AJ on Alcohol

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Before I started my year of living biblically, I had feared that I'd be forced into twelve months of sobriety. After all, I knew the puritans had a reputation for condemning alcohol. And certain fundamentalist Christians think of booze as up there with adultery, idol worship and South Park. Some even argue that the "wine" drunk in the Bible is not wine at all, but actually grape juice. This was apparently the thinking of a temperance advocate named Thomas Welch who tried to sell "unfermented wine" in the late 19th century for communion services. He failed. At least until his family changed the name to grape juice and marketed it to the secular.
The truth is,

Biblical wine is wine. But is it a good thing or a bad thing?

In some passages, wine seems like a gift from God. In other passages, it's portrayed as a wicked toxin:

"[wine] bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind utter perverse things." (Proverbs 23:32-34).

To clear things up, I found the expert of all experts, a Christian oenophile named Daniel Whitfield who has made an astoundingly exhaustive study of every alcohol reference in Scripture Bible "“ all 247 of them.

Marijuana and the Bible, the negative and positive references to hooch, and what happened when Noah got drunk all after the jump...

On the negative side,

(I'm quoting Whitfeld's findings here) there are 17 warnings against abusing alcohol, 19 examples of people abusing alcohol, 3 references to selecting leaders, and one verse advocating abstinence if drinking will cause a brother to stumble. Total negative references: 40, or 16%.

On the positive side,

there are 59 references to the commonly accepted practice of drinking wine (and strong drink) with meals, 27 references to the abundance of wine as an example of God's blessing, 20 references to the loss of wine and strong drink as an example of God's curse, 25 references to the use of wine in offerings and sacrifices, 9 references to wine being used as a gift, and 5 metaphorical references to wine as a basis for a favorable comparison. Total positive references: 145, or 59%.Neutral references make up the remaining 25 percent.

If I could add one observation to Whitfield's study: There is also one reference to medicinal alcohol: "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments (1 Timothy 5:23)

It comes down to the battle between the Bible's gusto for life, and the Bible's wariness of excess. Between its Epicureanism and Puritanism. You can find both themes in the Scriptures. The Epicurean side is best seen in Ecclesiastes:

"There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God."

The key seems to be to enjoy wine as one of the many great things that God has provided us. But don't enjoy it too much. Use what Anheuser-Busch public service announcements call "Responsible drinking." Otherwise, bad things happen. For instance, after the Flood, Noah got sozzled and passed out naked. Noah's son Ham walked in on him nude and presumably mocked him, and Noah cursed Ham's descendants to slavery. So that didn't turn out well.

Or else there's the remarkable story of what happened when Lot "“ the one who fled Sodom "“ drank too much. Lot had escaped to a cave with his two daughters (his wife, as you know, had been turned into a pillar of salt). The daughters, thinking all other men in the world had died, got their father very, very drunk "“ and slept with him. Both got pregnant. Their incestuous offspring founded two nations "“ Moab and Amon "“ which became enemies of Israel.

Too much wine is an abomination. But a glass or two? That seems fine. Incidentally, I did an Internet search for marijuana and the Bible. As I suspected, someone has figured out a way to make the Bible seem in favor of pot-smoking. Not only does the website equalirghts4all quote Genesis 1:29 ("Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth."¦To you it will be for meat"), but it claims Moses' holy anointing oil contained a high concentration of THC. This, as my high school hero Jeff Spicoli used to say, seems totally bogus.

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November 5, 2007 - 1:00am
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