“Moderate alcohol consumption is the Satanically arranged pathway to alcohol abuse.” “Never drink, never drunk.” “No other sin alters the brain like alcohol. Drinking is in a separate class of sin.”
The above statements were spoken during four lectures given March 4-7 at Bob Jones University on the issue of Christians and Alcohol. A friend of mine was curious to know what I thought about the arguments presented in these talks, and after some distilling, I believe I can lay out their primary argument:
1. Biblical Wine is Permitted.
2. However, Modern Wine does not equal Biblical Wine.
3. Therefore, Modern Wine is not Permitted.
Here is the symbolic representation of the same argument:
1. BW –> P
2. MW ≠ BW
3. .∙. MW –> -P
Unfortunately, this is a logical fallacy. The majority of the lecture series is spent trying to argue for the truth of statement #2 based upon the assumption that the conclusion #3 logically follows–which it doesn’t. When you prove that biblical wine is totally different from modern wine, all that you do is make every passage of scripture that speaks about wine irrelevant to our modern discussion…
Which is extremely dangerous (and fallacious). The same arguments for cultural irrelevance have been applied to gender in our culture. These same professors who support this kind of hermeneutical reasoning would decry arguments for the irrelevance of Biblical texts speaking on homosexuality based upon cultural inconsistencies. I am extremely wary of any arguments that would attempt to rule out the relevancy of hundreds of passages of Scripture.
This brings us to a major deficiency of this presentation. A Bob Jones professor of OT studies sought to bring special insight about the meaning of the words used for wine, new wine, and strong drink in the Bible. However, as he presented the results of his word studies, his discussion was bereft of Scriptural evidence and was chock full of historical and archaeological arguments and quotations from Greek philosophers and other secular contemporaries to the Bible. This is all well and good, and sometimes evidence from archaeology or external sources can help in a word study, especially when the word only occurs a few times in the Bible. However, the words yayin, terosh, shekar, oinos and other words for alcoholic beverages occur hundreds of times in Scripture. Why would you ignore the Biblical testimony on this issue? If we are going to talk about the Bible, let’s talk about the Bible, not just pretend we are talking about the Bible. This presentation made up two of the four lectures, and the thrust of the word study was the argument that Biblical Wine does not equal Modern Wine, which does nothing to further the conclusion that Modern Wine is not permitted.
If the Biblical evidence is examined, I find it quite hard to believe that the alcohol of the Bible was so different from our alcohol. Somehow, the people managed to get drunk. Somehow, the people managed to throw large binge drinking parties that concluded with tables covered with vomit (Isaiah’s words, not mine–See Isaiah 28:1-8). Somehow, the men were praised for being heroes at drinking and at mixing drinks (Isaiah 5:1-5). Somehow, Noah got so drunk that his son was able to commit acts of indecency toward him while he was trashed (Genesis 9:21-24). So, to spend a week arguing that it was nearly impossible to get drunk from biblical wine seems like an argument against the mountain of evidence. In fact, when I read about the drunkards of Biblical times, I am struck by how little has changed throughout the years.
Lastly, to argue that drunkenness is a sin is to argue for the plain truth of Scripture. No one who takes the Bible seriously would argue against the clear prohibition of drunkenness in Scripture (Ephesians 5:18). However, stories about drunk drivers, the destruction of alcohol addiction, and domestic abuse are further proof against drunkenness, not against alcohol itself.
When the lecture series began by asking listeners to approach the issue with open minds, I hoped that I would be confronted with thought provoking arguments from Scripture. Instead, I was bludgeoned with the same arguments based upon emotional stories, extra-biblical evidence, and scare tactics that are below Christian conversation. I am not saying I disagree with their ultimate conclusion. However, the arguments presented in these lectures are incapable of getting you to the conclusion they assert.
A brief discussion of Romans 14 was included near the end of the last talk. I believe good arguments against alcohol consumption among Christians could be drawn from this passage, if it was treated with seriousness and not as a throwaway proof text. The problem for our lecturers was that no matter how hard they argued that “alcohol consumption is unwise“, it will never logically follow from their argument that “alcohol consumption is forbidden“. Again, I am not saying that alcohol is or is not forbidden, but the line of reasoning taken by these four lectures is unable to accomplish its intended result.