The Divine Drinking Debate:
Biblical Alcohol Use and How it Relates to Today’s American Culture
Mary Van Winkle
Religious Studies 023
Temperance as an American Cultural Issue
The use of alcohol among conservative Christians in America has been a hotly debated topic for years. It began with the Women’s Crusade in 1873-74, the Anti-Saloon League in 1893 and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, movements against businesses that sold alcohol and the gambling and prostitution that sometimes went hand-in-hand. Their momentum culminated in 1920 as the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified prohibiting ...view middle of the document...
It is served daily with meals, and offered in a diluted fashion to children. Public drunkenness is considered unacceptable, and drinking is not considered to be a problem.
Although Protestants in America have historically been and are currently the moving force behind American temperance movements, there are divisions among the ranks. There exists what we could call the “black and white” group who believe that every action under the sun is either “wrong or right” and the Bible directly or indirectly addresses every action. This group clearly sees drinking alcohol as a sin. Among other groups, where the major doctrines of the Bible (such as the death, burial and resurrection of Christ) are paramount, the minor details of daily life are left to be decided upon between the individual and his/her God. The controversy boils down to those who espouse total abstinence from alcohol (prohibitionists) vs. those who believe in the permissibility of the use of alcohol in moderation (moderationists). This paper will compare both sides of the debate as it summarizes articles written by theologians from both camps.
The Prohibitionist Viewpoint
For the prohibitionist viewpoint, we will turn to Samuele Bacchiocchi who has written an article in two parts -- first dealing with the use of “wine” in the Old Testament and then dealing with its use in the New Testament. As Dr. Bacchiocchi begins looking at Scripture, he admits that the Bible appears to contradict itself on the subject of drinking. In some verses, the Bible completely condemns the use of wine, while in other verses, it heartedly approves its use as a blessing from God for people to enjoy. For example, Proverbs 20:1 is referenced as a verse that condemns the use of alcohol, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” The author then uses Genesis 27:28 as an example of wine being given as a blessing from God, “May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine.”
Bacchiocchi states that moderationists would resolve this conflict by arguing that the Bible condemns immoderate use of alcohol and commends its moderate use. This is based on the assumption that the Bible only knew of one type of wine, fermented wine. Thus, moderationists feel the Bible does not speak out against the type of wine consumed, rather it is concerned with the amount of wine consumed. The author states that this argument is without merit, because he feels that Scripture both condemns and commends wine itself, irrespective of the quantity used. He uses verses like Proverbs 23:31-32 to assert that fermented wine is always prohibited, “Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper.”
What it all boils down to in Bacchiocchi’s viewpoint is the meaning of the word “wine”. He investigated...