Did Jesus Condone Social Drinking?


There is an ongoing debate about whether or not a Christian can lawfully engage in the consumption of alcohol. By lawfully, I am not referring to the laws of man, but the law of God. Does the word of God authorize us to drink alcohol? If so, how much? Generally, we all agree that drunkenness is wrong (Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:18). But what about the occasional drink whereby one does not get drunk? This is often referred to as “social drinking.”

John recorded Jesus’ first miracle in which He turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). On the surface, it may appear that this passage is speaking of what we would call “social drinking.” If it is, then Jesus seems to condone the practice. But is that what we see in the text?

In this passage, Jesus, His mother, and His disciples attended a wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-2). During the course of the event, the group ran out of wine (John 2:3). Jesus then performed a miracle by turning water into wine (John 2:6-10). Does Jesus condone social drinking on this occasion?

It is important to note that the word wine is used in different ways in the Bible. When we think of wine in our age, we think of an alcoholic beverage. However, in New Testament times, wine could refer to either an alcoholic or a non-alcoholic beverage. Therefore, when we see the word wine here in John 2, we should not automatically think of the wine with which we are familiar today. Rather, we must look to the context to determine the meaning.

If the wine of John 2 is alcoholic wine, then Jesus is present at an event where people would be consuming alcohol. Further, He was present at an event where the people drank so much that it was more than the hosts anticipated because they ran out of wine. Then, after these people had “drunk freely” (John 2:10), He created more wine so they could continue drinking freely. If this passage is speaking about alcoholic wine, then Jesus not only condoned “social drinking,” He enabled these people in becoming drunk. Alcoholic wine does not fit with the context.

In contrast, non-alcoholic wine (unfermented grape juice) fits into the passage. It explains how the Lord was able to provide more wine to a group of people that had already “drunk freely” without contributing to drunkenness and debauchery. Non-alcoholic wine was also a common beverage for these people of this time. Albert Barnes comments: “The wine referred to here was doubtless such as was commonly drunk in Palestine. That was the pure juice of the grape. It was not brandied wine, nor drugged wine, nor wine compounded of various substances, such as we drink in this land. The common wine drunk in Palestine was that which was the simple juice of the grape.”

Jesus did not condone social drinking on this or any other occasion. No other New Testament passage condones the practice either. Therefore, it is not a practice in which Christians ought to be engaged.

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  1. Great article!!! Especially when so many Christians are caving on this issue.

  2. Thanks, Tim. Sadly you’re right. Too many Christians want to behave like the world.