By Spencer D Gear
Where do Australians rank in the world of alcohol consumption? This article from the Australian Times [UK] (‘World’s 20 drunkest countries: Where does Australia rank in alcohol consumption?’ 18 May 2014) stated:
Aussies are renowned the world over as prolific beer drinkers (and we make a bloody good drop of wine too). It’s in our culture and runs through our veins, so the stereotype goes. But exactly how does Australia rank against the rest of the world when it comes to alcohol consumption?
Well, a 2014 WHO (World Health Organisation) report looks at alcohol consumed globally by drinkers aged 15 and older (the stats were taken from the years 2010-2011).
So, how did we go? Aussie drinkers consumed 14.5 litres of pure alcohol per capita, per year. This is more than twice the global average of 6.55 litres. But guess what; Australia only ranks 19th out of all countries when looking at alcohol consumed per capita:
Mashable’s map of the WHO report highlighted the “drunkest countries in the world”. Eastern European countries are world beaters, but Australia wasn’t too far behind, as this WHO map shows:
The map shows how Australia compares to countries outside the Western Pacific Region. So while Aussie drinkers might consume less than most in Eastern Europe, they’re drinking more than Brits (13.8 litres of pure alcohol per drinker) and Kiwis (13.7). We’ll drink to that!
Stats say Aussies favour beer over most drinks, with wine as a close second:
With men consuming more than double that of women in Aus, we’ve definitely got the boys to thank for this one. Pass us another cold one, would ya mate? 
“Alcohol abuse has now become the major drug problem in Australia, with alcohol-related road deaths, hospital admissions and drownings bearing witness to the enormity of the problem. Family breakdowns, domestic violence, homicides and money worries go hand-in-hand with excessive drinking, as do depression, sexual impotence, permanent brain damage and poor dietary habits.” 
“Drug misuse [is] estimated to cost Australia more than $14 billion a year in road trauma, health care, lost productivity, and law enforcement.” 
Yet, it appears that God wants us to enjoy food and alcohol. Ecclesiastes 9:7 says, “Go then, eat your bread in happiness, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.” 
How do we put these two ideas together? The devastation of alcohol on the Australian community on the one hand, and a God who seems to approve of alcohol use? Is God a big ogre, saying, “Go ahead, enjoy your alcohol, and too bad about what happens in your life and nation?” That doesn’t compute with the compassionate, merciful God of the Bible!
Is the Lord saying it’s perfectly okay for Christians to enjoy their booze — beer, wine and spirits?
My focus will be on wine-drinking. I want to take a serious look at the Bible’s view of alcohol use and what our response should be.
A. WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT WINE DRINKING?
1. It’s a sin to get drunk.
In the Old Testament, the stubborn and rebellious son who received the death penalty for his sin, was also a glutton and a drunkard.
While the O.T. was the covenant of law and Christians are under grace, the New Testament agrees with the Old. I Corinthians 5:11 tells Christians “not to associate” with “a drunkard.”
I Corinthians 6:10: No “drunkards” will inherit the kingdom of God;
Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk with wine.”
Galatians 5:19-21 lists “drunkenness” as one of the “deeds of the flesh.”
The Bible is very clear that drunkenness is a sin that will prevent you from entering heaven.
2. Strong drink is deceptive and sinful.
The Bible has a lot to say about strong drink.
- O.T. priests were not to have ‘wine or strong drink’ (Deut. 10:8-9).
- Prov. 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler.”
- Prov. 31:4-5, Kings are not to drink wine; rulers are not “to desire strong drink.” Why? “Lest they drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (v. 5).
- Isa. 5:11, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink.”
- Micah 2:11 says it was the false prophet who said, “I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer.” He’s called a “liar and a deceiver.”
The Hebrew word for “strong drink” is used 23 times in the OT. It refers to “an intoxicating drink made from barley, pomegranates, dates, apples or honey.”
The most common word for “wine” is used 141 times in the OT. “New wine” is used 38 times and refers to “freshly pressed juice of the grape, that is, grape juice that has not yet fully fermented,” e.g. Gen. 27:28; Joel 2:24; Mic. 6:5.
The use of strong drink will deceive you and is sinful.
3. Drinking in excess is wrong.
- Amos 6:1, 6: “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion… You drink wine by the bowlful.” Cups were apparently not large enough, so they were drinking from bowls.
- Hab. 2:15 states that over-drinking leads to sexual sin.
The Scriptures assert that drinking in excess has these results:
- slowing of the thinking processes (Prov. 31:4-5; Isa. 28:7; Hos. 4:11);
- a stupor (Jer. 25:27; 51:39);
- sickness (Isa. 19:14; 28:7-8; Jer. 48:26);
- staggering (loss of balance and loss of mental control) (Job 12:25; Isa.28:7- 8; 29:9);
- arrogance (Hab. 2:5);
- forgetfulness (Prov. 31:6-7);
- confusion & delirious dreams (Prov. 23:31, 33);
- sleepiness (Gen. 9:20-24; 19:33);
- lack of feeling (Prov. 23:31, 35);
- bloodshot eyes (Prov. 23:29-30);
- poverty (Prov. 23:20-21).
Biblically, drinking in excess is clearly wrong.
4. Church elders and deacons are to be moderate in their use of wine.
- An elder is to be “not given to drunkenness” (I Tim. 3:3, NIV);
- A deacon is to be “not indulging in much wine” (I Tim. 3:8, NIV).
God is not saying that church leaders should not drink wine, but that church leaders were to drink wine in moderation.
5. Wine was a medicine in New Testament times.
- Paul told Timothy to “use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (I Tim. 5:23, NIV). In the ancient world, wine was used to aid the digestive tract, and as a laxative.
- Prov. 31:6: “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter.” This is indicating that “strong drink was used as a sedative or pain-killer for the dying, and that wine was also used to calm the nerves.”
- I Sam. 16:2 says that wine would “refresh those who become exhausted in the desert” (2 Sam. 16:2, NIV).
- What did the Good Samaritan pour on the wounds of the man who had been beaten by thieves (Luke 10:34)? Oil and wine. It was to help heal wounds.
Biblically, wine had at least four uses as a medicine: a laxative, pain-killer, stimulant to refresh, and to help heal wounds.
That is what the Bible says about wine and strong drink.
However, a number of myths about alcohol have crept into the Bible-believing church.
B. WHAT THE BIBLE DOES NOT SAY ABOUT ALCOHOL
1. The Bible does not teach that the wine at the Lord’s supper was unfermented, i.e. non-alcoholic.
I know some fine Christians who insist that alcoholic wine must not be used at the Lord’s Supper. It must be grape juice or some other unfermented drink, they say. People did not know of Sanitarium and Berri grape juice in those days.
I Corinthians 11:21 (one of the chapters dealing with the Lord’s supper) says that some Corinthians were getting drunk at the Lord’s Table. From grape juice? Hardly.
In fact, because of the drunkenness and gluttony around the Lord’s Table, some Corinthians became sick and died (I Cor. 11:30). Judgment fell on the people of God because of their sins around the Lord’s Supper.
It was definitely alcoholic wine used at the Corinthian Lord’s supper.
Perhaps you might observe: That’s not surprising. There were lots of strange things happening in the church at Corinth. They were clearly out of order in many ways. But not once in Paul’s correction of what was happening at Corinth did he say that they must change from alcoholic to non-alcoholic beverage at the Lord’s Supper.
2. The Bible does not teach that the new wine was non-alcoholic.
Some have taught that the old wine was fermented, but the new wine, especially of the NT, was non-fermented. Two passages refute that idea:
- Hosea 4:11, “Wine and new wine take away the understanding.”
- Acts 2:13. On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended and the people were filled with the Holy Spirit, the crowd said, “They are full of sweet wine [or new wine].”
So, new wine in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, was just as alcoholic/fermented as the old wine.
3. I am not convinced that it is correct to say that the wine Jesus made at Cana of Galilee was non-alcoholic.
Take a look at John 2, especially verses 9-10. It is called “wine” and “good wine.” It was so good that the people at the wedding feast, who expected the cheaper wine to be brought on at the last, found it was as good as what was used at the beginning.
The word for “wine” (oinos) at Cana, is the same word that appears in Mark 2:22 and Eph. 5:18, “Be not drunk with wine.” It’s clearly alcoholic wine.
4. It is not biblical to say that the NT teaches that first century Christians did not use wine at any time.
David Wilkerson, the founder of Teen Challenge and the author of The Cross & the Switchblade, was so concerned about the amount of alcohol drinking among the Christian community, particularly in the U.S.A., that he wrote a strong little book against such drinking that he called, Sipping Saints.
I must be true to the Scriptures. No verse in the Bible states that Christians in biblical times abstained from all wine at all times. The biblical commands are against use of “strong drink” and against drunkenness.
5. Total abstinence from alcoholic beverages was not a condition of membership in the NT church.
Some churches today have a ‘pledge’ in their membership commitment that prohibits the drinking of alcohol. For example, the Salvation Army has this statement regarding church membership. If one wants to become a senior soldier (i.e. church member), he or she pledges to ‘abstain from alcoholic drink, tobacco, the non-medical use of addictive drugs, gambling, pornography, the occult, and all else that could enslave the body or spirit’ (Abstinence from alcohol, Salvation Army New Zealand, Fiji & Tonga). This is the Assemblies of God USA’s statement on ‘abstinence’.
I do not believe it is biblical to conclude that not drinking alcohol should be a condition of church membership.
Nor is it a condition of being a godly believer. That’s a myth perpetuated by some evangelical churches.
Some of you may be wondering where I am heading. Am I advocating that all Christians, including our youth, should be able to drink alcohol freely, as long as they don’t get drunk?
You are jumping to unwarranted conclusions. I have had to be honest with the biblical data.
An important question is:
C. IS WINE IN AUSTRALIA TODAY THE SAME AS NEW TESTAMENT WINE (OINOS)?
Many Christians today assume that the N.T. wine is identical with wine today. That’s an error. Today’s wine, beer and spirits are, by biblical definition, “strong drink.” And use of that is forbidden by the Bible. Wine in the Bible was essentially purified water.
Homer was a Greek poet who lived in the 8th century before Christ. He said that in his day, wine was 20 parts water and one part wine. 
A writer after the time of the N.T., Pliny (lived in the 2nd century after Christ), spoke of wine being eight parts water and one part wine.
Aristophanes said wine was three parts water and two parts wine. Other Greek writers said it was three to one.
The average was about three or four parts of water to one part of wine.
In the ancient world, sometimes it was one part water and one part wine — that was considered strong wine. “Anyone who drank wine unmixed [with water] was looked on as a Scythian, a barbarian. That means the Greeks would say today, `You [Australians] are barbarians — drinking straight wine.'”
They said, “Mix it half and half and you get madness: unmixed — bodily collapse.” Here is a pagan saying: “Half and half is madness, and unmixed wine brings death.”
There are several instances in the O.T. where a distinction is made between wine and strong drink (Lev. 10:8-9; Deut. 14:26; 29:6; Judges 13:4).
The Jewish Talmud (writings at the time of the early church) states that the `wine’ of the Passover meal was three parts water and one part wine (cf. 2 Maccabees 15:39).
“In ancient times not many beverages were safe to drink… Water could be made safe in one of several ways. It could be boiled, but this was tedious and costly. Or it could be filtered, but this was not a safe method. Or some wine could be put in the water to kill the germs — one part wine with three or four parts water.”
Wine, beer and spirits in Australia today have a much higher alcoholic content than wine in the N.T. One researcher calculated that “in New Testament times one would need to drink twenty-two glasses of wine in order to consume the large amount of alcohol in two martinis today.”
He put it this way: “In other words, it is possible to become intoxicated from wine mixed with three parts water, but one’s drinking would probably affect the bladder long before the mind.”
What am I saying?
Fermented, alcoholic wine was drunk in Bible times, and the Bible approved of this kind of wine-drinking, as long as one did not become drunk. Drunkenness is clearly sin.
HOWEVER, beer, wine and spirits in Australia today (wine coolers have the same alcoholic content as beer) are what the Bible calls strong drink and is forbidden for believers to use. “Even the ancient pagans did not drink what some Christians drink today.”
D. HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHETHER TO DRINK ALCOHOL OR NOT?
I suggest asking and answering these four questions:
1. What are the facts about alcohol?
- “The average Australian family consumes an estimated 936 cans of beer, 61 bottles of wine and 20 bottles of spirits each year, according to the Australian Drug Foundation…
- “In 1990, there were an estimated 6600 deaths due to alcohol, representing a quarter of all drug-caused deaths and 5 per cent of all deaths.”
-  Money: How much does drinking cost you? Just three drinks a day every day will cost you more than $1000 a year. Twenty drinks over a weekend will cost you about the same. Some people spend as much as half their income on alcohol. For them drinking is more important than other activities.
- Work: Drinking could cost you your job. If you are even slightly intoxicated at work, or have a hangover, you can’t work properly. Sometimes you can’t work at all and have to take time off. Around 1 in 15 people in the work force have an alcohol problem. These problems cost Australian industry about one billion dollars (Australian currency) a year.
- Motor skills: Alcohol affects your co-ordination. It affects your ability to drive any kind of vehicle or operate many kinds of machinery. Alcohol is a common cause of accidents in industry, on the roads and in the home. Alcohol is also a common cause of drowning in Australia.
- The law: Alcohol can get you into trouble with the law. Drinking and driving are against the law and offences carry heavy penalties. Alcohol is also a factor in more than half the serious crimes in Australia and in about three-quarters of violent crimes committed.
- Personality: Most drugs affect your mood. Alcohol is a mood changing drug, but it is not a stimulant as many think. Alcohol acts as a depressant and slows you down. It can also make you uninhibited and aggressive and you are still responsible for what you do when you have been drinking.
- Sex: Alcohol can make you feel less inhibited about sex and more sexually active. But it can often reduce your ability to perform sexually.
It can also make you more aggressive. Alcohol is a major factor in sexual offences like rape, incest and child abuse.
- Relationships: Alcohol causes many personal and family problems. It is a factor in many unhappy relationships, causing arguments, violence and poverty.
At least 1.5 million Australians are affected by drinking problems in their families. Two in every five divorces and separations are caused by alcohol problems.
“Relationships often break down in a cloud of violence and abuse. The bottle can replace all thought of your partner, friends, job, family… It can all add up to a pretty ugly and depressing picture.” 
- Appearance: Alcohol has no real value as a food, but it contains a lot of kilojoules. Drinking can quickly make you put on weight. Heavy drinkers are often fat, and this increases other health risks, like heart disease. Alcohol also affects the condition of your skin.
- Health: “Heavy drinking is one sure way of damaging your health. Liver, brain, and pancreas damage; heart and blood disorders; ulcers; and loss of memory are conditions common to many heavy drinkers.” Regular alcohol use can kill brain cells (and you know what that means?) It can attack your liver in a severe way, for some leading to cirrhosis of the liver.
Recently my wife phoned a friend to cancel out on a job the woman was doing for us. The wife was not home, so the message was given to her husband who answered the phone. After my wife got off the phone, she said to me: “He didn’t sound coherent; or was he drunk?”
Sure enough, that woman turned up at our place at the regular time to do the job. My wife said, “But I phoned your husband earlier in the week and left a message for you not to come.” His wife’s reply was: “He never said a word to me about your message. In fact, I said I was coming to your place as I was leaving and he didn’t mention your message. But then, he had his birthday on the day you phoned and he was probably drunk.”
“How you feel tomorrow depends on how you handled the night before.”
So, if you believe it is okay for a Christian to drink alcohol, you must consider these facts.
2. Will my alcohol drinking lead me to sin?
The Bible is very clear — drunkenness is sin and will keep you out of the Kingdom of God. I Cor. 6:12 gives a very clear principle: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable.”
Even if alcohol drinking is permissible, is it profitable for the Christian? It’s profitable for the publican, but is it profitable for you in your life as a believer?
I Cor. 6:12 adds: “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” If you drink alcohol, you need to ask, “Am I the master of it, or is it the master of me?”
3. Will my drinking alcohol lead anybody else to sin?
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Christian answer is a resounding, “Yes.” Phil. 2:4, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others.” If you drink alcohol, are you considering “the interests of others” (spouse, children, boss, fellow employees, friends, mates who play sport with you, etc.) or is it for your own indulgence and pleasure?
If you are a genuine Christian concerned about your impact on and witness in this city, you must take seriously Romans 14:21: “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.”
I have raised three teenagers. I would not dare give my children the example of seeing alcohol in my refrigerator. In this alcohol-soaked country, what a pathetic model I would be to say to my kids: alcohol is destroying families across the nation; accidents, homicides, and abuse are epidemic in Australia, associated with alcohol — but it’s okay for Christians to drink. I believe that is hypocritical.
I must ask: Will my drinking cause anybody else to sin? Even if it is not a problem to me, is it possible that I would cause somebody else to stumble? I’m not talking about mature Christians being offended by your stance, but causing another brother or sister to stumble in his/her Christian growth.
4. Can alcohol drinking be done to the glory of God?
I Cor. 10:31, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If you as a Christian cannot be praising God and glorifying Him while you are drinking alcohol, then it is not good for you.
E. WHY I DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL
This has been my choice and does not make me a better Christian than another. I had one shandy as a 10-year-old kid at a Christmas party where we used to live. I drank a glass of champaign when I was about 24 years old and attended the opening of a bridal boutique when I was program manager at a radio station.
I am a teetotaller because:
1. I am convinced . . .
There is a strong biblical argument for Aussie alcohol being the equivalent of “strong drink” in the Bible. As a committed Christian, God says I should not have ‘strong drink’ and I must be obedient. My life will always be the loser if I disobey the Lord’s commands. I am committed to pleasing Him, no matter how nice a glass of wine may be or feel. Christ is my Master.
2. As a counsellor for 34 years . . .
I have counselled enough people and families whose lives have been wrecked by grog, to cure me from any alcohol use for the rest of my life. Heroin, marijuana, LSD, amphetamines are dangerous drugs. But the number one drug problem in Australia is alcohol abuse.
I counsel young people to keep away from that dangerous mind-altering drug marijuana. But young people have every right to say to adults: “You hypocrites! You approve of your drug, alcohol, and look at what it does to families and the nation! And you disapprove of our drug, marijuana.”
It’s very difficult to convince young people to quit marijuana use when adults are into booze. However, it’s a myth to say that marijuana is no more harmful than cigarettes or alcohol.
3. We in Australia have plenty of wholesome non-alcoholic beverages available.
4. Australia is an alcohol-soaked culture.
“Heroin is not the biggest drug problem among young people. Nor is marijuana [although it is a dangerous mind-altering drug.] The use of ICE has tragic consequences.
However, “the highest contributor to death and serious injury among Australia’s youth is alcohol, according to a NSW Health Department document: “In the 15-34 age group [in NSW], of 1409 drug-related deaths [in one year], 915 were alcohol-related.”
This NSW document said, “It is imperative that control elements for reduction or prevention of harm be developed.” In the A.C.T., a 1991 schools’ survey of alcohol and drug use
“Showed that 40 per cent of boys in Years 7 to 11 and 30 per cent of girls reported binge drinking in the four weeks before the survey. Binge drinking is having five or more drinks in a row. . . Studies showed that most youth tended to do their drinking at home or at a friend’s place with no supervision This indicated that action was needed at a community level to encourage more responsibility among parents.
“A study of 5000 Victorian students found half of year 11 students drink regularly, 46 per cent have travelled in a car with a driver, often a parent, affected by alcohol, and 24 per cent had been sexually harassed by a drunk person.”http://www.normgeisler.com/
The New South Wales Government was calling for “control elements for reduction or prevention of harm” from alcohol use. The ACT Government is calling for “action . . . at the community level to encourage more responsibility among parents.” How then can we, who love Jesus, be contributing to the problem rather than preventing it?
I refuse to be a model of a destructive, alcohol-drinking lifestyle for my children, the youth I counsel, and the Christian community of which I am part.
5. Total abstinence is the safer policy.
Would you fly in an aeroplane if you knew there was a 1 in 15 chance that the plane would crash? The chances of a plane crashing are much lower than that. But the chances of having an alcohol problem in the work force are 1 in 15.
Australia is an alcohol-saturated society.
Will you as Christians join me in a vow never to use alcohol (or any illegal drug)? Will you voluntarily abstain from all alcohol consumption?
This abstinence does not make you more spiritual. Nor does the Bible say Christians must abstain from all alcohol. This is our voluntary protest against the abuse of alcohol in Australian society.
One of the main reasons people drink alcohol is to provide relaxation and enjoyment. Is God a cosmic killjoy who wants to zap you of peace and enjoyment? Absolutely not!
He wants you to experience genuine peace and real joy — the peace of God and the joy of Christ. As Eph. 5:18 puts it, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (NIV).
GOD WANTS YOU TO HAVE PEACE WITHOUT GOING TO PIECES.
The Daily Telegraph (Sydney Australia) reported this incident (Accessed 6 February 2016):
RADIO broadcaster Ray Hadley [2GB, 4BC & network stations] has lashed out at rugby league immortal Andrew Johns for lewd comments allegedly made by the former footy star to a mother at a Queensland airport.
Describing the comments as “abhorrent”, the 4BC announcer chastised Johns on air for his actions.
The Channel 9 commentator is said to have approached the mother of three at a Toowoomba airport, asking her for a kiss before inquiring whether she had given birth via caesarean.
King David said of God (Ps. 16:11): “You show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
It is shameful for Christians to have to resort to grog to relax when the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” is available to them.
It is an insult to the Holy Spirit when we have to seek superficial pleasure from stimulants when He can give us the permanent joy of the Holy Spirit.
I enthusiastically recommend the article by Norman Geisler, ‘To Drink or Not to Drink: A sober look at the question‘.
GOD DESIRES THAT YOUR PLEASURES BE SPIRIT-DIRECTED, NOT SELF-CENTRED; THAT THEY BE HELPFUL, NOT HARMFUL.
 I retired in 2011 as an Australian family counsellor and counselling manager. I am indebted to the article, ‘A Christian Perspective on Wine-Drinking‘, Norman L. Geisler, Bibliotheca Sacra, January-March, 1982, pp. 6-56, that helped me clarify the differences between wine and strong drink, biblically. I have taken many of Geisler’s ideas and contextualised them for the Australian scene. For a different perspective, see: ‘A “Biblical” View of Alcohol: Another Thought’ (Preston Sprinkle, 2014).
 “A devil too many of us know well,” The Canberra Times, March 3, 1992, p. 21.
 “Legal drug abuse more costly than illegal use,” The Canberra Times, April 7, 1993, p. 19.
 Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.
 Deuteronomy 21:20-21.
 New International Version (NIV).
 Geisler, p. 47.
 Geisler, p. 48.
 The following details are taken from Geisler, pp. 50-51.
 Odyssey 9: pp. 208-9.
 Robert H. Stein, in Geisler, p. 51.
 “Legal drug abuse more costly than illegal use,” The Canberra Times, April 7, 1994, p. 19.
 The following information is from the Queensland Health Pamphlet on Alcohol, reproduced in Drug Stop insert in the Fraser Coast (Maryborough, Qld.) Chronicle.
 “How will you feel tomorrow?” A pamphlet published by The Drug Offensive: A Federal and State initiative, p. 6. To obtain: outside Brisbane in Queensland, phone (008) 177 833.
 As in note , p. 4.
 “Alcohol strategy to combat biggest threat to young people,” The Canberra Times, July 25, 1992, p. 5.
 “Call to limit access to alcohol,” The Canberra Times, December 4, 1992, p. 2.
 “Alcohol a part of teen lives,” The Canberra Times, October 1, 1993, p. 18.
 New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (NRSV).
 Phil. 4:7, NRSV.
Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 4 April 2017.