The debate of whether or not drinking alcoholic beverages is sinful isn’t a new one. Some Christians believe they are free to drink alcohol, while others particularly my Seventh-day Adventist and LDS 1 friends find it sinful (known as prohibitionist). Prohibitionist may use the following logic to defend their position:

  • Proverbs 20:1 is seen as a prohibition against drinking wine and drinking makes you unwise. (Jesus was wise)
  • Micah 2:11 is interpreted as warning people that false prophets condone drinking (Jesus was a true prophet.)
  • Isaiah 65:8 is taken as saying that New Wine is grape juice. (Jesus’ teachings are like New Wine.)

Prohibitionist position:

In passages where the beverages are viewed negatively, prohibitionists understand them to mean the alcoholic drinks, and where they are viewed positively, they understand them to mean non-alcoholic drinks. Prohibitionists also accuse most Bible translators of exhibiting a bias in favor of alcohol that obscures the meaning of the original texts. 2

I am not going to go into detail why I believe their view to be a flawed one (that’s been done numerous times already) 3. However, I am going to make the case for alcoholic beverages based on Romans chapter 14. Let’s look at the first few verses:

14 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.4

Here the Apostle Paul gives pastoral guidance to the members in Rome on food. Apparently, some members that ate meat were looking down on those that didn’t consume meat and vice versa. Paul identities the group that consumed only vegetables as weak in faith. Paul isn’t using the term weak as a negative term but rather a descriptive one. The church in Rome included both Jewish and Gentile Christians. The weak faith probably refers to Jewish-Christians that only ate vegetables due to the pagan environment of Rome. Meat consumption isn’t prohibited in the Torah. However, we do see in the account of Daniel and his friends, that Jews may abstain from meat altogether due to concerns of it not being kosher. The weak is contrasted with strong as those who are able to eat anything. Based on the wording in Romans 15:1 the goal is actually for the weak to become like the strong. Paul also identifies himself with the strong, notice how he uses the word we at the start of the chapter:

15 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.5

You’re probably asking yourself by now how this applies to alcoholic beverages; don’t worry I am getting there. Notice what he says in verse 21 of chapter 14:

It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 6

Because of our love for fellow believers and nonbelievers we should be mindful of our actions even if it’s not inherently sinful. For example, we should include vegetarian food at our party if we know some of the guests are vegetarian. In regards to alcoholic wine, with all the background given about Jewish and Gentile Christians, ask yourself this, why would a Jew or anyone for that matter be sensitive to drinking grape juice? Prohibitionist will tell you anytime you see the word “wine” in scripture it’s really just unfermented grape juice, which I believed is based on a poor reading of scripture. Again, it would be like Paul saying today, “hey, don’t drink Welch’s grape juice because it may cause your brother to stumble.” Sounds rather silly, doesn’t it? 7 As I stated earlier, the weak probably abstained because they had a difficult time finding meat that was kosher which was required by Old Testament law. The same believers may have abstained from wine over concerns that it was used in pagan rituals. Assuming the wine spoken of in verse 21 is alcoholic, Paul doesn’t give a rebuke for its consumption but rather rebukes consuming it if may cause spiritual harm to a fellow believer.

There is strong Biblical evidence that the consumption alcohol in moderation is not sinful (see Proverbs 31:6; Judges 9:13; Ecclesiastes 9:7; Psalm 104:15). Prohibitions are only against consuming wine in excess which leads to drunkenness (see Proverbs 20:1; 1 Peter 4:3; Galatians 5:20-21). Based on Romans 14 and other passages is it sinful to consume alcohol? It seems quite obvious that alcoholic consumption isn’t sinful (assuming it doesn’t lead to drunkenness), however, there is a case to be made that it can be sinful in some cases. Let’s see Romans 14:22-23:

22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. 8

There are times in which scripture doesn’t explicitly teach that something is wrong in those cases believers can legitimately have differences of opinion. However, that doesn’t mean Paul is teaching that sin is a matter of personal opinion. To quote a common phrase by Paul, “By no means!” Scripture does explicitly state that certain things are wrong. If you have reservations about consuming alcohol then for you drink would be sin; not because alcoholic consumption, in and of itself is sinful but because the drinking doesn’t come from faith. Doug Moo in his commentary states:

Condemnation comes not because of the eating itself; as Paul has already explained (vv. 14, 20), eating anything one wants is quite all right for the believer. Rather, what brings God’s condemnation is eating when one does not have the faith to believe that it is right to do it. This, Paul claims, is “sin.” Why? Because, Paul goes on to explain, “everything that is not out of faith is sin.” Paul here asserts a general theological principle. 9

Paul claims that any act that does not arise from a conviction rooted in one’s faith in Christ is sinful. “For a Christian not a single decision and action can be good which he does not think he can justify on the ground of his Christian conviction and his liberty before God in Christ.” Violation of the dictates of the conscience,670 even when the conscience does not conform perfectly with God’s will, is sinful. And we must remember that Paul cites this theological point to buttress his exhortation of the strong. The strong, he is suggesting, should not force the weak to eat meat, or drink wine, or ignore the Sabbath, when the weak are not yet convinced that their faith in Christ allows them to do so. 10

Personally, I grew up in a tradition 11 that prohibited alcohol, even though I know it’s not sinful I still have reservations about drinking. Drinking for me would not come from a position of faith therefore, I don’t consume. So, the next time you’re about to drink, ask yourself if you’re drinking out of faith and be sensitive to those around you.

  1. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

  2. Christian views on alcohol. (n.d.). Retrieved October 8, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_on_alcohol#Prohibitionism 

  3. The argument is flawed from the beginning because you have to assume that passages that warn about using wine in excess means that it’s prohibited altogether. Gluttony is looked down upon in scripture, does that mean that eating food is wrong? By no means! 

  4. Romans 14:1-4 (ESV) 

  5. Romans 15:1 (ESV) 

  6. Romans 14:21 (ESV) 

  7. Yes, you can make the argument a person can have an unhealthy addiction to grape juice, however, I believe it’s safe to say Paul isn’t talking about unfermented wine. It is correct that the greek word oinos which is usually translated as “wine” can refer to unfermented or fermented wine. In 1 Corinthians 8:1–13 we see some Christians abstaining from meat out of fear that it was offered to idols. Paul lets them know that it’s perfectly okay to consume such meat. Some Christians were equally afraid to consume wine out of fear that it may have been used as libation in pagan rituals. Are ancient Romans using unfermented wine as libation to their deities? I think not 😉 

  8. Romans 14:22-23 (ESV) 

  9. Moo, D. J. (2018). The Letter to the Romans. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (Second Edition, pp. 879). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 

  10. ibid. pp. 880 

  11. I was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist.