Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Bible and Booze

I write this with pain for people I care about … for friends and relatives I love! There are those Christians who will defend the drinking of alcohol vehemently as if their life depended on it. There are others who stretch the truth about the use of wine in the Bible. (It was used, but there were ramifications). I have attempted to be objective about alcohol, but I'm admittedly biased against it and feel good about that position! If you're a Christian it IS WISE to abstain. The most important biblical reason for abstinence is that you may cause others to stumble. As a stumbling-block to the unsaved your are guilty of a serious violation of God's law.

Romans (NIV) 14:13 “ Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”

In a “alcohol context” this means is for you to quit telling others that the drinking of alcohol is a sin, but to demonstrate your passion by not drinking yourself. Even one drink can cause others to rationalize their own use! “He's a Christian and drinks booze … why can't I?” His or her next step might be addiction or even death!

We have to admit, there are numerous references to the use of alcohol in the Bible, so it was used by a great number of people. It's use, however, does not make it holy! Like multiple marriages which God frowned upon, he tolerated it because of man's disobedience to God. God tolerates alcohol although he clearly teaches against it's use. Jesus came to save mankind, not to make man temperate! Man's desire to do God's will is what temperance should be about.

I know of a few types of alcoholic beverages mentioned in the Bible: vinegar (chomets) which was made from fermented fruits, beer (strong drink), wine, new wine (Asis), mixed wine (mezeg) and strong wine. These are Hebrew-named drinks and they have corresponding Greek names in New Testament times. Following is an example of “wine” and “strong drink” rendered “beer” in the NIV, but it was not even close to today's beer: (It applied to any drink with high alcohol content and we know that beer is one of the lowest in alcohol).

1 Samuel (NIV) 1:12 “As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine (Hebrew 'Yayin' meaning 'to effervesce').” 15 'Not so, my lord,' Hannah replied, 'I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer (Hebrew 'Shekar' strong drink, intoxicating drink, fermented or intoxicating liquor ;strong drink in the KJV); I was pouring out my soul to the LORD.”

Two kinds of beverage mentioned here are the cause of drunkenness: wine and strong drink. Hannah would have been a stumbling block to others had she been drunk, but instead, she was filled with the spirit in prayer. The use of alcohol is biblically unwise as we can see:

Proverbs 20:1 “ Wine (Yayin) is a mocker and beer (Shekar) a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”

You can be led into sin by the use of intoxicating beverages. I would ask those of you who have a glass of after dinner wine with your family really limit yourself to that amount. If you do you have self-control. Anecdotally, I see that people are fooling themselves. They drink for emotional comfort and recreation and overdo it often ...clearly out of God's will. Furthermore, social drinking today is normally in an environment where Christians should not be. Alcohol lowers your defenses and releases your inhibitions. That's why heavy drinkers drink it; to loosen them up. Are you doing Christian activities while you're all mellowed out? I doubt it. Your behavior should be weighed against God's word.

Proverbs 31:4 “It is not for kings, Lemuel— it is not for kings to drink wine (Yayin), not for rulers to crave beer (Shekar), lest they drink and forget what has been decreed, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. 6 Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish! 7 Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.”

You can see here that God allows strong drink for those who are dying, stressed or depressed. It should be used for medical reasons and has been for the ages. However, be warned that using alcohol to make you feel good will lead to dependence (alcoholism) and chronic diseases such as sclerosis. All medicines likely have side-effects. It's a trade-off.

Due to religious law on cleanliness the Hebrews drank water, wine, strong drink and vinegar. They very carefully strained there drinks through sieves (not fine filters) to remove anything that would make the drink unclean including “dregs” and any insects who linger around.

Matthew 23:24 (NIV)24 “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

In worshiping God in communion (Mass) we use unleavened bread. “Unleavened” means to be made without yeast. Yeast is impure and Jesus should be remembered with pure products. However, Jesus drank of the wine and told us to do also in remembrance of him. This example should demonstrate that wine refers to a beverage which was made without yeast in order that the communion be pure. Hence, wine in this case was either grape juice or spontaneous wine, one where yeast was not added to the process, but incidental to storing of the wine. Since the lack of yeast is paramount in the bread I would think that would be so for the wine as well. Hence, I believe it was grape-juice and I won't take communion with modern wine.

From “Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary”, “Strong drink (Hebrew shekar') is an intoxicating liquor distilled from corn, honey, or dates.” You can see in this description that strong drink would include mead, whiskey, wine and brandy. Strong drink is prohibited theologically (sinful). Do those of you who “drink a little wine also imbibe in strong drink?” There should be no argument here. You may justify a glass of wine, but booze is clearly sinful.

The alcohol content of some beverages of the Bible are: fruit juice less than .1%, cider 2% - 8.5%; beer 2%-12% (most often 4% - 6%); Champagne 8% - 14 %, low alcohol wines (rieslings) 6% - 9&, table wine 9% - 16% (most often 12.5%-14.5%); fortified wine 15.5% - 20% .

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia”: wine - “Though known by the ancients, wine was not drunk in its matured form until the development of the bottle and cork in the late 17th century.” This means that the daily use wine of biblical days was non-alcoholic or spontaneous wine, akin to you drinking grape juice when it's been stored too long or vinegar.

There are four categories of wines: table wines (red, white and rose wines), sparkling wines (Champagne and bubbly wines), fortified wines (table wines with brandy and the like added) and aromatic wines (contains fruits, plants and flowers).

From “Gale's How Products Are Made”: How is wine made? “Though the wines of old were coarse and hard and had to be mixed with water...” The coarseness of the wine was determined by the amount of solid residue in the wine plus the by-products of fermentation such as mold and yeast.

Modern wines are filtered, have no by-products and hence, no need to be diluted. However, the wine which the apostles drank was diluted. If it was spontaneous wine the content would be as low as 6%. It was then diluted to make it palatable and to make it serve more people. The alcohol content could have been in the vicinity of 1-1/2% to 2% and unless you drank excessively, you'd never feel it after acclimation to the beverage.

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia”: wine “Though known by the ancients, wine was not drunk in its matured form until the development of the bottle and cork in the late 17th century...” “Prior to the 19th century little was known about the process of fermentation or the causes of spoilage. The Greeks stored wine in earthenware amphorae, and the Romans somewhat extended the life of their wines with improved oaken cooperage, but both civilizations probably drank almost all of their wines within a year of vintage and disguised spoilage by adding such flavourers as honey, herbs, cheese, and salt water.”

Wine would spoil and the taste would be artificially enhanced to avoid waste. Water spoils more quickly and must be stored due to it being scarce in vast regions of the arid Middle East. As in overcrowded areas today, beer is drank for its safety, not necessarily because of its alcohol content, wine was drank in biblical times for safety's sake. Clean water would be preferred because the wine had dregs in it and would have a bad taste.

"Wine is little used now in the East, from the fact that Mohammedans are not allowed to taste it, and very few of other creeds touch it. When it is drunk, water is generally mixed with it, and this was the custom in the days of Christ also. The people indeed are everywhere very sober in hot climates; a drunken person, in fact, is never seen", (Geikie's Life of Christ). You can see that heavy alcohol consumption in arid regions is not the norm. Alcohol evaporates quickly and would not quench the thirst. Since many wines are sweet the same problem exists because of the sugar.

In modern times yeast is added to the juice to augment fermentation. In ancient days fermentation depended on the yeast being naturally absorbed from the air in the skin of the grape (spontaneous fermentation). Whereas modern wines are fermented and aged from one up to ten years, in earlier times they were likely consumed before the fermentation process was complete, and indeed was actually grape juice or cider which had some degree of natural fermentation (spoiled) due to the time it was kept and the container in which it was kept. “New Wine: called “Asis” is wine consumed the same year it is fermented. It normally has a pretty high alcohol content.

Sparkling wines, such as Champagne, contain suspended carbon dioxide. Champagne is a wine made from grapes in that region of Northeastern France and made from only three types of grapes: pinot and meunier, and chardonnay. Champagne is bubbly because of it's fermented a second time which yields carbon dioxide and effervescence. Although Champagne was yet invented and was not indigenous to the area, a middle eastern equivalent to the product would result from accidental double fermentation, hence “shekar' (strong drink).

Luke (KJV) 5:37 “And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. 38 But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.

New wine is that which is consumed the first season. It is higher in alcohol content because the alcohol content is reduced in time. If we examine why no one would put new wine in old bottles, the new wine has already been fermented and by putting it into an old bottle already contaminated with yeast and sugar, the new wine would re-ferment and the bottles or other containers would explode. Hence, an effervescent wine similar to Champagne would result. If you look at the history of Champagne-making the biggest problem was that most of the bottles would explode with an increase in pressure due to a build-up of carbon dioxide. Winery's experimented with what worked best and there was created in the 1600s standards for Champagne processing, bottling and capping such that the beverage would not explode. So, yes, it was foolish to put new wine in old bottles. (However, don't miss the spiritual message in this analogy).

If you're concerned about your health, and we all should be, then you might be interested in what excessive alcohol will do to your body.

“Columbia Encyclopedia: ethanol” - “Ethanol is used extensively as a solvent in the manufacture of varnishes and perfumes; as a preservative for biological specimens; in the preparation of essences and flavorings; in many medicines and drugs; as a disinfectant and in tinctures (e.g., tincture of iodine); and as a fuel and gasoline additive (see gasohol)... Medically, ethanol is a soporific, i.e., sleep-producing; although it is less toxic than the other alcohols, death usually occurs if the concentration of ethanol in the bloodstream exceeds about 5%. Behavioral changes, impairment of vision, or unconsciousness occur at lower concentrations.”

“What!” you say. “I'm running varnish solvent and automobile fuel through my brain!” Yes, you are! Why would any sane individual want to do that? Alcohol in the bloodstream will dry out your lungs and liver and shorten life when used in excess. One relative of mine drank only beer. He died at 56 years old and when the autopsy was done, his lungs were almost brittle and his liver was hardened! He always claimed that “Beer won't hurt you.”, but it surely did. It killed him!

Can you say without a shadow of a doubt that you're not an alcoholic? If you're drinking early and hard, then you may be an alcoholic. If you're drinking beer like water, you may be an alcoholic. If you're claiming to be drinking a few and are drinking many, you are an alcoholic. I saw a wino who was an alcoholic and he'd puke it up and drink more. Yes, you can be a wine alcoholic. Alcoholism is NOT a disease. SIN is the disease of mankind. Alcoholism is a sin. A disease may be incurable, but sin has already been cured, defeated in fact. Jesus did it by dying for you on the cross. Don't let the world tell you that you have a disease. Behaviors can be changed.

Now, I must admit, Paul told us to drink a little wine for our health.

1 Timothy (NIV) 5:23 “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.”

Yes, the common drink was WATER, not WINE! Water wasn't clean and free of bad bacteria as it is today with our skimmers, chlorination and filtration. Wine on the other hand, as with any juice, has a positive result on our digestive track. It cleanses it. However, in this regard, grape juice or prune juice will also do the trick. Paul recommended wine (diluted and horrible-tasting at that time) be used as a medicine. With medicine you take a controlled amount when needed. Too much medicine will exacerbate the problem, having side effects. Is YOUR drinking for medicinal purposes or is it for recreation and to drown your problems. If it's not for your health, then why do it?

I'll never be an alcoholic! Why? God removed the desire for spirits when I was 21 years old and I never looked back. You have to imbibe to be an alcoholic. Thank you Lord for removing this desire from me. If the reader doesn't have the elation I feel, then your certainly missing something. It doesn't take booze to have a good time.

In summary:

  1. Wine was consumed in Biblical times. God apparently turned his head to it just as he did divorce, concubines and multiple marriages. He pointed out its folly and used examples (eg. Noah and his sons, etc.)
  2. Wine was not the primary drink. Water was. Wine was not drunk extensively in the Middle East ever because of its inability to quench the thirst in that climate.
  3. Wine was not fermented using a process on purpose … it was a result of the natural combination of ingredients that are in fruit juices whether you want them to be or not.
  4. Any strong drink is harmful and sinful.
  5. The alcohol content was lower than mature wines of today.
  6. The wine was diluted with water because of it's bad taste due to dregs.
  7. Wine was to be used for medicinal reasons with controlled use. (I Timothy)
  8. God's word and prescribed medicine should be used for stress and depression. Self-treatment with alcohol will lead to addiction.
  9. The use of wine for recreation is foolish and sinful. (Proverbs)
  10. You are pumping motor fuel and paint solvent through your body. Alcohol is a poison!
  11. Excessive consumption can lead to addiction and severe health issues, even death!
  12. The activities of imbibers are most often worldly and accompanied by sinful activities.
  13. The potential for addiction is akin to playing “Russian Roulette” with your life.
  14. You become a stumbling-block to the sinner by doing as the world does.
  15. Your priorities if you're defending alcohol is away from God and on your own immediate gratification.
  16. Those who love you worry about your sobriety and it's associated negative lifestyle.
  17. Alcohol uninhibits. You'll do things you shouldn't do. Maybe things a Christian shouldn't do.
  18. How can you sincerely commune with God if you're mind is blurred? You're supposed to be the temple of the holy spirit. You're flooding that temple with alcohol.
  19. And lastly, I believe alcoholic wine consumption is improper for Communion (Mass) because of it's residual yeast content, which is biblically “unclean” just as leavened bread would be.

You can live without it, but you might die with it! You have a clear choice. If you do abuse alcohol you need to confer with God. If you do drink the one after-dinner glass of wine, you just need to examine that pragmatically and where it can lead. Are you in God's will?

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