Is Drinking Alcohol a Sin?

Alcohol is the oldest and most widely used drug in the world. What does God think about the use and abuse of alcohol? Is drinking alcohol a sin?

Most people realize the terrible damage that abuse of alcohol can cause. Human laws regulate alcohol, and God strongly condemns drunkenness as sin. But is all use of alcohol sinful?

Some should abstain

First, realize that some people with a propensity to alcoholism should abstain from alcohol. This does not prove that all use of alcohol is wrong. There are many aspects of life that some people should avoid because of the problems they can create. For example, it is not sinful to eat salt, yet after heart surgery or when facing other specific health problems, a doctor may advise a patient to limit salt intake. Also, some people are born with or develop sensitivities to gluten, dairy products, sulfur, eggs, nuts, fish or other food items. Such foods are not wrong, yet those individuals must avoid them.

Likewise there are people who must avoid alcohol because of the damaging results in their lives, and there are others who choose for their own reasons to refrain from drinking alcohol. To be sure, there is nothing in Scripture that commands people to drink alcohol—but does the Bible forbid all use of alcohol? Is drinking alcohol a sin?

When alcohol isn’t sin

Sin is defined in the Bible as “lawlessness” or, as the J.B. Phillips translation puts it, “Everyone who commits sin breaks God’s law, for that is what sin is, by definition—a breaking of God’s law” (1 John 3:4). So we need to ask if God created a law forbidding the use of alcohol. If so, then we could easily conclude that drinking alcohol is a sin.

There are a handful of scriptures that some people believe do exactly that. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.”
  • 1 Timothy 3:8 says, “Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine.”
  • Isaiah 5:11 says, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may follow intoxicating drink; who continue until night, till wine inflames them!”

A careful examination of these and other verses that may be used reveals a common theme: God clearly condemns the abuse of alcohol. Overindulgence—long-term or even just occasional—is forbidden by the Creator. However, we do not find a wholesale condemnation of any use of alcohol.

Jesus Christ warned men to be careful to avoid “carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life” (Luke 21:34). And Paul wrote that among the “works of the flesh” that men are to avoid is “drunkenness” (Galatians 5:19-21). In both cases, the term “drunkenness” is used. It means excessive use of alcoholic products.

When alcohol becomes sin

As we just read, God condemns the abuse of alcohol and drunkenness as sin. Drunkards (habitual heavy drinkers and alcoholics) are described as not being eligible to inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). But Paul says to the Corinthian Church members, “such were some of you” (verse 11, emphasis added). People can overcome these sins with God’s help, and God expects them to do so.

The sad experience of many people, in addition to years of thorough research, reveals the incredible damage done by the abuse of alcohol—often the long-term, habitual abuse of alcohol. The costs are nearly incalculable when considering the mental and emotional damage done to children and mates. Add to this many additional costs:

  • Marriage failures.
  • Poor job performance or loss of a job.
  • Abandonment by friends and family.
  • Accidental injuries and death of others caused by driving under the influence.
  • The destruction of the drinker’s health even apart from accidents.

Excessive drinking is undeniably harmful and even addictive. God does make it clear that Christians are to maintain a level of personal discipline and not allow themselves to be enslaved by bad habits. If a Christian discovers he has a susceptibility to the abuse of alcohol, or if he has been plagued by alcoholism in the past, it may be that he should set a boundary for himself that he will not drink alcohol, just as others must set a boundary about nuts, eggs, dairy products and so forth.

So, no, Scripture doesn’t forbid all drinking of beer, wine or any drink containing alcohol. Alcohol consumed in moderation is not harmful for most people. Some health authorities even recommend small amounts of red wine for its healthful benefits.

Scripture doesn’t forbid drinking beer, wine or any other drink containing alcohol. What it condemns is drunkenness and addiction.

The example set by Jesus

If you are not already aware of it, you may be surprised to learn what Jesus Christ did and said regarding alcohol. He is the ultimate example for Christians to follow. He taught and set a perfect example by doing things that are righteous, proper and good. And He taught against and avoided everything that is harmful and sinful—and never sinned Himself (Hebrews 4:15; 2 Corinthians 5:21). So what was His example regarding alcohol?

Jesus performed numerous miracles over the course of His earthly ministry. The first recorded miracle took place during a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Perhaps the host did not plan well, or perhaps more guests arrived than were expected, because they ran out of wine before all the guests had been served.

At His mother’s insistence, Jesus had servants fill six stone pots with water (holding perhaps 20 to 30 gallons each) and He then caused that water to become the finest wine (John 2:1-10). Verse 11 tells us this was the beginning of the signs He did, and His disciples believed in Him because of it.

Some have claimed that the water was turned into grape juice or some other nonalcoholic beverage. But the original Greek word used here is oinos, which is “the general word for wine” and it “implies fermentation” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of the New Testament). The language God inspired to be used shows that Jesus’ first recorded miracle was that of creating an alcoholic beverage for a wedding.

Then just before He was arrested and crucified, Jesus held a final Passover with His disciples. During that Passover He established the New Testament symbolism of unleavened bread and a cup of wine (Matthew 26:26-29). The terminology “this fruit of the vine” is considered by most biblical scholars to mean fermented grape juice—wine. Once again, we see His example.

It is never recorded that He or His disciples actually drank too much. Jesus Christ always displayed the proper, balanced use of alcohol; and if it is used that way, it is not a sin.

Positive uses of alcohol

It may also surprise you to learn what else the Scriptures have to say about the proper, balanced use of wine and even strong drink. When used in moderation and in a proper setting, we read that “wine makes merry” (Ecclesiastes 10:19). In other words, a glass of wine can enhance the enjoyment of good friends and the time they spend together. It is not necessary to drink to enjoy the time together; but properly used, it can enhance an occasion.

Included in the instructions for keeping the festivals of God is a description of what the festival tithe money is to be used for: “And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires” (Deuteronomy 14:26). What the New King James Version describes as “similar drink,” other translations translate as “strong drink” (King James Version), “fermented drink” (New International Version) and “alcoholic drink” (New Living Translation).

What we find is that God instructs His people to use these funds to enjoy His festivals with good food and good drink—including wine and other strong drink. Once again, we don’t find He is telling us to have drunken parties, but rather that, when used in balance, fine wines or good drinks are right and proper. After all, we are elsewhere told that wine cheers both man and God (Judges 9:13).

It is all a matter of balance

We keep coming back to the matter of balance. The Bible plainly teaches a very balanced use of alcohol. If we are not careful and self-disciplined, alcohol can be misused, and that abuse is a sin.

But the same can be said about food (gluttony), sexual relations (outside of the bond of marriage) and even our words (gossip, slander). For some it may be that abstinence is what is needful—in their specific circumstances.

So, to answer the question: Is drinking alcohol a sin? No, drinking alcohol is not a sin. God does expect us to use alcohol wisely and to follow Jesus’ example. When used properly and in the context for which God created it, alcohol is another aspect of life that can be enjoyed and appreciated. It can add to the wonderful experience of human life. But it must not be abused, for that is sin.

For more about what God considers sin, see our section on “Sin.”