Drinking and Smoking
Jesus turned water into wine and drank wine Himself (Jn. 2:1-12; Matt. 26:27). Jesus the perfect Son of God drank, so can we drink wine, beer, whiskey, vodka, rum, and what not, as we like? Here are some things to consider:
- Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God.” So first, do not drink if you are under the legal age. Do not smoke if you are under the legal age. Do not smoke things if they are illegal.
- Romans 13:13-14 says, “Let us walk properly…not in…drunkenness…but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Second, we are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, we are to be like Him and not be alcoholics. Exciplity we are told to not get drunk (Eph. 5:18). This text applies to more than just alcohol. It also applies other things such as pot, even legalized pot (though see here for my views on psychoactive medication). However, realize you don’t find a command for complete abstinence from alcohol.
- Galatians 5:19-21 says, “Now the works of the flesh are evident… drunkenness… 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 (see also 1 Cor. 6:9-11). We need to, third, cultivate the works of the Spirit like love, joy, peace, and patience, not the works of the flesh. However, that does not make having a drink wrong for everyone, though drunkenness is wrong for everyone.
- Proverbs 31:4b-5 says, “It is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to drink strong wine, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” Fourth, we see that it is a good principle for those who are in places of authority to not drink. This is so they do not mess everything up by being drunken and foolish. In the Bible priests (Lev. 10:8-10 ), Nazarites (Num. 6:3-4 ), and John the Baptizer (Lk. 1:15 ) were not to drink. They were likely not permitted to drink for the same reason kings and rulers shouldn’t drink, so they won’t “drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of the afflicted.”
So, we see examples of people who are commanded not to drink and yet Jesus drank alcohol and church overseers are allowed to drink but are not allowed to be drunkards (2 Tim. 3:3).
As you decide whether or not it is right for you to drink (or smoke) you must consider several things:
- Is it illegal (Rom. 13:1-2)?
- Are you addicted or could it lead to addiction (Prov. 6:27)?
- Are you drinking/smoking for your own glory and fulfillment and not God’s (1 Cor. 10:31)?
- Is it going to cause others to stumble (Rom. 14:21)?
- Are you in a place of leadership? Should you refrain from drinking because of the role that you hold (Prov. 31:4-5)?
- Is it wine (or alcohol) that the New Testament people would have considered “barbarian” to drink because it is “strong drink”? If so, be especially careful with those types of drinks.
If you answered yes to any of the above questions you should consider not drinking (or smoking).
Alcohol in the New Testament
In New Testament times, wine was different than it is today. That is, they mixed it with water but that is not to say that it was Welch’s Grape Juice. In Homer’s Odyssey, it mentions that wine had a ratio of 20 parts water to one part wine. Other sources say the ratio was eight parts water to one part wine. The ratio ranged from 20 parts water to 1 part wine on the one side and 1 part water to 1 part wine on the other. However, the 1 to 1 mixture was considered “strong wine.” “The ratio of water might vary, but only barbarians drank it unmixed, and a mixture of wine and water of equal parts was seen as ‘strong drink’ and frowned upon. The term ‘wine’ or oinos in the ancient world, then, did not mean wine as we understand it today but wine mixed with water.”[i] The wine that Jesus drank at the Passover was very likely three parts water to one part wine.
Why was wine so often mixed? Mixing water and wine was a safety measure since the water was often not good to drink alone. The easiest way to make water safe to drink was to mix it with wine. In 2 Maccabees it says, “It is harmful to drink wine alone, or again, to drink water alone.”[ii] This is saying that water by itself could make you sick and ill and wine by itself could make you sick and foolish.
Half the people in America drink and 10 percent are alcoholics but more than 30 percent of Americans have had problems with alcoholism. Alcohol abuse kills some 75,000 Americans each year and shortens the lives of these people by an average of 30 years, a U.S. government study suggests.[iii] “In 2010, 10,228 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (31%) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.”[iv] “Alcohol is a factor in 57.6 percent of all marital violence, 41.3 percent of all child molestation, 59.6 percent of all murders, 53.9 percent of all rapes, and 45.9 percent of all theft cases.”[v] Therefore, we can clearly see that alcohol is the means of much heartache and grief in America and it is no wonder that many conservative Christians think it is always wrong to drink. However, that is not the same as saying that Scripture condemns drinking alcohol.
As Christians, our bodies are temples of God, therefore, we should take care of our bodies (1 Cor. 4:16-17; 6:19-20). People use this argument to say that people should not smoke (I agree in most cases) but this can be taken much too far. God has also given us things to enjoy so that we may glorify Him for those gifts but those gifts should never become addictions and harm us as the temple of the living, all-powerful, God.
Another thing that must be realized here is that cigarettes are not the only thing that harms our health, our temples of God. Twinkies, ice cream, chocolate, and other wonderful things, can be appropriately enjoyed, enjoyed in moderation, or they can usurp their proper place and cause great harm. The things in themselves are not bad. It is what we do with them that is often bad. Even exercising too much can harm our health. If we cannot control these things, we should not do them at all (Matt. 18:9). If we can control them, I do not see why chocolate, ice cream, (and perhaps even smoking occasionally) and other such things would be wrong, though one must still consider if it is going to make others stumble (Romans. 14:21), be profitable (Titus 3:8), and glorify God (1 Cor. 6:20, 10:31).
[i] Robert H. Stein, “Wine Drinking in the New Testament Times,” Christianity Today, 20 June 1975, 10.
[ii] 2 Maccabees 15:39 says, “For just as it is harmful to drink wine alone, or, again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious and enhances one’s enjoyment, so also the style of the story delights the ears of those who read the work. And here will be the end” (NRSV, italics mine).
[iii] Accessed from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/6089353/ns/health-addictions/t/alcohol-linked-us-deaths-year/#.U6rR9PldWWs on 6/25/14.
[iv] Dept of Transportation (US), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic Safety Facts 2010: Alcohol-Impaired Driving. Washington (DC): NHTSA; 2012 [cited 2012 Sep 28]. Available at URL: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811606.PDF accessed from http://www.cdc.gov/ motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html on 6/25/14.
[v] Fact sheet published by the South Carolina Commission on Alcohol and drug abuse.
About Paul O'BrienI am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)
I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)