To learn more about Evangelist Kyle Gilstrap, visit kylegilstrap.com.
Growing up in a Christian home was a wonderful thing. From the time I was a child I was taught certain biblical principles to live by. Things like, “Go to church when the doors are open”; “Have a daily devotion time”; “Talk like a Christian”; “Don’t do drugs and don’t drink alcohol.” These things were deeply embedded into my life at an early age, and I accepted them as truth. I had Bible answers for why I did or didn’t do most of these things, and would just skip over the verses that didn’t make sense to me or I didn’t know how to answer.
That worked great…until the day I was teaching an adult class a lesson I had entitled “What Does the Bible Say about Alcohol.” I figured I would teach the class these things and when the class was finished we would close our Bibles like any other week and there wouldn’t be any questions. You can imagine my surprise when I came to the end of my lesson and one of the class members raised their hand. He asked, “Why does the Bible say in 1 Timothy 3:8 that the deacon is to be ‘not given to much wine’ if wine is only grape juice?” As I stood there that night I gave him the best answer I could: “I don’t know, but I will find out.”
Over the next weeks I began diving into a biblical study of wine that led to both biblical and historical answers. I am not a scholar, nor do I claim to be, but the answers I was able to find shed a great deal of light on this controversial subject of alcohol. I had never intended to put my studies into any type of article, but at the request of a good friend, I will do my best to share what has been a tremendous help to me in understanding this complex subject. To answer the question “What does the Bible say about alcohol” requires a deeper look into things. We must consider the facts before we can accurately give an answer.
You Can’t Mix Time
Was it grape juice? Was it wine? Was it really a strong drink? What was it?!? Before we can answer those questions, we have to realize that while time does indeed change things, things are also changed with time. To get a correct view of what the Bible says about wine and alcohol we have to view it through the lens of the time period it was originally recorded, not through our present-day lens.
During the time of Christ, the accepted wine to drink was heavily diluted. To drink undiluted or “unmixed wine” was considered barbaric (Proverbs 23:29-35; Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:23). The normal ratio of dilution was anywhere from 3 to 1, all the way to a 20 to 1 ratio. Since the distillation process that we have today was not invented until the 13th century, we can safely know that the “wine” in Scripture was much different from what we have today.
Now let’s get into some of the numbers to help clear things up. Grape juice left alone can only ferment to roughly 3-4% alcohol. However, if yeast is added, the alcohol level can increase all the way to 10%. Max! So how does that compare to what we have today? Well, modern day wine has between 9-11% alcohol, brandy has 15-20% alcohol, liquors are usually between 40-50% alcohol, while some extra hard liquors can be 90 proof! Now, if you are thinking that present day wine would be comparable to what is mentioned in the Scriptures, don’t forget that the wine of Bible times would have been diluted, because anything else was barbaric!
This means that if they took the strongest wine today (which would have roughly 11% alcohol), and diluted it on the low end ratio, they would end up with a drink that contains around 2% alcohol. However, most wine would NOT have been through the intentional process of increasing the alcohol level, meaning it would have contained around 3-4% alcohol before being diluted, and in most cases the more common practice of diluting closer to a 10 to 1 ratio would have been used, thus making the alcohol virtually untraceable.
Truly our paradigm of “wine” is much different from that of Biblical times!
To Everything There Is a Purpose
Now that we have a clearer perspective of what we could call “Biblical wine,” let’s take a look at a more practical side of things: How was it used?
First of all, it was used as a disinfectant. Notice what God’s Word says regarding this.
“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” (Luke 10:33-34)
The good Samaritan used the wine as a disinfectant because that is what they had.
Secondly, wine was also used as a pain reliever. The Bible illustrates this to us again.
“They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.” (Matthew 27:34)
In both cases wine was used for medicinal purposes because that was the best they had. We have all seen the old western movie with the cowboy biting the stick to fight through the pain. Well, much in the same way we have gotten rid of the stick today, so it is true with the wine. Today we have modern medicine such as morphine that dulls pain in extreme situations. We no longer use wine, because we have better options, but in Bible times, that was what they had.
A third use for wine was to purify water. The water that was readily available was often stagnant and full of impurities. They had two options for purifying water. The first was to boil the water. The problem was that wood was a hard commodity to come by. Often, they would reuse the wood for the crosses when they would crucify because it was so hard to find. The second option was to mix with a little wine. Anything stronger than a 3 to 1 ratio (water to wine) was considered a strong drink (around 2% alcohol).
Let’s Stop Twisting Words
When Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:8, “Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;” he was not instructing Timothy that the deacons could just drink a little. Rather, he was referring to the purification process of the water. He was telling them not to use more wine than was necessary. Don’t use “much wine.” This also clears up confusion on 1 Timothy 5:23, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.”
Was Paul saying “never drink water again, only wine?” Let’s consider a more reasonable possibility. It is quite possible that Timothy could have taken a vow, such as the Nazarite vow, in which one would completely abstain from all wine of any sort. After all, 1 Thessalonians 5:22 does say, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” With the high alkaline levels in the water in the region Timothy was living in, he may have ended up with some stomach problems. As a result, Paul was telling him not to “drink a little wine,” but to “use a little wine” to help purify the water. The purpose was to purify, not to party!
To Drink or Not to Drink
So, what does the Bible really say about alcohol? How does it apply to us today? Well, just as we do not use wine today to disinfect or for pain relief because there are better options, we do not use wine for water purification because there are other and better options. We have to change our perspective from the way we view wine and alcohol today to the way they used it at the time of the Bible. At that time, it was a tool that was used for a variety of purposes. In the same way the ox and the plow were a wonderful tool at one point in history, but now we have better options, so is the case with wine.
One thing has not changed, however. During the time of the Bible, those that drank intoxicating drinks “just because,” were declared barbaric and not wise.
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1)
Today, society has deemed it socially acceptable to drink a “a little wine”, and Christians have taken the bait. The reality is that the purpose for Scriptural “wine” has been distorted. Rather than limited our decision to whether or not we think it is right to drink, let’s get a biblically historical view and make an educated decision that is supported by and based upon the Word of God. It’s time as Christians that we settle this often confusing topic, because God is not the “author of confusion” (I Corinthians 14:33).
When I walked back into that classroom a few weeks later, I felt more confident in the Word of God and on the subject of alcohol than I had ever been before. My prayer is that through this simple study from a simple preacher, someone else will be more confident on this subject as well! Yes, wine was indeed much more than just plain old grape juice many times. But it was much different than our perspective today as well!
To learn more about Evangelist Kyle Gilstrap, visit kylegilstrap.com.