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Wine In The New Testament Church

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Wine In The New Testament Church

9/24/06 CC/PM

Should a Christian Drink? #4

The early church had scarcely begun its task of world evangelism when its members were accused of drunkenness. On the day of Pentecost the believers were given the gift of tongues, which enabled them to preach the gospel in all the languages of the people gathered at Jerusalem for the feast. As a result of this miracle, thousands were converted to Christ. Others, confused by hearing the many languages, began to mock the disciples, saying: "These men are full of new wine" (Acts 2:13).

They accused the disciples of being drunk on new wine (gleukos), a product that does not intoxicate. Patton writes:

"To account for the strange fact that unlettered Galileans, without previous study, could speak a multitude of languages, the mockers implied they were drunk, and that it was caused by new wine (gleukos).

One possibility is, that gleukos, new wine, would intoxicate."2

  The crowd's charge that the disciples are drunk on new wine seems to be mockery run wild. In effect, they are saying, "These abstainers are drunk on grape juice." Of course, they lacked understanding concerning the miracle that was taking place that day. The promise of the Father had been fulfilled. The Holy Spirit had come. Believers had been baptized into the body of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. The church had been born.

Here, as in other portions of the Bible, it is not safe to build doctrines or convictions on the mockery of a crowd. The charge of intoxication on the day of Pentecost was false.

Heavy drinking did become a problem in the church at Corinth, however, even degrading the Communion service. Paul rebuked these carnal Corinthian believers, saying:

"When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken"(1 Cor. 11:20,21).  

The breaking of bread in the church at Corinth had deteriorated into gluttony and drunkenness. Does this mean the Christians in Corinth used fermented wine for their Communion service?

Yes, without question.

But their practice had developed apart from apostolic instruction. In celebrating Communion, they had moved from the fruit of the vine to intoxicating wine. There is no evidence that this is true in any of the other local churches spoken of in the New Testament. In Paul's instruction concerning the Communion service, given to correct the errors at Corinth, he avoids the use of the word "wine," describing the first Communion as follows:

"For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup [containing the fruit of the vine -- see Matt. 26:29] is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come"(1 Cor. 11:23- 26).

Note Paul's reference to the "cup," and his reminder that the Communion service looks forward to the Lord's return, when Christians will share kingdom wine with their Savior.

Carnality was rampant in the church at Corinth, and its problems went far deeper than just the use of intoxicating wine (although that is often a companion of trouble). Believers there were given to divisions, gossip, and confusion. Immorality was common. Their church services were disorderly. Paul had to remind them that God is not the Author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). Perhaps most sobering is the revelation that some of their number had become sick and others had died because of their irreverence at the Communion table.

The effects of beverage alcohol have not changed with the passing of centuries. Commenting on the judgment brought upon Nadab and Abihu because of their irreverence in the service of God (Lev. 10), J. A. Seiss wrote:

"If the effects of alcoholic stimulation went no further than to cloud the mind and stupefy the natural senses of those who indulge in it, it would not be so bad. The great mischief is that, as it clouds the moral nature, it kindles all the bad passions into redoubled activity. It not only enfeebles and expels all impulses of good, but it quickens and enthrones every latent evil, and fits a man for the ready performance of any vile and sacrilegious deed."3

Wine brought confusion and chastening to members of the Corinthian church. It will bring the same to all who follow in their steps.

On two occasions Paul spoke favorably of temperance. Three times he emphasized the importance of being temperate. Once he urged moderation. Does this mean Paul favored the controlled or limited use of beverage alcohol?

Let us consider the texts in question.

"And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee" (Acts 24:25).

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law (Gal. 5:22,23).

In both of the above settings, "temperance" means self-control. In the first reference, the apostle is rebuking Felix, his judge, because of the governor's lack of self-control, warning him of the consequences of his loose living.

As part of the fruit of the Spirit, temperance (self-control) gives evidence of a life that is totally yielded to God and under the direction of His Spirit.

When Paul writes of being temperate, he is speaking of the disciplined Christian life. Here are examples of his use of that word.

"And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible (1 Cor. 9:25).

For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate (Titus 1:7,8).

But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience"(Titus 2:1,2).

In every case appearing in the Bible, "temperance" refers to self-control and living a disciplined life.

The word "moderation" appears once in the Bible in Philippians 4:5: "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand."

A careful reading of this text reveals that Paul is not calling for moderation in drinking. The word translated moderation here means gentleness and has to do with our attitude toward others in view of Christ's return.

But doesn't Paul say we should drink to the glory of God? "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).

There is no question about his command to drink to the glory of God, but there is not a hint that this drinking involves beverage alcohol. Disobedience does not bring glory to God. One can only act to the glory of God when his action is within the framework of biblical revelation.

We have already seen that intoxicating wine is presented in the Bible as an enemy, a mocker, a producer of poverty, and a symbol of divine wrath. Therefore, it is inconceivable that Paul would urge his readers to use this destructive substance in the hope of bringing glory to God.

Some may question why God allows fermentation if He forbids the use of fermented drinks. The question may have been answered best by Clarence True Wilson in a debate with Clarence Darrow on the subject of prohibition.

"I bought some grape juice and put it away for a month and God turned it into wine," Darrow said

Wilson replied, "How about eggs? Nature and time will do the same thing to them, but I don't insist on eating them."

Darrow had no answer.4

Those given to the use of fermented wine were not allowed to hold office in the New Testament church. Among the qualifications for the office of a bishop was a restriction concerning the use of wine.

"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous" (1 Tim. 3:2,3).

Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre" (1 Tim. 3:8). 

Some have concluded that the "much wine" of this text allows for the use of some wine by deacons. But Paul is simply saying that there are to be no drinking deacons. He does not open the door in this text to some wine anymore than to some gossip or some greed. Had he done so, his counsel for deacons would have placed him in direct conflict with the entire body of Old Testament teaching on the subject.

The only valid reason for the use of a little wine is for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23). In Appendix K of Robert Teachout's thesis, he explains.

"In the light of the conclusions drawn earlier that there is no explicit Old Testament justification for assuming that wine drinking is ever appropriate for the saint, even in moderation, it is important to indicate briefly that the New Testament evidence concurs with, or at least is not contrary to, this conclusion. The reason that this appendix is necessary is that a superficial understanding of 1 Timothy 3:8 might lead one to the belief that the New Testament qualifications for lead- ership stated there, "not given to much wine" (AV), requires a re-evaluation of the Old Testament evidence. However... this verse too can be readily harmonized with the remainder of Scripture which leads to the position that the Bible always condemns the use of intoxicating beverages in any amount."5

We can be certain that Paul would not have compromised the unity of the Scriptures in order to provide a few cups of wine for thirsty deacons in the early church.

The message that comes through concerning the servants of God -- from Old Testament priests to New Testament pastors and deacons -- is that God requires total abstinence. Patton says:

"That both Paul and Timothy understood that total abstinence was an essential qualification for the Christian pastor is evident from the compliance of Timothy. In the same letter v.23, Paul advises Timothy, "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine oft infirmities." The fact is plain that Timothy, in strict accordance with the direction, "not given to wine," that is, not with or near wine, was a total abstainer. The recommendation to "use a little wine" is exceptional, and strictly medicinal."6

Those who choose to use intoxicating beverages sometimes hold up Paul's medical prescription for Timothy's stomach trouble as justification for their drinking. They seem to forget that this single instruction to use wine was strictly for a medicinal purpose. Neither can we be sure that the wine prescribed was fermented. Charles Wesley Ewing offers this interesting possibility:

"Timothy was a native of the city of Lystra in Lycaonia. At the time of Paul's letter to him, Timothy was at Ephesus. Both of the places are in Asia Minor. The water in that region was strongly alkali and was upsetting to Timothy's stomach. Paul was giving him advice on how to get rid of his stomach disorder. It was the practice in those days, and it is still practiced today in Syria, Mesopotamia, and other parts of Asia Minor, that when people drank this alkali water they would mix it with a spoon full of jam made from boiling the juice of grapes that are similar to our own Concord grape. The acids in the grape jam would neutralize the alkali in the water and make it fit for the stomach. This is what Paul was telling Timothy to do."7

 Actually, we cannot be sure whether the wine prescribed by Paul for Timothy's stomach trouble was fermented or unfermented. In either case, the text provides no encouragement for the use of fermented wine except for the sick. This position is consistent with the one set forth in the Old Testament, and therefore, it is the one we can safely conclude to be correct.

In the finest hour of the church, beverage alcohol was shunned by earnest and dedicated believers. This also has been true during periods of great revival in church history. Today, claiming Christian liberty, many believers choose to imbibe alcoholic drinks. But Christian liberty was never intended to open the door to the destroyer.

We are free from the law, but all Christian freedom is within the boundaries of love. Liberty extends to that which builds up others, not that which causes weaker ones to stumble. The use of beverage alcohol by church members today is a tragic compromise of biblical standards that can only weaken the church and disillusion new converts. Unless there is a reversal of present trends, the church will become powerless through misusing the liberty intended to be her strength.

Antinomianism is the opposite of legalism to the extreme.  It is lawlessness and claims that since we are saved by grace alone there is no need for the Law, i.e. rules.  True Christianity falls in between these two extremes.  Christian Liberty doesn’t translate into freedom to do whatever I want, it means I am free to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

Alcohol enslaves. It is not a champion of liberty. And the church should be the one place on earth where thirsty souls can find peace apart from the presence of mood-altering drugs.

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