This question is asked a lot. We first answered it in September of 2014. It is a question that all Christians should be prepared to answer. Is drinking alcohol a sin? The answers from the Bible should guide all in making God-honoring decisions about alcohol consumption.
Old Testament Prohibitions
The Bible speaks clearly about drinking alcohol, or “strong drink” as it is called in Scripture. Before I give an answer to this question, we must search the Scriptures to determine what God says. Before we consider New Testament teachings, let’s read some passages in the Old Testament.
We find a specific prohibition in Leviticus when God instructed His people about acceptable service in the Tabernacle. Speaking to Aaron, the High Priest, the Lord said:
Leviticus 10:9 Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations:
Another commandment prohibiting any consumption of wine or strong drink was given specifically to those who took a Nazarite vow.
Numbers 6:3 He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried.
New Testament Prohibitions
The only mention of forbidding wine or strong drink in the Gospel accounts is a reference to John the Baptist. When the angel Gabriel spoke to Zacharias and proclaimed that the baby Elisabeth was carrying would be named John, the angel also decreed that John would be under the command of Numbers 6:3, which forbid not only wine but also grapes and raisins. He was not to partake of anything of the vine.
Luke 1:13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
Luke 1:15 For he [John the Baptist] shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.
All of these specific commands about abstaining from wine or strong drink were given under the Old Covenant, before the cross. They were given to specific people, under specific circumstances, and for specific reasons.
The Church Age
So what about blood-bought, Holy Spirit indwelt and sealed Christians during this time in which we live? What does the Bible tell us about alcohol consumption?
We must first remember that the passages above are not commands given to New Covenant, Church Age believers who are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. However, we must also remember that the Old Testament writings (written under the Old Covenant) provide us with important instruction about the responsible use of alcohol. We should never diminish the instruction in righteousness found in God’s Word prior to the cross. Paul was very clear on this.
Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
Under the New Covenant we have been given great liberty in Christ, but along with that liberty comes great responsibility. The apostle Paul was clear on the fact that, even though something might be permissible for us, it might not be beneficial for us.
1 Corinthians 10:23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
The Bible’s AA: Alcohol Admonitions
In the Old Testament, we find many verses that are not a prohibition against strong drink and wine but are certainly an admonition against partaking of alcohol and are warnings about the dangers.
Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.
Proverbs 31:4-5 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.
Isaiah 5:11 Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them.
We also find verses that support responsible consumption of wine by the people of Israel and remind us that wine is a by-product of the fruit of the vine. The grape vine and its fruit were given by God to His people, and fermentation of the grapes into wine was the method of preserving the juice of the grape from one harvest until the next.
Ecclesiastes 9:7 Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.
Amos 9:14 And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them.
Isaiah 55:1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Psalm 104:14-15 He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.
There are other verses that speak about wine consumption in the Old Testament and each is important for our instruction, but now let’s look at verses that speak directly to Christians–to those who belong to Jesus and are under the New Covenant.
Paul’s letters tell us clearly that we are not to abuse alcohol and get drunk. We are specifically told to be of a sound mind and body at all times.
Ephesians 5:18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.
Romans 14:21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
1 Corinthians 6:12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation
The biblical teachings about our minds and bodies are very clear:
We are not to be mastered by anything (i.e. addicted to anything). Rather, we are to live in submission to the Holy Spirit and God’s revealed will in the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 6:12, Romans 8:5).
We are to take every thought captive for Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:5). Therefore, we are not to allow our minds to be taken captive by alcohol (Romans 8:6).
We are to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1).
A person whose mind and body is under the influence of wine (or any alcoholic beverage) is neither holy nor acceptable. Holy means to be set apart from the world and acceptable means to have a pure heart and clean hands. Slurred speech and alcohol-influenced thoughts and words do not glorify God. Instead, they often defame His name, misrepresent His truths, and damage our testimony. The apostle James speaks about the tongue as a fire (James 3:6). Do not flame that fire with the fuel of alcohol.
While the New Testament gives warnings similar to those found in the Old Testament about excessive alcohol consumption, we also find words that condone the responsible use of alcohol.
1 Timothy 5:23 Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities. [note: While this was fermented wine containing alcohol, it likely did not contain the same level of alcohol that many modern day wines contain.]
Note also that nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus condemn or prohibit wine or strong drink. In fact, Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11) and spoke about how to preserve wine when teaching His disciples lessons about the old and the new (Matthew 9:17).
Is it a sin to drink alcohol? This question does not ask if alcohol consumption is dangerous or if it can cause someone to sin. It asks if drinking alcohol is a sin. My answer is no, it is not a sin because there is nothing in Scripture that says it is. We cannot make laws where God has not done so.
There was alcohol during Old Testament biblical times, and God did not forbid it, except under certain circumstances and to specific people. There was alcohol during the time of Jesus’ ministry, and He did not speak of any prohibition. And Paul spoke clearly, in his instructions to the church, about limited and responsible consumption of alcohol. Therefore, we cannot tell our brothers and sisters in Christ (or non-Christians) that they are sinning against God if they have a drink of alcohol. We can tell them that they are sinning against God if the alcohol takes any control over their mind or body. Throughout the Bible, drunkenness is forbidden and is declared to be a sin.
That said, I repeat the warning that alcohol consumption can lead to sin. Alcohol can be a gateway to many sins. It is no different than surfing the Internet. Surfing the Internet is not a sin, but it can be a gateway that opens the door to sin. Nor is owning a gun a sin, but guns can be used to commit sin. Even watching TV! That is not a sin, but much of today’s programming can cause someone to sin. Most things are not sinful, in and of themselves or in the basic nature of the activity.
Matthew 15:11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
Remember that alcohol, and many other things, can be a door, or gate, through which sin can enter. For understanding the ear-gate, eye-gate, and mouth-gate, and how to guard your gates, read our short book: Hear, See, Speak & Post No Evil: A Practical Guide for Guarding the Mind.
A decision to drink, or not to drink, alcohol is a very personal decision. One must honestly discern their own ability to avoid consumption of anything that will take control over their thoughts, words, and actions.
With the understanding of the dangers of alcohol consumption, many Christians decide it is best to abstain entirely. They understand that only by abstaining can they fully protect themselves from opening a door to sin—to sin that grieves God, damages their testimony and often silences their witness for the Lord.
Remember, we are to keep our focus on Christ and be filled to abundance with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). In Christ, we find our joy and our strength to live in a manner that honors and glorifies Him. It should always be our goal to present ourselves in a way that we reflect Christ in our thoughts, words, and actions.
So while responsible, limited consumption of alcohol is not a sin, be very discerning before you take any alcoholic drink and be very cautious if you do so. We have liberty in Christ to do all things… EXCEPT to sin. Remember, alcohol consumption can very easily lead to sin.
If you are considering taking even one small drink, first be discerning and be dedicated to honoring Jesus. Remember this verse, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31)
Also remember your responsibility to others, as Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “… resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” (Rom 14:13)
Those two admonitions cannot be kept if you indulge in alcoholic beverages that take control of your mind, words, and actions. Honor God, and protect your witness, by abstinence or by extreme caution.
To make an informed decision on the use of alcohol read statistics on AUD (alcohol use disorders), Alcohol-Related Deaths, Economic Burden, Global Burden, Family Consequences, Underage Drinking, and more.
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