To Imbibe or Not?

While discussing food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8, and who the weaker brother is, we got into the discussion of alcohol usage.  Again!

Some history.
Many doubt the ancients could prevent fermentation of grapes, but I’ve seen quotes from Pliny, Plutarch and such that imply it was done.  I grant the point, and assume there was wine and "grape juice" and some variants of wine diluted with water around.

Some Bible word study.
The argument goes from the original word meanings that new wine was unfermented and the Bible means this when it speaks of blessing in regard to wine.  It talks of mixed wine (or other varieties of fermented drink) as a curse.  The facts don't bear this distinction out at all.  Some examples: Hosea 4:11 refers to new wine as dangerous, too.  Isaiah 25:6 and Psalm 104.15 describe yayin and aged wine as blessings.

Temperance folks argue that "fruit of the vine" means it could be non-alcoholic.  This is possible.  But Herodotus also refers to alcoholic wine with this phrase (Histories, I: 211-212).  When Jesus uses it at Passover to institute the Lord's Supper, some argue that the lack of leaven anywhere in the house means there wouldn't have been yeast in the wine, either.  This is not a logical inference.  There's a difference between ferment and leaven.

The argument is also made that Jesus or the apostles would not have partaken of alcohol at all, two points of biblical data argue against it:  Jesus was accused of being a winebibber in Luke 7:34, which wouldn't make sense if He didn't drink at all.  Paul warned the Corinthians against getting drunk at the Lord's Supper, which wouldn't make sense if they were bringing unfermented drink - 1 Cor. 11:21.

Finally - most controversially - it isn't a good argument that the person who has had trouble with alcohol in the past will fall back into it with just a thimble sized communion cup, or even the smell of wine.  This denies personal responsibility.  I don't deny it is harder for a recovering alcoholic to resist falling back into trouble.  But he has the ability to resist (1 Cor 10:13).  This is not a modern problem that just began since we diagnosed alcoholism as a "disease."  It's been just as hard for some folks, going all the way back to Noah (Genesis 9).  That didn't stop God from inviting us to feast before Him with "strong drink" (Deut 14:26).  It's ironic that evangelicals most insistent on personal responsibility in morals and accepting salvation, also functionally deny that responsibility when it comes to this issue.

What God gives us for a blessing, we turn into a curse by our sin.  The response shouldn't be to remove the blessing, but train ourselves and hold each other accountable in proper usage of the blessing.  It's fine to choose not to drink for the taste, the expense or any number of reasons.  But to lump the substance in with a boozing mentality is a generalization Scripture doesn't allow.  I don't write this to cling to my booze, for instance, but to make sure we don't go beyond Scripture in forbidding what it doesn't forbid (1 Tim 4:1-3; Col 2:16).

I do think until people understand and accept this, it's fine for churches to offer grape juice at Communion to those unconvinced.  They are the weaker brother of 1 Cor 8 and Rom 14.  They are not thus to be despised or considered second class, but neither should the church cater completely to their position.

Paul is directly warning ME in 1 Cor 8:7-13 (Romans 14:21 is actually more relevant to this issue) to be careful not to lead a brother into sin by what I drink.  This is different than them being bothered knowing I drink alcohol.  Scripture does not demand I not drink at all because I know they are bothered by it (they think it is wrong), but to not drink if it will cause them to fall into that sin themselves.

The best book on this subject is "God Gave Wine" by Ken Gentry.

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