so is gluttony a sin?

A common line given by the pro-alcohol crowd is “well, gluttony is a sin too, why don’t you preach on that?”

Well, what is the Biblical foundation for this statement?

Search and you will find exactly 4 verses that use the words ‘gluttonous’ or ‘glutton’ in the KJV. The NAU adds three more references.

What are they? Here they are in Bible order:

KJV  Deuteronomy 21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

NAU  Proverbs 23:20 Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, Or with gluttonous eaters of meat; [KJV ‘riotous eaters of flesh’]

KJV  Proverbs 23:21 For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.

NAU  Proverbs 28:7 He who keeps the law is a discerning son, But he who is a companion of gluttons humiliates his father. [KJV ‘riotous men’]

KJV  Matthew 11:19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.

KJV  Luke 7:34 The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!

NAU  Titus 1:12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." [KJV – ‘slow bellies’ – a more literal rendering]

So would you say that the Bible makes gluttony the same thing as drunkenness? There are 25 verses with drunken, drunkard, drunkenness in both NAU and KJV. It is included in most of the prominent NT “sin lists”: Rm 13.13, 1 Co 5.11, 1 Co 6.10, Gal 5.21, 1 Pt 4.3. In addition, another 43 verses have the word ‘drunk’ in them, although not all of them refer to drunkenness.

Would you say from that evidence that the Lord looks at gluttony in the same way as drunkenness?

Even more than that, what would you say gluttony is?

Here is the NET Bible note on Pr 23.20 – ‘riotous eaters of flesh’:

The verb … (zalal) means "to be light; to be worthless; to make light of." Making light of something came to mean "to be lavish with; to squander," especially with regard to food. So it describes "gluttons" primarily; but in the expression there is also room for the person who wastes a lot of food as well.

Would you say that what we call ‘overeating’ in our culture is Biblical gluttony? Well, it may be that some of our overeating and wasting of food is gluttony. But remember that ‘fatness’ is a metaphor of God’s blessing in the Bible. I don’t mean to say that we should all be porkers if we want to be Biblical. But it does seem to me that the Bible is addressing something quite different from what we call gluttony when it does address this problem.

And it is quite clear that the Bible addresses drunkenness much more seriously and much more frequently.

So be wise, be submissive, be biblical, and stay away from the buffet line. But even more, stay away from booze.



  1. Dan Salter says:

    Interesting that you should balance “stay away from the buffet line” with “stay away from booze.” Very even parallel there. Would have been uneven to say “don’t overeat at the buffet line” and “stay away from booze.”

    In fact (in typical attack-Jaegli style), I might say by this that you condone drinking. I take it that your last line was meant to imply that it is not really wrong to approach the buffet table, so you must think it not really wrong to use booze moderately. Hmm.

    (okay, just kidding.)

    • Well, my main point is that the two problems are in different categories. You must eat to live. You need not drink alcohol. So the comparison is spurious on its face, I think.

      Whatever negative is described as gluttony in the Bible, it is clearly seen as a lesser problem, and I think it is addressing such things as the prolonged feasting the Romans indulged in rather than simply over-eating.

      However… I think wisdom calls us away from the buffet line for simple reasons of health.

      Wisdom also calls us away from alcohol and I believe the Scriptures point us to life of abstention for spiritual reasons as I have written before.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. Dan Salter says:

    Please forgive me. That was just a little tongue-in-cheek levity. I wasn’t really insinuating anything. I suppose that is not a good thing to do concerning a subject of current controversy about which people tend to be more serious.

    Seriously, then, you say the categories are different making their comparison spurious. I agree in a sense, but probably not in the sense you mean. The spurious comparison is in comparing eating anything to drinking alcohol. Let’s not broaden one side of the comparison over the other. Since we are not comparing eating to drinking, but more specifically to drinking alcohol, perhaps we should add some specificity to the eating category. Let’s compare eating foods prepared with refined sugar to drinking alcohol. This brings them to a more even level. We don’t need to eat foods made with refined sugar to live any more than we have to drink alcohol to live. Further, we don’t even need to eat foods prepared with refined sugar to maintain our health. In fact, there is really no compelling reason for us to eat foods prepared with refined sugar except that we may think they taste good. (And sometimes a lot of sugar can give us a quick burst of energy before the inevitable depressive crash.) But if I ate sugar to excess–in grossly dangerous amounts harming myself by it–would it be wrong? I think so. Should I then never eat a piece of cake? I think that is an extreme opposite-swing-of-the-pendulum reaction.

    Now, drinking alcohol has a much shorter path from enjoyment to sin. For that reason, greater warning should be given and greater care must be taken. Yet still, for me to say that another person sins if any alcohol at all passes his lips is, I think, beyond not only my biblical responsibility but my biblical authority as well.

    Again, I am not arguing against what you are saying as a matter of musing about principle. The points you make for wisdom’s call are good points. Preaching those points also makes good sermon content. But there is a difference, I think, in developing my convictions about activity in reference to my relationship with my Lord and imposing (not suggesting or warning, but imposing) my developed convictions of activity on another, declaring them to be God-ordained.

    • Hi Dan

      Yesterday was a travel day for me, hence the delay in putting up your post.

      I did get your humour, but wanted to add my points in any case.

      You are right to isolate the eating argument a bit more. And of course, some people do advocate no refined sugar (‘white death’ they call it). It does serve as a useful comparison.

      From a wisdom standpoint, we could argue against refined sugar because of harmful effects, especially taken in excess. I think that is a valid argument against alcohol also, but it isn’t the only argument. I don’t think the dangers of alcohol are simply harmful effects, however. Intoxication isn’t a problem simply because of harmful effects, but because of the loss of behavioural self control that result. In addition, I have been arguing that the ‘lust’ for alcohol (drinking for the effect of alcohol) is encompassed by Biblical prohibitions. I suppose that one could develop an unhealthy, even a sinful, lust for refined sugar as well.

      But this is taking us away from gluttony per se, don’t you think?

      As for preaching, is it legitimate for preachers to preach against things not mentioned in the Bible? I am thinking here of tobacco, illegal drugs, dancing, modern music etc. My answer is yes, but some would say no on all counts (except they might equivocate that illegal drugs are against the law so… but they weren’t always, and some would like to make them legal… what then??)

      Shouldn’t careful preaching be a means of helping people develop convictions out of a love for the Lord? Obviously we have lived in a culture that has been rule oriented, when what we should be after is a heart-orientation towards God. In other words, Christians should make choices for godliness and separation from the world because they love God, not in order to please the preacher. Yet the godly preacher should be pleased with that kind of zeal and it seems to me that his mandate is to guide that kind of zeal also.

      Thanks for the comments. When I am next in G’ville, I’m going to have to look you up… you are still living in the general area I think?

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  3. Jim says:

    I think a serious study (more than just a word search) will lead you to see gluttony as a serious problem because if evidences a lack of discipline, a rebellious attitude and a lack of being Spirit led (much the same as excessive alcohol). Eating and drinking are linked in both the OT and the NT. Why should we think the excesses of either are more serious than one another when they are frequently tied to each other?

    Above you listed a reference to Deut 21. Gluttony and drunkeness are equated to the problem of the son’s rebellion (who is stoned to death). One is not evidenced as being any more or less serious than the other.

    Please see Amos’s allegory of the cows of Bashan. The problem with the fat women isn’t necessarily that they were fat, but how they became fat – from rebellion. I’m not saying all fat people are gluttons, but I do think all obese people should investigate their hearts for evidences of hidden sin (idols).

    Part of your line of argumentation bothers me. You seem to argue that we can place more emphasis on a sin issue based on the number of times it’s mentioned in the Bible. How many times does God have to mention something before He means it?

    I think Dan brings up an excellent point about arguing against something because of its necessity or lack thereof. This ascetic line of argumentation is completely subjective.

    • Jim, thanks for the comment.

      First, this article is certainly not intended to be a thorough treatment of the subject. It is a blog post. One should always keep that in mind when reading blogs.

      Second, I do question whether the Bible really deals with gluttony as such. It is one of the Roman Catholic seven deadly sins, but perhaps you could show where the Bible really addresses this in any great detail. The word translated glutton in Dt 21 is not much used and seems to have ambiguous definitions in the lexicons. Naves Topical Bible lists a number of passages under the heading gluttony, but most of the references have nothing to do with gluttony.

      The fact is that the Bible extensively addresses drunkenness, describing its state, warning against it, etc. The passages that most clearly seem to touch gluttony are ones that merely state it as a negative state usually connected with drunkenness. Unless you can show how the Bible addresses gluttony as specifically and fully as it does drunkenness, I don’t see how your argument stands.

      I agree that you can build a case against gluttony principially, which is what you seem to be doing in your comment. I agree that lack of discipline, a rebellious attitude, etc. could be expressed in gluttonous behaviour and would indeed by sin. But you don’t have the same kind of clear statements that you have concerning drunkenness. It’s just not in the Bible.

      Furthermore, we do have to define gluttony. Is gluttony the same as over-eating at a buffet? Or is it like the Romans with their riotous ongoing feasts and their vomitoriums so they could empty the stomach only to fill it again? (See Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for an example… or was it Antony and Cleopatra??? I get my Romans confused.) I would suspect that the latter is much more likely than the former. (But wisdom would dictate that we go easy on the buffets.)

      I have no idea what you are trying to say in your last paragraph.

      The argument isn’t original with me. There is a categorical difference between the need for food and the lack of need for alcohol. They just aren’t the same things.

      Finally, let me say this: if someone lives to eat, craves eating constantly, is regularly thinking about eating (though not hungry) and eats for the sheer pleasure of eating, he has a lust problem that is very akin to drunkenness and the lust for drink. So that would be a sin.

      But let’s not pretend that the Bible in any way explicitly addresses it as it does drunkenness. It just isn’t there.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. Dan Salter says:

    Yes, I’m in Greenville. It would be great to meet up with you next time you come. Send me an email when you make your plans.

    • Ok, will do. Tentative plans are for sometime in February at the moment, and then later around graduation…

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  5. In Christianity, it is considered a sin if the excessive desire for food causes it to be withheld from the needy.

    • Is what you describe gluttony or selfishness?

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3