Friday, January 09, 2009
Ok I had no intention of producing another contribution on the topic of wine, beer or alcohol and Christians. Yet there has been a great demand both in the comments of the previous two posts and a number of private emails that suggest a deeper survey of the materials (I do recommend reading my comments near the bottom of the long list of yesterdays post). I have received a number of notes suggesting that my post was way off base and that any alcoholic beverage is simply sinful. That is the view I grew up with and received from my own beloved parents. But I believe this position is simply incapable of biblical defense. So here is what I put together for one brother and have decided to put it on my blog ...
"Beer" and the Bible
Greetings my beloved brother. There is no doubt that I am swimming up a river of contrary thought, especially the received tradition of Southern Churches of Christ, but for the sake of truth I must stay the course. Rarely do I see a greater abuse of the the term exegesis than when it comes to sermons and tracts on wine and alcohol in the Bible. In what follows I summarize my study of the subject primarily through the use of Hebrew words. I begin with an examination of the frequent claim that wine in the bible is not really "wine" (i.e. alcoholic) but basically grape juice. Such a view is totally anachronistic.
Let me summarize my own studies at this point: 1) I do not believe any responsible reading of Scripture can demonstrate that "wine" was not really "wine" (that is alcoholic) and; 2) I believe Scripture on numerous occasions not only allows wine but even commands its use, thus for me to conclude wine (in itself) was/is "sinful" would be a serious stretch of imagination. I will try NOT to repeat what has been said in previous posts on my blog -- but I believe those posts basically have proven my position.
Yayin is the most common Hebrew term translated "wine." Not only has the standard resources confirmed that this word is ordinary wine unless the context shows otherwise it is plainly so in numerous examples (Noah, Lot , etc). In my library I have a very helpful set called New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, edited by William A. VanGemeren. This work is a 5 volume dictionary of Hebrew words. In volume 2, pp. 439-441 yayin is studied in considerable detail and there is no doubt that it refers primarily to alcoholic wine. The passages that follow use yayin.
1) God commanded Israel to come before him with drink offerings of "wine" (Exodus 29.40; Lev. 23.13; I do not need to list ALL the references -- one should be sufficient). There is nothing in the contexts of any of these references to make one believe that this yayin is somehow different.
2) Related to the last statement in #1 it should be noted that in Lev. 10.9 priests were forbidden "yayin" (with no modifying adjective to suggest anything but plain old vanilla yayin) during the course of their duties. It is quite clear that this wine in Lev 10 is the kind that can get you drunk. Likewise the Nazarite was forbidden this "yayin" during the period of his vow, Num. 6.3 (we will return the Nazarite in a moment since it was an important point in your note to suggest God's "real attitude"). This proves that wine was really wine.
3) Drunkeness is to be avoided by God's people. But yayin was allowed to God's people for it "gladdens the heart." Wine is a gift of grace from God. Note the following Scriptures, all use yayin,
"How attractive and beautiful they will be!
Grain will make the young men thrive,
and new wine the young women." (Zech 9.17 [note also v.15].
This is something the Lord himself sees and describes as beautiful. In chapter 10 of the same prophet God promises to care for a restored Israel . The Lord says,
"Ephraim will be become like mighty men,
and their hearts will be glad as with wine . . ." (10.7)
Yahweh blesses his people:
"He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate - bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man . . ." (Ps. 104.14-15).
"Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do." (Ecc. 9.10)
The Preacher continues with a proverb, "A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything." (Ecc. 10.19)
God calls the outcasts to a feast in Isaiah 55,
"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." (55.1)
Since Proverbs was appealed to as a "prohibition" of any wine at all, the Wise Man's words are most interesting. In the following quote please note the connection between honoring God and the resulting blessing of vats of wine filled to the brim:
"Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops;
THEN your barns will be filled to overflowing, AND your vats will brim with new wine (Proverbs 3.9-10)(still yayin -- same word used in Prov. 23).
Lady Wisdom -- the one we are to follow in the Book of Proverbs (as contrasted to Dame Folly) shares these words of invitation by the wise woman:
"Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; . . . Let all who are simple come in here!' she says to those who lack judgment. 'Come, eat my food and drink my wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding." (Proverbs 9.1-5).
Finally I return to offerings. Deuteronomy 14. 22-27 is highly significant in this regard. The worshiper (one who is to far to bring the tithe) is commanded to:
"buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, WINE or OTHER FERMENTED DRINK, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice." (Deut. 14.26).
There is little wiggle room in this text. Not only does this text identify "yayin" as a fermented drink but it also says that the worshiper could come with another "fermented" drink -- in the "presence of the Lord" no less!
From the brief survey above I fail to grasp how the God who commanded coming before him with wine, or other fermented drink, could consider that very thing sinful.
Tirosh (see NIDOTT&E, vol. 4, pp. 289-290). The word occurs frequently in Deuteronomy's instruction to the Israelites. Hosea 4.11 explicitly identifies "tirosh" as alcoholic. For texts in Deuteronomy see 7.13; and 12.17 among others.
COMMENTS ON ISAIAH 27.2 and "hemer" (see, NIDOTT&E, Vol 2, pp.189f).
I cited this text earlier and was challenged on it. That is a healthy thing. It sent me to do some Bible study (always a good thing). "hemer" certainly means wine/foaming wine in full blown fermentation. The challenger suggested that have "hemed" might be the correct reading instead (meaning "pleasant"). The reading in the Masoretic Text (MT, standard Hebrew Bible) is "hmr" but in the apparatus there is a note that a few mss (manuscripts) do contain "hmd" instead.
It is almost certain the MT is correct. The discovery of the Isaiah scroll at Qumran virtually makes the MT's reading certain. 1QIsa(a) reads "hmr" (for more on this great scroll see Ernst Wurthwein's The Text of the Old Testament, 2nd Edition, p. 108ff). But how do we explain going from "hmr" to "hmd?" This is more difficult in English but in Hebrew it is plainly evident. This type of "error" by a copiest is known by the highly technical phrase "confusion of similar letters" . Wurthwein gives numerous illustrative examples of this on pages 108 and 109. In Hebrew the difference between "d" and "r" is very slight and are easily confused in script (even in print). The change would have been unintentional. Commentaries like John Oswalts "Isaiah, vol. 1, pp. 493-4 and E. J. Young's Book of Isaiah, vol 2, pp. 236-7 go into more detail on this textual issue but demonstrate that "hemer" is the authentic reading.
With that said and done -- Yahweh maintains a vineyard that produces serious wine.
COMMENT ON THE NAZARITE VOW
The claim has been made that God disapproves of wine because he forbids the Nazarite to drink it -- thus revealing God's true feelings. But to say that God's real feelings are revealed because he forbids wine proves to much as the saying goes.
As noted above Numbers 6 is one of the texts that proves that yayin is ordinarily real wine and not mere juice. But look at the text not only is the N. forbidden wine (yayin) but also:
1) other fermented drink (which is interesting in light of the claim that wine is not really wine!!)
3) grape juice [here is true nonalcoholic juice -- the Hebrew term is "misra"]
Surely no person is going to claim that God disapproves when I eat my Raisin Bran in the morning or when I eat the grape itself or when I do a funeral. But in the final analysis God did in fact let the Nazarite have wine. It was only the period of dedication that he could have ANY part of the grapevine. But at the conclusion of his vow, God said,
"After that, the Nazarite MAY DRINK WINE." (Numbers 6.20).
From the above survey I fail to see how anyone can conclude that wine is not alcoholic in the Bible. Nor do I see how any can conclude that its consumption is a sin. Scripture condemns the abuse of alcohol just as it does over eating:
"Do not join those who drink too much yayin or gorge themselves on meat" (Pr 23.20)
If the wine is condemned in and of itself in this text then so is eating a steak at Outback! Rather scripture celebrates wine as a part of God's good creation and the abuse of it as an example of the vandalization of that good creation. Biblical wisdom does not embrace asceticism rather it teaches us to live a balanced life before God in all things.
I close again with a quotation from Ben Sira who captures the biblical view nicely and succinctly:
"Do not try to prove your strength by wine drinking, for wine has destroyed many. As the furnace tests the works of the smith, so wine tests hearts when the insolent quarrel.
Wine is very life to human beings if taken in moderation.
What is life to one who is without wine?
It has been created to make people happy.
Wine drunk at the proper time and in moderation is rejoicing of heart
and gladness of soul.
Wine drunk to excess leads to bitterness of spirit, to quarrels and stumbling.
Drunkenness increases the anger of a fool to his own hurt, reducing his strength and and adding wounds . . ." (Sirach 31. 25-30).
Discernment is called for ... not legalism.
There is an outstanding and very detailed article on "Wine" that is fairly easily accessible in M'Clintock and Strong, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol 10, pp. 1010-1017.
A smaller but still useful article is in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel Green, Scott McKnight and Howard Marshall, pp. 870-873.