with a song, having a heart made glad with wine, having bitterness eased with wine is part of the word of God and preaching against any alcohol use makes that word of God void!

Also, while there are many secular articles on the destructive nature of alcohol abuse, there are some on the beneficial nature of moderate drinking, including links to improved cardiovascular health, improved diabetes management, improved digestion and general wellbeing[9]. The article cited gives some details on the many factors of alcohol consumption.

It’s key to note that scripture says the traditions of men make void the word of God. It doesn’t matter how bad the problem, or how noble the intentions are.  It is also key that statements of faith affirming the primacy of scripture do not guarantee that the teaching the church is following is the rightly divided, actual word of God.  This is one of many examples where scripture is twisted to the point where the actual word of God is nullified.

The ban on all alcohol by certain traditions is no different than the Jewish leaders in Jesus’s time creating bans and laws that work against the word of God. An example is the Sabbath being given as a day of rest. In the law, there were details given to further define work like not starting any fires.  And exceptions were listed like pulling oxen out of ditches they might have fallen into.  But the religious leaders overreacted and tried to make any action into an act of work. So, we all know how the Jews accused Jesus of not honoring the Sabbath when he healed people on the Sabbath.  Likewise, the anti-alcohol crowd is over reacting and going way beyond scripture with their reasoning in making any alcohol use a sin.

The ban on all alcohol is an overreaction. It is not godly. The teaching around it makes the word of God void.  That makes it a false doctrine according to the standard of original Christianity, the apostles’ tradition, and it needs to be proclaimed as such.

In this mountain, Yahweh of Armies will make all peoples a feast of choice meat, a feast of choice wines, of choice meat full of marrow, of well refined choice wines. (Isa 25:6 WEB)

Further Reading:

THE BIBLE AND THE QUESTION OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES, Kenneth L Gentry Jr available at https://intoxicatedonlifedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/ctrgentryformatted.pdf  This looks like an early version of some of the material in the book in the next line.

GOD Gave Wine, What the Bible says about Alcohol, Kenneth L Gentry Jr, Victorious Hope Publishing, Fountain Inn, South Carolina, third printing, 2015

[1] https://law.jrank.org/pages/10714/Temperance-Movement.html#:~:text=The%20TEMPERANCE%20MOVEMENT%20in%20the,drinking%20alcohol%20as%20a%20sin.

[2] The Paedagogus (Book I) at https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/02091.htm

[3] CHRISTIANS AND ALCOHOL: A TIMELINE at https://www.brettmccracken.com/blog/blog/2013/07/17/christians-and-alcohol-a-timeline

[4] Baptist history on alcohol: not totally teetotaling – Baptist News Global

[5] Alcohol – THE DESTROYER, C Aubrey Hearn, Convention Press, Nashville Tennessee, 1943, P. 3

[6] Alcohol – THE DESTROYER, C Aubrey Hearn, Convention Press, Nashville Tennessee, 1943, P. 16

[7] Alcohol – THE DESTROYER, C Aubrey Hearn, Convention Press, Nashville Tennessee, 1943, P. 17

[8] ibid., P. 123

[9]  Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health


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