I want to begin Part II of this article with two emails that were written to me in response to our discussions of alcohol on my SonLife Broadcasting Network program, Frances and Friends. Here is the first email from Georgia:
“I wanted to contact you to tell you that I appreciate your program so much, and my husband and I are dependent on it and Jimmy Swaggart's sermons throughout the week. My husband and I recently were ‘moderate’ drinkers before watching your program this past month or so. Please don't assume we were defensive of alcohol to begin with; we simply were never exposed to any other way. We are in our early 20s, are newlyweds, university students, and we are learning to live as the Lord wants us to. Unfortunately, my husband was raised in a home where both his guardians are undoubtedly alcoholics. However, they defensively claim to drink ‘socially’ or ‘moderately’ even though they drink nearly every night, they also profess to be Christians and are very involved in their church. I grew up in a home in which the teachings of the Lord were completely foreign and blasphemed. I was emotionally, physically, verbally, and sexually abused during my childhood. Alcohol, I know very well, influenced how I was treated and was raised. Alcohol is not a foreign notion to either of us, and because neither of us were raised in a home that believed in conviction, we just assumed there was nothing wrong with it. My parents have always led me to believe that I deserved the way that I was treated, so I never bothered to evaluate the consequences of the consumption involved in my abuse. I wanted to point out, that drunkenness is a sin. No one can call in and argue with you about that. If the Lord meant for moderate drinking to be acceptable, that would mean it would be a moderate sin, and there is no such thing.
“I study history and criminal justice. I would implore those who defend alcohol to look up for themselves the percentage of crime in this country that involves either the abuse of drugs or the consumption of alcohol, and even more so, the TYPE of crime that occurs, for it is rarely a victimless crime. I am especially thankful for your program due to the discernment the Lord has revealed to me through it. In America today, what is right and wrong is no longer black and white, but instead has been manipulated over the years into a large gray area. If children are raised to pick and choose from the Lord's Instruction what to enforce into their lives, they will eventually grow numb to the Holy Spirit's convictions. This is so dangerous. If a ‘Christian’ parent believes in moderate drinking, either because they fail to look up what wine means for themselves or they simply denounce it so that they may choose their own preferences over the Lord's Instruction, they are teaching their children not only to be lukewarm, but that that lifestyle is acceptable.”
Shortly after we received the above email, we received another one dealing with the issue of “moderate drinking” (or drinking in moderation), which is really what we are dealing with in this article (more so than drunkenness or alcoholism). As the first emailer already mentioned, no one really argues that drunkenness is a sin. The disagreements, as well as lack of understanding, conviction, and repentance usually come concerning social or moderate drinking. Both emails make very important observations and points concerning this issue. There are many pastors and believers still out there who do NOT agree with moderate drinking and are still convicted of it, even in these last days, even in this late hour. I’ve even heard of new believers who were convicted to leave their job after coming to Christ because their job involved the distribution of alcohol. They were not even consuming the alcohol, just distributing it. Ladies and gentlemen, we are far from being the only ones against the drinking of alcohol. Here is the second email:
“How ignorant is this so-called pastor that just called? ‘Everything in moderation?’ So, according to him, we can KILL A MODERATE amount of people, STEAL MODERATELY, LIE A MODERATE AMOUNT, TAKE COCAINE MODERATELY, AND TAKE POISON IN MODERATION TOO?! WOW! This guy is teaching people?! RUN FLOCK RUN! I wrote you a previous breakdown on the Greek word ‘wine,’ used for three different types of ‘JUICE OF THE GRAPE/VINE,’ which you might not have got. There were three types of ‘JUICE of the grape or vine.’
1. Mixed with water (to stretch for the poor) like Kool-Aid;
2. Old wine (turned to vinegar for vegetables and herbs); and,
3. Strong drink (fermented grape juice, made by adding some form of sweetener, sugar, etc.) to produce what we call WINE, (one definition in ENGLISH), containing ALCOHOL.
“ALL ALCOHOL IS POISONOUS TO THE HUMAN BODY IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER. It causes the brain to lose logic, bleed, and to blackout or die! Alcohol also poisons the whole body — stomach, blood-stream, kidney, bladder, etc. It also removes collagen from the skin, causing wrinkles and aging skin. This is why animals will usually stay clear of it, a lot smarter than humans? It is now the #1 killer in the United States, and possibly the world now! This pastor is really scary! He never studied as thoroughly as he said, or he would have known this. Christ NEVER COULD HAVE DRANK POISONOUS WINE, OR MADE IT FOR OTHERS! HE WAS WITHOUT SIN! HE PRODUCED THE BEST ‘WINE (PERFECT WHOLE GRAPE JUICE’ for the wedding, as this was very hard and costly to get without the heat turning it to vinegar). (Remember there was no refrigeration other than water, or underground storage.) (STRONG DRINK ACTUALLY WOULD BE EASIER TO GET, BECAUSE OF THE HEAT THERE) THIS IS WHY THE GUESTS WERE SO SHOCKED! Something like I am about a man in the pulpit teaching wrong interpretations of the Word. Your husband did a sermon on this in one of his crusades in the 60s — ‘Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing’? Final: The translation into English used the word ‘Wine,’ which had only one meaning in English, ‘Fermented Hard Drink.’ A confusion in translation resulted!”
Let’s continue to dig into how wine was used in the Bible and during ancient times. Keeping in mind that the Greek word for wine is “oinos,” let’s look at what Dr. Spiros Zodhiates said in the “Lexical Aids To The New Testament.” Zodhiates said, “Wine derived from grapes. The mention of the bursting of the wine skins in Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; and, Luke 5:37 implies fermentation (see Eph. 5:18; cf. Jn. 2:10; I Tim. 3:8; and, Titus 2:3). From the intoxicating effects of wine and the idolatrous use of it among the heathen, wine signifies communion in the intoxicating idolatries of the mystic Babylon (Rev. 14:8; cf. Jer. 51:7). From Jewish custom of giving a cup of medicated wine to condemned criminals just before their execution to dull their senses, it figuratively denotes the dreadful judgments of God upon sinners (Rev. 14:10, 16:19; cf. Is. 51:17, 21, 23; Jer. 25:15). The drinking of wine could be a stumbling block and Paul enjoins abstinence in this respect, as in others, so as to avoid giving an occasion of stumbling to a brother (Rom. 14:21). Contrast I Timothy 5:23, which has an entirely different connection (cf. the word gleukos , sweet new wine, and sikera , strong drink).”
Then, on page 1756 of the same reference, we find the meaning of the word “sikera.”
Zodhiates continues, “Strong drink, and intoxicating liquor, whether wine (Num. 28:7), or more usually, that which is prepared from grain, fruit, honey, dates, as in Luke 1:15 where it occurs together with oinos (3631), wine. See Leviticus 10:9; Deuteronomy 29:6; Judges 13:4, 7, 14.”
In “The Words & Works of Jesus Christ,” by J. Dwight Pentecost, on pages 115-116, he quotes J.W. Shepard as saying:
“Jesus made real wine out of water. But there was a great difference between the Palestinian wine of that time and the alcoholic mixtures which today go under the name of wine. Their simple vintage was taken with three parts of water and would correspond more or less to our grape juice. It would be worse than blasphemy to suppose, because Jesus made wine, that He justifies the drinking usages of modern society with its bars, strong drinks, and resulting evils.”
It is necessary to understand the use of wine in the New Testament.
In his article, “Wine-Drinking in New Testament Times,” Robert H. Stein says:
“In ancient times wine was usually stored in large pointed jugs called amphorae. When wine was to be used it was poured from the amphorae into large bowls called kraters, where it was mixed with water. From these kraters, cups, or kylix were then filled. What is important for us to note is that before wine was drunk it was mixed with water. The kylix was not filled from the amphorae but from the kraters.”
Wine was always mixed with water, both to help purify the water of that day and also to prevent intoxication. So, often when the Bible spoke of wine, it was basically speaking of purified water. The ratio of water to wine varied. Homer (Odyssey IX, 208f.) mentions a ratio of 20-to-1, 20 parts water to one part wine. In “Bible Wines” by William Patton, we learn that Hippocrates also considered, “Twenty parts of water to one part of the Thracian wine to be the proper beverage.” Pliny (Natural History XIV, vi, 54) mentions a ratio of eight parts water to one part wine. In another ancient work, “Banquet of the Learned of Athenaeus,” which was written around A.D. 200, we find, in Book Ten, a collection of statements from earlier writers about drinking practices. A quotation from a play by Aristophanes said, “The ration of water to wine is 3-to-1.” Sometimes the ratio does go down 1-to-1 (and even lower), BUT when the mixture gets this low, it is referred to as “strong drink,” which was completely unacceptable. Drinking wine unmixed, such as this, was looked upon as a “Scythian” or barbarian custom. Solomon wrote, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging . . .” (Prov. 20:1). Proverbs 31:4-5 says, “It is not for kings . . . to drink wine, nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the Law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted,” pointing out the use of alcohol is especially forbidden for those who would be leaders.
It is evident that wine was seen in ancient times as a beverage. Yet, as a beverage, it was always thought of as a mixed drink. Plutarch (Sumposiacs III, ix), for instance, states, “We call a mixture ‘wine,’ although the larger of the component parts is water.” The ratio of water might vary, but only barbarians drank it unmixed. And, a mixture of wine and water of equal parts was seen as a “strong drink” and frowned upon. The term wine or oinos in the ancient world, then, did not mean wine as we understand it today, but rather wine mixed with water, and sometimes just simply grape juice. Usually writers simply referred to the mixture of water and wine as “wine.” To indicate that the beverage was not a mixture of water and wine he would say “unmixed (akratesteron) wine.” Some even suggest that Timothy was so concerned with separating himself from those who used wine improperly that he had stopped mixing wine in his water altogether and caused himself stomach problems (I Tim. 5:23). Again, the water of that day needed the wine for purification. It could be boiled, but that was difficult to do in those days. It could be filtered, but that wasn’t really a safe method. So, it was easiest to add a little wine to kill the germs. Today, we do not need to add wine at all. We have other things for purification, as well as for medicines.
Clearly what people drink today and call “moderate,” the Bible and cultures of ancient times (including even many pagan cultures) would have considered a wrongful, and even barbaric, use of wine. It’s amazing that with all of our increased knowledge in modern times, our consciences have been so dulled. We, as a people, have become quite good at rationalizing whatever it is we want to do, while we have become terribly inept at sensing the convictions of the Holy Spirit. And, of course, our insensitivities include much more than just alcohol use. As well, false teachers make it even easier to ignore our convictions as they tell us what our flesh wants to hear and help us dismiss what the Lord is speaking to our hearts. “. . . Having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (I Tim. 4:2). As the above emails pointed out, “There is no such thing as moderate sin.” God, help us to hear Your Heart on this subject instead of our fleshly desires! And, make no mistake; it is always our flesh that draws us to want to drink alcohol and never the Holy Spirit.