The Bible teaches that drunkenness from the consumption of alcoholic beverages is a process that is sinful from start to finish. The New Testament uses several different words in the original Koine Greek in which it was written, which describes different degrees of intoxication. beginning with the first drink, and its adverse effect progressively increases with each additional drink. Science and Law Enforcement substanciates this, showing that a person’s blood alcohol content is affected after one drink, impairment begins, and criminal penalties such as a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) could be the result if they are found driving.(https://www.onhealth.com/content/1/alcohol_impairment_chart).
This article examines several New Testament scriptures and the different words that were used in the Greek New Testament which shows that the Bible condemns drinking alcoholic beverages of any quantity. The loss of self-control due to drinking alcohol is contrary to other scriptures which are also examined in this article in which God commands us to be sober, in control of ourselves, and to be of sound mind.
Perspective for this Study
Drinking alcohol as a beverage is not a matter of custom or a matter of conscience to which God is indifferent.
I Thessalonians 5:21 tells us to prove all things and to hold fast that which is good. Colossians 3:17 tells us that whatever we do in word or in deed (action), we are to do in the name of the Lord Jesus, which means whatever we say or do is to be by the authority of Christ. His word, His New Testament, must authorize the thing to be said or done, otherwise, it is contrary to God’s will.
Ephesians 5:11 says: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” Is drinking alcohol one of the actions God wants us to reprove (correct)?
The Bible Condemns Drunkenness
As shown in the following passages, the Bible condemns drunkenness (all Bible quotations are from the King James Version).
Romans 13:13 says: “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.”
Galatians 5:21 lists drunkenness and revellings as one of the works of the flesh of which “… those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Luke 21:34 says: “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.”
Ephesians 5:19 says: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.”
I Peter 4:3 – 4 says: “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings (NKJV renders it “drinking parties”), and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you.”
Nearly everyone who claims to follow the New Testament will admit that the New Testament condemns drunkenness. Yet, we should also understand that a person doesn’t need to be totally inebriated to have the alcohol effect their brain.
When one drinks alcohol on an empty stomach, within 1 minute, some of the alcohol reaches the frontal lobe of the brain which controls judgement and inhibitions. With the first drink, alcohol begins affecting judgement and normal inhibitions, and increases in effect as more alcohol is consumed.
Alcohol affects the:
(1) frontal lobe of the brain which results in the loss of reason, caution, inhibitions, sociability, and intelligence;
(2) parietal lobe of the brain resulting in a loss of fine motor skills, slower reaction time, and shaking.;
(3) temporal lobe of the brain resulting in slurred speech and impaired hearing;
(4) occipital lobe of the brain resulting in blurred vision and poor distance judgment;
(5) cerebllum of the brain which results in the lack of muscle coordination and balance; and
(6) at high alcohol levels, the brain stem is impaired resulting in the loss of vital functions.
Even secular governments agree that drunkenness is, therefore, a process that begins with the first drink of alcohol, not an endpoint that is only reached after large amounts of alcohol is consumed.
Federal government agencies recognize the progressive nature of drunkenness. Based on purely non-biblical reasoning, certain agencies have imposed requirements on workers in some industries declaring them unfit for duty if any amount of alcohol has been consumed within a certain number of hours prior to reporting to work. See Reference 1 and 2 for examples of these restrictions.
There are different words used in the Greek New Testament to refer to the whole range of degrees of drunkenness.
In Romans 13:13, Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit commanded the brethren at Rome, and therefore also us, to not walk or live in rioting and drunkenness. Rioting is translated from the Greek word kōmos which means a revel, a carousal, feasts and drinking parties that are protracted till late at night and indulge in revelry according to standard Greek lexicons (References 4 – 6). Kōmos is translated as revellings in Galatians 5:21 and I Peter 4:3. Kōmos is condemned as sinful in the Bible.
- Romans 13:13 we are commanded to not to engage in kōmos.
- Galatians 5:21 condemns kōmos as a work of the flesh.
- I Peter 4:3 condemns kōmos as part of the past sinful life that was abandoned in order to live the Christian life.
Drinking alcohol is a part of kōmos. Drunkenness is therefore a part of kōmos. In kōmos, the inhibitions and judgement of the drinker are degraded by the alcohol.
Methē is the Greek word translated as drunkenness in Luke 21:34, Romans 13:13, and Galatians 5:21. Methē means intoxication, drunkenness according to standard Greek lexicons (References 4 – 6). The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines drunk as having the faculties impaired by alcohol, thus there are varying degrees of drunkenness. However, these three verses do not speak of only a certain degree of drunkenness as being sinful, but simply condemn drunkenness. Therefore, we must conclude that any degree of drunkenness should be avoided.
I Peter 4:3 uses two Greek words concerning drinking that are only used in this verse in the Greek New Testament: oinophulugia and potos. They are translated excess of wine and banquetings, respectively.
According to the standard Greek lexicons (Referecnes 4 – 6), oinoophlugia means drunkenness, and potos means a drinking, carousing, a drinking party.
The Entire Range of Drunkenness is Condemned by the Bible
Richard Trench in his Synonyms (Ref. 7) does an in depth comparison of kōmos, methē, oinophlugia, potos, and kraipalē (the word translated as surfeiting in Luke 21:34). Trench stated that all of these words refer to drinking from different perspectives. Methē means drunkenness. Potos refers to a drinking bout, a banquet, or a symposium, and does not necessarily imply excessiveness, though it does provide an opportunity for excess. For example, potos is used in the Septuagint in Genesis 19:3 for feast, in II Samuel 3:20 for feast, and in Esther 6:14 for banquet. Oinophlugia refers to something worst than methē, and commonly refers to a debauch, to an extravagant indulgence in alcoholic beverages that may permanently damage the body. Kōmos unites the concepts of rioting and revelry. Kraipalē refers to the disgust and loathing that arise from drinking too much wine.
Therefore, I Peter 4:3 condemns a whole range of drinking alcoholic beverages from lesser amounts of drinking such as one might have with a meal (feast or banquet), or a cocktail party as implied by potos, to a larger amount of drinking in the revelry of kōmos, to the still larger amount of drinking implied by oinophugia.
Ephesians 5:19 commands us to “not be drunk with wine”. Methuskō is translated as be drunk and means to intoxicate, make drunk, to get drunk, become intoxicated. Vine (Ref. 3) says that methuskō signifies to make drunk or to grow drunk (an inceptive verb, marking the process of the state expressed). An inceptive verb is a verb that denotes the beginning of an action, state, or occurrence. Therefore, Ephesians 5:19 is commanding us to not even begin the process of getting drunk with wine or other intoxicant.
I Corinthians 6:10 tells us that drunkards shall not inherit the kingdom of God and I Corinthians 5:11 tells us that we are not to keep company or eat with any brother that is a drunkard. Drunkard is translated from methusos which means drunken, intoxicated. So a brother or sister in Christ, who becomes intoxicated to whatever degree by drinking alcoholic beverages, may not inherit the kingdom of God until he or she repents.
Alcohol may be used for medicinal purposes as was the case where Paul told Timothy to mix a little wine in with his water for his stomach problems (I Timothy 5:23).
The Bible Commands Soberness and Self-Control which are the Opposite of Intoxication or Drunkenness
Several different words are used in the Greek New Testament to refer to soberness and self-control. They are briefly examined below.
The New Testament commands us to be sober, in control of ourselves, to exercise self-restraint, and to be of sound-mind. These qualities are the opposite of being drunk or intoxicated.
Titus 2:11 – 12 says: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world”. God’s grace, that is the gospel of Jesus Christ, teaches us that we are to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and that we should live a sober, righteous, and godly life. Soberly is translated from the Greek adverb sōphronōs which per Thayer’s lexicon (Ref. 4) means with sound mind, soberly, temperately, discreetly. Alcohol degrades judgment and reasoning ability of the one drinking it. Therefore, drinking alcohol is contrary to living soberly, and having a sound mind.
Acts 24:24 – 25 says” “And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” Note that preaching Christ, involves teaching about righteousness, temperance, and the judgment. Temperance is translated from the Greek noun egkrateia which per Thayer’s lexicon (Ref. 4) means self-control. This is the same Greek word that Peter uses in II Peter 1:6 where he instructs us to add to our knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience… “For if these things are in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:8). Egkrateia is listed as one of the works of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23 where it is translated as “temperance”. Alcohol affects the part of the mind which controls inhibitions. Therefore, drinking alcoholic beverages is contrary to self-control since it causes the drinker to progressively lose self-control with each drink.
I Thessalonians 5:6 – 8 says: “ Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.” Be sober is translated from the Greek verb nēphō which per Thayer’s lexicon means to be sober; to be calm and collected in spirit; to be temperate, dispassionate, circumspect. Vine (Ref. 3) says nēphō signifies to be free from intoxicants. Gingrich and Danker’s lexicon (Ref. 5) says nēphō means to be sober, well-balanced, and self-controlled. Liddell and Scott’s lexicon (Ref. 6) says that nēphō means to be sober, drink no wine; to be self-controlled; to be sober and wary.
Ingesting intoxicants, that is drinking alcoholic beverages, is therefore contrary to what nēphō instructs us to be, which is to be free of intoxicants. The Christian life is compared to light, living in the day, in contrast to the darkness of sin. Living in the day requires us to be alert, watching, and sober as opposed to sleeping and intoxication which occurs at night. Drinking alcohol progressively makes us less alert, less able to watch, and less sober with each drink. Drinking any amount of alcoholic beverages is inconsistent with living in the day.
Nēphō is used in the following additional verses:
- I Peter 1:13: “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”. Nēphō is translated as “be sober”.
- I Peter 4:7: “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer”. Nēphō is translated as “watch”. “Sober” in this verse is translated from the Greek verb sōphroneō which per Thayer’s lexicon (Ref. 4) means to be in one’s right mind; to exercise self-control; to put a moderate estimate upon one’s self; think of one’s self soberly; to curb one’s passions.
- I Peter 5:8 says: “Be sober, be vigilant; because of your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”. Nēphō is translated as “be sober”. How can we be sober and vigilant if our senses and reasoning abilities are progressively dulled as we drink each glass of wine or beer or other alcoholic beverages? It is hard enough to resist the temptations of the devil when we are sober. When our resistance to sin is degraded by alcohol, how much easier prey are we to the devil?
The adjective form of nēphō is nēphaleos. Liddell and Scott’s lexicon (Ref. 6) defines nēphaleos as sanely, unmixed with wine, wineless. Thayer (Ref. 4) in defining nēphaleos cites Josephus’ Antiquities III, 12, 2, where nēphaleos was used to note that the Jewish priests were not permitted to drink wine while in serving in the tabernacle, a reference to the requirement of Leviticus 10:8 – 11. Since we as Christians are priests (I Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6) and we live under a better covenant (Hebrews 8:6), should we think that our Christian life requires less holiness than what was required of priests in the Old Testament?
Despite Thayer’s reference to Josephus’ use of nēphaleos, he interjected his bias toward allowing “moderate” drinking in defining the word as sober, temperate, abstaining from wine (either entirely or at least from its immoderate use). Gingrich and Danker’s (Ref. 5) also reflected a bias toward allowing “moderate” drinking in their defintion of nēphaleos as temperate (in the use of alcoholic beverages), sober, clear-headed; self-controlled. Thayer cites the below three verses as supposed evidence that the word is used to refer to moderation in the use of alcohol. Yet, the below verses do not approve of small or moderate amounts of alcoholic beverage consumption because that would contradict the other scriptures already presented which command us to be sober.
Nēphaleos occurs in:
- I Timothy 3:2 where it is listed as one of the qualifications of bishops and translated as “vigilant” in the King James Version;
- I Timothy 3:11 where it is listed as one of the qualifications of deacons’ wives and translated as “sober”; and
- Titus 2:2 where the aged men are commanded to be “sober”.
Paul commanded Titus in Titus 2:1: “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine”. Titus 2:1 is therefore a command to all men. “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God…”, I Peter 4:11. Therefore we are commanded by God to speak, teach, and preach sound doctrine. Paul goes on in Titus 2: 2 – 6 to tell Titus what sound doctrine includes. Sound doctrine includes teaching:
- the aged men to be sober (nēphaleos) and temperate (sōphrōn);
- the aged women to not be given to much wine (i.e., not enslaved to much wine);
- the aged women to teach the young women to be sober and discrete (sōphrōn); and
- the young men to be sober minded (sōphroneō).
Sōphrōn is a Greek adjective which per Thayer’s lexicon (Ref. 4) means of sound mind, sane, in one’s senses; curbing ones desires and impulses; self-controlled, temperate.
Note that all women, young and old are commanded in I Timothy 2:9 to adorn themselves with sobriety (sōphrosunē). I Timothy 2:15 states that women shall be saved if they continue in the faith and charity (love) and holiness with sobriety (sōphrosunē). Sōphrosunē is a Greek noun which per Thayer’s lexicon (Ref. 4) means soundness of mind; self-control; sobriety. Therefore, sound doctrine involves teaching men and women, young and old, to be sober, sound-minded, and self-controlled.
Drinking alcoholic beverages causes a person with the first drink to begin the intoxication process, to lose inhibitions, self-control, and soundness in thinking, and increases in effect with each additional drink. In light of all of the scriptures, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and are to be sober minded, use self-control, and be of sound mind. Is it not contrary to God’s will for us to drink any amount of alcoholic beverages which we know will degrade our thinking ability, judgement, and self-control?
The use of alcohol for medicinal purposes is permitted by I Timothy 5:23 as is present in some medications as cough syrups, but this verse does not authorize abuse in self-medicating. The Lord’s church and a preacher or teacher of sound doctrine would therefore be expected to teach against drinking alcohol as a beverage, and not engage in drinking that God condems.
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Proverbs 20:1. “Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.” Proverbs 23:29 – 32.
God’s word condemns any degree of drunkenness and commands us to be sober, having self control, and to be of sound mind.
- Title 10 Code of Federal Register Part 26 Fitness for Duty Program. Requires nuclear workers to abstain from drinking alcohol at least 5 hours before reporting for duty.
- Title 14 Code of Federal Register Part 91 General Operating and Flight Rules § 91.17 Alcohol or Drugs. Requires crewmembers of a civil aircraft to abstain from drinking alcohol for at least 8 hours before reporting for duty.
- W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, MacDonald Publishing Company, McLean, VA.
- Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI.
- F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Second Edition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1979.
- Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. Revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie, Oxford Clarendon Press, 1940.
- Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonymns of the New Testament, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1989,
Written by: RHT