Is it a sin to drink alcohol? Let’s go to the Word of God and see!
Talk about a topic that will get you in trouble!! This is definitely one that has strong feelings on both sides of the issue. Regardless of how we may feel about drinking we have to admit that the Bible does speak clearly about drinking alcohol, or “strong drink” as it is called in Scripture.
Let’s take a look at what the Scriptures teaches so that we can determine what God says. First, let’s take a look in the Old Testament.
In Leviticus God instructed His people about acceptable service in the Tabernacle. Speaking to Aaron, the High Priest, the Lord said:
Leviticus 10:9 Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations:
Those who took the Nazarite vow were also prohibited from consumption of wine or strong drink.
Numbers 6:3 He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried.
What about the New Testament, does it have anything to say?
The only mention of forbidding wine or strong drink in the Gospel accounts is in reference to John the Baptist. When the angel Gabriel spoke to Zacharias and proclaimed that the baby Elisabeth was carrying would be named John, the angel also decreed that John would be under the command of Numbers 6:3, which not only forbid wine, but also grapes and raisins. He was not to partake of anything of the vine.
Luke 1:13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
Luke 1:15 For he [John the Baptist] shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.
All of these specific commands about abstaining totally from wine or strong drink were given under the Old Covenant (before the cross). This is the same issue we have for the “Tattoo” issue. These commands were given to a specific people, under specific circumstances and for specific reasons.
So what about Christians today? Don’t those rules still apply?
Remember, the passages above are not commands given to New Covenant, Church Age believers who are in-dwelt with the Holy Spirit. However, we must also remember that the Old Testament writings (under the Old Covenant) provide us with a great deal of instruction about responsible use of alcohol. We should never diminish the instruction in righteousness that we find in God’s Word prior to the cross. Paul was very clear on this.
Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
Under the New Covenant we have been given great liberty in Christ, but along with that liberty comes responsibility. (Spiderman again, I know!) The apostle Paul was clear on the fact that, even though something might be permissible for us, it might not be beneficial for us.
1 Corinthians 10:23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
The Bible clearly warns about the use of alcohol. Beginning in the Old Testament we find many verses that are not a prohibition against strong drink and wine, but are certainly an admonition against partaking or a warning about the dangers.
Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.
Proverbs 31:4-5 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.
Isaiah 5:11 Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them.
We also find verses that support responsible consumption of wine by the people of Israel, and verses that remind us wine is a by-product of a fruit of the vine. The grape vine and its fruit were given by God to His people, and fermentation of the grapes into wine was the method of preserving the juice of the grape from one harvest until the next.
Ecclesiastes 9:7 Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.
Amos 9:14 And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them.
Isaiah 55:1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Psalm 104:14-15 He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.
There are other verses that speak about wine consumption in the Old Testament and each is important for our instruction, but let’s look at verses that speak directly to Christians who are under the New Covenant.
Paul’s letters tell us clearly that we are not to abuse alcohol and get drunk. We are specifically told to be of sound mind and body at all times.
Ephesians 5:18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.
Romans 14:21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
1 Corinthians 6:12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation
The biblical teachings about our minds and bodies are very clear:
We are to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1).
A person whose mind and body is under the influence of wine (or any alcoholic beverage) is neither holy nor acceptable. Holy means to be set apart from the world and acceptable means to have a pure heart and clean hands. Slurred speech and alcohol-influenced thoughts and words do not glorify God. Instead, they often defame His name, misrepresent His truths and damage our testimony. The apostle James speaks about the tongue as a fire (James 3:6). Do not flame that fire with the fuel of alcohol.
While the New Testament gives similar warnings as found in the Old Testament about excessive alcohol consumption, we also find words that confirm that the responsible use of alcohol is permissible.
1 Timothy 5:23 Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities. [note: While this was fermented wine containing alcohol, it likely did not contain the same level of alcohol that many modern day wines contain.]
We also find nowhere in the New Testament where Jesus condemned or prohibited wine or strong drink. In fact, Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11) and spoke of how to preserve wine (Matthew 9:17) when teaching His disciples about the old and the new.
So, is it a sin to drink alcohol?
This question is not about whether alcohol consumption is dangerous or if it can cause someone to sin. It asks if drinking alcohol is a sin. Our answer would be no, it’s not necessarily a sin. There’s nothing in Scripture that says it is, so we cannot make laws where God has not done so. There was alcohol during biblical times and God did not forbid it, except under certain circumstances and to specific people. Therefore, we cannot tell our brothers and sisters in Christ (or non-Christians) that they are sinning against God if they have a drink of alcohol. We can tell them that they are sinning against God if the alcohol takes any control over their mind or body. God clearly forbids that and declares drunkenness to be a sin.
That said, I quickly add and warn that alcohol consumption can lead to sin. Alcohol can be a gateway to engaging in sin. It is no different than surfing the Internet. Surfing the Internet is not a sin, but it can be a gateway to sin. Nor is owning a gun a sin, but it can be used to commit sin, and therefore be another gateway to sin. Even watching TV. That is not a sin, but with much of today’s programming it can cause someone to sin. Most things are not sinful, in and of themselves or in the basic nature of the activity.
Regarding alcohol, remember that Jesus said:
Matthew 15:11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
Remember that alcohol, and many other things, can be a door, or gateway, through which sin can enter. A decision to drink, or not to drink, alcohol is a very personal decision. One must honestly discern their own ability to avoid consumption of anything that will take control over their thoughts, words and actions.
With the understanding of the dangers of alcohol consumption, many Christians feel it is best to abstain entirely. They understand that only by abstaining can they fully protect themselves from opening a door to sin—which grieves God and damages their testimony and their witness for the Lord.
So while responsible, limited consumption of alcohol is not a sin, be very discerning before you take any alcoholic drink and very cautious if you do so. We have liberty in Christ to do all things… EXCEPT sin—and alcohol consumption can very easily lead to sin.
Let me end with an illustration that I used with my children when they were in high school and we had this conversation. Many of you know that I was an Air Traffic Controller for over 20 years before transitioning into full-time vocational ministry. The last 8.5 years of my career was at O’Hare International Airport. It was the world’s busiest at that time and was an amazing place to work as a controller.
Soon after arriving at O’Hare I met a fellow controller who, when we introduced ourselves to each other it went something like this.
Me: Hi, I Carl Kerby, nice to meet you.
TJ: I’m TRACON Johnson. See ya!
Me: See ya!
“TRACON Johnson”! What an interesting way to introduce yourself I thought.
That night as I ate dinner with my family the phone rang so I answered it. This is kind of how the conversation went:
TJ: Hey Carl, it’s TRACON Johnson, how you doin’?
Me: Oh, hey. Doing good. What’s up?
TJ: Can you lend me some money, I’m a little tight right now?
Me: (Fumbling for words.) Uh, sorry man. We just moved here and we’re kind of tight.
TJ: No worries, take care!
I didn’t know what to think. The next day at work I was eating lunch with another controller. Still kind of bewildered by the previous nights call I just asked JG, “Hey, JG, what do you know about TRACON Johnson?”
His response caught me off guard. “Why, did he ask you for money?” Fumbling for words I responded with, “I met him yesterday and that’s just kind of a weird name to call yourself.”
I didn’t want to lie, but I didn’t want to embarrass anybody either. I didn’t need enemies at this new facility and was still trying to figure out how everything and everybody worked together.
JG blew me away with his response. “He used to be one of those “goody, goody” Christians. Then one night we got him to go to the boat with us.” (In Illinois gambling is only legal on River boats and there just happened to be one about 15 minutes from our facility.) “We got him to take a drink and gamble a little and today’s he’s a loser. He lost his family, his house and he owe’s everybody money!”
JG didn’t know that I was a Christian, I was brand new to the facility. But that response changed my approach to alcohol.
If you are considering taking even one small drink, first remember this verse:
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
Also, remember this. Maybe you have the ability to have a drink with a meal and it won’t go any further than that. The problem is that others are watching you and | and our actions can and will have an impact on them. Maybe there’s a TJ watching you and see’s you take the drink and thinks that since you can do it, so can they. Then the next thing you know they couldn’t handle it and have lost everything. I don’t want that Millstone around my neck! Even though I may have the freedom to do something, I care more about the long term than the short term.
Immature Christians seem to be looking for what they can get away with and how close they can get to the “line” and still be safe.
Mature Christians care more about what potential outcomes will be for their actions and are willing to give up on some of their freedom in order that other may not fall into sin.
Remember, we are to keep our focus on Christ and be filled to abundance with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). In Christ we find our joy and our strength to live in a manner that honors and glorifies Him. It should always be our goal to present ourselves in a way that we are a testimony for Christ in all our thoughts, words and actions.
Carl Kerby is an inspiring, motivating and highly respected Christian speaker. With more than 20 years of ministry experience, Carl shares his extensive knowledge and understanding of God’s creation in his presentations, outreach events, books and other resources as the President and founding board member of Reasons for Hope, Inc.