A reader recently asked the question, “Why is wine mentioned in the Bible when wine drinking is forbidden?” Below is a portion of the answer given.
The fact that the Bible talks about people drinking wine does not necessarily mean it approves of such behavior. Many actions are described in the Bible which are not necessarily approved by God. For example, the Bible never records a rebuke or condemnation of David for having multiple wives, but we know from other passages that his polygamy was a sin. (Deuteronomy 17:15-17) The fact that the Bible describes people drinking alcohol does not necessarily mean it approves of such behavior or encourages Christians to practice it.
The Old Testament Hebrew word and the New Testament Greek word that are usually translated “wine” are generic terms. Both Greek and Hebrew words refer to drink made from grapes. This drink could be fermented grape juice or it could be unfermented grape juice. The only way to know whether it is describing wine or Welch’s is from the context. At times the context is unclear and sometimes we only think it is clear because of our preexisting ideas. For example, in the account of Jesus turning water into wine, most people naturally assume Jesus made a big jug of Merlot because alcoholic wine is often served at weddings today. Who would serve their guests grape juice? Yet, other cultures drank fresh squeezed grape juice. One example from the Bible is found in Genesis 40 when Joseph was imprisoned in Egypt. He met Pharaoh’s cupbearer who told him of a dream in which he squeezed fresh grapes into Pharaoh’s cup and gave it to him to drink. Some of the details of the dream were a bit fantastical, but Joseph and the cupbearer seem to have thought grape juice a normal beverage for a king to drink.
When the Old Testament talks about alcoholic drinks it often uses one of two different terms: “wine” and “strong drink.” “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:31) The modern reader thinks wine is something like Chardonnay and strong drink is something like Vodka. This is impossible. Fermentation can only produce a drink with an alcohol content up to 15%. The only way to get higher concentrations of alcohol is through distillation. Distillation was not discovered until sometime after A.D. 600. The last book of the Bible was written over 500 years before anyone made distilled liquors. The Bible never speaks of any alcoholic drink stronger than the strongest naturally occurring alcohols. Therefore, strong drink is not 150 proof Whiskey. Strong drink is full strength wine with an alcohol content of, at most, 12-15%.
History and archeology also show that in ancient times alcoholic wines were commonly diluted before drinking. The usual ratio of dilution was one part wine to 3-5 parts water. This means that in Biblical times the average alcohol content of wine (not strong drink) was the same or less than that found in the average beer today. The wine drunk in Biblical times was not the same as the wine commonly drunk in America today.
I believe the Biblical warnings about alcohol are strong enough that no one should drink distilled liquors or modern day wine. When the Bible discusses the merits of drinking alcohol it almost always presents drinking as a course of action filled with many dangers. Without a definitive Biblical prohibition I cannot say the Bible forbids all consumption of alcohol, but I would warn those who drink low alcohol beverages, such as beer or wine coolers, to do so with great caution. In my opinion, the wisest position for the Christian today is to avoid drinking alcohol.
As Solomon said in Proverbs 23, “Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.”
Possibly the most widely known Bible verse in America is Matthew 7:1, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” The verse is often quoted when one person declares the actions of another to be wrong. Was Jesus saying that no person should ever tell another person they are doing something wrong?
A recent conversation is a good example of how this verse is commonly used. A man claimed to be “a Christ” and then claimed that everyone who believes also become Christs. He was informed that he was not Christ, Jesus is the only Christ and Christhood is not conferred upon any believers. The immediate response was “Judge not.” Many use the verse in the same way in situations where they feel like their decisions or actions are being attacked. The two words are wielded as if they are a magic shield able to deflect every attack, criticism, question, confrontation or uncomfortable conversation.
To bowdlerize the famous words of a Hollywood sage, “You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The Bible says, “Judge not.” The Bible also says. “Judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) “Try the spirits, whether they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1) “Prove all things.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Each one of those verses requires a judgment that discerns between right and wrong.
If the popular view of Matthew 7:1 were correct, then Jesus Himself would be guilty of violating it’s command. Jesus judged people. He told an adulterous woman to stop sinning. He called religious leaders white washed mausoleums, poisonous serpents and hypocrites. The Apostle Paul judged the Apostle Peter (Galatians 2:11). Paul also judged Alexander, Hymaneus, Philetus, Demas and various other unnamed teachers. Jesus and the Apostles often committed the cardinal sin of the 21st century. They judged people. They did not violate the command of Matthew 7
“Judge not” is a warning to not judge superficial, self-righteous judgment. Jesus condemned the condemnation of others based upon personal preferences and shallow relationships. The self-righteous, malicious condemnation of another person because they do not meet your own opinions of what they should and should not do is forbidden. The irony of the misuse of Matthew 7:1 is the majority of the people who attack others with “Judge not” or its derivatives are disobeying the command of Jesus. They are guilty of condemning the actions of another based upon nothing more than their own personal preferences. The Bible condemns self-righteousness which replaces the Biblical standard for a cultural or personal one. The Bible commands Christians to evaluate the actions, beliefs and motives of ourselves and others according to the standard of the Word of God. Christians are not forbidden to warn others about sin, call a person to repentance or confront a false gospel. They are commanded to do those things.
Diethrich Bonhoeffer was a young pastor in Germany when Adolf Hitler rose to power. Bonhoeffer believed it was his duty to oppose Hitler. He actively sought the overthrow of the Hitler regime, was implicated in a plot to assassinate Hitler and was eventually put to death for his role in the conspiracy against the Fuhrer. Were his actions against the ruler of Germany Biblical?
The mandates of our state and federal government is nothing like the tyranny or atrocities of Hitler, yet many people today are questioning the legitimacy of the orders imposed in response to the Coronavirus. Lawsuits have been filed and protests have been organized. How should a Christian respond to laws they disagree with or believe to be unconstitutional? This article is not concerned with whether the measures taken are wise, safe or helpful. The question is when a Christian genuinely believes a law to be wrong, hurtful or unconstitutional, how should he respond.
The Biblical answer is much more plain than many would like to admit. The New Testament leaves no doubt that Christians are required to obey the government and every law handed down by that government. 1 Peter 2:13-14 says, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” Romans 13:1-2 says, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”
The words of the New Testament were written to Christians living under the dictatorial rule of some of the worst rulers history has ever know. The Caesar’s were incompetent, insane, indifferent or corrupt. The entire system of the Roman government was incredibly corrupt. Officials were willing to issue any edict they thought would promote their own wealth and power. Often the only time the power of local rulers was questioned by Rome was if the officials incompetence or greed diminished Rome’s revenue or caused so much hardship that the subjugated people began to protest Roman rule. Despite the wickedness and injustice of Roman rule the apostles instructed Christian’s to obey all the capricious, malicious, excessive, petty or ridiculous laws handed down by their rulers.
The situation in America is complicated by the fact that we are a nation whose government is, “Of the people, by the people, for the people.” We are under the rule of elected governors, legislatures, judges and president. We are also under the rule of the constitution. What is a Christian to do when he believes a law to be unconstitutional? As Americans we have every legal right to protest laws, but the dissenting Christian must still obey the law even while protesting a law he believes to be illegal. The laws of the land provide means to address illegalities, but the commands of the Bible do not permit the Christian to disobey laws with which he does not agree.
The only exception is when the government orders something which would cause the Christian to disobey the clear commands of God. During the spread of the Coronavirus many states forbade all gatherings, including church services. Yet, the Bible clearly commands Christians to not forsake the assembling together with other believers. Many churches continued to gather despite the prohibitions because the laws of the land contradicted God’s commands. When obedience to the law would cause a Christian to disobey a clear command of the Bible then the Christian is obligated to obey the higher law- God’s command. (Acts 5:29)
In summary, the Christian must obey every law, even those which seem unconstitutional. He may use every legal means available to protest the law or see it repealed, but as long as the law is in force it needs to be obeyed. The only law the Christian is not bound to obey are those laws which oppose the clear commands of God.
“The dead are still with us and death is just an illusion. The dead try to connect with us every day. To receive guidance and comfort from them, we only have to be open and aware of the signs they send us.” Mystics and mediums promise they can help people hear from the dearly departed. Many people wonder if the dead really can speak to them. Many claim to have had contact with a deceased relative. Whether it be a touch of the wind on their cheek or a vision of a loved one, they believe they have had personal contact with a spirit. While these experiences offer a sense of comfort, are they real? What does the Bible say about speaking to the dead?
Most importantly, Scripture strongly condemns attempts to get instruction, input or guidance from the dead. Deuteronomy 18:11-12 says, “There shall not be found among you anyone who . . . practices divination or a sorcerer or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.” This is not just a command for the Israelites that no longer applies today. All throughout the Bible witches and mediums were closely connected with idolatry. The New Testament condemns all forms of witchcraft and sorcery, which includes necromancy, mysticism and divination. If it were possible for the dead to speak to the living, the living are prohibitted to seek guidance from them.
The dead cannot speak to the living. The Bible describes the dead as no longer able to speak to the living. Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, “The dead know nothing.” and Ecclesiastes 9:10 says there is no knowledge or wisdom in the grave. Psalm 115:17 calls the grave a place of silence. These verses teach that the dead have no more voice upon this world.
But what about King Saul? Didn’t he speak to the spirit of the prophet Samuel? In 1 Samuel 28 King Saul visits a witch to seek guidance from the deceased prophet. The witch of Endor was genuinely surprised when Samuel appeared. Her surprise hints that she did not actually expect the spirit of a dead man come at her call. This incident is the only one of its kind in the Bible. None should read the description of Saul’s sin as permission to seek guidance from the dead. Saul’s visit to the witch of Endor is specifically mentioned as one of the reasons for his death in battle against the Philistines. Samuel’s appearance to the witch of Endor was a unique event that God allowed to happen for His own purposes. The dead do not possess any ability in themselves to speak to the living.
Everything the Bible teaches about the spirits of the dead shows that we should not expect to hear from them. The Word of God gives clear and strong condemnnation against seeking to contact the dead. These supposed contacts may offer a measure of comfort to some, they are fleeting and ultimately unnecessary. Wer have no need to seek input from the dead. The Bible gives all the comfort, instruction and guidance that anyone needs.
One of the great problems many people struggle to address is the presence of terrible evil in the world. Why does God allow tragedies to happen to innocent people? Why do so many evil people go unpunished through life? Why do little children in Africa starve while pedophiles die at a comfortable old age?
These kinds of questions are not contrary to the Bible. Scripture asks and answers them. In Psalm 73 the Psalmist wrestled with why the wicked prospered. He said, “For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no (pains) in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.” The Psalmist was tempted to think serving the Lord to be a waste of time, but he says, “then understood I their end.” The problem of evil cannot be answered without considering the future of wicked people. The prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the innocent is very brief. This does not mean suffering is insignificant. This means the wicked will never get away with their wickedness. The time of evil is going to come to end. The time of judgment is coming. No one ever gets away with anything. The murderer who dies in his sleep at an old age does not get off the hook. He will be judged by God and will pay the full penalty of his heinous sins. God’s justice never fails. Every sin will be fully punished.
But why do evil things happen in the first place? Evil happens because man rebelled against God. Man sank so deeply and so thoroughly into sin that only 1,500 years after the first sin, God wiped the Earth clean with a huge flood. Noah’s flood shows the severity of the problem of sin, and also points to the problem of God’s judgment.
The holiness of God is not limited to hatred of the really bad sins like murder and rape. God hates all sin. Murder is no more deserving of judgment than lying. If God were to remove evil from the world today, all evil would have to be removed. Gossips and rapists, angry men and genocidal maniacs, drunkards and murderers, all will be judged. Which is also the reason God has not yet removed evil from the world.
Why doesn’t God just punish sin now? What is He waiting for? The answer given repeatedly in the Bible is that God will punish sin, but not yet. God delays judgment so some will have the chance to repent. When God judged the world in the flood, the waters did not just destroy the most violent. The flood took away all but the 8 on the ark. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah did not spare those who were not as bad as the rest. God’s judgment will be upon all evil.
Most people do not actually want God to remove all evil from the world. They want Him to remove the really bad sorts of evils, but leave us with the evils we are comfortable with. Sin is not a minor a problem, like a sprained finger. Sin is a cancer that corrupts all creation. The terrible things that happen remind us that sin, all sin, is a horrible curse afflicting the world. God is not overlooking any sin. He will punish all.
How does a Christian give thanks for terrible events? Fatal disease, personal tragedy, national catastrophe, evil men and inhuman atrocities are just some of the grim things that are always occurring in this world. Should a Christian give thanks for things like murder or child abuse?
The Bible commands Christians to give thanks in every thing, give thanks for every thing and give thanks all the time.
“In everything give thanks.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
“Giving thanks always for all things.” (Ephesians 5:20)
“In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” (Philippians 4:6)
“Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” (Colossians 3:17)
“By Him therefore let us therefore offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.” (Hebrews 13:15)
How can a compassionate Christian obey these commands?
Giving thanks for bad things is not treating evil as if it is good. Nor is it trying to excuse evil. Evil will always be a horrible tragedy. Giving thanks for calamity does not deny the painful reality of suffering. Instead, giving thanks for evil recognizes the good purposes of God that are being accomplished in even the most terrible evnts. Consider the most inhuman evil ever perpetrated in the world. The rejection of the Son of God followed by His unjust execution is the most horrible thing to ever happen. Yet Christians always thank God for Jesus’ death on the cross. In the Lord’s Supper Christians gather to remember and give thanks to God for the death of Jesus. Jesus Himself gave thanks at the first Lord’s Supper. Though He knew the suffering waiting for Him Jesus gave thanks to God in that time of great personal agony. Jesus did not deny the horrors of what was coming. He knew them, looked them full in the face and thanked God. Christians can thank God for terrible things without acting as if evil is good or pain is pleasant.
Giving thanks is not just about the thanking God for the pleasant things we receive from Him. It is easy to give thanks for answered prayers, a nice home or a pay raise. Giving thanks is about more than the blessings of God. Giving thanks is about recognizing God’s good hand in everything that happens. Giving thanks looks above the circumstances to acknowledge the holy God who is accomplishing His good purposes in all things.
Christians can give thanks because we recognize that temporary benefit is not the most important thing. We can be grateful for painful circumstances because we know they are working in us eternal good. (2 Corinthians 4:17) God’s primary interest is not in increasing our comfort or in helping us achieve our dreams. God’s concern is for our eternal gain. Giving thanks looks beyond the present to the promised. Continual thankfulness looks past the temporary to the eternal good that God is working.
We give thanks because God is good, God is sovereign, God is accomplishing the eternal plan promised in Scripture, God is redeeming men and God is using every situation to change the Christian into the likeness of Jesus. We give thanks because no matter how much the situation changes, God is the same and He is always accomplishing what is best for those who love Him.
Child abuse and neglect are widespread problems in our nation. Many adults today grew up in households where one or both parents did not parent as they ought. The Bible commands children to honor their parents. In situations of abuse or neglect this becomes a very difficult command to obey.
The fifth of the ten commandments says, “Honor thy father and mother.” This command is repeated for modern day Christians in Ephesians 6. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for teaching a tradition that justified not honoring parents. The Bible clearly expects children to honor their parents.
To honor someone is to highly value them and to treat them in a way that shows they are valued. This is not the same as obedience. Obedience does what it is told. Honor treats the parent with respect appropriate to their position. Honor will not mock, will not call names, will not yell and will not hate. Proverbs 23:22 says, “Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old.”
Young children or those still be supported by their parents are not the only ones required to honor their parents. Honor is owed the parent even when the child supports them. A child never reaches an age when he does not owe honor to his parents. In New Testament times some Jews would dedicate all their possessions to God. The tradition of the Pharisees allowed the person to continue to use those things for himself. If a parent had a need the child could refuse to meet that need because his possessions had been dedicated to the Lord. This pious sounding selfishness overthrew the fifth commandment. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for this teaching, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” (Matthew 15:6)
Jesus taught that adult children were under obligation to honor their parents. Even children with their own households and possessions are obligated to honor their parents. This implies, as well, that ensuring older parents are properly cared for is an essential part of honoring them. Giving to parents that have need is the obligation of any child. Refusing to care for parents is a refusal to honor them.
Is it appropriate to treat abusive, foolish or bad parents with respect, value and compassion? The Bible gives no exceptions to the command to honor father and mother. A similar instruction is given to Christians, commanding them to honor all governmental authorities. Most of the New Testament was written durign the reign of Nero who has gone down in history as one of Rome’s most infamous Caesars. Yet, the New Testament clearly teaches that Christian’s are to honor their rulers.
Despite the many corrupt rulers in the Roman Empire, no exceptions were given to this command. Honor is given to civil authorities because they are given their rule by God for the good of all men. In similar fashion, parents are entrusted by God with the care of their children. Honor is due them for their position and their responsibility. Parents will not always act respectably, but they must always be valued because they are your parents.
Suicide is always tragic. Often it is the last despairing step of those who have lost all hope. Christianity has long taught that suicide is a sin. Now the wrongness of suicide is being questioned. What does the Bible say about suicide? Though the Bible mentions seven acts of suicide it does not specifically condemn any of those acts. The context of several of those accounts, like that of Saul and Judas, gives the impression that suicide is the act of a wicked man.
An understanding of the Biblical view of human life is essential to answering this question. All human life is sacred. Space does not allow a full exploration of this idea, but from the very first mention of man the Bible makes clear that human beings are unique creations. Man was created in the image of God. The destruction of that image is a great evil. God told Noah after the flood, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” (Genesis 9:6) In Numbers 35 God instructs Israel how to deal with murder and murderers. He impresses upon them the seriousness of taking a human life, “for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.” (Numbers 35:33) Any violence against a person is an assault against the image of God. This is why God forbids murder. This is why suicide is a sin.
The Bible’s commands against killing people must logically include killing oneself. The same reasons that make murder a sin, the desecration of the image of God and the extreme selfishness necessary to murder another, are the same reasons suicide is a sin. The individual has no right to plot the destruction of any human life. The person has no more authority over whether he lives or dies than he does over whether his neighbor lives or dies.
Suicide is an extreme act of selfishness. Whatever other motivations are behind suicide, the person ultimately decides to value his own escape from discomfort over the grief it will cause those left behind. Suicide sees the person’s own suffering as more important than anything or anyone else. Suicide declares “I will make the decision when my time on earth is done.” Such arrogant selfishness violates the command of God to love Him supremely and to love others selflessly. (Luke 10:27)
The example of the Psalmist is instructive of how to consider despair and death. David knew the brevity of life and many times felt the approach of death. His life was by the violence of men and grief of soul. In all things, David trusted the Lord. David went through times as dark and difficult as any faced by a person, yet he trusted the Lord. He gave no voice to suicidal thoughts, but said “My times are in thy hand.” (Psalm 31:15) His example shows how to respond in those times when, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:15) The right response is, “My soul fainteth for thy salvation; but I hope in Thy word.” (Psalm 119:81)
Suicide is not unforgivable. But, whether it be through a self-administered gunshot or a physician administered lethal dose, the willful killing of self is a sin.