With regard to the use of alcoholic beverages, my practice and teaching are those of total abstinence. This stand is based on biblical principles, but I am free to confess that it is not based on biblical precepts or biblical practice. Both the Old and the New Testaments enjoin moderation rather than total abstinence. How then can one describe one’s position as biblical if it goes beyond the Bible?
An analogy is to be found in the case of slavery. Nowhere in the Bible is the institution condemned, and from the time of the patriarchs to Philemon the worthies of both dispensations owned slaves. Many of the injunctions addressed in the New Testament to servants, according to the older versions, are correctly directed in the Revised Standard Version to slaves. The defenders of slavery in the South before the war made out a very plausible case from the Bible. Thereupon the Quaker historian Henry C. Lea satirized their plea by making an equally good case in all apparent seriousness for polygamy, which was practiced in the Old Testament and nowhere expressly forbidden in the New Testament. Yet few in this land today would fail to agree that Christian principles require alike the emancipation of slaves and the abandonment of polygamy. Similarly one may argue that Christian principles call for abstinence from intoxicating beverages.
Spirit Against Letter
Yet an exegesis which deduces from Christian principles a position at variance with early Christian practice may well appear strained. This is the old question of the spirit against the letter, the question whether the Bible is a code of laws or an enunciation of principles. The Old Testament itself discloses both views. The Pentateuch is the Torah, the Law, whereas Jeremiah called ...1
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