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The Christian and Alcoholic Beverages

Issue and Interchange

 

The goal of this regular feature is to provide our readers with opposing arguments on topics pertinent to the Christian life. We hope to encourage the reader to focus on the arguments involved in each position rather than on personal factors. The authors selected for the respective sides in the debate are outspoken supporters of their viewpoints.

 

Kenneth Gentry opens the debate by arguing that Scripture permits and even, at points, encourages the faithful to drink alcoholic beverages in moderation. Kenneth Gentry, Th.D. (Whitefield Theological Seminary), is pastor of Reedy River Presbyterian Church, Mauldin, South Carolina, and author of numerous published essays and books, including The Christian and Alcoholic Beverages (Baker, 1986). Now under the title: God Gave Wine (available from Covenant Media Foundation).

 

Taking an opposing position is Stephen Reynolds Ph.D. (Princeton University), who served on the translation team for the New International Version of the Bible, and is the author of The Biblical Approach to Alcohol (Intern. Soc. of Good Templars, 1989) and Alcohol and the Bible (Challenge Press, 1983).

 

The burden of proof in the interchange is placed on the person opening the discussion, and so Kenneth Gentry will open and close the interchange.

 

 

ISSUE: Does Scripture Permit Us to Drink Alcoholic Beverages?

 

Gentry: Scripture Endorses a Moderate Use of Beverage Alcohol

Few issues have generated more heated debate among Christians than that of the morality of alcohol consumption. The dispute has generated responses ranging from local educational temperance movements to federal amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

 

Certainly there is evidence of widespread abuse of alcoholic beverages today; this few would deny.[1] Furthermore, the Bible clearly condemns all forms of alcohol abuse, by binding precept and by notorious example.[2]  Yet the ethical issue before us is: Does the Bible allow for a righteous consumption of beverage alcohol? The fundamental question is ethical, not cultural or demo-graphical; it requires an answer from a Biblical, not an emotional base.

 

Three Viewpoints

Among evangelicals the fundamental approaches to alcohol use may be distilled (no pun intended) into three basic viewpoints. (1) The prohibitionist viewpoint universally decries all consumption of beverage alcohol. Adherents to this position do not find any Scriptural warrant for alcohol consumption, even in Biblical times. (2) The abstentionist perspective discourages alcohol use in our modern context, though acknowledging its use in Biblical days. They point to modern cultural differences as justification for the distinction: widespread alcoholism (a contemporary social problem), the higher potency distilled beverages (unknown in Biblical times), and intensified dangers in a technological society (e.g., speeding cars). (3) The moderationist position allows for the righteous consumption of alcoholic beverages. This position, while acknowledging, deploring, and condemning all forms of alcohol abuse and dependency, argues that Scripture allows the partaking of alcoholic beverages in moderation and with circumspection.

 

The Importance of the Question

Often, non-moderationist argumentation inadvertently and negatively affects certain aspects of the Christian faith. It can undercut the authority of Scripture (in that any universal condemnation of what Scripture allows diminishes the authority of Scripture in Christian thought). It may distort the doctrine of Christ (in that any universal censure of something Jesus did detracts from His holiness). It adversely affects our apologetic (in that any denunciation of that which Scripture allows sets forth an inconsistent Biblical witness).

 

My approach to the issue before us involves three presuppositions: (1) The Bible is the inerrant Word of God. Therefore (2) the Bible is the determinative and binding standard for all ethical inquiry. And (3) the Bible condemns all forms of alcohol abuse and dependence.  The moderationist viewpoint in no way compromises any of these three fundamental commitments.

 

The Wine of the Bible

Undoubtedly, the starting point for any rational discussion of the matter must be with the nature of the wine in Scripture. The moderationist position is that the wine righteously employed by and allowed for consumption among God’s people in the Bible is a fermented quality, alcoholic content beverage. Consider the evidence for this assertion.

 

1.      Lexical Consensus. The leading Old and New Testament lexicons and etymological dictionaries affirm that the major terms used of wine represent a fermented beverage, a “wine”, not “grape juice.” The most important terms for the debate that are employed in Scripture are yayin and shekar (Hebrew) and oinos (Greek).[3]

 

2.      Translational Consensus. The major English translations of Scripture translate these words by English equivalents that bespeak alcoholic beverages, rather than terms such as “juice,” “grape juice,” and so forth. Translations include: “wine,” “strong drink,” “liquor,” and “beer.”[4]

 

3.      Lexical Relationship. One of the major words in our debate is shekar (“strong drink,” NASB). It is the noun form of the verb shakar, which means “become drunk.”[5] This is evidence of the inebriating capacity of shekar.

 

4.      Contextual Usage. Many of the verses that condemn drunkenness (see footnote 2) make reference to such beverages as yayin, shekar, and oinos. In addition, yayin is said to “make glad the heart” in a number of places.[6] This surely has reference to the effect of an alcoholic beverage, when used in moderation.[7]

 

5.      Descriptive Reference. In certain places in Scripture the aging of the liquid express of the grape is specifically mentioned (Is. 25:5, 6; Luke 5:39). Aging is an essential factor for wine to be alcoholic.[8]

 

6.      Circumspection Requirement. On some occasions, “strong” Christians are instructed to forgo the use of wine (Rom. 14:21), when there is a serious likelihood of “destroying” (Rom 14:15) a “weaker brother” (Rom. 14:1; 15:1). This surely indicates the temporary forgoing of an alcoholic beverage, rather than grape juice.

 

7.      Ecclesiastical Expectation. Church officers are required to use wine in moderation (I Tim. 3:8; Tit. 2:3), indicating its fermented quality and intoxicating capacity.

 

8.      Qualified Silence. Interestingly, there are no Biblical distinctions between “safe” wines.

 

9.      Scripture lacks any commendation of “new wine” (fresh grape juice) over and exclusive of “old wine” (fermented beverages). Scripture lacks any commendation of watered wine over undiluted wine (it even disparages water wine, Is. 1:22). Scripture lacks any encouragement to retarding fermentation, which occurs naturally. Evidence exists that wine was intentionally exposed in order to accelerate the fermentation process (Is. 25:6; Jer. 48:11).

 

Wine Use in the Bible

Having demonstrated the fermented quality (and consequently the inebriating potential) of the wine of the Bible, I will now set forth several Biblical evidences of its righteous employment.

 

1.      Righteous Example. In Genesis 14:18 Melchizedek gave yayin to Abraham in righteous circumstances. There is no evidence of any divine disapprobation in this episode. (See also Neh. 5:16-19.)

 

2.      Sacred Employment. The Scripture teaches that both yayin (Ex. 29:38ff) and shekar (Num 28:7) were used for offerings to God. This is important for two reasons: (1) These (alcoholic) beverages had to be produced for worship and (2) they were acceptable as offerings to God. If alcoholic beverages were unsuitable for human consumption, why were they acceptable in divine worship?

 

3.      Positive Blessing. God’s Law allowed yayin and shekar to be purchased with the Tithe of Rejoicing and to be drunk before the Lord. “You shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine (yayin) or strong drink (shekar), for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household” (Deut. 14:26). In fact, the psalmist attributes to God the production of yayin, which makes man’s heart glad (Ps. 104:14-15). Surely God’s provision has in view a righteous employment of alcoholic beverage. Furthermore, Scripture speaks of the satisfaction of life as illustrated in the eating of bread and drinking of yayin with gladness (Eccl. 9:7).

 

4.      Spiritual Symbolism. The rich symbolism of God’s redemptive revelation makes bold use of fermented beverages. The blessings of salvation are likened to free provision of yayin: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Is. 55:1). Kingdom blessings are symbolized by the abundant provision of yayin: “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows see...; I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; ...they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them” (Amos 9:13-14). Elsewhere we read: “In this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees” (Is. 25:6).  Clearly, wine—even carefully aged wine—is viewed as a symbol of God’s blessings.

 

5.      Christ’s Witness. Interestingly, our Lord Jesus Christ miraculously “manufactured” an abundance (John 2:6) of wine [yayin] for a marriage feast. This wine was deemed “good” by the headmaster of the feast (John 2:10) -- and men prefer “old [i.e. aged, fermented] wine” because it is good (Luke 5:39). Having “manufactured” wine in His first miracle, it is no surprise that the Lord publicly drank it. This put a clear distinction between Him and the ascetic John the Baptizer: “John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinner!” (Luke 7:33-35).

 

6.      Prohibitional Silence. Scripture nowhere gives a universal command on the order: “take no wine at all”. In fact, select groups that forgo wine are worthy of mention as acting differently from accepted Biblical practice, e.g. the Nazarites (Num. 6:2-6) and John the Baptizer (Luke 1:15). Others are forbidden to imbibe wine only during the formal exercise of their specific duties, e.g. priests (Lev. 10:8-11) and kings (Prov. 31: 4, 5).  All prohibitions to partaking wine involve prohibitions either to immoderate consumption or to abusers: “Be not drunk with wine” (Eph. 5:18). “Do not be with heavy drinkers” (Prov. 23:20). “Do not be addicted to wine” (I Tim. 3:8; Tit.2:3). “Do not linger long over wine” (Prov. 23:30).[9]

 

Conclusion

When all is said and done, we must distinguish the use of wine from its abuse. Sometimes in Scripture gluttonous partaking of food is paralleled with immoderate drinking of wine (Deut. 21:20; Prov. 23:21). But food is not universally prohibited! Sometimes in Scripture sexual perversion is paralleled with drunkenness (Rom. 13:13; I Pet. 4:3). But all sexual activity is not condemned! Wealth often becomes a snare to the sinner (I Tim. 6:9-11), but the Scripture does not universally decry its acquisition (Job 42:10-17)! Each of these factors in life is intended by God to be a blessing for man, when used according to His righteous Law.

 

It would seem abundantly clear, then, that the Scriptures do allow the moderate partaking of alcoholic beverages. There is no hesitancy in Scripture in commending wine, nor embarrassment in portraying its consumption among the righteous of Biblical days. Wine is set before the saints as blessing and gladness (Deut. 14:26; Ps. 104:14-15), even though it may be to the immoderate and wicked a mocker and curse (Prov. 20:1; 23:29ff.).

 

 

Reynolds: Scripture Prohibits the Drinking of Alcoholic Beverages

Mr. Gentry argues for what he calls the moderationist view which is that the Bible allows the partaking of alcoholic beverages in moderation and with circumspection. In the first place, all readers must understand that I present my arguments altogether from the Reformation standpoint that the Bible in its autograph manuscripts in the original languages of inspiration was inerrant. Some copyists made errors, but usually these were of very minor importance, did not affect faith or practice, and in most cases scholars can with some assurance recover what was the original. God never granted inerrancy to copyists and certainly not to translators. Some errors of translators do affect faith and practice and should be corrected. A new translation of both the Old and New Testament is urgently needed. This should be done not so much by consulting Hebrew and Greek dictionaries but by upholding the unity and harmony of the whole Bible. If the conclusions of any translator, dictionary, writer, commentator or polemicist of any kind damage the unity and harmony of the Bible they should immediately be held up to the closest scrutiny. God is his own interpreter, and He will make all plain. This last statement does not mean that it is necessarily easy to find the plain truth of the Bible on the matter of alcoholic beverages, but the principle is certain, and we must follow it.

 

In an attempt to give myself credibility to the reader of this critique, I must say that I was trained in the moderationist tradition and lived in it without pangs of conscience for many years. When I broke from it, it was not for what Mr. gentry calls cultural or demographic reasons, but on the basis of God’s Word studied in depth in the original languages. Of course, there were cultural and demographic reasons which came to my attention, but to my shame as I look back on the past, I accepted the shallow arguments of my mentors.

 

My education included a degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Princeton University and a long career of teaching Biblical subjects based on the original languages. But for years, I never dug deeply into the meaning of passages touching on beverages, whether alcoholic or nonalcoholic. I was asked and accepted the responsibility of being a member of a translation team working on the New International Version of the Bible, but no passage touching on alcoholic beverages occurred in the part of Scripture on which I worked. I did observe that members of another translation team were following a false tradition touching on what sort of a conscience a Christian ought to have, and I tried to get this team to correct the obvious error but to no avail.

 

I noticed failures on the part of mentors and my fellow clergymen, who doubtless considered themselves to be moderationists, at least in theory, to use alcoholic beverages in what even impartial observers would call circumspection or moderation. Some of these failures I considered more laughable than sinful, and as such, I could not regard them as sins; so I did not go back to the Bible to see what it really says. I had the tools of training in the Biblical languages, but such is the force of tradition I failed to use them. These sad failures of my own I admit, but I believe they do not harm my credibility as a student of God’s Word in the original languages when at last I took up the study of beverages in the Bible.

 

A careful study of Proverbs 23 in the original freed me forever from my bondage to the moderationist theory. This chapter contains a number of prohibitions addressed to all humanity in the second person singular as are some of the Ten Commandments. They forbid us, each and every human being addressed as an individual, to do certain things such as removing old landmarks (stealing land), withholding correction from a child, envying sinners, being among winebibbers, despising our own mother when she is old and looking at a drink which in Hebrew transliterated is yayin ki yith’addam. The word yayin is generally translated wine in English Bibles. In this passage it is correctly translated wine. It is a beverage we must not look at lustfully. It is alcoholic wine. Yith’addam cannot (being hithpa’el) mean simply “when it is red.” The following words are no doubt put in Holy Writ to distinguish the forbidden yayin from other yayin which is not forbidden.

 

This prohibition of looking at this sort of yayin establishes a principle, one to which all the rest of the Bible must conform if the Bible is in harmony with itself, which it certainly is.

 

We can no more look to other passages in the Bible, put our own interpretation on them, and say they negate Proverbs 23:31 than we can find some passage which we can twist to mean that we can despise our mothers when they are old and say that this negates verse 22 of the same chapter.

 

Someone who objects to taking Proverbs 23:31 in its plain sense has suggested that the entire book of Proverbs is given to us to make us think and contains no firm commands to be obeyed, but this is against II Timothy 3:16. If Proverbs gives a command, that command must be obeyed.

 

Another who objects to taking Prov. 23:31 as a command to all persons as individuals says it applies only to drunkards. His reason for doing that is that drunkards are mentioned, but drunkards and the ill effects of drinking are there to make clear what sort of yayin is prohibited, as there was nonalcoholic yayin as well as alcoholic. The idea of this objector is a very improper reason for seeking to avoid a clear command of God, which by reason of its place in the Bible is to be obeyed by all, not merely by drunkards.

That yayin in the Bible need not refer to an alcoholic drink is proved by Isaiah 16:10 and Jeremiah 48:33. Here the immediate product of treading grapes is called yayin, and yet everyone knows that the immediate product of treading grapes is called in modern (but not 17th century) English: grape juice.

 

This is all the evidence needed to affirm that wherever yayin is praised in the Bible it should be translated “grape juice,” as for example when it is said that little children not fully weaned cry for it (Lam. 2:12) or when, in what may be the description of a harvest festival, fresh grape juice is being enjoyed by the happy harvesters and their friends and is called a gift of God from the earth to make glad the heart of man (Ps. 104:15).

 

One who objects to this suggests that yayin is properly translated wine (meaning an alcoholic beverage) in these passages by a figure of speech called prolepsis, but the context is altogether against this as can be proved if Mr. Gentry in a reply attempts to use this argument.

 

It is therefore certain that yayin in the Old Testament may be nonalcoholic, as incidentally it can be in modern Hebrew. God used a special phrase, yayin ki yith’addam to name the alcoholic kind. Furthermore, to make sure no one misses the point, He described what it does to the user. It bites like a serpent, stings like an adder, affects the vision and the heart badly, causes a condition like seasickness, insensitivity to pain and is habit forming.

 

This dangerous beverage is forbidden to be looked at in a series of prohibitions all the rest of which believers have universally accepted as easily understandable. But instead of saying drink not the prohibition is look not. This obviously does not mean that we can drink without looking. The meaning emphasizes the prohibition of verse 20. That verse commands us not to be among winebibbers. “Bad company corrupts good morals” (I Cor. 15:35 NAS).  Verse 30 adds to the prohibition of verse 20 the further restriction that every person is forbidden to look at alcoholic wine lustfully whether in company or alone, because looking may lead to drinking. Drinking even a little of this beverage is a sin because it is forbidden to every individual person. This having been established, the rest of the Bible must be interpreted to harmonize with it, and this is not as difficult as a student untrained in deep study of the original languages may imagine.

 

I hope Mr. Gentry in reply will demonstrate skill in dealing with grammatical points in Hebrew and Greek and especially in harmonizing passages where the Bible appears to contradict itself. In his opening contribution I believe I see evidence of too much reliance on other writers rather than independent research, or even of proper use of the original. For example, in note 6, he cites Judges 9:13 as an example of where yayin is said to make glad the heart of man. This suggests that he was using an English translation, as the word here translated wine is tirosh and not yayin.

 

Mr. Gentry cites Dr. E.J. Young on the word shemarim in Isaiah 25:6. I knew the late Dr.  Young and honor him greatly. He graciously said an exegetical study I did and which he published was excellent. I do not in any way suggest that my depth of scholarship is in any way equal to his. I must say frankly that he was greater in scholarship than I. Nevertheless his conclusion as to the meaning of this word shemer is formed from insufficient evidence.  Shemer (plural shemarim) normally means dregs or lees and appears elsewhere as an unappetizing substance that settles in the bottom of a liquid. Shemarim is never presented in a favorable light except here. In Psalm 75:9, the wicked must drink it as punishment. In Jeremiah 48:11 and Zephaniah 1:12 the word by a figure of speech is associated with men who deserve punishment. It does not support the unity and harmony of the Bible to leap to the conclusion that the meaning “wine on the lees” is attached to this word in Isaiah 25:6 where it appears twice, being used of a delectable substance God will give to all people.  Much more should be said to explain this verse, and readers can find more in my The Biblical Approach to Alcohol (Minnesota: International Society of Good Templars), but I have touched on it as much as I have in order to show that Mr. Gentry tries to make a point that the beverage at this feast will be “aged wine,” therefore fermented. He can find this translation in the NIV but it is only a bad guess. The KJV translates it wine on the lees, but the word for wine does not occur, only the word normally translated as “lees.” It is certain that we must dig deeper than either the KJV, the NIV or other translations. If we cannot determine the precise meanings we should be content to translate it simply beverages and in the second occurrence of the word beverages purged of yeast. The words purged of yeast are derived grammatically and philologically. It is interesting that Martin Luther translates this verse as to be “without yeast,” a brilliant insight.

 

Mr. Gentry writes that the non-moderationist argument may distort the doctrine of Christ “in that any universal censure of something Jesus did distracts from His holiness.” In fact, it is the people who say Jesus drank alcoholic beverages and created alcoholic wine in large quantity who make Jesus an object of scorn. A cartoon was published in an atheistic periodical showing Jesus and the wedding party at Cana in an advanced state of drunkenness. If Jesus made a large quantity of alcoholic wine for a wedding party in a small village He was not teaching a lesson in moderation. The atheistic cartoonist was making a reasonable inference from the facts as he understood them, and the moderationist should rethink what he has written so that the holiness of Christ may be vindicated before the reading public. A better Bible translation is needed.

 

The fact which most scholars choose to ignore is that oinos in Koine Greek could be understood as grape juice. The Septuagint translates the word yayin as oinos in Isaiah 16:10 where a substance that could not possibly be alcoholic is mentioned. The Greek of the Septuagint is practically the same as that of the New Testament. This establishes beyond doubt that oinos may be unfermented grape juice in the New Testament. Jesus would not tempt people to commit the sin of drunkenness. Therefore, since oinos may be grape juice fresh from the press, what Jesus made must have been such a drink.

 

Of course oinos may be alcoholic. The fact that the same word may denote either an alcoholic or a nonalcoholic drink should not be considered incredible. Our English word cider may be either. The English word “wine” in the seventeenth century had both meanings.  When the evil nature of the drink (a mocker, poison) is clear, we should understand it as alcoholic. Where it is approved we should understand it to be nonalcoholic. Where the context does not make the distinction apparent, a Bible translator and teacher must use care.  In Romans 14:21, which Mr. Gentry cites as evidence that Paul was referring to an alcoholic drink, the weaker brother may have been a Jewish Christian under a Nazarite vow who would be offended if Paul drank grape juice in his presence. Therefore, Paul would abstain for the sake of his brother. Another possibility is that the oinos Paul would forgo was alcoholic, but those who suppose he may have drunk it under other conditions do not notice that he did not say that under other conditions he would drink it. He simply did not address the question. Other passages Mr. Gentry cites may be treated in the same way. What is certain is that Proverbs 23:31 prohibits alcoholic wine, and no passage in any part of the Bible inspired later can possibly abrogate it, for it is part of God’s everlasting moral law.  An absolute prohibition is not abrogated by a partial prohibition.

I have not cited many human, uninspired authors. God alone is the certain source of all knowledge. We should go to the Source. The Holy Scriptures in the original languages should be our only rule of faith and practice. We should not be prone to follow human authority even when it is enshrined in tradition. For example, Joseph and his brothers are said to have been drunk (Gen.43:34). The word is wayyishke ru. The Septuagint, Vulgate, and Luther’s German (early translations) rightly say they were drunk.

 

It is hard to escape the conclusion that later translators were shocked at the forthright way God in his revealed Word described one incident of what was an occasion brought about by God, and over which He bestowed his blessing. Later translators seem to have thought that the word God used in this situation exposed both the substance alcohol and the patriarchs to criticism from which they wished to shield them. They therefore substituted “they were merry” for “they were drunk.” God, however, is unsparing in his use of words regarding what is undoubtedly an alcoholic beverage in Proverbs 23. Elsewhere, he calls it a mocker and refers to its poison. God is also unsparing when He describes the sins of good men.

 

One reason for mentioning the Genesis 43:34 incident is that it shows what every Christian needs to know. This is that when an error is made by respected persons, especially when it tends to make alcohol acceptable, almost all later translators, commentators and dictionary writers accept the error as correct. This tends to make morals decay. It is all the more noteworthy when it is observed that when matters not having to do with human self-indulgence are treated in the Bible, translators readily distinguish different meanings of words, such as ‘elohim, keleb and ro’sh. But when yayin is found, it is regularly translated wine, and wine is understood to be an alcoholic drink. This is true even when it is impossible that yayin could be alcoholic. The verb shakar is translated to be merry in Gen. 43:34 when there is nothing in the Bible to suggest what mood the people at the family reunion may have been in. They were drunk, and as confusion took control of their minds, old resentments may have come up, and they may have engaged in quarrels. Hebrew had a word for to be merry in general circumstances and even expressions meaning to be hilarious because of alcohol, usually leading to death, but these expressions are not used here.

 

This tendency to make alcohol drinking seem better than it is should be diligently examined and exposed by the use of the original languages. Mr. Gentry may be excused for not doing so in depth, but another scholar, whose credentials to work on Hebrew grammar and vocabulary appear to be much better than Mr. Gentry’s, does even worse in defending as correct the error of the NIV in Micah 2:11. In this passage the translators of the NIV without warrant from the Hebrew text introduced a word, “plenty” which is not there. This is a very serious wrong, especially as the word introduced gives quite a different sense to the passage. A limitation of space prevents me from explaining why the NIV is wrong here, but to strengthen my argument that scholars go to extremes to remove the thought that God condemns the use of alcohol even in moderation, I will add that the scholar mentioned above (Prof. Bruce Waltke) uses a grammatical construction, the constructio praegnans, to defend the NIV, a defense that is totally inadmissible.

 

In conclusion, I have to say that I feel called by God to press on to do all I can with God’s help that a new translation be given to suffering mankind. I shall issue a summons to all who understand that mankind has been too long deceived by translators. If any will contribute their skill or some of the financial resources they have as a trust from God to give the people a purified Bible let them come forth as volunteers. I myself, who cannot expect to be given enough time on earth to complete this task, feel moved by God to establish an endowed trust fund. The need is urgent. Are there other volunteers?

 

Gentry Responds

As I begin my response to my worthy opponent, I must express sincere appreciation for Dr. Reynolds’ impressive linguistic credentials and his noteworthy resume, which he has generously shared with us as a major point in his argument. Though I wholeheartedly disagree with him on this issue,[10] I am thankful for this gifted linguist’s work in other areas.

 

A Major Frustration

Despite such credentials, formulating a response to Reynolds is more frustrating than difficult. He holds so tenaciously to his view that he must dispute every major English translation of scripture, discount the value of virtually every major lexicographer, and cast doubt on the majority of modern commentators. He writes: “[A]lmost all later translators, commentators and dictionary writers accept the error as correct.” Such plays a large role in his presentation.

 

Regarding translations: “God never granted inerrancy to... translators.”[11] “A new translation of both the Old and New Testament is urgently needed.” A rendering by the NIV translation committee is “only a bad guess.” “It is certain that we must dig deeper than either the KJV, the NIV or other translations.” “A better Bible translation is needed.” While working on the NIV translation, Dr. Reynolds felt obliged to engage an entire “translation team” in debate over what he feels was their “following a false tradition” regarding a translation relevant to the alcohol question.[12] “[T]he error of the NIV...” “[T] he NIV without warrant...” “I feel called by God to press on to do all I can with God’s help that a new translation be given to suffering mankind.” In short, we need “a purified Bible.”

Regarding lexicons: “This should be done not so much by consulting Hebrew and Greek dictionaries....” “[A]lmost all later...dictionary writers accept the error as correct.”

 

Regarding commentators: Of E.J.Young’s exegetical conclusions on Isaiah 25:6, we learn that they were based on “‘insufficient evidence.” “[A]lmost all later...commentators... accept the error as correct.”

 

The strong impression is left that as Reynolds cuts himself off from the world of evangelical scholarship, he inadvertently sets himself as the standard of truth: “I have not cited many human uninspired authors.” “We should not be prone to follow human authority even when it is enshrined in tradition.”[13]

 

Let us turn now to consider Reynolds’ two basic texts.

Proverbs 23:29-35

Reynolds argues that Proverbs 23 forbids “each and every human being” to partake of wine.  He writes that ki yith’addam, the words following yayin (“wine”), “are no doubt put in Holy Writ to distinguish the forbidden yayin from other yayin which is not forbidden.” This passage is so important that it “establishes a principle, one to which all the rest of the Bible must conform....” “Drinking even a little of this beverage is a sin because it is forbidden to every individual person.” “What is certain is that Proverbs 23:31 prohibits alcoholic wine, and no passage in any part of the Bible inspired later can possibly abrogate it ....”

 

There are major problems with his employment of this passage. In the first place, what he neglects to tell the reader is that this is the only place in all of Scripture that uses the phraseology yayin ki yith’addam.[14] If the Scripture is so unalterably set against the consumption of alcoholic beverage, as Reynolds imagines, why is this phrase not used elsewhere, especially since it is employed here especially “to distinguish the forbidden yayin from other yayin which is not forbidden”? I have shown in my first paper that there are ample evidences for the alcoholic content of Biblical “wine.”

 

Second, the text before us clearly issues a warning to a particular class of individuals.  These are described as ones who have “woe,” “sorrow,” “contentions,” “wounds without cause,” and “redness of eyes” (v.29). These physiological phenomena are not associated with moderate consumption.

 

In fact, it is expressly stated that they are “those who linger long over wine” (v.30), just as those who rise early and linger late merely to drink (Is. 5:11). In both Proverbs 23:30 and Isaiah 5:11 the Hebrew root achar is used, which means “to remain, tarry, delay.” It is found in the pi’el form in both places, which indicates a more intensive action than the simple qal. Under such conditions, the wine brings on all sorts of alcohol-induced sequelae (vv.33-35).

 

This explains why there are commands to avoid inordinate consumption of wine rather than prohibitions against partaking wine altogether. For instance, I Timothy 3:3 and Titus 1:3 employ the Greek paroinos, which indicates one who sits long beside (para) his wine (oinos). I Timothy 3:8 reads in the Greek: me oino pollo prosechontas. Notice the word pollo, which indicates “much” and prosechontas, which with the dative here means “occupied with.”

 

Ephesians 5:18 commands: “be not drunk with wine.” It does not say: “Do not drink wine.” The Greek word is methuskesthe, which commonly indicates intoxication. In fact, the intoxicated state, which comes by taking too much wine, is contrasted with another form of intoxication: “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled.” The “be filled” here is plerousthe, which is in the same verb form as methuskesthe (present, passive, imperative). We are, as it were, to be filled up with the Spirit, not with wine.

 

Isaiah 16:10

Isaiah 16:10 is an absolutely crucial passage for Reynolds to use in his attempt to undermine the lexicons, translations, and commentators. He feels this verse proves yayin does not have to have alcoholic content: “Here the immediate product of treading grapes is called yayin,” thus, it must mean “grape juice.” Of this verse he adds: “This is all the evidence needed”! Later he adds that oinos (the Septuagint rendering of yayin here) “could not possibly be alcoholic” and “this establishes beyond doubt” the non-alcoholic content of that beverage.

 

As usual, his argument here is unconvincing. It is quite clear that Isaiah 16:10 is found in the midst of a poetic passage, with its familiar parallel structure. Poetry often exaggerates for artistic beauty. This is evident in this very passage: The vines of Sibmah are said to reach “as far as Jazer,” to “wander to the deserts,” and to “pass over the sea” (v.8). The poetry speaks of a weeping that drenches (the Hebrew here means to saturate with moisture) Heshbon and Elealeh (v. 9).

 

So likewise, those who tread the grapes are said to tread out yayin. This yayin (“wine”) is the end product sought in treading. The statement is an effecto pro causa, a substituting of the ultimate effect for the cause, which is not uncommon in Hebrew poetry.[15] In fact, there is probably an indication of the failure of the production of wine here in the taking away of “the gladness and joy” mentioned in 10a, because yayin is associated with “making glad the heart.”[16]

 
Closing Observations

I am almost out of space, but let me quickly mention the following.

Reynolds uses question-begging as a tool for sorting out good (non-alcoholic) from bad (alcoholic) wine: “Wherever Yayin is praised in the Bible it should be translated grape juice.” “When the evil nature of the drink... is clear we should understand it as alcoholic.  Where it is approved we should understand it be nonalcoholic.” This is tantamount to arguing: (a) The Bible forbids the drinking of alcoholic oinos and yayin. (b) We know that oinos and yayin are alcoholic if they are forbidden.

 

Elsewhere Reynolds complains “if Jesus made a large quantity of alcoholic wine for a wedding party in a small village He was not teaching a lesson in moderation.” (Jesus apparently made about 120 gallons of wine [John 2:6]). How can Reynolds know this was too much wine? How many people were present? We know of Jesus, His mother, the disciples (John 2:1-2), the wedding couple, the servants (v. 5), and the headwaiter (v. 9).  Surely there were many more. And how long was this wine to last? Wedding feasts generally lasted a few days. And who says they had to all drink it at that time? Was there never anything left over after a wedding?

 

Reynolds Responds

In reply to my worthy opponent, Mr. Gentry, I must begin by stating that I must insist that the debate should be decided on the basis of the Bible, the Word of God revealed in the original languages in which God chose to make Himself and His plan for mankind known to our finite minds.

 

I repeat and insist upon it that no translator subsequent to the closing of the canon of Scripture has been granted the gift of inerrancy, and I am very insistent that I claim no such gift for myself, although Mr. Gentry seems to suggest that I think of myself as inerrant. My scholarship has many flaws, but when God gives me the ability to see the truth and reject errors I must take my stand as Luther did at Worms. I cannot do otherwise.

 

Let us honestly and zealously attempt to solve the alcohol problem by searching the Scripture (John 5:39; Acts 17:11). This searching, if it is to be sound and effective, must be done in the original languages. Patient exegesis is the only way, and for this debate to be very meaningful, Mr. Gentry should seek to destroy my arguments and not waste his readers’ time and take up space in Antithesis pointing out that my studies may have led me to be innovative. Innovations which attack the unity and harmony of Scripture should be opposed, but mine are based on a sound principle which is to determine what the inspired authors meant readers to understand. As a basis for making a decision, I seek, by using legitimate tools of exegesis, to relieve the reader of the idea that the Bible is a confusing book. As commonly translated, the Bible in speaking of yayin says it is a mocker (Prov. 20:1), is poisonous (Hos. 7:5 if translated correctly) and is not to be so much as looked at. No suggestion is made in these passages that if used in moderation it is an approved drink. The Holy Bible as commonly translated says this same substance may be purchased by a religious person under certain circumstances with the money he would otherwise give as a tithe and that he may give it along with another intoxicating beverage to the fatherless and other needy persons (Deut. 14:26-29). Nothing is said about moderation or withholding the dangerous drug from children. The implication is that they would be invited to drink freely.

 

What would we think about a mere human teacher who would speak so confusingly? If we did not reject him there would be something seriously wrong with our judgment. I protest that Mr. Gentry’s attempt to refute me because I don’t follow a well worn but delusive path should be utterly rejected. Innovations are not necessarily evil. If they discover long hidden truths and reveal the Bible’s unity and harmony they should be accepted, unless they can be proved to be linguistically and philologically wrong.

Translators, when indulgence in alcohol or being self-indulgent in other ways is not in view, have been very properly willing to translate a word in different ways to uphold the unity and harmony of the Bible. For example, the Hebrew word ‘elohim when used with a singular verb regularly means the one true God, and when used with a plural verb, it usually means pagan, false deities. But in Genesis 20:13 and 35:7, ‘elohim is construed with plural verbs, but translators are united in rendering it as singular. Why do they do so? Apparently in the case of Genesis 20:13 it is more comfortable to assume that Abraham did not deceive Abimelech, a polytheist, by giving the impression that he too was a polytheist. Yet Abraham was not always guiltless of deception. If we did not have Genesis 35:7 and Joshua 24:19, it would be natural to assume that this is another example of Abraham’s deception, but since we have these other passages, it is possible to say that what appears to be a rule of Hebrew grammar has a few exceptions. This being established, it is proper to ignore what otherwise would seem to be a grammatical rule and translate the passage in Genesis 20:13 as “God caused me to wander.”

 

This point is made to show to what lengths translators have gone to preserve the unity and harmony of the Scriptures. They are right in doing so. Many words are translated in different ways when the translator thinks the unity and harmony of the Bible demand it. If grammar can be overlooked for this reason, ought not scholars to admit for the same reason that yayin, shekar, tirosh, and oinos all have two possible meanings, one a forbidden alcoholic beverage and the other a harmless, permitted drink?

 

In a prescientific age it would be natural to name drinks from their principal ingredient, regardless of their alcoholic content or lack of it. In English we have an example of this in the word “cider” for apple juice, whether alcoholic or not.

 

Gentry makes a point of the fact that the phrase yayin ki yith’addam is used only once in Scripture. He implies that because it is used only once the prohibition connected with it may be safely ignored. He thus appears to be telling God how to teach. God only needs to command once, and after that one command is given, He expects to be obeyed. An officer in modern warfare may make one rule, perhaps by prohibiting something, and then go on to something else and finally close his instruction without repeating the prohibition. One under his authority cannot disobey the order and then try to shift the blame to his superior saying, he only said it once. That one act of disobedience may cause the whole battle plan to fail, and no one is to blame but the one who disobeyed.

Gentry suggests that the prohibition applies only to the winebibbers of verse 20 and the drunkards of verse 29 and 30. But no command at all is given to these winebibbers and drunkards. They are treated as a group. All the prohibitions in this chapter are in the singular. In verse 20 one individual (standing for all mankind as in the Ten Commandments) is prohibited from being in the company of such as are accustomed to drink. Even if he abstains, he is still not to be in their company. We must treat Scripture seriously. Are the winebibbers and drunkards addressed and told not to drink? No; the command not to look at yayin ki yith’addam is addressed to a single person, and he is not included among the drunkards previously mentioned. To mean what Gentry thinks it means, the passage would have to be phrased differently.

 

The arguments Gentry proposes for translating yayin in Isaiah 16:10 as wine are unconvincing. He proposes that as a poetical figure of speech Isaiah was calling grape juice wine as “wine as the product sought in treading.” This is an example of making the Bible mean what the interpreter wants it to mean. He cannot know what the Moabites sought. The passage shows that they were starving. There were no grapes to press, but if there had been they would have eaten them at once. Hunger was their problem and even if they were alcoholics they would have to satisfy this need first. Hebrew poetry brings the reader’s mind to the current situation in vivid language; it does not distract the mind with an alleged, far-off goal. Mr. Gentry’s idea that “joy and gladness” suggests wine is contrary to the whole tenor of Scripture. Alcoholic wine, a dangerous drug, is painted in Scripture in the darkest colors. In Psalm 104:15, that which causes gladness should be interpreted as a happy grape harvest festival when the yayin (grape juice) is drunk by the joyful harvesters as it comes fresh out of the press.

 

It is not question begging to propose that certain words in the Bible have more than one meaning. If it were, every translator would be guilty.

 

Gentry seems offended that I am critical of Bruce Waltke for defending the grossly improper rendering of Micah 2:11 in the NIV which introduces a word (plenty) not in the original. Dr. Waltke’s defense of this innovation (that it is an example of constructio praegnanas)is totally without merit, and he has as yet not attempted to defend it in private correspondence with me. Instead of seriously dealing with the problem, Gentry holds me up to contempt for even venturing to be critical of Dr. Waltke. This is not the way a debate ought to be conducted. I believe it is not irreverent for me, a humble servant of Jesus, to quote what He said in John 18:23: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness to the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?”

 
Gentry’s Concluding Remarks

I would urge the reader to reread the wide array of evidence for the righteous consumption of alcoholic wine in my first installment. Notice I employ a great many Scriptures and references to the consensus of reputable lexicons and translations to support my view.  Reynolds, however, employs only a few verses (primarily Prov. 23:29ff and Is. 16:10) and admits to presenting “innovations...based on sound principle” in an attempt to “discover long hidden truths.” His case is that weak.

 

Despite Reynolds, the wine of the Bible was alcoholic: People could be intoxicated by it (Gen.9:21; I Sam. 1:14; Is. 28:1; Jer. 23:9). Believers were urged not to linger long over it (Prov. 23:30; Is. 5:11, 22; 28:1, 7; I Tim. 23:3,8; Tit. 1:7; 2:3). Priests were forbidden wine when engaging in sacerdotal activities (Lev. 10:9; Ex. 44:21), because it was alcoholic and could accidentally endanger worship (cf. Lev. 10:1-3). Even our Lord freely made (John 2:9, 10, cf. Luke 5:39) and partook of alcoholic wine, which led the Pharisees to falsely call Him a drunkard (Luke 7:33-35).

 

The Scriptures even allude to the allowed fermentation of wine “on the lees” and in wine bottles (Job 32:19; Prov. 3:10; Is. 25:6; Jer. 48:11; Zeph. 1:12; Matt. 9:17; Luke 7:37).  Consequently, the preferred wine of Scripture is aged, i.e., fermented (e.g., Is. 25:6; Luke 5:39). In fact, Scripture allows the partaking of “all sorts of wines” (Neh. 5:18[17]) when taken in moderation—for the Bible resolutely condemns all inordinate imbibing which leads to drunkenness (Gen. 19:32; Prov. 23:29-35; Jer. 13:13-14; Ez. 23:28, 33; Hos. 4:11; Matt. 24:29; Luke 12:45; 21:34; Rom. 13:13; I Cor. 5:11; 6:10; Gal. 5:19,21; Eph. 5:18).

 

A Survey of Reynold’s Latest Misinterpretations

Reynolds argues that Proverbs 20:1 and Hosea 7:5 forbid wine use by calling wine a “mocker” and “poisonous.” He adds that  “no suggestion is made in these passages that if used in moderation it is an approved drink”! But:

 

  1. The whole Bible is our ethical guide, and in many places it forbids immoderate use. I agree with Reynolds that  “God only needs to command once and after that...He expects to be obeyed.”[18] Use of wine must be in moderation, whether expressed in every context or not, because of the total Scripture.

 

  1. Proverbs 20:1 says: “wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise” (NASV). The word translated “intoxicated” is the Hebrew shagah (“swerve, meander, reel”). It indicates being under the influence of wine, as in Isaiah 28:7. Wine leads to mockery and brawling when foolish men are intoxicated by it.  Elsewhere wine is a blessing for the righteous (Deut. 14:26; Ps. 104:14, 15; Eccl. 9:7; Is 25:6; 55:1; Amos 9:13-15). Despite Reynolds, the very verse itself makes a clear “suggestion” of “moderation” (the same is true of Hos. 7:5).

 

  1. If the statement “wine is a mocker” prohibits wine, then “knowledge makes arrogant” does the same for knowledge (I Cor. 8:1)! The negative and positive statements regarding the same thing should not surprise us, for good things can be abused, as are sex (Rom.  13:13), food (Prov. 23:20-21), and wealth (I Tim. 6:9-11). But each of these is good (Heb. 13:4; Ps. 104:14-15; Job 42:10).   Proverbs 23:29-35, Reynolds tries unconvincingly to divorce verses 29-30 from 31-35.  He does so on the basis of shift from a plural address (“those”) to a singular (“you,” i.e. “my son,” cf. 23:15; 19, 26; 24:13, 21).

 

Any unbiased reading of the text, however, clearly shows that verses 29-30 are quite relevant to the instruction in verses 31-15. In verse 20 the writer warns (in the singular!) of the danger of being with immoderate drinkers; such will lead to “poverty” (v.21). Then he warns later about those (plural) who “linger long” (v.29) over wine: such will be led to “woe” (vv.29-30, cf. v. 21).

 

Then the reader (singular, Heb.) is warned of that type of wine consumption that comes from running with “heavy drinkers.” The writer rhetorically asks, “Who has woe?” He answers, “Those who linger long at the wine.” Consequently, after such long lingering he warns his reader (singular): “at the last” (i.e., after inordinate long lingering, v. 32) wine bites, stings, and distorts (vv. 32-35). The root of the word “at the last” (Heb., achar, v. 32a) is the very one that appears in “linger long” in v. 30! The individual (singular) to whom he speaks must recognize that, and he must not be drawn to lingering long over wine (cf. Is.  5:11, 22).

 
Conclusion

It is clear that the Scripture allows a moderate, wise partaking of alcoholic beverages. It is just as evident that the Bible prohibits abusive consumption. There should be no confusion or “hidden truth” regarding the word here. All is very clear: “In all things moderation!” Let me close with three Scripture citations.

 

“He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man” (Ps. 104:14-15).

 

“Thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul desires, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household” (Deut. 14:26).

 

“And the LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all people on this mountain; an banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine” (Is. 25:6).

 

 

BACK



[1] I will leave it to my opponent to document the prevalence of alcohol abuse, if he so desires.

[2] See, for example: Gen. 9:21; Gen. 19:32; I Sam. 1:14-15; Prov. 23:20-21, 29-35; Is. 28:1; 29:9; 49:26; 51:21; Jer. 13:13-14; 23:9; 25:27; Ezek. 23:28, 33; Hos. 4:11; Joel 1:5; Matt. 24:29; Luke 12:45, 21:34; Rom. 13:13; I Cor. 5:11; 6:10; Gal. 5:19,21; Eph. 5:18.

[3] See: Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972), pp. 406, 1016. Benjamin Davidson, The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), pp. 303, 716. Joseph H. Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 564. See the English “wine” in The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 2.3788. See also usch etymological dictionaries as John M’Clintock and James Srong, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, (Grand Rapids: Baker, rep. 1969 [1887]). Carl Darling Buck, A Dictionary of Selected Synonymns in the Principal Indo-European Langauges (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949).  Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, (New York: Elsevier, 1966). Robert K. Barnhardt, The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, (Bronx, NY: H.W. Wilson, 1988).

[4] Authorized Version (King James); American Standard Version, Moffatt’s Holy Bible: A New Translation; Revised Standard Version; New English Bible; Weymouth;s New Testament in Modern Speech; Williams’ In the Language of the People; Beck’s In the Language of Today; Amplified Bible; New International Version.

[5] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Lexicon p. 1016.

[6] Judges 9:13; II Sam. 13:28; Est. 1:10; Ps. 104:14-15; Eccl. 9:7; 10:19; Zech. 9:15; 10:7.

[7] Drunkenness deoes not ‘make glad the heart’ and is not spoken of in a righteous context for beverage consumption. Rather, it brings woe and sorrow (Prov. 23:29-35).

[8] Of Isaiah 25:6, E.J. Young writes: “By means of gradation, Isaiah now characterizes the banquet as one of wine that is matured by resting undisturbed on the lees. A play upon words as well as a gradation appears between shemanium (fat things) and shemarim (lees).  This latter word originally signified holders or preservers and then came to designate the wines that had rested a long time on sediment or dregs, and so had become more valuable.  The wine lay n the lees to increase its strength and color.” Young, The Book of Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1969), 3.193.

[9] Please notice that this argument from silence is put last. Nevertheless, it would seem that if there were a prohibition against the consumption of alcoholic beverages, there should be evidence in Scripture of the careful handling and production of grape juice in order to arrest fermentation.

[10] In my The Christian and Alcoholic Beverages, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), I interact with Reynolds due to his stature.

[11] I might add that neither did He do so for independent scholars, such as Dr. Reynolds.

[12] He admits the futility of his efforts to alter the translational consensus of these numerous evangelical linguistic scholars: “I tried to get this team to correct the obvious error but to no avail.” It is sad that a noteworthy team of evangelical scholars could make such an “obvious” error!

[13] Thankfully he accepts the “reformed standpoint: (sc., tradition) of the inerrancy of the autographa of Scritpure.

[14] His lexical point, which I grant for the sake of argument, is that the highpa’el verbal construction (which is the reflexive of the pi’el, having a long [i.e., dagesh bearing] middle root consonant) of yith’addam suggests ‘makes itslef red’ more than merely ‘when it is red’.  This, to Reynolds, is indicative of its alcoholic nature, for alcohol tends to redden the nose and face in an alcoholic.

[15] In Job 3:3 a geber (“mighty man”) is said to be “conceived” in the word. In Job 10:10, Job refers to his father’s sperm as if it were Job himslef, because he eventually arose from it.

[16] II Sam. 13:28; Est. 1:10; Ps. 104:14-15; Eccl. 9:7; 10:19; Zech 9:15; 10:7.

[17] Remember that one allowed alcoholic beveratge is shekar (“strong drink”), which is a noun related to the verb for shakar (“drunk”) and also to shikkar (“drunkard”) and shikkaron (“drunkennes”). See Deut. 14:26 and Num 28:7.

[18] He misunderstands my argument when he makes this statement, however. See my earlier context to which he refers.