The topic of drinking has come up recently in my life in a few different ways, and I want to take a moment to describe my position and the biblical basis for it.
One of the primary arguments for prohibition says the the alcohol content of wine in the bible was so low that it would not cause intoxication. I’ll start out with the most common example cited when anyone talks about alcohol and Christianity, Jesus turning water into wine. This event is detailed in John 2:1-11. The key quotation that is always cited is from the master of the feast. “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now." Why would the common practice be to defer the poor wine until later if the alcohol content was so low it prevented the dulling of senses? This simply doesn’t make sense in context. Matthew Henry’s commentary describes it this way: “Good wine is brought out to the best advantage at the beginning of a feast, when the guests have their heads clear and their appetites fresh, and can relish it, and will commend it; but when they have well drank, when their heads are confused, and their appetites palled, good wine is but thrown away upon them, worse will serve then." The original Greek word used is “methuo" (Strong’s number 3184), which is translated elsewhere in the bible as to “be drunken" or to “be made drunk". It clearly refers to the effect of alcohol, which would not be an issue if the alcohol content was so too low to intoxicate.
Ephesians 5:18 says “do not get drunk with wine", and Acts 2:13 tells of spectators supposing that the apostles were drunk with wine when they began speaking in tongues. These and many more examples show that wine clearly had an alcohol content strong enough to intoxicate.
Another perspective asserts that drinkers of wine in the Bible made sure to water it down to prevent intoxication. Wine was used with water to kill impurities in the water that would make the drinker sick otherwise. This is most certainly true for their everyday consumption of wine, but it was not the case during celebrations or feasts like the marriage described above. The master of the feast made his exclamation because the wine that Jesus miraculously created was full and flavorful, not the watered down wine one would expect towards the end of a feast.
Isaiah 25:6 speaks of the day that “the Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined." What would the benefit of well-aged wine be if it were watered down? New wine can counteract bacteria just as effectively as aged wine, if not better. This is clearly referring to a rich, flavorful wine fit for a feast.
A strong point that advocates of prohibition use are the many warnings and commands against drunkenness in the bible. These commands are clear and unmistakable, drunkenness is something that should be avoided except in very extreme circumstances (those who are dying or are in bitter distress - Proverbs 31:4-7). However, drinking is not drunkenness. There are many of God’s creations that can be abused, but that doesn’t mean one should abstain from those creations altogether. Good food can be abused through gluttony, medicine can be abused through misuse, sex can be abused in a myriad of ways - but by no means should we strictly abstain from these things in our lives if we are not involved in their abuse.
The bible actually speaks positively of wine and strong drink on many occasions. Psalm 104 praises God for his many blessings, including “wine to gladden the heart of man" (v15). Proverbs 3 presents wine as a reward for tithing in v9 and 10 - “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine". This sentiment is also expressed in Deuteronomy 14:26, where it says those that cannot haul their first fruits all the way to their town can sell them and bring the money to the town, where they are to “spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household." Notice the use of “strong drink" here. The Hebrew word here is “shekar" (Strong’s number 07941), which means “strong drink, intoxicating drink, fermented or intoxicating liquor."
There are numerous places in the bible where the lack of wine is presented as a judgement (Jeremiah 48:33, Hosea 2:9, Joel 1:10, Haggai 2:16), and its abundance is a blessing (Genesis 27:28, Deuteronomy 7:13 & 11:14, Joel 2:19, 24 & 3:18, Amos 9:13, 14).
I believe that the Bible makes it very clear that alcohol is one of many of God’s creations that can be honestly enjoyed, or horribly abused. Enjoying alcohol in moderation is not sinful, but drunkenness and excess is. A great many things can be easily abused and addictive to certain people, but that doesn’t mean that those who are not abusers should abstain.
That being said, it is an area where many have a weakness to abuse. There are many to whom I believe God gives the conviction to absolutely abstain. Perhaps these are people who have fallen into abuse in the past, or who God foresees would abuse in the future. I think 1 Corinthians 8 is speaking directly to this issue when it says in v8 and 9 “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." If we are in the presence of someone who has a conviction against drinking and we are not sensitive to that conviction, we could easily become the stumbling block that sends them back over the edge into abuse. We should take care to limit our own freedom in cases where that freedom would cause others to sin.