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Although alcohol is by no means a central scriptural issue, the Bible alludes to its use. The problem emerged in Jewish experience after the conquest of Canaan. The land of Canaan flowed not only with milk and honey but with wine as well. The hills of Judea were ideal for vineyards, and so the Hebrews, whose nomadic past had shielded them, had to come to terms with alcohol as a part of ordinary life. In general, they regarded wine as a gift, and they praised God for it (Psalm 104:14-15), but saw excessive drinking as foolish (Proverbs 20:1).

It is fair to say that both total abstinence and moderate use were acceptable to Jesus. Following the parable of the children at play (Matthew 11:16-19, NRSV), Jesus added these words: "For John [the Baptist] came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon'; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' " Clearly, Jesus intended the parable to show what he thought of debates about eating and drinking. They were petty and distracting. They drew attention from the real issues facing the nation.

The apostle Paul warns repeatedly against drunkenness. A candidate for the office of deacon must not be addicted to much wine (1 Timothy 3:8). He admonished members of the church at Corinth not to keep fellowship with a member who is a drunkard (1 Corinthians 5:11). But Paul was prepared to accept as brothers and sisters those who drink and those who do not drink. He also spoke favorably of using wine for medicinal purposes (1 Timothy 5:23).

The principle governing his attitude appears at the conclusion of a section in 1 Corinthians where Paul addresses himself to ...

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April 3, 2000

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