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Did Jesus Drink Alcohol? November 11, 2014

Posted by TJ Friend in Uncategorized.
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In the Christian community there are two main errors that people make when it comes to alcohol. On one side there is excess, where people drink as much as they want whenever they want. People on this side either think the Bible has nothing relevant to say about drinking alcohol or they don’t care what the Bible says and just want to live their life however they see fit. For them, the sections about drunkenness (i.e. Eph. 5:18) were only relevant to that culture and shouldn’t be applied today. This view has a low view of the Bible and a high view of self.

In response to this, there has arisen a movement of abstinence from all alcohol. People who saw the pain of alcoholism and the potential problems associated with drinking decided that it was better not to drink at all; not only taking a personal vow to not drink, but prohibiting others from doing so as well. In effect they made drinking a sin and condemned those who did it. This view claims to have a high view of Scripture, but in actuality is simply religious legalism. The problem here is a lack of understanding of what the Bible actually teaches on this subject.

As Christians, our goal should be to imitate Christ. The question then becomes, “did Jesus himself drink alcohol?” If so, we can say that the Bible allows at least some degree of drinking, and if not, we can make a case that we shouldn’t drink either. In order to do this, I want to first look at why people might think Jesus didn’t drink any alcohol and then finish with some passages showing that he did actually drink alcohol.

Nazirite Vows

Some people believe that Jesus took a Nazirite vow for his entire life and as part of the requirements to be a Nazirite, he didn’t drink alcohol. This is not to be confused with the term “Nazareth” or “Nazarene”. Jesus was in fact a “Nazarene” a person from “Nazareth”, but this is different than taking a “Nazirite” vow.

A Nazirite vow was a special vow people could make to God to consecrate themselves for a season. For the most part these were temporary vows, but there are examples of people who were to be set apart as Nazirites for their entire lives. The requirements to take on a Nazirite vow are laid out in Numbers 16:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as they remain under their Nazirite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.

“‘During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long.

“‘Throughout the period of their dedication to the Lord, the Nazirite must not go near a dead bodyEven if their own father or mother or brother or sister dies, they must not make themselves ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head. Throughout the period of their dedication, they are consecrated to the Lord.

Numbers 6:1-8

There are three main requirements for the Nazirite vow.

  1. Don’t drink wine or eat anything related to grapes.
  2. Don’t cut your hair.
  3. Don’t go near dead bodies (this includes both human and animal bodies).

The best Biblical example of someone taking on a Nazirite vow for their whole life is Sampson. In Judges 13 we see God specifically calling him out as a lifelong Nazirite:

Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.

A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was childless, unable to give birth. The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son.Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

Judges 13:1-5

Unfortunately, Sampson broke his vow and lost the strength God had given him.

Another example of a lifelong Nazirite is John the Baptist. Although the term “Nazarite” is not used, God tells his parents not to allow him to have any wine or other fermented drink. Because this is one of the 3 main requirements for Nazirites a lot of scholars believe him to be one. This is seen in Luke 1:

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God,he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Luke 1:8-17

The thing that both Sampson and John the Baptist have in common is that God spoke to their parents ahead of time, giving them requirements that would set them apart specifically as Nazirites. In reading the account of the angel coming to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38) there is nothing about Jesus not drinking wine or not shaving his head. There isn’t even anything about him being set apart. As we look through the gospels though we do see him doing things that would have broken the Nazirite vow. There is no mention of Jesus cutting his hair or letting it grow, so we can’t take that requirement into account. As for being near dead bodies, there is clear evidence throughout the Gospels that Jesus not only went near them, but even touched them. Jesus went near the tomb of Lazarus to raise him from the dead (John 11), he grabbed the dead hand of Jairus’ daughter to heal her (Luke 8:54), and approached people carrying a dead person to heal him (Luke 7:11-15).

Jesus on the cross

There is another passage which could cause people to think that Jesus didn’t drink alcohol. When Jesus was on the cross he was offered a mixture of wine and myrrh, which he didn’t take.

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but

Mark 15:21-24 (cf. Matt. 27:34)

There is a lot of evidence for the medicinal use of wine in the Bible. Proverbs 31:6 says that alcohol should be used to ease the pain of those who are suffering. The Good Samaritan in Luke 10 uses wine and oil to dress the wounds of the man who was beaten (Luke 10:34). Paul even encourages Timothy to use wine to help with his stomach illness (1 Tim 5:23). In the case of Jesus on the cross, the soldiers were probably giving him the wine to ease his pain. Jesus wasn’t taking a stand against alcohol in general here; he was refusing to limit his suffering by drugging himself. He didn’t want to take the easy way out by numbing himself to the pain.

Jesus and alcohol

When people think about Jesus and alcohol usually they think of Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine in John 2:

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

John 2:1-10

At the very least we can say that Jesus did not have an issue being around people who were drinking. He even encourages it by turning the water into wine. Weddings were a time of celebration and drinking wine was a way to celebrate. It is not clear whether or not Jesus drank the wine here, but he did celebrate with the couple and had nothing against them using wine for their celebration.

(On a side note the word used throughout this passage for wine is the common word for wine in the New Testament. It is clear from the context that this is in fact wine and not grape juice. We can see this in verse 10 where he says that usually people bring out the cheap wine at the end of the celebration after people have already drank too much and can’t tell the difference. Grape juice in this context would not make any sense.)

For me one of the clearest examples of drinking alcohol is at the Last Supper. Jesus clearly drinks from the cup and passes it around for his disciples to drink from as well. He even tells them that this is the last time he will be drinking until they meet up again in his Father’s kingdom. (Again, this is wine not grape juice. The term “fruit of the vine” is a metaphor for wine.)

27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Matt 26:27-29 (cf. Mark 14:23-25; Luke22:20)

Finally there is this passage in Luke 7 (and Matt 11) where Jesus is compared with John the Baptist:

33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

Luke 7:33-34 (Matt 11:18)

As I noted above, John the Baptist was most likely a Nazirite and people said that he was demon possessed. Jesus is doing the very opposite of John the Baptist (another reason to believe that Jesus did not take a Nazirite vow) and eating and drinking with people. The people’s criticism of Jesus was that he was a “drunkard”. This only makes sense if Jesus was actually drinking alcohol. Although the people were condemning Jesus as a drunkard, I don’t believe Jesus was actually getting drunk. The Bible is very clear on not drinking to excess and so I believe their criticism was false, in the same way their criticism of John the Baptist was false. He obviously did not have a demon if he was leading people in repentance toward God.

Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with “tax collectors” and “sinners”. Part of what made Jesus so unique was that he was willing to spend time with these people. Drinking was a common part of the society back then and there is no reason to think that Jesus would have avoided all alcohol. What we need to understand is his motives for drinking. He was willing to drink with people as part of a social gathering to foster community and unity. He was willing to celebrate with people on their special occasion. What he was not willing to do though was use alcohol as a sedative to numb his pain (either physical or emotional).

Conclusion

My goal through this was not to give a comprehensive look at the Biblical perspective on drinking alcohol. I wanted instead to hone in on Jesus’ view and use that as a standard by which we can judge our own motives. More than the question of whether what we are doing (alcohol or anything else) is wrong, is the question of what is motivating to do what we are doing. For Jesus, his motives were to connect with people and celebrate with them. He wasn’t using alcohol to fix any emotional brokenness or numb his feelings. He didn’t need to drink to have a good time or feel relaxed. It was more about connecting with people.

For us today, we should have a similar view of drinking. Obviously, we don’t want to do anything illegal. But outside of drinking and driving or underage drinking, we should feel free to drink occasionally. (The Bible is clear about not drinking to excess or getting drunk.) It is when we start relying on alcohol to satisfy a need that it was never intended to fill that we get into trouble. On the other hand we shouldn’t be afraid to drink because we might go too far. Know your limits and stay within them.