The Biblical stance on drinking is a well-covered and controversial topic. But in all the online coverage, many people miss some of the nuances about alcohol and living a Godly life.
Spoiler alert: The Bible does forbid drinking, but only in very specific situations and for specific people, such as priests and kings. In other situations, the Bible encourages enjoying alcohol for celebration or for health, though God also provides some guidelines for this type of thing to help his people understand where the lines are and how to imbibe in a healthy and life-honoring way.
Find out more about what the Bible — specifically the Old Testament — has to say about drinking below. Then, explore The Joshua Project’s Path on the topic of “Why Drinking Is Holy” to take a deep dive into Scripture to find out more.
Noah Overdoes It and Gets Drunk
Noah may or may not be the first person in the Bible to get drunk. Genesis 9 does include the first account specifically of someone getting drunk on wine. Genesis 20:21 says, “Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.”
As with all stories in the Bible, it’s important to put this one in context. You can hear Ruby Namdar begin to do so with his introduction to the path, “Why Drinking Is Holy.” The six minute video starts with the garden of Eden and ends with the context in which Noah plants a vineyard and enjoys the fruits of his labor to a bit of an extreme.
The short version of this context is that Noah planted the vineyard after he, his family and the many animals survived the flood and God made a covenant with him to never flood the entire earth again. After the fruits of the vine ripened, Noah made some wine and got drunk. Whether he did so on purpose or accidentally because he wasn’t aware of how wine might affect him is beside the point. The message is the same:
- At the beginning of Genesis 9, God says that everything that grows and moves, he gives to Noah and his descendants as food and sustenance.
- The grapes and fruits of the field are included in that gift; they are for food and drink. Being a gift from and created by God, they cannot, in themselves, be wicked.
- Noah overdoes it and some unpleasantness arises. It’s not the drinking that is the problem, but the depths to which Noah drinks. It’s also worth noting that Noah himself is not called out or punished for drinking; it simply leads to a problem with his sons disrespecting him.
This first illustrative story involving alcohol in the Old Testament sets up a message that plays out repeatedly through the story of God’s people: not everything is good in great quantities, and obedience to God is of utmost importance when engaging with these earthly things.
The Priests Are Forbidden to Drink
The Bible doesn’t contain a specific passage generally forbidding people to drink alcohol. However, it does set up some rules and boundaries, especially for people performing specific jobs.
When God is handing out the rules for life and worship as Israel journeys from Egypt to the Promised Land, for example, he tells Aaron, “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.” (Leviticus 10:9)
This is a directive specifically for the priests, which were to come from the tribe of Levi, originally comprised of Aaron and his sons. The priests should not imbibe lest their inundated state cause them to make poor decisions or act in a way that is not holy while carrying out their sacred duties. That would be a terrible example for others on top of being disrespectful of God. And since the rules for worship and sacrifice are pretty specific and complex, a drunk priest is going to be less likely to have the capability to attend to them properly, potentially risking the soundness of the process God has set up to sanctify his people.
Some scholars believe that this verse is tied to the first part of Leviticus 10. In the first few verses, two men who were set apart by God to be priests offer unauthorized fire before God and were consumed by holy fire. Some commentators believe it’s possible that what led the two men — Nadab and Abihu — to fly in the face of instructions God had just given them was drunkenness. Commentators also theorize that this led God to provide the instruction to the priests.
Alcohol for Celebration and Health
There are other specific instances where God instructs people not to drink — presumably to ensure their health or clear mind when carrying out God’s commands. For example, Proverbs 31:4 cautions kings against alcohol: “It is not for kings, Lemuel– it is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer.”
However, God doesn’t come down 100% on the anti-alcohol side. The Bible often discusses the use of alcohol in celebration, for health and in other daily life functions. For example, Psalm 104:14-15 lists wine alongside food and oil as things God provides for the benefit of man: “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.”
Ecclesiastes 9:7 mentions wine in the context of celebrating what God has done and approved: “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.”
Isaiah mentions wine in that the Lord will prepare himself as a blessing and celebration for his people: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine — the best of meats and the finest of wines.” (Isaiah 25:6)
The Bottom Line: Not Putting Alcohol before God
Wine and alcohol, like other things we can experience on this earth — such as sex — are not evil. The Bible doesn’t even say that it’s wicked for people to consume alcohol, and in some cases, drinking wine is part of celebration and worship of God. In other instances, alcohol or wine is encouraged as part of a physical health routine.
But God does set some pretty clear rules and limitations when it comes to alcohol, just as he does with sexual relationships. The message of the Bible seems to be:
- Wine and alcohol, like all other things, comes from God.
- Alcohol should only be used in submission and obedience to God.
- Overindulging or using alcohol outside of God’s plan is bad and usually results in bad things.
Is drinking holy? It depends on your actions and motivations. You can find out more from Ruby Namdar in the learning path on this topic.