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LIFE > Life in the World > Drinkers of Wine > Conclusion > Abstinence or Moderation


There are those who argue forcefully for abstinence. Why do believers do this when the Bible is so plain? Abstinence is defended for one or more of the following reasons.

There are always those who glory in denying the flesh, thinking that it is pious or spiritual to do so. Close to this are those who deem abstinence to be identical with Biblical separation. Some use the warnings in Scripture in a way that was not intended, arguing for abstinence instead of moderation. Some reject all drinking of wine because of the evil (poverty, divorce, murder, etc.) that comes from excessive drinking. But this position finds fault with the wine rather than the drinker, thus making void the Scriptural teaching of personal responsibility and accountability. Some embrace abstinence in an attempt to maintain the standards of the tradition, cultural or religious, in which they were raised. Some are ignorant of Biblical teaching, while others reject Biblical teaching. Some argue for abstinence because they do not understand or do not trust other believers with the exercise of Christian liberty. Some do so because of the widespread abuse of distilled spirits which are much more potent than wine. Some maintain abstinence because of religious pressure, knowing that if moderation is embraced, ostracism and possible rejection will surely come. While most of these have varying degrees of merit, the simple fact is that the Bible does not prohibit the drinking of wine.

Though the Scriptures cannot be used to justify abstinence, they do teach moderation. But what does it mean to drink in moderation? Consider two perspectives: Scripture and society.

From the perspective of Scripture, the only guideline or command is that one is not to drink enough wine to get drunk. Plainly, the Scripture states: “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). One must know when to drink and when to stop. The wise man says: “I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine (yayin), while guiding my heart with wisdom” (Eccles. 2:3).

When the perspective of society is considered, it requires that the laws of society be known. Two and a half drinks of wine consumed in an hour by a medium size person will elevate the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .05, the point at which one begins noticeably to feel the effects of the wine, though not in a negative way. A drink would be four ounces of wine, with the wine being 12.5 percent alcohol (table wine ranges from 10 to 14 percent); therefore, each drink raises the BAC by approximately .02 in an average size adult.

For comparison purposes, the legal limit for driving in most states is .10, with California and a few other states having a .08 limit. Two and a half drinks, therefore, over the course of an hour, especially with a meal, will not raise the BAC above any legal limit set at this time. A BAC of .0 to .15 indicates the beginning of intoxication; and a BAC of .30 results in stupor, with a comma and possible death if the BAC continues to increase and is not lowered. It takes the body approximately one hour to metabolize a drink, and drinking wine with a meal slows the alcohol’s entry into the blood stream.

Most medicinal benefits are associated with two to three glasses of wine a day. It is interesting to note that the average American drinks approximately two gallons of wine per year, forty gallons of soft drinks, and twenty-five gallons of coffee.

Dr. Curtis Ellison, professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, stated in Wine Spectator magazine that not only is the amount of wine consumed important, but “the pattern of drinking” is “most important.” He wrote: “It takes only a very small amount of alcohol to help prevent heart disease, but it needs to be consumed on a regular basis” (38).

He elaborated:

Unfortunately, most Americans do not have healthy alcohol-consumption patterns—many tend to drink nothing all week and then binge-drink on the weekends. In contrast, many Europeans still have wine with their meals every day . . . This should serve as a reminder that it is not how much you drink, but how regularly you do so, that is most important.

Furthermore, alcohol may be especially beneficial to your health when it is consumed with meals, rather than on an empty stomach. It has long been known that, for a given amount of alcohol, the blood alcohol level rises only about half as high when the alcohol is consumed with food. And in a recent study in Italy, people who consumed wine with their meals were much less likely to die than those who consumed their wine at other times. The best pattern appears to be regular wine consumption with meals—every day, but only a small amount each day (Ibid).

His conclusion is provoking: “Some might even say that it is dangerous to go more than 24 hours without a drink” (Ibid).

God is the Creator of all things, and what He made is not evil intrinsically. All things were made for man to enjoy and use—the Dominion Mandate (see: Dominion Mandate). To affirm that wine is evil in and of itself is to bring into question creation and the Creator. It implies that there is an inherent danger in creation, and that it is not to be enjoyed. It is to pronounce “evil” what God said was “good” and “very good” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 21, 25, 31; see: A Very Good Creation). A negative view of wine reveals a subtle and negative view of God’s creative work.

And it also reflects a negativistic concept of the Christian life—one of withdrawal and separation from the world. It espouses a lifestyle that is more characterized by “don’t” rather than “do.” Ultimately, it leads to monasticism or fundamentalism, where the believer either separates himself or denies himself. All the while the believer erroneously thinks he is more devoted and committed to God than other believers because of such living. It causes one to be detached from “sinners” and culturally “sinful things.” The mindset becomes one of prohibition rather than one of enjoyment and thanksgiving. This was not the approach of Jesus. He was in the world but not of the world. So must His followers be.

Proper Christian behavior is not separation from wine, but the proper use of wine. True spirituality is not a mere abstinence, but a true submission to the Word of God and to the day by day rule of the Spirit in the life. Note the words of Carl F. H. Henry in Christian Personal Ethics:

Arbitrary legalism is a poor substitute for an inner morality. Not only this, but such legalism emphasizes the less important issues in life, and ignores or excuses the weightier matters of the Law. Smoking can be a subject of legislation; pride cannot (421).

One final observation, or reminder, needs to be made. This issue, which is hotly debated and extremely volatile, should be discussed and ultimately decided on the basis of Scripture. Are the Scriptures God’s Word? Are they inspired? Are they reliable? Are they immutable Truth? Are they infallible? The question is Scripture, not wine.

The questions are really two: one, what does Scripture teach; and two, will I accept Scripture? The first question has been answered by this study. The reader must now answer the second question.

If you vow abstinence from wine
as though something holy inhered in this act,
you are superstitious.
John Calvin

Therefore, whether you eat or drink,
or whatever you do,
do all to the glory of God.
I Cor. 10:31

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