The Bible, Medical Science and Alcohol

J. P. Needham
Louisville, Kentucky


Beverage alcohol is one of man's oldest problems. Noah is the first person on record to experience its curse (Gen;9:20, 21). There is a definite need for more study of the problem of alcoholism. It is my purpose in this article to deal with the subject frankly from both the secular and the Biblical standpoint. I ask that the reader consider well what is said.

I. Secular Aspects of the Question:

A. Statistics: That we may have some background material for our study; I shall give here some statistics compiled from various sources:

"The United States has the highest known rate of alcoholism in the world (Dr. Marvin A. Block, Vice President of the National Council of Alcoholism, estimates that we have 5,000,000--JPN). France ranks second and Sweden is third.

"An estimated 75 per cent of the men in the United States use alcoholic beverages to some extent, as do 56 per cent of the women. This gives the nation a total drinking population of 70,000,000. (As compared to 68,000,000 in 1956--JPN).

"Studies indicate that there are five to six men alcoholics to every one woman alcoholic. (Though Dr. Marvin A. Block, mentioned above, denies this and affirms that there are as many women alcoholics as men--JPN).

"A steady alcoholic has an average of 18.6 years before physical or mental collapse.

"Average time for the periodic alcoholic before complete collapse is 17.1 years.

"In the United States . . . more than 200,000 alcoholics . . . have stopped drinking

"The heaviest drinking is being done between the ages of 18 and 24, according to available information. Boys and girls are beginning to drink at an earlier age

(At 14 with the sanction of their parents according to certain surveys--JPN). (Above statistics taken from SOME FACTS ABOUT ALCOHOL AND ALCOHOLISM, published by the KENTUCKY STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH).

"Alcoholisms is rated as the nation's fourth most serious illness, following Cancer, Mental Illness and Heart Disease.

"The population of female alcoholics is increasing faster than males."

"There are between 140,000- 150,000 alcoholics in Florida -- more than any other southern state, (except Texas). (Florida Alcoholic Rehabilitation Program, 1961).

San Francisco, Calif. is the most alcoholic city in the United States.

B. Alcohol and alcoholic beverages: In this section, let us consider the composition of alcohol, its nature, and its content in modern beverages:

1. Composition of alcohol:

"Alcohol possesses some of the characteristics of a sedative, a hypnotic, an analgesic and a narcotic, but its characteristic effect is that of an anesthetic." (FLORIDA ALCOHOLIC REHABILITATION PROGRAM, 1961).

"It is recognized as a poison by all leading scientist." (The National Voice, April 28, 1955, p. 4)

2. Content in modern beverages:

"Alcoholic beverages are usually classified as (1) DISTILLED, including whiskey, gin, brandy, etc. (2) MALT, including beer, ale and (3) VINOUS, or wines. All of them contain ETHYL ALCOHOL, which is a habit forming, narcotic drug, poison and harmful to every form of life. Distilled beverages are usually 45% to 50% alcohol. Malt beverages are of lower alcohol content, beer usually having 4% to 6% and ale about 10%. Wine is usually from 10% to 14%; but fortified wines may run 20% or more by reason of the addition of more alcohol.

"The average 'drink' of beer, wine, or whiskey contains about the same quantity of alcohol (by weight) although the amounts of liquid differ.

"So the drinker can get practically the same effect from a 10 ounce bottle of 4 = % BEER, or 2 = ounce glass of 20% WINE, or a 1 ounce shot glass of WHISKEY. And if he drives, the pedestrian he hits will be just as dead.

Beer Has Two Narcotic Drugs

"In addition to having the ETHYL ALCOHOL, exact same ingredient as is present in gin, whiskey, brandy, champagnes tequila, wine, vodka, cocktails, highballs, beer contains LUPULIN also! Very few people know what difference this makes.

"What is LUPULIN? It is the active principle found in the HOPS which are used in the brewing of Beer, and which give to the Beer its bitter taste. It is a distinctively type of narcotic, and its combination with ETHYL ALCOHOL it has a very injurious effect upon brain functioning.

"LUPULIN has the chemical formula: C32H5007. When we compare this formula with that of CANNABINOL (C21H3002) which is the resinous narcotic substance found in the plant CANNIBIS SATIVA from which MARIJUANA cigarettes are made, we see that these two narcotics are composed of the same chemical elements, but that there is a heavier molecular composition of them in LUPULIN of BEER. It is an interesting observation that BEER'S LUPULIN comes from the HOP PLANT which the science of Botany classifies as belonging to the same family as does the hemp plant from which is derived the MARIJUANA cigarettes with its Cannabinol. (A report from the INTERNATIONAL NARCOTIC RESEARCH FOUNDATION).

C. Alcoholism: Here let us consider alcoholism and some matters related to it.

1. What is alcoholism? The question is not an easy one, but here is the definition by the Kentucky State Department of Health:

"There are many definitions of an alcoholic, but the simplest one is, 'one who drinks compulsively, drinks against his will, drinks when he does not want to.' A practical working definition is the alcoholic's own statement of his plight: 'one drink is too many; 20 drinks aren't enough.'"

The medical profession generally maintains that alcoholism is as much a disease as tuberculosis or diabetes, and cannot be successfully treated until this is recognized. Researchers in biological chemistry contend that alcoholism is an illness accompanied by definite changes in the living cells of the body.

a. Two kinds of alcoholics:

(A) The Steady Alcoholic;

"The 'steady alcoholic' may drink daily and excessively for long periods of time without showing extreme drunkenness. He maintains a constant condition comparable to a normal drinker who has had a few drinks. He reaches a plateau of intoxication and stays there day after day, never completely drunk but never completely sober. He is not belligerent and to a casual observer appears normal. He is, however, a compulsive drinker --definitely an alcoholic."

(B) The Periodic Alcoholic:

"The 'periodic, alcoholic' follows a pattern of alternate periods of excessive drinking and of abstinence or moderation. He follows a fairly regular time cycle, the length being an individual characteristic. He may stay sober for weeks, or even months, either drinking in a controlled fashion or perhaps not drinking at all. Then comes a real bender. He gets flagrantly drunk, may be jovial or belligerent, but is always conspicuous It is likely that his family and friends, and particularly the alcoholic himself, believe his ability to control drinking between the excessive periods is evidence of will power. They look upon his lapses to drunkenness as deliberate choice. This is not true. The benders are compulsive, increase in intensity, and come at more and more frequent intervals." (SOME FACTS ABOUT ALCOHOL AND ALCOHOLISM pages 3 and 4).

2. What are a drinker's chances of becoming an alcoholic? According to all the sources I have examined, one out of every 15 social and business drinkers eventually becomes an alcoholic. The sad plight is that all fifteen vow that it won't be him, and none knows but what he will be the victim! It is like a game of Russian roulette! It should also be noted that 10 % of all alcoholics are alcoholics from the very first drink..

3. How long does it take one to become an alcoholic? "It takes from twelve to fifteen years, on the average, for alcoholism to develop in an individual" (Florida Alcoholic Rehabilitation Program 1961).

4. What causes one to become an alcoholic? Studies indicate that most alcoholics become such because of frequent emotional or nervous disorders. However, this is a moot question.

5. What are the symptoms of approaching alcoholism? While there is no hard and fast list of symptoms of approaching alcoholism, those following are heavily relied upon by specialists in the field of diagnosis: a. Flagrant drinking behavior; b. Blackouts (Amnesia where one cannot remember what happened while he was drunk--JPN); c. Gulping and sneaking drinks; d. Psychological hangover; e. Loss of control; f. Alibi system; g. Eye-openers (Drinking before lunch --JPN); h. Changing of drinking pattern (Switching beverages thinking this will help the situation--JPN); i. Anti-social behavior; j. Loss of jobs and friends; k. Seeking medical aid; I. Benders; m. Tremors; n. Protecting the supply; o. Unreasonable resentments: and p. Nameless fears and anxieties.

6. Is there a cure for alcoholism? The especialist say no! There is absolutely no cure for alcoholism, but it can be arrested like many other diseases.

"The concept of alcoholism being a symptom, developing into a disease, is supported by the almost universal observation that once alcoholic addiction has been developed, a return to normal drinking is impossible, even if the underlying emotional problem has been resolved." (FACTS ABOUT ALCOHOL AND ALCOHOLISM).

Dr. H. N. Tiebout, member of the National Council on Alcoholism, says:

"The alcoholic always harbors the disease potential once that potential has come into being. He is forever susceptible."

But Dr. Block estimates that there are 5,000,000 recovered alcoholics in the United States. He states that even enforced treatment brings remarkable results. He affirms that there is no such thing as a hopeless alcoholic. All can be helped with time and effort. This is a very important point. Let the reader not forget it. There is too much of the idea that an alcoholic is hopeless and therefore should be abandoned. This may explain why "fewer than one percent of alcoholics are reached by any form of treatment," according to Winton H. Beaven, associate director of the National Committee for the prevention of alcoholism, (Louisville Times July 28, 1964).

D. The process of intoxication: The booklet "SOME FACTS ABOUT ALCOHOL AND ALCOHOLISM" says:

"Alcohol is absorbed directly into the blood stream by the blood vessels in the stomach and the small intestine and is carried to all parts of the body. It requires no digestion. The absorption occurs more rapidly if the stomach is empty . . . During a period of continued drinking, the drinker goes from a stage of slight intoxication (at .06% concentration) to the coma-like condition (at .50% concentration), which may endanger his life. Any higher concentration results in paralysis of the higher nerve centers that control breathing and the heartbeat, and causes death ... The most pronounced effect of alcohol is on the brain. As the concentration of alcohol increases, reasoning power, inhibitions, and memory go. Repeated tests have shown that even a few drinks affect skills and dexterity. Judgment of time and distance is impaired, and one who has been drinking even a little should not attempt tasks that require excellent judgment -- such as driving a car."

E. The effects of alcohol on health

"continued drinking of large amounts of alcoholic beverages may lead to cirrhosis of the liver, nutritional diseases like beri-beri, pellagra, and degeneration of the brain and/or the nerves, or other organic difficulties."

"Dodge and Benedict after years of study and experiment found that the body reflexes were delayed approximately 10 per cent even when small doses of alcohol which did not produce apparent intoxication were taken." (QUIZ BOOK, Fundamental Facts Concerning Beverage Alcohol, p. 7).

"It is recognized as a poison by all leading scientists. Increases death rate by eighty per cent over normal, and shortens life expectation of the average man by eight years. Responsible for twenty per cent of admissions to hospitals for the insane. Involved in forty per cent of cases of social diseases." (THE NATIONAL VOICE, April 1955).

"One pint of whiskey contains 1,200 calories, but provides none of the minerals, vitamins or proteins needed by the body

"A concentration of only 0.15% of alcohol in the blood (6 ounces of whiskey--12 tablespoons full--or 6 bottles of beer--JPN) will cause intoxication and abnormality of bodily functions and mental facilities." (FLORIDA ALCOHOLIC REHABILITATION PROGRAM, 1961).

F. Relationship between alcohol and crime:

"Responsible for 37 per cent of pauperism, 45.8 per cent of child destitution, leading to juvenile delinquency. it is responsible for ninety per cent of the cases of cruelty to children. It diverts 3,018,000,000 pounds of grain from food supply." (THE NATIONAL VOICE, April 28, 1955).

A Los Angeles County superior court judge said, "During the year 1949 I presidedat 424 default-divorce hearings, and of that number, in 327 instances intoxicating liquors figured prominently in the cause which impelled a legal separation."

G. Relationship between alcohol and accidents: In 1963, 40,000 people were killed in automobile accidents. Studies show that alcohol was involved in the majority of them.

"Alcohol is thus one of the greatest causes of highway and industrial accidents . . . It was found that two glasses of ordinary 6% beer will slow up the length of time it takes to get the foot from the accelerator to the brake by slightly over 1/5 of a second. That is, a distance of from 20 to 60 feet, depending on the speed of the car. This does not appear to be much, but to go even 10 feet out into a busy intersection may kill someone." (QUIZ BOOK, Fundamental Facts Concerning Beverage Alcohol, p. 10).

II. The Spiritual Aspects of the Question:

Having considered the secular aspects of the question, let us now turn our attention to the matter from a Biblical standpoint:

A. Analysis of Alcohol in the Bible: The word alcohol is not found in the Bible, but the use of a word meaning intoxication is prevalently in evidence. It was spoken of throughout the Bible under the word "wine."

1. Four words appearing in the original Greek are translated wine in the New Testament: a. OINON: This is the most frequently used word for wine, being used some 19 times. VINE'S EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT WORDS says: "'Oinon' is the general word for wine. He mention of the bursting of the wineskins, Matt. 9:17; Mk. 2:22; Lk. 5:37, imp1ies fermentation. See also Eph. 5:18. (Cf. Jn. 2:10; I Tim. 3:8; Tit. 2:3)." (Page 219) b. "GLEUKOS: This word appears only once in the Greek Testament, Acts 2:13,
where the skeptics of Jerusalem attributed the apostles' speaking in tongues to their being "filled with new wine" (GLEUKOS). Of this word Vine says, " denotes sweet 'new wine,' or must, Acts 2:13, where the accusation shows that it was intoxicant and must have been undergoing fermentation some time" (p. 220). c. PAROINOS: This word occurs twice in the Greek Testament, I Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7, where those to be appointed to the eldership are not to be "given to wine." Thayer says of this word, "One who sits long At his wine" (p. 490). d. OINOPHLUGIA: Used in I Pet. 4:3. HARPER'S GREEK LEXICON says: "a debauch with wine, drunkenness." Thayer says, " drunkenness, wine bibbing" (p. 442). The contexts in which all four of these words are used will prove conclusively that all include the idea of intoxicating beverage. INTERNATIONAL STANDARD BIBLE ENCYCLOPEDIA says, "To insist on a distinction between intoxicating and unfermented wine is a case of unjustifiable special pleading" (p. 881).

2. The Bible reveals the following effects of alcohol upon man:

a. Physical Effects: (A) Staggering - Isa. 19:14; Job. 12:25; Psa. 107:27, (B) Woe - Prov. 23:29, (D) Contentions - Prov. 23:29, (E) Babblings Prov. 23:29, (F) Wounds without cause - Prov. 23:29, (G) Redness of eyes-- Prov.23:29.

b. Mental effects: (Exhilaration - Gen. 43:34, (B) Loss of understanding and balance of judgment -- Isa. 28:7; Hos. 4:11.

c. Effects upon happiness and prosperity: (A) "Biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder," bringing woe and sorrow - Prov. 23:29-32, (B) Poverty - Prov. 23:21; 21:17.

d. Moral and spiritual effects: (A.) Misadministration of justice - Prov. 31:5; Isa. 5:23, (B) Provokes anger, contentions, brawling - Prov. 20:1; 23:29, (C) Conduces to a profligate life Eph. 5:18, (D) is allied with gambling, licentiousness (Joel 3:3) and indecency - Gen. 9:21f, (E) deadens the spiritual sensibilities, producing a callous indifference to religious influences and indifference to religious influences and destroys all serious thought -- Isa. 5:12. (This outline adapted from INTERNATIONAL STANDARD BIBLE ENCYCLOPEDIA, p. 880).

3. Uses of alcohol in the Bible: a. As a medicine: (A) Externally: The good Samaritan went to the man who had been robbed and beaten and "bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine" (Lk. 10:34). Commenting upon this, Albert Barnes says, "These were often used in medicine to heal wounds. Probably they were mingled together, and had a highly sanative quality" (Notes on Luke, p. 69). (B) Internally: "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities" (I Tim. 5:23). Concerning present day use of alcohol as a medicine, note the following:

"The tendency in modern medicine is to reserve less and less place for alcohol in medicine than it has had in the past. It is of some value as a vehicle in which to dissolve other drugs but here the role is as a carrier rather than as a medicine. Doctors rarely prescribe alcohol any more as a tonic and have given up the idea that it is of any help in such things as snakebite and heart attacks. There are other and better things for these conditions. Scientific experiments show that even the euphoric or supposed mood-elevating property of alcohol is an illusion due to suppression of finer sensibilities. Alcohol is not even a true stimulant in any sense of the word. Experiments show that it is a depressant to the nervous system of man whether taken in large or small quantities." (Dr. Paul S. Ross, Prof. Ohio State University, in QUIZ BOOK, Fundamental Facts Concerning Beverage Alcohol, p. 11).

b. In the service of God: (Exo. 29:39-41; Lev. 23:13). c. As a beverage: (Num. 6:20;

Deut. 14:26; II Chron. 2:15; Neh. 5:18; Matt. 11:19; I Tim. 3:8; Tit. 2:3).

3. Does the Bible give sanction to modern social drinking? There are some who mistakenly think it does. That this is erroneous I will now endeavor to show. Concerning the use of wine as a beverage in Biblical times, note the following comments.

"Precautions were taken to guard all men against excess. The means employed to prevent the danger line from being crossed were: 1. The wine was weakened with water (II Macc. 15:39; cf. Herod. vi 84). That this was done further appears, for example, in connection with the kettle of warm water and the servants to mix the wine, which were employed at the passover (Mishnab, Pesahim vii. 13; x. 2,4,7); hence in the Early Christian Church it was customary to mix the sacramental wine with water (Justin Martyr Apol. i:65). 2. There was a governor of the feast (Ecclus. 32:1,2; John 2:9, 10), one of whose duties, at least where Greek customs were observed, was- to -fix the proportion in which the wine and water should be mixed and to determine how much wine each guest might drink . . . 3. Warnings against the danger of lingering over the wine, of tampering with the cup when it delights the eye, and of making strong intoxicants were urgently given, and the degradation of the drunkard was pointed out by sad example (Gen. 9:21; Prov. 23:29-35; Isa. 5:22). 4. The folly of excess even from a worldly standpoint was emphasized and expressed in proverbs, and put on record in the religious literature of the people (Prov. 20:1; 21:17; 23:20,21; Hab. 2:5; Ecclus. 31:25-31). 5. The sinfulness of drunkenness was earnestly taught and the condemnation of the drunkard by God the Judge was fully known (I Sam. 1:14-16; Isa. 5:11-17; I Cor. 5:11; - 6:10; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:18; I Pet. 4:3). (Westminster Dictionary oi the Bible, p. 641, 462).

"The liquors of this land in the strength of their intoxicating properties differ so widely from the light wines of Palestine that even the most moderate use of them seems immoderate in comparison." (McGarvey, Gospel, p. 118).

"Fermented wines, which, however, were unlike our firey liquors, and contained only a small per cent of alcohol. These mixed with two or three parts of water.
The laws of Zaleucus, the Locrian, put to death anyone who drank unmixed wine, except as medicine. The fermented wine, at first mild, and then diluted with water, was a drink as used, that had no intoxicating power unless used in enormous quantities" (Commentary on John, B. W. Johnson, p. 46, 47).

"Besides, the wines which are now used are different from those which were common among the ancients. That was the pure juice of the grape. That which is now in common use is mingled with alcohol, and with other intoxicating ingredients." (Barnes' Notes on N. T. Romans, p. 316).

The honest hearted will be forced to admit on the above evidence, both secular and Biblical, that inspiration sanctioned the drinking of the light wines of Palestine as beverages. But what bearing does this fact have on modern social drinking? I think none for the following reasons:

a. There is such a vast difference between the light wines of Palestine and modern alcoholic beverages that the sanctioning of a moderate use of the former is no foundation for any argument for any use of the latter. A close examination of the quotations given above will show that the alcoholic content of Palestinian wines was very meager and even that was mixed with two or three parts water! These testimonies also show that even prolonged drinking of these wines would not intoxicate one. This cannot be said of modern alcoholic beverages. Even "moderate" use of present day firey liquors can easily develop one into an alcoholic. Hence, Dr. George W. Crane says:

"There is no such thing as moderation with safety when it comes to narcotics like alcohol ... total abstinence is the only safe way to avoid the evils which alcohol engenders; and second, a really smart, intelligent, and clever person, for his own good and for the good of others, will leave alcohol alone. It is dumb to allow oneself to be victimized by alcohol. The smartest people don't drink." (Dr. George W. Crane, QUIZ BOOK, Fundamental Facts Concerning Beverage Alcohol, p. 8).

b. The prevalence of alcoholic beverages today jar exceeds that of Biblical times. Present day alcohol is so strong and devastating, and society has seen the heartache and ruin it has wrought that any use of it whatever has such a stigma upon it in the minds of all decent people that no Christian could indulge in it in any social way and have any influence for good. Paul said, "It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak" (Rom. 14:21). Also, "Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God" (I Cor. 10:32). Christians are not to cause other Christians to stumble, or Gentiles (those not Christians). It is impossible to imagine that any Christian could have any influence for good upon either while engaging in social drinking.

c. The great danger of addiction from the use of modern alcoholic beverages is sufficient reason for Christians to abstain from it in every way for pure enjoyment. The use of it even for medicinal purposes is frought with sufficient dangers to make even that highly questionable, much less any pleasurable use of it. In our statistical section we showed from authoritative sources that one out every fifteen social drinkers becomes an alcoholic, and 10 percent of all alcoholics are such from their very first drink. Would a Christian need any other reason to abstain from social drinking? The person who ventures that first drink never knows but what he will like it well enough to become an alcoholic. Should he be of the disposition to say, "It will never happen to me," let him ponder well Paul's warning, "Therefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (I Cor. 10:12).

d. The Bible severely condemns drunkenness (commonly called alcoholism): it specifically lists the drunkard (Gr. METHUO, to be intoxicated) as one of the unrighteous who "shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (I Cor. 6:9,10). God's children are forbidden to have company with a brother who is a drunkard (I Cor. 5:11). Drunkenness is a sin in which Christians are admonished not to walk (Rom. 13:13). It is listed as a work of the flesh that will keep one out of the kingdom of heaven (Gal. 5:19-21).

This seems the proper place to discuss the moot question of whether drunkenness (alcoholism) is a disease. The American Medical Association officially recognized it as such in 1956. The Hospital Association did the same in 1957. There is still a great deal of controversy on the point. The controversy is senseless. Let the Christian freely admit that alcoholism or drunkenness is a disease, but then let him point out THAT IT IS A SELF-INFLICTED disease, and therefore, the person having it is responsible for it. Some alcoholics seem to obtain relief when alcoholism is called a disease, thinking they are not responsible. But, remember, if one inflicts cancer upon oneself, he is responsible for it and cannot escape his responsibility for it by saying, "it is a disease." There is a vast difference between saying that a thing is a disease, and saying it is a disease of unknown origin. If one develops cancer or polio without any known fault of his own, he is not responsible, but if he deliberately injects such diseases into his body, he is responsible for having them. God holds the drunkard responsible for his drunkenness. As previously shown, drunkards are lost, hence responsible.

Even though alcoholism (drunkenness) is a sin for which the individual is responsible, and though we have plainly pointed out the Bible about it, let nobody think we are not sympathetic toward those who have fallen victim to this monstrous "disease." We know full well what a terrible hold it can have on a person, and have spent many prayerful hours in diligent efforts to help those who have infected themselves with it. Let none make the mistake of thinking we can help a person caugbt in this trap by "soft-soaping" the truth and failing to deal with it in the plain language of the Scriptures. We need to point out that alcohol gains nothing for a person in this world, or in the world to come. He who uses it loses his dignity, intelligence, self-respect, financial standing, job, family, and most important of all, his soul.


From the statistics printed herein one should have no trouble concluding that alcohol is one of the greatest blights upon modem society. All Christians should use their influence toward the elimination of it in every community in which they live. They should also inform themselves of the facilities available in their community for the treatment of alcoholics and seek to help all addicts within their acquaintance.

Civil government's treatment of this problem is one of the most absurd and inconsistent phases of its whole operation. It licenses the making, selling and consumption of alcohol, then arrests the man who commits crimes under its influence! It imprisons him and uses the taxpayer's money to take care of him while he is in prison, and puts his family on public welfare! Or, if one becomes addicted to the alcohol that his government made available to him, he can be committed to a tax-supported rehabilitation hospital. Our government will keep him until they think he has recovered, then turn him back out into a world where he is constantly bombarded with beautiful convincing advertisements it licenses the liquor traffic to perpetrate! And who pays the bill for all this? Largely, the sober population because the greater percent of the alcoholics are unable to hold well-paying jobs, hence pays very little taxes. One wonders just how long sober society will tolerate such a situation.

Truth Magazine IX: 1, pp. 8-14
October 1964