what about drunkenness?

On another blog, I made this comment regarding my stance against alcohol use:

I am not saying that our culture is now so corrupt that alcohol is a worldly device. I am saying that there are good and sufficient reasons for Christians today to totally abstain from alcohol use. We can make the arguments on the basis of wisdom, on the basis of changes in alcohol content and production in modern times, on the basis of clear scriptural warnings, and, I think, on the basis of the prohibition on drunkenness.

I may need to revise my statement on culture in that first sentence at some point, but my purpose here is to develop an argument against alcohol use on the basis of the prohibition on drunkenness.

The first thing we need to establish is this: What do we mean when we talk about the prohibition of drunkenness?

Those Christians who allow for some drinking usually will agree that drunkenness is forbidden by the Bible.

We find examples of special classes of people who were forbidden to drink intoxicating beverages at certain times: the priests ministering in the tabernacle (Lev 10.8-11); those taking on a Nazarite vow (Num 6.1-4); Samson’s mother during her pregnancy (Jdg 13.3-5, Jdg 13.13-14); and Kings (Pr 31.4-5 [it is possible that this prohibition is only during the ‘working day’, similar to the priests in the tabernacle]).

We see prohibitions in the wisdom literature of Proverbs: Pr 23.19-22, Pr 23.28-35.

We see Isaiah pronounce a ‘woe’ (a curse saying ‘you are as good as dead’) on those who are drunkards (Isa 5.11, Isa 5.22) in Israel. In Isa 28.1-8, he pronounces another woe over the drunkards of Ephraim (the northern kingdom of Israel). Amos likewise pronounces a ‘woe’ against those who are at ease in Zion (Amos 6.1) partly because of their drunkenness (Amos 6.6).

We see the eschatological hope of the believer scorned by the drunkard: Lk 12.45, Mt 24.49, tell in parabolic form the dangers stated in Lk 21.34 for those Christians who are not watchful for the coming of the Lord, but instead beat the Lord’s servants and get drunk with the drunken. 1 Th 5.7-8 likewise calls the Christian to sobriety and watchfulness.

We have an exhortation in Rm 13.13, and a command in Eph 5.18 against drunkenness.

We see that the believer is commanded not to associate with another believer who is a drunkard (1 Cor 5.11). We also see that the drunkard will not inherit the kingdom (1 Cor 6.10). Last, along with the list of those who will not enter heaven, we see drunkenness catalogued as a work of the flesh, Gal 5.19-21.

I think that from these passages we can say that drunkenness is prohibited for believers. The Bible treats it as a serious matter.

Now, I am going to carry the argument a bit farther.

The prohibition on drunkenness ought to be considered a command for abstinence by Bible believers.

You may think that an extreme statement, but let’s really think about drunkenness, especially as it is described as a ‘work of the flesh’, Gal 5.19-21.

Think about it this way. Here is our list from that passage:

  • immorality (kjv: adultery, fornication)
  • impurity
  • sensuality
  • idolatry
  • sorcery
  • enmities
  • strife
  • jealousy
  • outbursts of anger
  • disputes
  • dissensions
  • factions
  • envying (and murders, kjv)
  • drunkenness
  • carousing
  • and things like these

Now let’s think about a few of these things. I know that immorality is forbidden. What is immorality? We know what adultery and fornication means. Does the Biblical prohibitions on immorality mean only a prohibition on the act of fornication or adultery? Is it permissible for a man to flirt with a woman who is the wife of another man? Is it ok, just so long as, you know, nothing happens?

Consider in this connection our Lord’s elevation of our understanding of God’s will in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

So let’s keep looking down this list in Gal 5.19-21:

  • What about idolatry or sorcery? Should we only be concerned if someone is actually bowing down to a stone god or actually trying to cast spells? Would it be OK to delve into these things, make a study on them, collect books about them, collect little idols to put on the mantel at home, etc, so long as we weren’t actually going to pray to demons? Were the Ephesians wrong to burn their books? (Ac 19.19)
  • What about outbursts of anger, or disputes, or dissensions? Are we OK if we get mad a little bit? Righteous indignation, you know. Just so long as we don’t go into a berserker rage, is that OK?
  • What about drunkenness?

At what point does drunkenness occur? In my country, our police consider you to be Impaired at .08 blood alcohol content.1 You lose your license and learn the virtues of walking for that level of drunkenness.

So for the Christian, would, say, .08 be the line? If you pass over that line you are drunk and have just fallen into the prohibited category. So at .079999, you are OK?

Remember, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed …”

Paul calls these sins “works of the flesh”. What is the work in the flesh, of the flesh, by the flesh that produces immorality? Lust. What is the work in the flesh, of the flesh, by the flesh that produces drunkenness?

What would you call that in you?

The love of what? The love of drink? The love of wine? The love of beer? The lust of the flesh.

I think that Christians are taking the prohibition against drunkenness all too smugly and all too lightly.



  1. It’s a bit higher in the Excited States. []


  1. Don,

    John MacArthur recently did a radio series on the evils of alcohol, as well or better than any Fundamental Baptist preacher, but his conclusion, it seemed to me, is that drinking is still a matter of liberty. I also have wondered how you could know for sure that you were just a little “tipsy”, and okay with the Bible, or if you instead had already crossed that line into drunkenness. I think that some of the people who champion a Christian’s “liberty” to drink are simply saying “Nobody can tell me what to do.”


  2. Don: [I think that Christians are taking the prohibition against drunkenness all too smugly and all too lightly.]

    Well, I suppose they are if they adopt your unfortunate reasoning. Your whole argument reminds me of an incident I experienced years ago. I was listening to an evangelist–a very fundamental man–harangue against booze. After the service the church served refreshments in its fellowship hall. I was sitting at one of tables, and the evangelist came over at sat next to me. We got to talking.

    Evang: “Well, what did you think?”

    Me: “About what?”

    Evang: “About the message. What did you think about the message? Was it spot on or no?”

    Me: “Well, to be honest about it, no, it wasn’t. In fact, it was a bit confusing.”

    Evang: How so?

    Me: “Well, given your theory that a man is drunk to the extent that he drinks (and thus any drinking is ipso facto drunkenness), then I would like to know if a man is a glutton to the extent that he eats.”

    He smiled, blinked at me a few times, as he choked down his jelly-filled donut, and quickly caught a another brother’s attention.

    I think your rationale completely unseats such New Testament texts as Ro. 14:19-23 and Col. 2:16-23). And, of course, I say this from the position of a teetotaler. Your linking together of texts, and your cross-applying one text to another, reminds me of certain wacked-out NANCers who, when they can’t establish their point by exegesis, suddenly find it in that amorphous world of “biblical principles.”

    I’ll follow this discussion. I’ve recently read some Puritan remarks on this issue, and I find a they are all over the board.

    Have a good one!


    • Hi Tracy and Marty

      First, Marty, with respect to liberty, we must always remind people to use not liberty as an occasion to the flesh. I agree with your final observation.

      Tracy, I’m not sure I follow your criticism. Perhaps you could explain. I don’t see how my position unseats Rm 14 or Col 2 at all, so perhaps you could enlighten me. Also, as a teetotaler, would you care to list your reasons for that position? It might help to understand what you are saying.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  3. I just got my biblical evangelist and Robert Sumner gives a whole page of text to going after Jaeggli’s book. Just thought I’d give you a head’s up. He says it teaches drinking in moderation.

    • Hi Kent,

      That is such baloney. Randy does nothing of the kind. His position is for total abstinence.

      There are other agendas afoot.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. Roy Magnuson says:

    Would you say that jealousy is always wrong?
    Would you say that outbursts of anger are always wrong?
    Would you say that disputes are always wrong?

    Or are the Greek words conveying ideas here that the English terms are not?

    The fact remains as another brother alluded to here, that gluttony is linked with drunkenness, because both, matters of degree.

    Abstention is not a matter of degree.

    This is not to say that there are clearly some forms of drink one should not use as Proverbs is clear on, (unless for a medicine.) Deception is always lurking.

    However it is true that the Biblical symbol for joy and joy in marriage is wine.

    To be a teetotaler from wine makes the kingdom, metaphorically, without joy.

    Actually the abuse of language to make drunkenness equal to abstaining is sad, very irresponsible I would suggest with all due respect, In English or Greek these words have their own definitions, private interpretations are dangerous.

    Abstain from pollutions of idols, yes. Acts 15:20

    Abstain from meats offered to idols, ok.. Acts 15:29

    Abstain from fornication, certainly. 1 Thess. 4:3

    Abstain from all appearance of evil 1 Thes. 5:22 (which cannot include wine for Jesus created it as a first “semion” in the Gospel of John on purpose – a wonderful thing of celebrating echad, God’s way, two becoming one!).

    The commanding to abstain from meats which God created is one quality of those departing from the faith. 1 Tim 4:3 and a character trait of latter times

    Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul might or might not include wine depending on other factors and stages in ones life of spiritual growth, and of locale, etc. I am not trying to be difficult here, just say like we heard at Preacher Boys class so incredibly often (in regards to some practical question in ministry problems) “it depends . . . !)

    The above six verses about abstaining – and many others – could have said abstain from drinking wine. However that might have contradicted other verses that make wine a joyful thing, and other verses that very clearly teach wine must be drunk in moderation

    Your reasoning that drunkenness is abstention and that abstention is moderation (at least in the other series) was circular reasoning as far as I can tell.

    All I ask is: Where is the simple directive teaching the virtue of teetotalling, in the Bible?

    What is sad is all those people in nightclubs that noone can reach because we are not even allowed to go in there as evangelists, most people think. And to go in a bar would be appearance of evil right?

    Wrong. Circular reasoning again. The Bible does not say that. How is one to be a friend of sinners? What was Jesus ALWAYS accused of?! When in ministry, preachers are not like CHrist in this, sheltered behind a pulpit and passing out tracts in the parks and train stations. Ha. Nope, not like Jesus there. I wasn’t like Jesus when I was doing those things anyway.

    American Christianity has turned cold and aloof and holier than thou in so many ways, based on . . . circular reasoning and NOT sola scriptura. Abstention from wine is nowhere taught in the Bible. I have read it dozens of times.

    I have underlined all the directives in the New Covenant writings in many Bibles, (in red) ALL of them and found many directives we never do, and realized there are many of MENS commands we do do, good though we think they be, to the detriment of some clear Bible commands.

    I will practice Bible commands and teach others the same. Be angry AND sin not for instance. You guys make me angry, so I will go pray now. :-) Perhaps yet I am wrong? Show me and I will humbly pay attention.

    Or do a word study on the word abstain in the Greek. That word is apechomai. It is used six times and means to hold from, or to hold out, hold out from, not have, etc. But it is never used in relation to wine.

    Being a teetotaller is not Biblical, or it is extrabiblical, or non-biblical. Let us be honest about Bible words please.

    Drunkenness in the New Covenant writings is methae which has to do with being intoxicated, not, NOT- drinking, that is pretty obvious it would seem to me. Also there is the verb metheuo and methusko

    Now I am not opposed to appying reasonable principles if it is clear that they apply. But we must not outrightly forbid what God does not forbid, lest we make ourselves God and anger HIM!

    So yes, I am opposed to apply principles of abstention if the Bible actually supports in some places the use of that which man outrightly forbids, if the Bible allows for it (wine and eating) as it does in numerous places.

    What makes “Total abstinence” so important, since the Scriptures do not?

    Please abstain from idols, demon-basd things (foods and music), and from blood and things strangled and from fornication. . . . Abstain from fornication (repeated in Thessalonians as well as Acts), from appearances of evil, from warring, fleshly lusts (epithumia)

    I remain mystified by otherwise fairly clear thinkers who have bias and wish to divine for God, when even great translaters of the past made clear what the Spirit in his Spirited words, (the Greek) was saying.

    Further, whether its a one wine or two wine theory, there is still MANY ways of producing drinks, some from which should be abstained generally and others which are generally useful – in moderation, in my estimation.

    Yours for Jesus words and ways, Roy

  5. Again, I can only give a brief comment here…

    Yes, I would say jealousy, outbursts of anger, and disputes are always wrong. They are the works of the flesh. (BTW, the NAS translation “disputes” is a little weak. The Greek here means something stronger than the connotations we have for ‘dispute’.)

    There are many vices that Spirit filled Christians abstain from that are not named in the Bible. Tobacco, gambling and more ought not to be practiced by Christians.

    In 1 Cor 5, in dealing with the man guilty of immorality with his father’s wife, Paul says that even the heathen know better than to tolerate this. One implication of that comment is that Christians should know better than to pursue or tolerate works of the flesh in any form, and they don’t need to have explicit Biblical revelation to tell them it is wrong.

    Unless of course you want to argue FOR tobacco since the Bible doesn’t mention it.

    I believe there are good reasons why the alcohol use of today almost entirely falls under the category of a work of the flesh and therefore should be totally avoided.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3