Is Drinking Wine Lawful?

Is Drinking Wine Lawful?

Question: “Paul spoke about taking wine because the water system was faulty. With our pure water system, is drinking wine inexcusable?”

The text to which the reader refers is I Timothy 5:23: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.”

However, the reader is wrong when he explains Paul’s admonition to Timothy to drink wine instead of water, because the water system was faulty. There is no mention of this in the text. On the contrary, Paul gives his reason for advising Timothy to drink wine: “for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.”

This admonition to Timothy is part of the inspired Scriptures. There can be no doubt about it that there are certain infirmities a person may have that can be eased by use of “a little wine.” My own doctor, not a strong believer in the infallibility of God’s Word, advised me to drink a glass of wine every evening for health reasons. He did not recommend this because he was aware of this admonition in the Bible, but he advised it because it is good medical practice; doctors are aware of the beneficial effects of wine. The reason why he was somewhat reluctant to recommend the use of wine was because he was afraid of overuse, leading to addiction. For a number of years after he gave me his advice, he asked me, every time he saw me, “How much wine are you drinking?”

The Holy Spirit recommends wine for health purposes, for wine is a gift of God who does not give gifts that are harmful. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). The meaning of the text is this: Everything God gives is a good and perfect gift; it is man who takes God’s gifts and corrupts them by using them in the service of sin.

Paul echoes this same truth earlier in I Timothy when he warns against people who forbid saints to use certain gifts of God. He writes, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils … Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (I Tim. 4:1, 3-5).

There are those in the church who know their weakness in this area, that for them it would be dangerous to drink, even small amounts, of alcoholic beverages. Wisely and in obedience to God, they refrain—also from drinking wine. Whether or not to drink wine is a matter of Christian liberty and must not be placed in the realm of violations of God’s law. As Martin Luther said, “Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women?”

Controversies have been carried on in the recent history of the church over the question of the legitimacy of drinking wine. There are those who hold that drinking any alcoholic beverage is wrong. They refuse to use wine in the administration of the Lord’s Supper and insist on using grape juice. They attempt to prove their case from Scripture. I have read their material and find it unconvincing. It cannot be proved from Scripture that drinking wine is wrong; and, quite the contrary, wine has a unique symbolism in Scripture, for it points to the joy and prosperity of the heavenly Canaan.

Briefly, and without going into all the arguments, Noah’s sin was not planting a vineyard and making wine from the grapes; it was drunkenness (Gen. 9:20-21). Judah received the birthright blessing, a part of which is, “Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes” (Gen. 49:11). Wine was used in sacrifices in the Old Testament times. God accepted it as part of Israel’s offerings to Him (Num. 15:5). Psalm 104:15 mentions the gift of wine as part of the blessings of Jehovah upon Israel: “And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine.” Christ describes the beauty of the church with a reference to the mouth of His bride: “And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly” (Song 7:9).

The Lord changed water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, for marriages are pictures of the true marriage of Christ and His church, and wine is symbolic of the joy of this heavenly marriage.

The Lord took the cup of wine used in the Old Testament Passover feast and changed it into the wine of the New Testament Lord’s Supper, which He commanded us to observe until He returns to take His church to glory.

Nor can it be argued that the wine referred to in Scripture is actually grape juice, because, although Scripture uses different words in the Hebrew for “wine,” the same words are used for wine when it is a gift of God and for warnings against drunkenness; the same is true in the New Testament.

Nevertheless, the warnings against drunkenness are important and necessary. Especially in those churches found in affluent cultures, drunkenness is a great sin—not only among adults, but also among teenagers. Addiction is God’s punishment on habitual drunkenness, but only because drunkenness is wrong. A person commits sin by becoming drunk just one time. It is a serious sin, not because of its possible consequences, but because of the fact that God forbids it. The church’s preaching must warn against this sin and call those who become drunk to repent of their sin.

But the terrible sin of drunkenness as an abuse of God’s gifts must not lead us to take the position that the Christian life requires a sanctified child of God to abstain from all alcoholic beverages, including wine. This, too, is sin, for it is a despising of God’s good gifts. Paul speaks some pretty sharp words against those who deny the use of God’s gifts. So let the gift of wine also be received with thanksgiving and be sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.

Prof. H. Hanko

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11