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Wine Consumption for the Christian

By William R. Cunningham
November 21, 1999

 

Introduction

Should Christian drink wine? This is a fundamental question that I'm sure most of us have asked at one time or another. Should wine be an acceptable drink for the Christian or should it be avoided. Wine, or any alcoholic beverage, is associated with drunkenness. When you say wine you normally think of drunkenness and therefore consider wine to be taboo. However, there is a lot more to the issue of wine in general and in the Christian faith.

This study is designed, by request, to provide information regarding wine drinking and the Christian. However, we are also going to discuss the general aspects of wine drinking that are not specifically related to the Christian faith. We will discuss the following topics in this study.

  1. Pros and Cons of drinking wine
  2. The Health benefits of drinking wine
  3. The adverse affects to health from drinking wine
  4. The Bible's teaching on wine drinking

So I encourage you to open your mind and receive the information that I am about to present to you. This study, as I said, is designed to present information regarding wine drinking for the Christian.

This study will be divided into two sections. The first section is dedicated to the general facts about drinking wine and its health implications. The second section is dedicated to the biblical aspects of wine drinking.

Part 1-WINE AND HEALTH

The first part of our study will deal with the purely medical aspects of wine consumption. Is there anything physically harmful in drinking wine? We will move to the biblical aspect of wine consumption after we consider the answer to this question. We will begin with a general overview of alcoholic beverages since wine is classified as an alcoholic drink.

Alcoholic Beverages

The alcohol in beverages is chemically known as ethyl alcohol and is produced by the natural process of fermentation. Alcohol is formed when natural airborne yeast organisms change the sugars and starches in fruits, grains, or their juices into alcohol after remaining in a warm environment. Ethyl alcohol contains no essential nutrients for the body but it does provide caloric energy.

The affects of an alcoholic beverage on the body depends on how much alcohol the beverage actually contains. The alcoholic content can range from about 1/20th of the total volume (beer for example) or as much as 50% as in the case with rum. Generally, distilled drinks have a higher alcoholic content then fermented ones.

There are five basic types of alcoholic beverages, which are listed below.

  1. Beers
  2. Table wines
  3. Dessert or cocktail wines
  4. Cordials and liqueurs
  5. Distilled spirits such as brandy and whisky.

The alcoholic content in beers and wine are given in terms of the percentage of alcoholic content by volume. The alcoholic content of distilled spirits are given in terms of proof, which is actually twice the alcoholic content. So a 90 proof drink actually has 45% alcoholic content, which is quite high.

Bodily Affects

The affects of alcohol on the body vary depending on a number of things. However, if the blood that reaches the brain contains a certain amount of alcohol then there are noticeable changes in reactions. The operation of the brain and the central nervous system are increasingly affected as the alcoholic content increases in the blood. This process reverses itself after the alcohol is metabolized and eliminated from the bloodstream. The following lists alcoholic content of various drinks and the corresponding effects. The percentages given below are per volume.

  1. Up to 0.03%--No observable effects. This amount of alcohol can be acquired by drinking a cocktail with 1.5 ounces of whiskey, or two small glasses of table wine, or two bottles of beer. It takes about two hours for this amount of alcohol to be eliminated from the body.
  2. About 0.06%--A feeling of warmth and relaxation. This is about four small glasses of table wine.
  3. About 0.1%--Legally drunk in most states. The motor areas of the brain (areas that control motion) are affected. There is a noticeable lack of balance and coordination (the drunk man's walk).
  4. About 0.15%--Signs of intoxication become obvious. The mental facilities are adversely affected as well.
  5. About 0.4%--This amount of alcohol in the blood can cause a coma as the brain is increasingly affected.
  6. About 0.5 to 0.7%--Paralysis of the brain centers that control the operation of the lungs and heart may occur. This condition may be fatal.

In general, alcohol is a depressant and anesthetic, which is why it affects the brain the way it does. As you can see, it doesn't take a whole lot of alcohol to adversely affect the body even if it is wine. The body can safely metabolize alcohol in the blood stream up to a certain point and after that the affects are detrimental to your health.

Alcohol is unlike other foods that we eat in that it is quickly absorbed into the blood stream before it undergoes the digestive process. The alcoholic blood then transfers to the liver where most of the alcohol is converted into heat and energy. From the liver, the blood travels to the heart where it is pumped to the lungs. Some of the alcohol is expelled through the breath, sweat, and urine. From the lungs the alcohol, via the bloodstream, travels to the brain.

Drinking responsibly will not result in drunkenness. However, the amount of alcohol that can be consumed before adverse affects occur depend on the weight, physical conditioning and emotional state of the individual. Other factors of the affects of alcoholic beverages on the body are listed below.

  1. Alcoholic concentration-The higher the concentration of alcohol in the drink, the faster it is absorbed into the bloodstream (before the digestive process). For comparison purposes, three ounces of straight whisky (distilled alcoholic drink) contains about the same amount of alcohol as 48 ounces (four cans) of beer.
  2. Sipping versus gulping-Sipping the alcoholic beverage over a longer period of time, as opposed to gulping (bottom's up), allows the body more time to eliminate the alcohol in the blood.
  3. Other components-Other components that may be present in the drink may affect the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. For example, the carbohydrates in beer and wine slow down the absorption of alcohol in the blood.
  4. Food in the stomach-Food in the stomach will hinder the absorption of alcohol in the blood. For example, wine with a meal will get to the bloodstream much slower and in smaller concentrations then if drank on an empty stomach. In short, it is better to drink with something in the stomach then with an empty stomach.

Wine Identified

What is wine? Wine is the fermented juice of fresh grapes used as a beverage. Wine is produced by the fermentation of the juices that are in fresh grapes. The fermentation process is a chemical change with effervescence, an enzymatically controlled anaerobic breakdown of an energy-rich compound (as a carbohydrate to carbon dioxide and alcohol).

Basically wine is the product of a chemical action within the juices of grapes. We will see that the alcohol content and the organic acid of fermented grapes are going to play a major role in wine as it relates to health.

Affects of Wine

What are the affects of wine on humans? As might be expected, there are both benefits and problems associated with the consumption of wine. We are going to look at each of these in this section. As I stated earlier, wine is normally associated with drunkenness (he is a wino for example). However, there are other aspects of wine that are quite beneficial, which again we will discuss in this section.

Adverse Affects of Wine

Of course we all know the bad side of drinking wine. Wine in excess can make you drunk. Wine itself is merely an alcoholic beverage. It has a certain chemical composition, which is quite complex, and is able to be safely absorbed by the body if taken in moderation.

Too much wine can also affect liver disease and certain cancers. Of course there is also the problem of the effects of being drunk. For example, you can imagine the danger that is present if someone is driving and drunk from wine (or any other alcoholic beverage for that matter).

Benefits of Wine

It may seem strange to imply that there are benefits to drinking an alcoholic beverage. However, there are rather major benefits associated with the moderate consumption of wine. It has also been shown that moderate drinking of any alcohol has certain health benefits. The moderate drinking of wine has been shown to have more benefits than just any alcoholic beverage however. Let's look at some information about the benefits of the moderate drinking of wine.

60 Minutes and the "French Paradox"

On November 11, 1991 the investigative news program, "60 Minutes," aired a ten-minute segment pertaining to the French Paradox. What is the French Paradox? French people typically eat foods that we consider detrimental to the heart. For example, they typically eat fatty and high cholesterol foods that are known to contribute significantly to heart trouble. However, the French have the lowest heart attach rate in the world. Why is this so? Researches have proposed that the French Paradox is somehow related to the fact that the French usually drink a glass of red wine with their meals.

This airing caused a drastic increase in wine consumption in the United States. However, we must note that those were initial findings and should not have been conclusive. More research has been done since them and the results further show that there are definite benefits to the moderate drinking of wine. Specifically, there are benefits to drinking about a two to three glasses of wine a day, each with a meal.

Wine Research Summaries

The following is a summary list of the findings of various research on the health related aspects of drinking wine.

  1. Researchers have found that wine seems to inhibit the growth of all micro-organisms that are the cause of disease in man due to its alcohol and acid content

  2. Dr. Serge Renaud, cardiologist with the INSERM (France's health research agency) unit at the University of Bordeaux, says that two to three glasses of wine a day reduces death rates from all causes by up to 30%. It also provides protection against cancer.

  3. Studies in the U.S. showed that a drink of almost any alcoholic beverage could lower death rates by reducing cardiovascular disease.

  4. Dr. Renaud maintains that wine also acts against other heart illnesses and cancers because of the antioxidant action of polyphenol compound that exist in grapes. This is the added benefit that wine provides over that of other alcoholic drinks.

  5. Wine is a more diluted form of alcohol and can be easily absorbed by the body if taken moderately after a meal.

  6. Dr. Renaud reported that 20-30 grams of alcohol a day is beneficial in helping to protect against coronary heart disease by 40%.

  7. Dr. Renaud reported that there was a 35% reduction from cardiovascular disease and an 18-24% reduction from cancer as a result of drinking two to three glasses of wine a day.

  8. Morten Gronbaek of the Institute for Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen concluded that light to moderate drinking of wine has cardiovascular and cerebrovascular health benefits over and above those provided by the drinking of beer and spirits. In short, wine is better for you then other alcoholic beverages respectively.

  9. Dr. Matthew P., M.D., a breast cancer expert, reported that women who drank wine had a seven percent reduction in breast cancer risk.

  10. The scientific research and reports on the health benefits of wine consumption continue to support the findings thus far that drinking wine in moderation with meals provides certain cardiovascular and cancer health benefits.

  11. Research at Harvard University suggests that all alcoholic beverages may offer certain benefits regarding heart disease because of their alcoholic content.

  12. Dr. John Folts (University of Wisconsin) found that, in their animal models, wine helps to inhibit blood clots in the heart, which lead to heart attacks, better than other alcoholic beverages.

  13. A study in the United States suggested that certain compounds in wine play an important role in inhibiting LDL (bad) cholesterol oxidation, which can eventually clog the arteries.

  14. A study in Canada found that certain compounds in wine inhibit platelet growth or construction and fatty acid synthesis.

  15. A study in the United Kingdom reported that red wine raised subject's serum antioxidant capacity. Ethyl alcohol alone does not provide this benefit, which is why wine is considered a better health benefit than other alcoholic beverages.

  16. A large study indicates that one drink a day can lower the mortality rate among middle-aged and elderly people by 20%.

 

60 Minutes did a follow-up segment on the French Paradox a few years after the first segment. The new findings not only supported the previous findings but also gave more evidence to the benefits of the moderate consumption of wine with meals.

It should be pointed out that this area of research is relatively new. It should be noted that none of these findings are absolutely conclusive though the findings seem to consistently indicate that wine does offer health benefits if drunk in moderation. There are still many questions that need to be answered about wine and its complex components as it relates to health. However, as stated many times already, wine drunk in moderation does seem to offer rather significant health benefits even over other alcoholic beverages.

Summary

What can we conclude from the information presented above? We can conclude that the moderate drinking of wine with meals provide certain health benefits. We saw that wine seems to offer more health benefits than other alcoholic beverages. All alcoholic beverages offer some health benefits by nature of their alcohol content.

Part 2-The Biblical aspects

What does the Bible teach us about drinking wine? We have found that wine provides certain health benefits if drunk in moderation with meals. However, just because something is beneficial to us physically, doesn't mean that the Bible approves of it. So now let's look at what the Bible teaches us about wine consumption.

Wine and the Bible

What does the Bible have to say about the consumption of wine? It has lots to say about it. The first record of wine in the Bible is in Genesis 9:19, where Noah plants the first (recorded) vineyard. It also records that he became drunk from drinking the wine. On another more positive note, Paul told Timothy to take wine for its medicinal purposes 1 Timothy 5:23. Other uses of wine is given in Proverbs 31:6-7.

Proverbs 31:4 through Proverbs 31:7 (KJV) 4It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: 5Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. 6Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. 7Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

The scripture above gives appropriate and inappropriate uses of wine. Kings should not drink it due to the fact that it could impair his judgment. It is beneficial to those who are terminally ill as an anesthesia (though the strong drink here is actually referring to beer). Those who are in poverty can use wine to lift their spirits.

Scripture References

Let's look at a list of scripture references that relate to the consumption of wine. We will then compile these scriptures into a general teaching on the subject. After that we will draw a conclusion on what the Bible says about wine consumption. Note that the scripture references given are not necessarily the only scriptures for the respective topic.

  1. Medical Use. We already quoted Proverbs 31:6-7 and 1 Timothy 5:23 as medical uses for wine.

  2. The Last Supper (Matthew 26:27-29)-This verse refers to the last supper of Jesus Christ with his disciples at which he drank wine. We also note that wine is used for the Eucharist (Holy communion) when we remember Jesus Christ. See also Mark 14:23-25 and Luke 22:17-20.

  3. Wine-to-Water (John 2:9)-Jesus turns water into wine at a marriage feast. This is important because if Jesus were against the general consumption of wine then he would not have given such mixed signals by creating wine for the people to drink. Though this does not definitely indicate that Jesus condones the consumption of wine, it does show that at least in a particular situation that it is OK.

  4. Forbidden to priests on duty (Leviticus 10:9)-wine and other liquors were forbidden to priests while on duty. This was most likely so that their minds would remain clear so that they can rightly distinguish the (ceremonially) clean from the (ceremonially) unclean. Regardless of the health benefits of any alcohol, we must consider that they are still intoxicating drinks. Note that the implication is not that the wine was necessarily unclean, rather that the wine or other liquor may hinder them from rightly distinguishing the clean from the unclean. See also Ezekiel 44:21. We saw earlier in this study that very small concentrations of alcohol in the blood can adversely affect our mental facilities.

  5. Forbidden to Nazerites (Numbers 6:2-3)-Forbidden to the Nazerites during the term of his vow. We should take note here and from the previous scripture reference that wine and other liquors were forbidden on certain occasions and not altogether. This implies that there was something specific about alcoholic beverages that affected a person in some way. Wine was considered a luxury item at this time and to abstain from it would be equivalent to giving up luxury or at least one form of it.

  6. Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18)-Melchizedek, King of Salem and priest of God Most High, brought wine and bread when he blessed Abraham.

  7. Merry heart (Psalm 104:15, Ecclesiastes 10:19)-Gladdens the heart of man. We saw earlier in part one that a certain concentration of wine in the bloodstream can make you feel relaxed and warm.

  8. For Evil purposes (Genesis 9:21; Isaiah 5:11, 28:7)-Wine can sometimes be used in a harmful way. Primarily this implies excessive drinking. See also Romans 13:13.

  9. Drunk at the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:21)-Some people were using the wine served at communion to get drunk.

  10. Deacons (1 Timothy 3:8)-Paul states that deacons should not drink a lot of wine. This is probably because of the adverse affects that wine or any alcoholic beverage has if taken in excess.

  11. The Older women (Titus 2:3)-The older women were also not to indulge in wine (in excess).

One of the reasons why wine was an important drink to the Jewish people (and others) was because of the problems associated with drinking fresh or clean water. Water was typically collected in a cistern. Homes would have a cistern in the center of the floor that collected water as it drained from the roof by a series of conduits or the like. This water would pickup many contaminants along the way. Diluted wine provided a safe and a relatively clean drink, which we understand was most likely due to the alcoholic content in the wine. We should also note that the wine that they drank in this manner was very diluted so that the alcoholic content was very low but high enough to provide sanitary properties to the fluid.

Summary

It is clear that the Bible does not deem the drinking of wine to be evil nor does it forbid Christians from drinking it. However, the Bible does indirectly and sometimes directly warn of its affects either from casual use (as in the case with the priests) or with excessive use. The key here is in moderation and responsible drinking. The Bible does not generally speak of the health benefits of wine or beer. However, it does address the intoxicating affects that wine may have on a person as well as the "lifting of the spirits" affects that it may have.

Conclusion

The Bible and general health aspects pertaining to wine seem to arrive at the same general point. Moderate and responsible drinking of wine is not harmful. We saw that this is due primarily to the body's ability to metabolize the alcohol in wine if it is in low concentrations and taken over a long period of time.

The health benefits of wine are becoming more apparent as more research is done. Wine seems to provide some protection against cancers and cardiovascular ailments. We also saw that wine seems to provide more health benefits than other alcoholic beverages.

There is nothing that implies that wine should be a part of your regular daily diet. The current research on the health benefits of wine is very new and still generating results. The Bible on the other hand does not imply at all that we should drink wine. It warns of its over-use and it gives specific instances where it was specifically used. This doesn't mean that you should go out and buy wine to drink regularly. This may open the door to drunkards because of the intoxicating affects of wine and the inability to control oneself. A lack of character and self-control will not protect you from things that can be harmful to you if taken in excess.

The Bible does not tell us that wine is good for us and at the same time it does not prohibit its use, except for specific occasions. Health research seems to imply that a glass or two of wine with your meals do offer some health benefits.

Should you Drink Wine?

There is no reason why you should run out and buy wine to drink because of the health benefits that seem to be associated with it. There are other things that can provide the same type of health benefits that wine seems to provide. For one thing, we can eat right and exercise to obtain a healthy body. Furthermore, researches are looking to develop dietary supplements that can be taken to give much of the health benefits of wine without having to drink the wine.

If you are not careful then you may begin to perceive wine as a "vitamin" pill. A wine a day helps keep cancer away may be your motto. That in itself is not healthy. Some people already drink wine moderately on a regular basis. If you don't then this is not a reason to start. We saw in the French Paradox that the French eat food that we consider to be unhealthy. Well, one thing we can do is to not eat those types of foods in excess. If not then you may get the idea that you can eat whatever you want and then drink some wine to counter the effects.

Covering of wrong. People may believe that they can do whatever they want and then later ask God for forgiveness. Likewise, as I stated previously, people may think that they can eat whatever they want and drink some wine to cancel the effects. That attitude is very unhealthy and should be avoided.

So the Bible does not forbid the drinking of wine nor does it condone its for casual or general use. However, it isn't a sin to drink wine. The sin comes when we drink too much wine and get drunk. Anything that is taken in excess can have adverse affects. So wine in moderation is OK. However, as I said already, neither the Bible or medical research holds that wine should be a part of your regular diet.

 

 

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