Intoxicants and Social Drinking

Jere E. Frost
Orlando, Florida

The defenders of social drinking are ever ready to call attention to Jesus' turning water to wine, the admonition of Paul to Timothy ("drink a little wine for thy stomach's sake"), and the many references to wine without an accompanying prohibition and condemnation. The inference is drawn that all opposition to imbibing socially is resultant from prejudiced abstainers. The thoughtful and sincere will take a longer look to determine the facts. Basically, a knowledge of the words for wine and strong drink is needed as well as a respect for a given text and its context.

Bible Words for Wine

There are three words in the Old Testament, and two in the New, that we notice:

1) Shekar, rendered "strong drink" most frequently (21 times) and "strong wine" one time. "Strong drink is raging "Prov. 20:1.

2) Yayin, rendered "wine" 133 times and "banqueting" once. It is freely denounced, as in Proverbs 23:31f: "Look not thou upon the wine when it is red..."

3) Tirosh, rendered "wine" 26 times, "New wine" 11 times and "sweet wine" once. It is never associated with drunkenness, and is grape juice rather than intoxicant, as in Isaiah 65: 8.

4) Gleukos, occurring only in Acts 2:13, where it is rendered "new wine."

5) Oinos, the other New Testament word, which is rendered "wine" in all 33 occurrences. It may properly refer to fermented wine or to pure juice, the context being the sole means of deciding which.

Comparison to Modern Intoxicants

Palestinian wines reached a maximum fermentation of 5 to 8 percent alcohol, though some countries produced stronger wine due to their grapes' higher natural sugar content. Higher fermentation would kill the yeast cells producing it, rendering it impossible.

Modern intoxicants render the strongest Bible intoxicant very weak. There were no distilled beverages then, for that Process was not discovered until the 13th century. It reaches a potency of above 90 percent. Whisky, gin and brandy find no comparison in shekar (strong drink). For that matter, fortified wines of today's market are above 20 percent; that is from two to four times as strong as the strong drink of Scripture. And the strong drink of the Bible is condemned by God (see Proverbs 23:31f eknd20:1: again). Now, if God condemned wine when it reached the excessive peak of fermentation of perhaps as high as 8 percent, what does he think of it at the potency ten times increased 80 percent, or above 90 percent?

What of beer? Its alcohol content is 4 to 6 percent. (Ale is 10-14 percent.) But beer has something else -- lupulin. It is an active, hypnotic type narcotic. The hop from which it comes is in the same plant family (moraeaea) as the hemp, the source of marijuana.

A Social Drink?

We have not inveighed in this article about the ruinous effects of drink and drunkenness. The dissipated lives, broken homes and shattered dreams tell their story well enough. But the social drinker argues that he will never go this far -- he too deplores drunkenness. (It reminds one of the pope of Rome who, while publicly lamenting "the liquor evil" heads a church that traffics in intoxicants. Christian Brothers, which is a California monastery making brandy, has on hand enough brandy to supply a pint to every man, woman and child in the United States.) But whether he goes this far, or not, is not the question.

Does God condemn the use of strong yayin and then turn around and approve the social drinking of something ten times more potent and intoxicating?

TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV: 11, pp. 10-11

January 22, 1970