I. TWO KINDS OF ABSTAINERS FROM ALCOHOL
Do you abstain from alcoholic drinks? Is it because of the law of love or because God says “No” to alcohol?
Abstainer Number One: “Alcohol Hurts Your Testimony”
The Christian who abstains from beverage ethyl alcohol because he doesn’t want to cause a weaker brother to stumble believes the Bible approves of fermented wine, or he is not sure of just where the Bible does stand. He will never argue against alcohol itself; he can speak only against the bad effects of drinking alcohol. The liquor companies do this too. The world sees him as a “moderate.”
Abstainer Number Two: “God Says No to Alcohol”
The Christian who abstains because he sees the Bible does not approve of alcoholic drinks at any time says that drinking alcohol is sin. He has a strong argument against alcohol. The world sees him as an enemy of alcohol.
Some Problems for Abstainer Number One
If someone says to abstainer number one, “Jesus made fermented wine at the wedding feast,” he will probably say, “Yes.” He will agree that fermented wine is approved in other places in the Bible. His argument for abstinence comes from the law of love in Romans and Corinthians.
Abstainer number one will tell you that alcohol causes terrible suffering in human lives and uncounted damage in our country. What he says is true and it is a strong condemnation of alcohol. But his claim that God approves of alcohol is such a powerful argument in favor of alcoholic liquor, that his reasons for not drinking look weak. He has to face these questions:
First, if God approves of fermented drinks except when they harm
your brother, doesn’t He know what alcohol does to the Christian’s
body, not just his brother’s body?
Second, if God approves of alcoholic beverages, how much could the
abstaining Christian drink if there were not a brother around who might
be offended? Also, isn’t it pride for the abstainer to say he doesn't
drink because he might cause a weaker brother to stumble? Does he
think he is strong enough to handle alcohol? What does “moderate”
Third, are there not many thousands of Christians who say that since
they have the God-given liberty to drink, “Why should another
person’s weakness spoil their fun?”
Fourth, isn't the testimony of the Lord Jesus Himself put in doubt by
the one who abstains only because he does not want others to
stumble? Isn’t he saying, “I will be kind and help others. I will deny
myself and give up my right to fermented wine. I will not do anything
unprofitable to the Lord’s work.” What about Jesus at Cana of
Galilee? If He made 120 to 180 gallons of fermented wine, after
knowing that the guests at the feast had already finished the supply on
hand, He was not kind nor did He think of others. In fact He didn’t
even mention the law of love. And worse, He used His divine power,
the power of God, and the full force of His testimony to further the
cause of intoxicating liquor, thus causing millions to stumble.
A Christian who abstains from alcohol only because of the law of love or expediency makes himself better and wiser than Christ.
The True Abstinence of Abstainer Number Two
The strong argument for total abstinence is the Bible truth that God never approves of alcoholic drinks. That makes drinking alcohol a sin.
Our Lord and the apostles did not have to use the law of love or expediency for alcoholic drinks because they never used alcoholic drinks. Jesus Christ did no evil, nor did He give any appearance of evil.
Paul said he followed Christ's example. When he writes in Romans and Corinthians about being a friend to all so he can win them to Christ, or says he gives up what causes others to stumble he is not talking about fermented drinks. He never used them.
II. ATHLETES DON'T DRINK ALCOHOL
I Corinthians 9:25
The Corinthians were very proud of the great Olympic games. In I Corinthians 9:25, Paul writes about athletes entering the games to win the prize.
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things
(panta enkrateuetai). Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown,
but we an incorruptible.
We have studied the word enkrateia, the power to abstain from all forms of evil, in Acts 24:25. In that verse it is translated “temperance.” Panta enkrateuetai used in I Corinthians 9:25 means temperate or abstinent in all things. (The RSV says self-control instead of temperate.)
Some people are convinced that I Corinthians 9:25 teaches Christians to be moderate in everything, including the drinking of alcohol. Many modern translations of the Bible do lead us to think Paul meant moderation. Older translations show clearly that Paul's panta enkrateuetai means abstinence in all things. For example, the Latin Vulgate says, in English,"He abstains himself from all things." Wycliffe put it this way “absteyneth hym fro alle thingis.”1
Famous authors from Paul’s time wrote about the Olympic games just as he did. Epictetus a stoic philosopher wrote, “Do you wish to gain the prize . . .? Consider . . . you must live on food you dislike . . . must exercise . . . in heat and cold . . . take no wine as formerly.” Dr. Bacchiocchi quotes a poem by Horace, (65 – 8 B.C.).
The youth who hopes the Olympic price to gain,
All arts must try, and every toil sustain;
The extremes of heat and cold must often prove;
And shun the weakening joys of wine and love
The last words mean literally, “he abstains from love and wine.”2
As we understand the disciplined lifestyle of the Olympic athlete, we can see that Paul’s panta enkrateueai is, in English, “to abstain from all harmful things.” Paul compared us in our race in life to an athlete striving to win in the Olympic games. The race we run is much more important than the Olympic games. We too must abstain from anything that could hinder us. Total abstinence from alcohol made the athlete in the Olympics able to do his best. Total abstinence will help us do our best too. Paul urges us, “So run, that ye may obtain the prize.”
In Verse 26, Paul explains how he runs. “I, therefore, so run, not as uncertainly (aimlessly) . . . .” In verse 27, he says, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest . . . I myself should be a castaway (disqualified).” This is a picture of stern, strong self-discipline, not a moderation attitude. In Philippians 4:9 he advises us to follow his example. “Those things which ye have . . . learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do . . . .”
The prize for winning the race was a crown of leaves. Paul calls it a corruptible crown or a crown that will decay in I Corinthians 9:25. He tells us we are racing for an incorruptible crown, a crown that lasts forever.
III. THE LORD'S TABLE MEETING AT CORINTH
Were the Christians Drinking? I Corinthians 11:20 – 22
In I Corinthians 11:20,21, Paul tells the Corinthian Christians they are guilty of disorder and greed when they gather together for the Lord's Table meeting.
When ye come together, therefore, into one place, this is not to eat the
Lord’s Supper. For in eating everyone taketh before the other his own
supper, and one is hungry and another is drunk (methuo). What? Have
ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God,
and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise
you in this? I praise you not.
He goes on in verses 23 to 32 to explain how the meeting should be conducted.
Do the words “one is hungry and another drunk” prove that the early Christian churches used alcoholic drink at the Lord’s Supper? Those who claim the Bible teaches the moderate use of alcohol say “yes.” They believe the word “drunk” clearly shows that the wine was alcoholic. They argue that the Corinthian Christians were drunk on the communion wine and Paul did not say anything against the alcoholic drink itself. He blamed the people only because they were drunk.
The Love Feast of the Early Church
What were the Christians doing in Corinth? The church had allowed sin to multiply. Paul named the sin in I Corinthians 5:1,2 and told them how to deal with it in verses 3 – 5. Since the believers had permitted the sin to remain in the church for some time, it had acted like leaven. Soon other sins were overlooked, until even at the Lord’s Supper there was disorder.
It was the custom in the early church for the members to come together for a common meal or what we would call a “pot-luck.” They called the Christian fellowship meal an Agape or Love Feast. Everyone brought what he could and it was set out and shared with everyone else. Conybeare and Howson say a common meal was a “form of entertainment of frequent occurrence among the Greeks.”3
At Corinth the Love Feast was held before the Lord’s Supper. Possibly, Dr. Bacchiocchi says, the meal became mixed with the Lord's Supper. The Christians may even have reduced the Lord’s Supper to a social feast.4 Paul says in I Corinthians 11:21 that they brought their own supper and just started to eat it; they were greedy and didn’t share with others. Some ended up hungry and others methuo. Dr. Bacchiocchi restates Paul’s words.
Though you come together professedly to partake of the Lord’s
Supper, you really do not celebrate it in a manner deserving of the
name. For in eating, each one who has brought provisions goes ahead
to eat eagerly and selfishly, ignoring the poor who have not been able
to bring anything. The result is that while a member is hungry and
unsatisfied, another is filled to satiety (methuo). Don't you have
houses in which to eat and drink? Why do you transform the house of
worship, dedicated to brotherly love, into a place of selfish feasting,
putting to shame those who have nothing?5
We know the purpose of the church get-together was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Paul said, “When you come together . . . this is not to eat the Lord’s Supper,” as he began to correct their behavior. Many people believe that it was a common practice of all the early churches to have a meal before the Lord’s Table Meeting. They say this because Jesus and His disciples ate a meal before the Lord’s Supper. But nowhere in the New Testament is there evidence that other churches had an Agape before the Lord’s Table. What the Corinthians did was their own idea.
Although moderate drinkers use what happened in Corinth to back their claim that fermented wine was used at Communion, their argument has no basis in fact. If the Corinthian church members were drinking fermented wine at the Agape, (and we don't believe they were) this would not prove that the Christian churches as a whole used alcoholic drink. Whatever the Corinthians were doing, they were told it was wrong. The book of Corinthians is a warning to Christians of all times not to sin the way the Corinthians did.
The Meaning of “Drunk.”
What does Paul mean by “drunk”? Our study of the word methuo has shown us that it means “filled to the full” or satiated. The context must be what tells us if it is “filled to the full” with intoxicating wine or grape juice or something else. In the Greek Old Testament methuo is used with food, milk, water, blood and oil as well as wine or grape juice. It means “to deeply satisfy.”6
Methuo (Filled) Is the Opposite of Hungry
The context of methuo in I Corinthians 11:21 shows that Paul used this word to mean the opposite of “hungry.” The EnglishBible says some are hungry peina and some are drunk methuo. These two words stand for opposite things. Hungry is “empty” and drunk is “full.” Leon C. Field say the underfulled man is compared to the overfilled man.7
Bible teachers like Chrysostom, Bengel, Grotius, Wycliff, Lightfoot, Dean Stanley, Dr. Patton, Dr. Teachout,Dr. Bacchiocchi and others agree with Mr. Field. Clement of Alexandria who lived about a hundred years after Paul says I Corinthians 11 does not refer to intoxicating wine. Paul is talking about food. He reproved some of the Christians for “eating beyond the demands of nourishment.”8
Adam Clarke writes, “One was hungry, and the other was drunken, methuei, filled to the full. This is the sense of the word in many places of the Scripture.”9
Greed in Eating, Not Alcohol Drinking, Was the Problem
The larger context, the other verses that help us understand verse 21, also show that Paul was not blaming the Christians for drunkenness but for greediness in eating.
Paul writes, I Corinthians 11:22, “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” He does not say, “Do you not have houses to eat and get drunk in?” Nothing in the question he asks suggests that intoxication was part of the problem.
If the Christians had been drinking alcohol and even getting drunk at the communion service, Paul certainly would have used stronger words to rebuke them than those in verse 22. When talking about the Christian stand in chapter 10, verse 21, he had sharply divided right from wrong, “Ye cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” In I Corinthians 6:10 he said drunkards would not inherit the kingdom of God. He warned Christians in I Corinthians 5:11 not to associate with or take the Lord’s Supper with any brother if he was a drunkard. If some of the believers in I Corinthians 11:22 had been getting drunk at the Communion table, Paul would have warned the others to stay away from them too.10
Yes, there was sin in the Corinthian church. But as far as alcohol was concerned, Paul had said, I Corinthians 6:10,11, that those among them who had been drunkards in the past were now “washed, sanctified and justified.” Could he have said that if they were again drunk?11
I Corinthians 11:33,34 also helps to explain verses 20 – 22. Here Paul says,
Therefore, my brethren, when you are assembling to eat, wait for one
another; and if any one is hungry, let him eat at home, lest your
meetings should bring judgment upon you.
He counsels the Corinthians to eat at home if they are hungry and to be thoughtful of each other when they come together. In this way, he says, they will avoid judgment. Paul is talking about a meal; his words show that the problem in Corinth was not drinking intoxicating wine, but greediness in eating.
Summary of Methuo in I Corinthians 11:21
Methuo means “filled to the full.” The context of this word in verse 21 shows that it stands as the opposite of the word hungry. Many Bible scholars agree, after studying the way verse 21 is written in the Greek, that methuo refers to food and not to drink. It means filled with food (satiated) in I Corinthians 11:21.
The larger context also leads us to see that the Christians were guilty of greedy eating, not drunkenness. Paul's question in verse 22 is a simple remark about eating and drinking. If some had been drinking alcohol, he certainly would have used stronger words to warn the others to stay away from the drinkers. He did say in I Corinthians 6:11 that the drinkers in Corinth who had become Christians had left their drinking. In I Corinthians 11:33,34, another picture of verses 20 – 22, Paul is talking about food.
There is no support for the moderate use of alcohol at a private home or at the Lord’s Supper in I Corinthians 11:21 for two reasons. First, the conduct of the Christians at the Love Feast and at the Lord’s Table Meeting was sinful. Paul corrected them and gave them the true order for the Lord’s Table and advice about their feasts. Second, a true understanding of the verse 21 and the context verses shows that the problem at the Love Feast connected to the Lord’s Table was not intoxication but greed in eating.12
IV. DRUNKENNESS AND TEMPERANCE IN GALATIANS
The Work of the Flesh and the Work of the Spirit: Galatians 5
Galatians 5:19 – 24 gives us two pictures to look at. They are as different as black and white.
The first picture is the black one. It is the work of the flesh or man
acting without God. The flesh or sinful self produces adultery,
fornication, uncleanness (indecency), lasciviousness (expressing lust),
idolatry (doing witchcraft), hatred, variance (making trouble),
emulations (being jealous), wrath, strife (being selfish), seditions
(making people angry with each other), heresies (causing division or
sects), envyings, murders, drunkenness (methe related to methuo),
and revelling (carousing).The context of the Greek word methe
(drunkenness) in verse 21 shows that it means filled with alcoholic
drink. Paul says he has told the Galatians before and tells them again
that people who do these things shall not inherit the kingdom of God
The second picture is the white one. It is man with God’s Spirit in
him, willingly obeying God. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
long-suffering or patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and
temperance (enkrateia); against such there is no law.
Enkrateia is the Greek word translated “temperance” in the King James Bible and “self-control” in many other Bibles. It means the power that one has over self to abstain from evil. Greek enkrateia, Latin temperantia and English temperance all have the primary meaning of abstinence. Temperance is abstinence, self restraint from whatever could injure you. It means to keep from alcohol. It is not self-restraint in the use of whatever could injure you. That is moderation.
Temperance in verse 23 is the opposite of drunkenness in verse 21. Since the words self-control and temperance mean moderation today, they mislead many people. But Paul makes it clear in verse 24 that he is talking about abstinence from the sins he has named in verses 19, 20 and 21. He says that the people who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. They put to death these sins of the flesh in their lives.
1. Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, Biblical Perspective,
Berrien Springs, Michigan, 1989, p.212. Tyndale, Cranmer and the Geneva version also say abstain.
2. Ibid., Horace from De Arte Poetica. Dr. Bacchiocchi lists several other commentaries that also say the athlete “refrains,” or takes “nothing that would harm.”
3. Rev. W.J. Conybeare, M.A., and Rev. J.S. Howson, D.D., The Life and Epistles of Saint Paul, Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1883, p.403.
4. Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, p.183.
5. Ibid., p.183.
6. Ibid., p.184.
7. Ibid., p.185. From Field's, Oinos, A Discussion of the Bible Wine Question, 1883.
8. Ibid., From writings of Clement who lived a century and a half after Paul.
10. Ibid., p.186.
11. Ibid., p.187.