International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
I. Its Prevalance.
The Bible affords ample proof that excessive drinking of intoxicants was a common vice among the Hebrews, as among other ancient peoples. This is evident not only from individual cases of intoxication, as Noah (Genesis 9:21), Lot (Genesis 19:33, 15), Nabal (1 Samuel 25:36), Uriah made drunk by David (2 Samuel 11:13), Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28), Elah, king of Israel (1 Kings 16:9), Benhadad, king of Syria, and his confederates (1 Kings 20:16), Holofernes (Judith 13:2), etc., but also from frequent references to drunkenness as a great social evil. Thus, Amos proclaims judgment on the voluptuous and dissolute rulers of Samaria "that drink wine in (large) bowls" (Amos 6:6), and the wealthy ladies who press their husbands to join them in a carousal (Amos 4:1); he also complains that this form of self-indulgence was practiced even at the expense of the poor and under the guise of religion, at the sacrificial meals (Amos 2:8; see also Isaiah 5:11, 12, 22; Isaiah 28:1-8; 56:11). Its prevalence is also reflected in many passages in the New Testament (e.g. Matthew 24:49 Luke 21:34 Acts 2:13, 15 Ephesians 5:18 1 Thessalonians 5:7). Paul complains that at Corinth even the love-feast of the Christian church which immediately preceded the celebration of the Eucharist, was sometimes the scene of excessive drinking (1 Corinthians 11:21). It must, however, be noted that it is almost invariably the well-to-do who are charged with this vice in the Bible. There is no evidence to prove that it prevailed to any considerable extent among the common people. Intoxicants were then an expensive luxury, beyond the reach of the poorer classes. See DRINK, STRONG.
II. Its Symptoms and Effects.
These are most vividly portrayed:
(1) some of its physical symptoms (Job 12:25 Psalm 107:27 Proverbs 23:29 Isaiah 19:14; Isaiah 28:8; Isaiah 29:9 Jeremiah 25:16);
(2) its mental effects: exhilaration (Genesis 43:34), jollity and mirth (1 Esdras 3:20), forgetfulness (1 Esdras 3:20), loss of understanding and balance of judgment (Isaiah 28:7 Hosea 4:11);
(3) its effects on man's happiness and prosperity: its immediate effect is to make one oblivious of his misery; but ultimately it "biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder," and leads to woe and sorrow (Proverbs 23:29-32) and to poverty (Proverbs 23:21; compare Proverbs 21:17; Ecclesiasticus 19:1); hence, wine is called a "mocker" deceiving the unwise (Proverbs 20:1);
(4) its moral and spiritual effects: it leads to a maladministration of justice (Proverbs 31:5 Isaiah 5:23), provokes anger and a contentious, brawling spirit (Proverbs 20:1; Proverbs 23:29; 1 Esdras 3:22; Ecclesiasticus 31:26, 29), and conduces to a profligate life (Ephesians 5:18; "riot," literally, profligacy). It is allied with gambling and licentiousness (Joel 3:3), and indecency (Genesis 9:21 f). Above all, it deadens the spiritual sensibilities, produces a callous indifference to religious influences and destroys all serious thought (Isaiah 5:12).
III. Attitude of the Bible to the Drink Question.
Intemperance is condemned in uncompromising terms by the Old Testament and the New Testament, as well as by the semi-canonical writings. While total abstinence is not prescribed as a formal and universal rule, broad principles are laid down, especially in the New Testament, which point in that direction.
1. In the Old Testament:
In the Old Testament, intemperance is most repugnant to the stern ethical rigorism of the prophets, as well as to the more utilitarian sense of propriety of the "wisdom" writers. As might be expected, the national conscience was but gradually quickened to the evil of immoderate drinking. In the narratives of primitive times, excessive indulgence, or at least indulgence to the point of exhilaration, is mentioned without censure as a natural thing, especially on festive occasions (as in Genesis 43:34 the Revised Version, margin). But a conscience more sensitive to the sinfulness of overindulgence was gradually developed, and is reflected in the denunciations of the prophets and the warning of the wise men (compare references under I and II, especially Isaiah 5:11, Isaiah 22; Isaiah 28:1-8 Proverbs 23:29-33). Nowhere is the principle of total abstinence inculcated as a rule applicable to all. In particular cases it was recognized as a duty. Priests while on duty in the sanctuary were to abstain from wine and strong drink (Leviticus 10:9; compare Ezekiel 44:21). Nazirites were to abstain from all intoxicants during the period of their vows (Numbers 6:3; compare Amos 2:12), yet not on account of the intoxicating qualities of wine, but because they represented the simplicity of the older pastoral life, as against the Canaanite civilization which the vine symbolized (W. R. Smith, Prophets of Israel, 84). So also the Rechabites abstained from wine (Jeremiah 35:6, 8, 14) and social conveniences, because they regarded the nomadic life as more conducive to Yahweh-worship than agricultural and town life, with its temptations to Baal-worship. In Daniel and his comrades we have another instance of voluntary abstinence (Daniel 1:8-16). These, however, are isolated instances. Throughout the Old Testament the use of wine appears as practically universal, and its value is recognized as a cheering beverage (Judges 9:13 Psalm 104:15 Proverbs 31:7), which enables the sick to forget their pains (Proverbs 31:6). Moderation, however, is strongly inculcated and there are frequent warnings against the temptation and perils of the cup.
2. Deutero-Canonical and Extra-Canonical Writings:
In Apocrypha, we have the attitude of prudence and common sense, but the prophetic note of stern denunciation is wanting. The path of wisdom is the golden mean. "Wine is as good as life to men, if thou drink it in its measure;. wine drunk in season and to satisfy is joy of heart, and gladness of soul: wine drunk largely is bitterness of soul, with provocation and conflict" (Ecclesiasticus 31:27-30 the Revised Version (British and American)). A vivid picture of the effects of wine-drinking is given in 1 Esdras. 3:18-24. Stronger teaching on the subject is given in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. The use of wine is permitted to him who can use it temperately, but abstinence is enjoined as the wiser course (Testament to the Twelve Patriarchs, Judges 1:16:3).
3. In the New Testament:
In the New Testament, intemperance is treated as a grave sin. Only once, indeed, does our Lord explicitly condemn drunkenness (Luke 21:34), though it is implicitly condemned in other passages (Matthew 24:49 = Luke 12:45). The meagerness of the references in our Lord's teaching is probably due to the fact already mentioned, that it was chiefly prevalent among the wealthy, and not among the poorer classes to whom our Lord mainly ministered. The references in Paul's writings are very numerous (Galatians 5:21 Ephesians 5:18, et al.). Temperance and sobriety in all things are everywhere insisted on (e.g. Acts 24:25 Galatians 5:23 2 Peter 1:6). A bishop and those holding honorable position in the church should not be addicted to wine (1 Timothy 3:2 Titus 1:7; Titus 2:2 f). Yet Jesus and His apostles were not ascetics, and the New Testament gives no rough-and-ready prohibition of strong drink on principle. In contrast with John the Baptist, who was a Nazirite from birth (Luke 1:15), Jesus was called by His enemies a "wine-bibber" (Matthew 11:19). He took part in festivities in which wine was drunk (John 2:10).
There are indications that He regarded wine as a source of innocent enjoyment (Luke 5:38; Luke 17:8). To insist on a distinction between intoxicating and unfermented wine is a case of unjustifiable special pleading. It must be borne in mind that the drink question is far more complex and acute in modern than in Biblical times, and that the conditions of the modern world have given rise to problems which were not within the horizon of New Testament writers. The habit of excessive drinking has spread enormously among the common people, owing largely to the cheapening of alcoholic drinks. The fact that the evil exists today in greater proportions may call for a drastic remedy and a special crusade. But rather than defend total abstinence by a false or forced exegesis, it were better to admit that the principle is not formally laid down in the New Testament, while maintaining that there are broad principles enunciated, which in view of modern conditions should lead to voluntary abstinence from all intoxicants. Such principles may be found, e.g. in our Lord's teaching in Matthew 16:24; Mark 9:42, and in the great Pauline passages- Romans 14:13-21 1 Corinthians 8:8-13.
IV. Drunkenness in Metaphor.
Drunkenness very frequently supplies Biblical writers with striking metaphors and similes. Thus, it symbolizes intellectual or spiritual perplexity (Job 12:25 Isaiah 19:14 Jeremiah 23:9), bewilderment and helplessness under calamity (Jeremiah 13:13 Ezekiel 23:33). It furnishes a figure for the movements of sailors on board ship in a storm (Psalm 107:27), and for the convulsions of the earth on the day of Yahweh (Isaiah 24:20). Yahweh's "cup of staggering" is a symbol of affliction, the fury of the Lord causing stupor and confusion (Isaiah 51:17-23; compare Isaiah 63:6 Jeremiah 25:15 Ezekiel 23:33 Psalm 75:8). The sword and the arrow are said to be sodden with drink like a drunkard with wine (Deuteronomy 32:42 Jeremiah 46:10). In the Apocalypse, Babylon (i.e. Rome) is portrayed under the figure of a "great harlot" who makes kings "drunken with the wine of her fornication"; and who is herself "drunken with the blood of the saints, and. of the martyrs of Jesus" (Revelation 17:2, 6).
D. Miall Edwards