The “Health” Argument
The fourth argument to be examined in this series on “social drinking” is the “health” argument. If drinking alcoholic beverages is healthful to one’s body, then drinking alcoholic beverages contributes to responsible stewardship of one’s body. Certainly, responsible stewardship of one’s body is part of Christian living (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 4:2). However, is the recreational drinking of alcoholic beverages truly a necessary or wise means of performing this stewardship?
There are two primary passages of Scripture to which professed Christians appeal when seeking to justify social drinking for health reasons. The first is Proverbs 31:6-7: “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.” Before jumping to the conclusion that depression gives one carte blanche to drink up, one might consider the context in which this statement is made. Primarily, one might consider that the context is set within a prohibition against alcohol. Consider the passage with the previous two verses included:
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. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more (Proverbs 31:4-7).
This exhortation, which King Lemuel heard of his mother, emphasized far more what he as a king was not to do than what one who was ready to perish was to do. Christians, who have been made “kings and priests” (Revelation 5:10), would do well to consider this kingly exhortation (as well as the priestly prohibition against drinking alcohol in the performance of priestly responsibilities – Leviticus 10:8-11).
The second passage appealed to in the “health” defense of social drinking is First Timothy 5:23: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities.”
First of all, it is by no means certain that this “wine” Paul instructed Timothy to use was alcoholic. Timothy was apparently drinking only
water, and “the water at Ephesus and such places being often bad, grape juice or chomets
, or Roman posca
, or asis
, or other such drink, could help the stomach.”[i]
Nonetheless, even if one were to grant that Paul instructed Timothy to use a little alcoholic wine to alleviate his infirmities, this hardly justifies using it in a social setting or in a recreational way. Doctors prescribe morphine for patients, a legitimate use of the drug when patients are in need. But this does not justify using morphine recreationally or socially.
In recent years, there has been research indicating that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages may be beneficial to one’s health. Researchers claim prevention of heart disease as the chief benefit. These findings have received quite a bit of news coverage. I believe there are two primary reasons the news media continues to herald the news far and wide of the potential benefits of drinking alcohol. First, because it remains shocking. Everything people ever learned about alcoholic beverages indicated that they were extremely unhealthy. The second reason is because it is what people want to hear. Many times people will grasp for justification to do what they want to do. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that people use the “health” argument in their attempts to justify social drinking.
Those who have proclaimed the health benefits of moderate amounts of alcohol may well be overstating their case. George Davey-Smith, professor of epidemiology at the University of Bristol (U.K.), came to this conclusion. Reporting on a study he conducted, he said, “We found no protective effect of moderate alcohol for coronary heart disease.”[ii]
He suggests an important factor that has not generally been considered in previous studies: the non-drinkers in the studies have often included a disproportionate number of unhealthy people, who drank in the past but were forced to give up drinking due to health concerns.[iii]
This clearly could skew the numbers against the non-drinkers.
Perhaps before climbing aboard the “drinking can be healthy” bandwagon, one might consider that what is self-evident and has been known for centuries might actually be true. Regardless of whether potential benefits of moderate drinking continue to emerge, there can be little doubt that the consumption of alcohol is generally unhealthy. “Even at relatively low levels
, alcohol use has well-documented associations with hepatic diseases such as cancer and cirrhosis, as well as breast cancer, hemorrhagic stroke, hypertension, and depression” (emphasis LM).[iv]
The thing is, probably no one needs
to drink alcoholic beverages to improve his health or to remain healthy. Even those who maintain that moderate drinking can be beneficial acknowledge that one does not have to drink alcoholic beverages to obtain the same benefits. In his syndicated column, To Your Good Health
, Dr. Paul G. Donohue wrote, “If you prefer to remain non-alcohol users, a daily 12-ounce glass of purple grape juice for men and a 9-ounce grape juice for women also does the trick.”[v]
Considering this, should any Christian be rushing out to buy booze? Picture the seventeen-year old girl who is grabbing a few things at the grocery store, and struggling in her mind and conscience as to whether she should go to the big drinking party that will be taking place that night. Then at the checkout aisle she sees the reputable Christian, for whom she has always had the greatest respect, purchasing a six-pack of beer and a bottle of wine. Is such a sight more likely to dissuade her from going to the drinking party, or to persuade her that it might not be such a big deal after all?
Timothy was clearly reluctant to drink anything but water, lest his influence should be damaged or his purity should be sullied. Today’s Christian should just as jealously and zealously guard his influence and his purity. The “heath” argument fails to justify the social and recreational use of alcoholic beverages, and the watchful Christian will seek to avoid any use of this destroyer of lives and souls.
Not “Much Wine” for Deacons
Another argument occasionally advanced for social drinking is that Scriptural qualifications mandate that an elder be “not given to wine” (1 Timothy 3:3), while it is required that a deacon be “not given to much wine” (3:8, emphasis LM). Again, aged women are to be “not given to much wine” (Titus 2:3). Thus, the reasoning goes, a deacon, an aged woman, or anyone not an elder is permitted to be given to some wine.
To understand what is meant by these differently worded prohibitions, the key is to understand what these passages mean by being “given to”
something. The American Standard Version’s rendering of Titus 2:3 helps, as it translates the passage, “not . . . enslaved to much wine”
(emphasis LM). First Timothy 3:3, which uses a different verb, could be rendered, “not addicted
to much wine.”[vi]
One who is enslaved by or addicted to an alcoholic beverage in any quantity would meet the definition of an alcoholic:
Alcoholism is not a matter of how much or how often one drinks. Some people need just one or two drinks to be out of control, while there are alcoholics who take many drinks and do not seem drunk. Alcoholism shows itself in different ways in different individuals, but dependency is a common factor.[vii]
Certainly no rational person would affirm that a practicing alcoholic could serve in the office of a deacon.
Being enslaved by or addicted to wine is certainly not Scriptural, regardless of the quantity in which one consumes it. Being enslaved or addicted to almost anything is sinful. As Christ said, “No man can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24), meaning a man must serve God and God alone. Paul reminded the Corinthians, “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 Corinthians 6:12, emphasis LM). The only addiction the Bible commends is addiction to the word of the Lord and to well-doing in His service (Psalm 119:131, 147-148; 1 Corinthians 16:15; Romans 12:13).
The difference between being “given to wine”
and being “given to much wine”
has nothing to do with the quantity of wine; it is merely a different way of expressing the quality of man. “Much” is used to heighten the emphasis on not being controlled by wine.[viii]
One should not be able to say of a deacon or elder, neither of an older woman nor any Christian, that he is “given to wine”—in any quantity.
The five arguments for social drinking that this series has considered do not stand up under careful Biblical examination. There are other quibbles brought forth by those who claim that social drinking harmonizes with Christian living, but suffice it to say that such quibbles will not hold water either. The fallacy of “social” drinking begins with this very designation—drinking is a serious social problem, not a social answer. Drunkenness is roundly condemned by Scripture, and the faithful child of God will never begin that process of becoming drunk (Proverbs 23:31; Ephesians 5:18).
[i] Jerry Moffitt, “Did Jesus Allow or Encourage Social Drinking of Intoxicants?” in Studies in John, ed. Dub McClish (Denton, TX: Valid Publications, 1999), p. 630. See our discussion in the June FCGN regarding “Wine” As It Is Used in the Bible.
[ii] Interviewed by Natasha Mitchell, “The Health Benefits of Frequent, Moderate Drinking Are Exaggerated,” in Alcohol: Opposing Viewpoints (San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2004), p. 22.
[iv] Charlotte LoBuono, “Doctors Should Not Encourage Their Patients to Use Alcohol,” in Alcohol: Opposing Viewpoints (San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2004), p. 33.
[v] Paul G. Donohue, “Alcohol Consumption Could Prevent Heart and Eye Disease,” To Your Health, syndicated column, 1998; quoted by Louis Rushmore, Beverage Alcohol (Cameron, WV: Louis Rushmore, 2007 revision), p. 19. Brother Rushmore’s book is highly recommended, and is available free of charge plus actual shipping charges. He may be contacted at 705 Devine St., Winona, MS 38967, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[vi] ProsechM, in Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 880.
[vii] Margaret O. Hyde, Alcohol: Uses and Abuses (Hillside, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc.), 39.
[viii] George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, eds. I Howard Marshall and W. Ward Gasque (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 168.