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To Drink or Not to Drink?

By Gary F. Zeolla

This article is adapted from my forthcoming book God-given Foods Eating Plan: For Lifelong Health, Optimization of Hormones, Improved Athletic Performance. With the holidays fast approaching, this section seemed particular pertinent. It is adapted from the chapter on "Beverages."

Wine

Next to water, the beverage mentioned most in Scripture is wine. It is mentioned 235 times. The first reference is the following, 20"And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. 21Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent" (Genesis 9:20,21). This is the first recorded incident of someone getting drunk. As a result, problems occurred in the family of Noah (9:22-25).

The second occurrence is also found in Genesis. And the results are even seedier. In this passage, it is seen how wine can "control" a person and cause them to do things they would not do otherwise.

29And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot had dwelt. 30Then Lot went up out of Zoar and dwelt in the mountains, and his two daughters were with him; for he was afraid to dwell in Zoar. And he and his two daughters dwelt in a cave. 31Now the firstborn said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is no man on the earth to come in to us as is the custom of all the earth. 32Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve the lineage of our father."

33So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 34It happened on the next day that the firstborn said to the younger, "Indeed I lay with my father last night; let us make him drink wine tonight also, and you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve the lineage of our father." 35Then they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 36Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father (Genesis 19:29-36).

Then there are the following warnings about wine from Proverbs:

He who loves pleasure will be a poor man; He who loves wine and oil will not be rich (21:17).

Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise (20:1).

29Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? 30Those who linger long at the wine, Those who go in search of mixed wine (22:29,30).

So Scripture warns both by example and specific teaching of the problems that wine drinking can cause. In addition, there are clear warnings in Scripture against drunkenness:

13As in daytime, let us walk about [fig., conduct ourselves] properly; not in drunken orgies and drunkennesses, not in promiscuities and flagrant sexual immorality, not in strife [or, bitter conflict] and jealous rivalry. 14But put on [or, clothe yourselves with] the Lord Jesus Christ, and stop making provision for the flesh, for [its] desires [or, lusts]! (Romans 13:13,14).

19Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, sexual sin, impurity [or, immorality], flagrant sexual immorality, 20idolatry, witchcraft, hostilities [or, feuds], quarrels, jealous rivalries, angry outbursts, selfish ambitions, divisions [or, discords], heretical sects, 21envies [or, jealousies], murders, drunkennesses, drunken orgies, and the [things] like these; which I forewarn you*, just as I also warned [you*] before that the ones practicing such [things] will not inherit [the] kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).

18And stop getting drunk with wine, in which is reckless behavior, but continue being filled with [the] Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

3For the time of life having past [is] sufficient for us to accomplish the desire of the Gentiles, having gone [fig., lived] in flagrant sexual immorality, lusts, drunkenness, drunken orgies, drinking parties, and unlawful [fig., abominable] idolatries; 4in which they are surprised [by] your* not running with [them] into the same excess of reckless living, speaking evil of [you*] (1Peter 4:3,4).

So drunkenness is clearly condemned in Scripture. However, there are also many verses in Scripture in which wine is put in a good light.

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High (Genesis 14:18).

12"Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers. 13And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you" (Deut 7:12,13).

"And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always" (Deut 14:23).

14He [God] causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, That he may bring forth food from the earth, 15And wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man's heart (Psalm 104:14,15).

9Honor the LORD with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase; 10So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine (Proverbs 3:9,10).

Go, eat your bread with joy, And drink your wine with a merry heart; For God has already accepted your works (Ecclesiastes 9:6).

So in the Old Testament, wine is seen as a blessing from God. God specifically instructs the Israelites about the drinking of wine as part of their tithe to the LORD. And wine is said to make a heart merry.

Then in the New Testament, wine is mentioned several times in connection to Jesus.

And He began to be speaking to them in allegories: "A man ‘planted a vineyard and put a fence around [it] and dug a trough [i.e. a trench for gathering juice under the wine press] and built a lookout tower.' [Isaiah 5:1,2] And he leased it to vineyard keepers and went on a journey (Mark 12:1).

37And no one puts new wine into old wineskins, but if not [fig., or else] the new wine will burst the wineskins, and it will be poured out, and the wineskins will be destroyed. 38Instead, new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved together. 39And no one having drunk old [wine] immediately desires new, for he says, ‘The old is better'" (Luke 5:37-39).

1And on the third day a marriage took place in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Now Jesus also was called, and His disciples, to the marriage feast. 3And when [the] wine had fallen short, the mother of Jesus says to Him, "They have no wine." 4Jesus says to her, "What [concern is that] to Me and to you, woman? My hour is not yet come." 5His mother says to the servants, "Whatever He says to you*, do."

6Now [there] were standing there six water jugs of stone according to the purification [rites] of the Jews, each containing two or three measures [about 18-27 gallons or 80-120 liters]. 7Jesus says to them, "Fill the water jugs with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8And He says to them, "Now draw [it] out and be carrying [it] to the head steward." And they carried [it]. 9But when the head steward tasted the water having become wine and knew not from where [it] is [from] (but the servants knew, the ones having drawn the water), the head steward calls the bridegroom 10and says to him, "Every person first puts out the good wine, and when they have drunk freely, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!" (John 2:1-10).

27And having taken the cup and having given thanks, He gave [it] to them, saying, "Drink from it, all [of you], 28for this is My blood, the [blood] of the New Covenant, the [blood] poured out on behalf of many for forgiveness of sins. 29But I say to you*, from now on by no means shall I drink of this fruit of the grapevine until that day when I shall be drinking it with you* new in the kingdom of My Father" (Matthew 26:27-29).

So Jesus refers to vineyards and wine in His teaching, miraculously turns water into wine, and most importantly, uses "the fruit of the grapevine" at the Last Supper.

Now some claim that the "wine" Jesus was referring to and using Himself was non-alcoholic. But this seems unlikely given the following passage:

33For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you* say, ‘He has a demon!' 34The Son of Humanity came eating and drinking, and you* say, ‘Look! A man, a glutton, and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' (Luke 7:33,34).

Jesus, of course, was not a drunkard, any more than He was a glutton. But the point of the passage is that the Pharisees would have been hard pressed to call Jesus "a drunkard" if He was only drinking grape juice. But since Jesus (unlike John the Baptist), drank alcoholic wine, they could exaggerate things to try to make a charge against Jesus.

Paul refers to wine seven times. One reference is particularly interesting, "No longer be drinking water [only], but be using a little wine, because of your stomach and your frequent infirmities" (1Timothy 5:23). So it would appear that Timothy, like John the Baptist, was an abstainer from alcohol. But Paul recognized the medicinal value of wine and instructed Timothy to partake of "a little wine."

Paul also includes references to wine in his requirements for elders and deacons when he said they were to be "not addicted to wine" and "not being given to much wine" (1Timothy 3:3,8). These requirements would be good advice for all Christians.

Putting all of the Scriptural evidence together, excessive wine drinking must be avoided, but Scripture supports drinking wine in moderation.

Moreover, wine is derived from grapes. And it was shown in Chapter One that grapes are a God-given food. And in the processing method, most of the nutrients in the original grapes are retained when making wine. So wine is a God-given beverage, but only if used in moderation.

"Strong Drink"

Along with wine, "strong drink" and "intoxicating drink" are mentioned in Scripture. Exactly what kind of drinks is referred to by these references is hard to say. Most likely the references include whatever "hard liquors" were available at the time. So in today's terms, these would include whiskey, vodka, and the like.

"Strong drink" is mentioned four times (Proverbs 20:1, 31:6; Isaiah 24:9, Luke 1:15). The first reference was quoted previously since it also mentions wine, "Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise." Proverbs 31:6 will be quote shortly, while Isaiah 24:9 adds little to this discussion. But Luke 1:15 refers to John the Baptist, "15For he will be great before the Lord, and he shall by no means drink wine and strong drink, and he will be filled [with the] Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb."

Intoxicating drink is referred to eight times (Leviticus 10:9; 1Samuel 1:15; Proverbs 31:4; Isaiah 5:11,22; 28:7; 29:9; 56:12).

Leviticus 10:9 records God's injunction to Aaron:

8Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying: 9"Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, 10that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, 11and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them by the hand of Moses."

So Aaron the high priest and his sons were not to consume wine or intoxicating drink when they were ministering in the temple. This was so their minds would be sharp so they would be able to "distinguish between holy and unholy."

It is necessary to quote the wider context to understand Proverbs 31:4:

4It is not for kings, O Lemuel, It is not for kings to drink wine, Nor for princes intoxicating drink; 5Lest they drink and forget the law, And pervert the justice of all the afflicted. 6Give strong drink to him who is perishing, And wine to those who are bitter of heart. 7Let him drink and forget his poverty, And remember his misery no more. 8Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die. 9Open your mouth, judge righteously, And plead the cause of the poor and needy.

So like the high priest, kings and princes were not to drink wine or intoxicating drink. Again, this was so their minds would stay sharp, and they could fulfill their duties. But verses 6-7 are difficult. They seem to give credence to someone "drowning their sorrows" in alcohol. But probably the main point is that alcohol is numbing, so those who need to stay sharp should not consume it. Getting drunk is for those who have no responsibilities and no hope.

The passages from Isaiah really slam drinking intoxicating drink:

Woe to those who rise early in the morning, That they may follow intoxicating drink; Who continue until night, till wine inflames them! (5:11).

22Woe to men mighty at drinking wine, Woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink, 23Who justify the wicked for a bribe, And take away justice from the righteous man! (5:22,23).

But they also have erred through wine, And through intoxicating drink are out of the way; The priest and the prophet have erred through intoxicating drink, They are swallowed up by wine, They are out of the way through intoxicating drink; They err in vision, they stumble in judgment (28:7).

11Yes, they are greedy dogs Which never have enough. And they are shepherds Who cannot understand; They all look to their own way, Every one for his own gain, From his own territory. 12"Come," one says, "I will bring wine, And we will fill ourselves with intoxicating drink; Tomorrow will be as today, And much more abundant" (56:12).

None of the references to strong drink and intoxicating drink put them in a good light. In addition, whether any of the original nutrients are left from the original food depends on the particular drink and how it is processed. But either way, given the unanimous Scriptural testimony against them, strong and intoxicating drinks would not be considered to be God-given beverages.

One final alcoholic beverage that is not mentioned in the Bible but is commonly consumed today is beer. However, beer is made from barley, which is a God-given food. And at least some of original nutrients in barley are retained in beer. So it is possible that beer could be classified with wine as a God-given beverage. But if it is, as with wine, it should only be consumed in moderation.

Nutrient and Phytonutrient Content

Wine, like the grapes it is made from, contains little in the way of vitamins and minerals. However, like grapes, wine contains a high amount of antioxidants. And these antioxidants can provide health benefits, as will be seen in the "Scientific Evidence" section. Beer also contains little in the way of specific vitamins and minerals, but it also contains a significant amount of antioxidants.

But due to their alcohol content, both wine and beer should only be consumed in moderation. More than one or two drinks a day and the health benefits dissipate while the risk of health and other problems increase.

As for hard liquors, whether they contain any antioxidant value depends on the particular drink and processing method.

 

Scientific Evidence of Benefits or Risks

Alcohol in General

Much research has been done on alcohol, on both the beneficial aspects of alcohol and on its potential for great harm. Moderation generally means one or at the most two drinks a day.

Researchers have found that moderate drinkers live longer than either abstainers or heavy drinkers. The mortality rates of these studies generally follow a U-shaped curve, with abstainers at one end and heavy drinkers (more than 3 a day) at the other. In the middle are drinkers that consume approximately 1 drink a day. Depending on the study, their mortality rates are around 25% lower, and in some case the rates of coronary heart disease are 40% lower (Chemistry.org).

Numerous studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption helps protect against heart disease by raising HDL (good) cholesterol and reducing plaque accumulations in your arteries. Alcohol also has a mild anti-coagulating effect, keeping platelets from clumping together to form clots. Both actions can reduce risk of heart attack but exactly how alcohol influences either one still remains unclear.

On the other hand, drinking more than three drinks a day has a direct toxic effect on the heart. Heavy drinking, particularly over time, can damage the heart and lead to high blood pressure, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, (enlarged and weakened heart), congestive heart failure, and stroke. Heavy drinking puts more fat into the circulation in your body, raising your triglygeride level. That's why doctors will tell you "If you don't drink, don't start." There are other, healthier ways to reduce your risk of heart disease like eating right, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight (Women's Heart Foundation).

Drinking too much alcohol can raise the levels of some fats in the blood (triglycerides) (tri-GLIS'er-idz). It can also lead to high blood pressure, heart failure and an increased calorie intake. (Consuming too many calories can lead to obesity and a higher risk of developing diabetes.) Excessive drinking and binge drinking can lead to stroke. Other serious problems include fetal alcohol syndrome, cardiomyopathy (kar"de-o-mi-OP'ah-the), cardiac arrhythmia (ah-RITH'me-ah) and sudden cardiac death (American Heart Association).

Wine

Wine consumption has been studied extensively. And the studies almost unanimously show that wine consumption in moderation is beneficial. These benefits are from both the alcohol in wine and from the antioxidants it contains.

Many studies investigated the benefits of red wine suggested that moderate amount of red wine (one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men) lowers the risk of heart attack for people in middle age by ~ 30 to 50 percent. It is also suggested that alcohol such as red wine may prevent additional heart attacks if you have already suffered from one. Other studies also indicated that red wine can raise HDL cholesterol (the Good cholesterol) and prevent LDL cholesterol (the Bad cholesterol) from forming. Red wine may help prevent blood clots and reduce the blood vessel damage caused by fat deposits (Health Castle).

British scientists may have discovered the reason why red wine appears to protect the heart. They say natural chemicals found in red wine appear to protect against blocked blood passages. The chemical substances are called polyphenols. They come from the outer covering of grapes. They are not present in other alcoholic drinks….

The scientists found that the decrease in endothelin-one levels was linked to the amount of polyphenols in the wines. The red wine known as Cabernet Sauvignon seemed to have the greatest effect. The British team performed similar experiments with two other kinds of wine, white and rose. These wines contain little or no polyphenols because the grape skins are removed before the wine is made. White and rose wines had no effect on endothelin-one levels. The scientists also studied the effect of non-alcoholic juice made from red grapes. They found that grape juice slowed the production of endothelin-one, but was much less effective than the red wines. The scientists say people who already drink wine might consider drinking red wine to increase their protection against heart disease (Many Things).

Conclusion

There are many Christians who believe alcohol consumption of any sort is wrong. And if a Christian wants to follow the lead of John the Baptist and Timothy and be total abstainers, that is a valid option. However, there is sufficient Biblical and scientific evidence to support moderate alcohol consumption. And the person who feels is it is okay to drink in moderation should not "judge" the one who does not, and vice-a-versa (Romans 14:1-10).

However, "Alcohol abuse has destroyed more lives, broken apart more families, caused more diseases and contributed to more auto fatalities than any other drug" (Women Heart Association).

So to answer the question posed by  the title of this article, given the potential for abusing alcohol, the best recommendation is that if you do not currently drink alcohol, then it is not wise to begin to do so for possible health benefits. These same benefits can be attained through other dietary means as discussed throughout this book. And it should go without saying that anyone with a tendency towards or history of alcoholism should not drink alcohol in any amount. In addition, if you know a person has a problem with alcohol, then it would be best not to drink when with that person (Romans 14:14-19).

Moreover, a woman who is pregnant or who is likely to become pregnant should not drink alcohol in any amount due to the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome. “When a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy, she risks giving birth to a child who will pay the price—in mental and physical deficiencies—for his or her entire life” (Kid’s Health). And if you are going to be driving, you also should not consume alcohol in any amount. As the quote above indicates, alcohol is a major cause of traffic accidents.

However, if you are already in the habit of consuming alcohol in a moderate manner, then wine would be the healthiest and most Biblical option.

Sources:

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture verses taken from:

Old Testament: New King James Version (NKJV). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publisher, 1982. As found on BibleWorksfor Windows™. Copyright 2003 BibleWorks, L.C.C. Big Fork, MT: Hermeneutika. Programmed by Michael S. Bushell and Michael D. Tan. Biblical word counts are based on the NKJV and taken from searches done using BibleWorks.

New Testament: Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament: Second Edition (ALT). Copyright 2005 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org). Previously copyrighted 1999, 2001 by Gary F. Zeolla.

Unless otherwise indicated, all emphases (bolding) in quotations are added.

Bibliography:

American Heart Association. Alcohol, Wine and Cardiovascular Disease.

Chemistry.org. Wine Antioxidants.

Health Castle. Red Wine - Heart Health benefits? Written by Gloria Tsang R.D.

Kid’s Health. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Many Things. SCIENCE REPORT - January 9, 2002: Red Wine and Heart Disease By George Grow.

Women Heart Foundation. Alcohol and Heart Disease.

 

 

The above article originally appeared in Darkness to Light newsletter.
It was posted on this Web site in November 29, 2006.

Ethics, Spirituality, Christian Life
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