Christians are called to live in a way that is different from the ways of the world, to be like Jesus Christ, and walk in the ways of righteousness and holiness. Sometimes this means abstaining from certain actions while embracing others. Many of these things are outlined directly in the Bible, while others leave room for debate.
Through the centuries, the church has debated about whether to drink wine, how much is acceptable, and other related subjects. Some Christians feel the strong conviction that believers should reject alcohol and remain sober at all times. Others believe they are allowed to have some alcohol.
The Bible does feature wine throughout, and even the book of Revelation speaks about the new wine of heaven. However, earthly wine and other alcoholic drinks can lead to sinful behavior because it lowers inhibitions and clouds judgment. Some people also develop bad drinking habits, using it to cope with their emotions, while others still become alcoholics, needing to drink just to get through the day.
While the Spirit may not convict every Christian to abstain from alcohol, the Word of God is clear that drunkenness, excessive drinking, and tempting others to drink against their conscience or their best interests, are sins.
Is Drunkenness a Sin?
Drunkenness is the state of being intoxicated by the consumption of too much of an alcoholic beverage. These kinds of drinks are made by fermenting foods like grapes to make wine, or potatoes, corn, or other foods to make hard liquor. Alcoholic drinks affect the mind and body. Depending on various factors including weight, height, and genetics, some people can consume more alcohol than others.
Everyone has a limit though, where their judgment is affected, their reactions slow down, their speech slurs, and they enter a state of intoxication. Some people drink so much they begin to function while regularly or consistently intoxicated, or they drink to the point of becoming very sick often. This state is known as alcohol dependency, or alcoholism.
The Bible condemns drunkenness, because it leads to bad decisions, sinful decisions, and can lead to problems for the individual and those around them. Whether people get angry and violent, or make the decision to use tools when their reaction time is impaired, when people are drunk, they rarely behave in a manner that is edifying to themselves and honoring to God.
Christians are called to be filled with the Spirit and guided by God, rather than by substances made by man. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). It is not right for Christians to indulge in excessive alcohol, because it interferes with the Spirit.
Is It Wrong to Drink Alcohol?
The question of whether or not a believer should imbibe any alcohol beverage is one that gets debated frequently. Some feel the Bible is clear, with many verses casting alcohol in a negative light. For example, “Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags” (Proverbs 23:20-21).
However, Jesus turned water into wine as his first miracle, and Paul encouraged Timothy to drink wine medicinally. “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23). Some interpret this tension in the Bible to mean that drinking some alcohol is okay, as long as a person does not become intoxicated.
It should be noted that most wine in Jesus’ day was typically lower in alcoholic content than many liquors today. Of course, strong drink has been around for millennia. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit convicts people about whether or not he or she should drink alcoholic drinks, but the Bible does provide a great deal of guidance about excessive drinking, or drunkenness.
Bible Verses about Drinking and Drunkenness
While fermenting beverages is not overly condemned as a sin, and was necessary throughout a time when it was hard to get clean drinking water, it is not meant to be consumed in excess. Not only is drunkenness condemned in the Bible, it is associated with other sins of gluttony and lust.
Verses about drunkenness include:
Proverbs 20:1 “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.”
Isaiah 5:11 “Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them!”
Galatians 5:21 “Envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 6:10 “Nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Romans 13:13 “Let us walk properly in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.”
1 Peter 4:3-4 “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.”
Proverbs 21:17 “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.”
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Andrey Elkin
How Should Christians Respond to Drunkenness?
When considering whether or not drinking alcohol is something to engage with, one important thing to consider is whether or not participating will cause someone else, particularly another brother or sister in Christ, to fall into drunkenness.
Alcoholism is a common problem, even in the church, and many who struggled with excessive drinking in the past abstain from it in order to maintain sobriety. Setting the temptation in front of them to drink is not a good thing to do.
In the early church, some believers struggled with the idea of eating meat sacrificed to false gods, so Paul encouraged Christians to support one another. In the house of a brother who does not want to eat meat, abstain. When inviting a sister in Christ who is vegetarian so she will not eat meat sacrificed to idols, do not place the temptation in front of her. In the Book of Romans he encouraged this mindset with food and alcohol; “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Romans 14:20-21).
Being loving and considerate means not indulging in alcohol in front of people who have struggled, or are currently struggling, with alcohol.
For pastors, this mindset of not being a source of temptation should be especially true. For anyone aspiring to the office of shepherd - or pastor - Paul already calls these individuals to be, “sober minded...not a drunkard...not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome” (1 Timothy 3:2-3). Some pastors take this verse to mean they should not drink any alcoholic beverages, and if the Holy Spirit guides them this way, they should obey the leading of the Holy Spirit. Other pastors do not feel this conviction. They should take seriously the call to not give into excessive drinking, and not to lead others to drink if they are not comfortable with it.
A person may not immediately tell their pastor if they struggle with alcoholism. One of the ways to understand the office of pastor is like an under-shepherd, one who helps care for some of the flock under the head shepherd. If the Lord Jesus - the great Shepherd - has trusted a pastor with the edification and spiritual nourishment of some of the church - the flock - then leading a church member into the temptation of alcohol is wrong. Pastors should be especially wise in their indulgence in alcohol, relying on the Spirit for guidance, and carefully guarding the flock they guide, even if that means abstaining from wine around some people so they are tempted to drink.
Should Christians Drink Alcohol?
The Old Testament gives a strong warning against leading others to excessive drinking, whether a believer is a minister of the Lord or not; “Woe to him who makes his neighbor drink - you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness! You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory!” (Habakkuk 2:15-16). In its original context, this verse was a condemnation against the Chaldeans, or the Babylonians, for their hedonism, sin, and defiance against God. The warning highlights their over-indulgence in earthly things by emphasizing their own indulgence in alcohol, and how they used alcohol to humiliate others. Christians today can learn from the negative example of the Chaldeans. Leading others to drunkenness and filling oneself with wine instead of the Spirit of the Lord disappoints the Lord and leads to sin and shame.
One of the most relevant Bible verses for Christians thinking about whether or not they can have alcoholic drinks comes from one of Paul’s epistles. Paul wrote, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Alcohol may not be barred to the believer, but it may not be beneficial to their walk with the Lord. If there is a possibility of being enslaved to alcohol, it is best to avoid it. Ultimately, it requires prayer, a strong relationship with the Spirit, and a close study of the Word to determine if alcohol is something someone wants to invite into their life.
God did not make humanity to be enslaved to anything. In fact, He wants everyone to be freed from sin and the struggles that burden them. Freeing people from their bonds is part of why Jesus died on the cross for everyone’s sins. Anyone struggling with alcohol can turn to Jesus for salvation, as well as for the strength to pursue sobriety. There are also resources to find programs and support groups which can help; “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). The Lord’s love and grace extends to all people, and His forgiveness is free to all people who ask for it.
If you or someone you love is exhibiting signs of alcohol dependence or alcoholism, start by calling 1-800-662-4357 and look for help at https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/resources/.
Brumbelow, David. Ancient Wine and the Bible: The Case for Abstinence. Chicago: Free Church Publishing, 2011.
Gentry, Kenneth. God Gave Wine. Victorious Hope Publishing, 2015.
Whitefield, George. The Heinous Sin of Drunkenness. A Sermon Preached on Board the Whitaker. Wyoming: Creative Media Partners, LLC., 2018.
Whittington, Brad. What Would Jesus Drink. Chesnee: Wunderfool Press, 2011.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/KatarzynaBialasiewicz
Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains a faith and lifestyle blog graceandgrowing.com, where she muses about the Lord, life, culture, and ministry.