Alcohol & Christian freedom, part 2

But the Bible mentions wine use–so isn’t it okay?[1]

Perhaps, but remember, parts of the Bible range in age from 2,000 to 3,500 years ago. There is probably only limited correspondence between an item we know today and that same item 3,000 years in the past. For example, linens were no doubt quite different from what we wear today. Foods that “sound” the same in the text would have tasted very differently. The same is true for alcoholic beverages. The ancients frequently mention how wine should be diluted with water for appropriate use, to avoid its intoxicating effects.[2] Diluted how much? Here is a partial list of the instructions or descriptions we read from antiquity:

  • Homer’s day: 20 parts water/1 part wine (Odyssey 9:209-209)
  • Hesiod: 3 parts  water/1 part wine (750BC)
  • Pliny: 8 parts water/1 part wine (Natural History 14:6-54)
  • Hippocrates: 20 parts water/1 part wine (460-370BC)
  • Aristophanes: 3 parts water/2 parts wine (448-380BC)
  • Alexis:  4 parts water/1 part wine (294-275BC)

The point is that one cannot assume the wine in Bible times is the same as wine today simply because the contemporary word “wine” occurs in the Bible.

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[1] After all, wine is referred to as a symbol of God’s blessing: Deut. 7:13, 11:14; Isa. 55:1

[2] Mnesitheus of Athens, 4th cent BC physician, wrote

The gods have revealed wine to mortals, to be the greatest blessing for those who use it aright, but for those who use it without measure, the reverse. For it gives food to them that take it and strength in mind and body. In medicine it is most beneficial; it can be mixed with liquid and drugs and it brings aid to the wounded. In daily intercourse, to those who mix and drink it moderately, it gives good cheer; but if you overstep the bounds, it brings violence. Mix it half and half, and you get madness; unmixed, bodily collapse.  (quoted by Oribasius and Athenaeus)