How to be Holier than Jesus

This next group of blog articles are likely to generate some heat. My prayer is that they generate much more light than heat. I’ll be working through some “sacred cows” of the faith that are more cultural and traditional than scriptural.

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We ALL have traditions, but our default is to see what WE do as “following the bible” and what anyone else is doing as “their tradition.” This is one of the reasons I believe church history is *crucial*! It allows us to see where we are in the body of Christ outside of our own culture. In other words, to see what we have taken from culture and inserted into the context of what it means to be “christian”.

To that end, I’ll start off with the first article.. How to Be Holier than Jesus!

Of course, you can’t. If you’re looking for a “how to” on achieving a holiness which surpasses that of Christ, you must be new to this blog. 😉

This article will be focused on how we often exceed biblical guidance by creating rules (often in light of our current cultural mores.)

This week? The Sacred Cow of…. alcohol.

There is a term which I’d like to introduce you to this week; Adiaphora.

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Adiaphora is a greek term meaning “indifferent things”. In church history, this term has been understood as things which scripture neither commands nor forbids.

With that in mind, let’s address alcohol. Is it commanded that we imbibe, or is it commanded that we abstain?

First of all, let’s define “alcohol”. There are some that make the argument that “wine” in scripture is, well, grape juice. This is an untenable position for two primary reasons:

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1. The process of creating unfermented “grape juice” as we know it didn’t exist until the 1800’s when invented by Thomas Welch. Why did Welch invent the process? The temperance (anti-alcohol) movement was all the rage in America during his day and he took that cultural view back into the church and created the process to ensure the actual, alcoholic wine (which had been used in the church for some 1,800 years) was replaced with a non-alcoholic alternative.

2. The occurrences of wine in scripture are clearly referring to a fermented, alcoholic wine (as we will discuss in detail below.)

Those two “logic-based” arguments aside, let’s go straight to scripture where Jesus is directly, inarguably, involved:

1. The Wedding at Cana:

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Jesus performs His very first public miracle creating…. wine. Yes, there is some absolutely glorious symbolism here of His use of “ritualistic cleansing water” and turning it into the very symbol He would later use for His blood, but there’s no getting around the clear scripture in that this was actual, alcoholic wine:

“6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.[a] 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

So how, if this were mere grape juice, would you explain the statement about most people bringing out the “good stuff” first, and then the lesser? You bring out the lesser wine “after the people have drunk freely” and their tastebuds are numbed to the difference. Keep in mind that this was at a 3-day feast.

2. Jesus words in Luke 7 and Matthew 11:

“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
(Luke 7:31-34 ESV)

“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

(Matthew 11:16-19 ESV)

So Jesus was drinking something that had people accusing Him of being a drunkard. Would you charge your children with being drunkards for having grape juice in their “sippy cups”?

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So, we have scripture directly speaking to Christ not only creating and imbibing in wine, we have other scripture which speaks of wine as a good thing:

From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
(Psalm 104:13-15 ESV)

See it? God sends wine to gladden the heart of man. God sends it as something good!

In all fairness, I do understand that alcohol, like all good gifts from God is misused to our peril. Like wine, and food, sex is good and ordained by God. But,  effects of their abuse is rampant in our culture. (Alcoholism, Heart Disease, Obesity, etc.) However, the problem (and prohibition) are not of the gifts themselves, but on the abuse and inappropriate use of these gifts! What is forbidden? Drunkenness. Fornication. Adultery.

So, while you may choose any number of reasons to abstain; family history and bad experiences with alcoholism, etc. keep in mind that these arguments come from your social more and not from the pages of scripture. The outcomes you may list as reasons you don’t imbibe in wine are the effects of abuse of God’s good gift and not the good gift itself. And it is absolutely your freedom, in Christ, to NOT drink alcohol, or remain abstinent, or be a vegetarian. It is also the the freedom, in Christ, for others to appropriately enjoy the good gifts of wine, food, and sex!

So, in clear conscience, enjoy a glass of wine. Enjoy a beer. Follow scriptural command to do so without drunkenness. Or abstain from alcohol. But to put others under law where God has provided this good gift is to create your own law, and impose it on others, including Christ Himself.  You have, in your own estimation, set  yourself up as “holier” than Jesus.

How do we make ourselves “holier” than Jesus? By taking our cultural preferences and mores and teaching them as law where scripture has not.  Look at the cultural “hot button” issues of the time of the American “second great awakening” out of which most modern American evangelical denominations grew and you’ll find the most prevalent: Drinking, smoking, dancing, etc.  We’ll be looking at several of these over the next few weeks!

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Brothers and Sisters in Christ, you are free to partake of the good gifts given to you by God; Wine in moderation to make the heart glad, and sex as ordained in marriage. You are also free to abstain from both! You are neither commanded to DO these things, nor commanded to ABSTAIN from them.  Adiaphora!




10 thoughts on “How to be Holier than Jesus”

  1. I hope you can accept a light-hearted comment here regarding the women in the picture above that has the sign that reads, “Lips that touch liquor shall not touch ours.” Why would anyone WANT to? Sorry. Just had to be a smart alek.

    Overall, I must say I agree with your commentary here. I have to add an opinion of my own: I do NOT agree with the use of hard liquors such as whiskey. The hard alcohols are not mentioned in the Bible – and I know a long, drawn-out debate could be made about that – but once again, this is just my opinion. I love a glass of red wine with a big ol’ plate of pasta, that’s for sure.

    I find you to be a biblically intelligent individual and I loved your post about kids leaving the church. I intend to pass it along to our pastor.

    1. You are not the only one who thought that about the prohibition picture! Being a guy, and being in marketing, I wondered if perhaps they were hired by bootleggers using reverse psychology in trying to encourage men to drink. Scowls of disapproval are nowhere near as motivating as smiles of encouragement. Unfortunately, I think there are faces like these, both men & women, throughout our churches, shaking their heads and wagging their fingers at those who dare to enjoy their freedom in Christ. 🙂

  2. On the first point, I believe that there is evidence in the classical writings of Pliny, Columella, Josephus, and even in the Talmud, to suggest that they did have methods of storing unfermented fruit and juice. Perhaps we give Dr Welch too much credit 😉 Aside from that, I agree. Sometimes it feels as though debatable issues will be the end of “relationship” as we know it. Here’s to disagreeing and loving one another despite it! Adiaphora!

  3. I think you might want to be a little clearer concerning your comment to abstain from sex within marriage. I had to read it three times through to understand you’re meaning to abstain from marriage altogether…not sex within an already established marriage. Am I correct?

  4. Excellent article, thanks. I have been amused at the various sacred cows in each denomination, even individual churches, that are not necessarily based in scripture but regarded as though they are. It is often a risky move to even suggest that these deeply held convictions might be in error. Funny how an idol can be mistakenly created even in trying to do “the right thing”, and how adherence to that idol becomes more important than freedom in Christ.

  5. I think Romans 14 deals quite thoroughly with the topic too. Though he speaks mainly about food, the prnciple remains “Happy is he hat condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.” You are completely free to have a drink, as long as you don’t cause a weaker brother to sin by your freedom. Paul also says in vs 23, if you yourself think it is a sin to have a drink and you indulge, then you ARE sinning!

  6. I am greatly saddened by your post and hope you have not caused many to sin. Alcohol causes more damage in this world than any other drug, illegal ones included. Alcohol’s fruits are only evil and pollute the mind and body. Your arguments are based off false assumptions and even one of your supporters realized your first argument was not true! Sir, you simply are not up to date on the history of the Church but you start out arguing that people who disagree with you are the ones who are unknowledgeable. There have been MANY Christian scholars who have analyzed the Wedding at Cana, including one of the greatest in our modern times, Brother Thomas Warren, and have concluded that Jesus did NOT create alcoholic wine for this feast. The plain truth is there was NONalcoholic grape juice in Biblical times, squeeze a grape and what comes out has no alcohol in it, alcohol only occurs when yeast is added. The very first quote on ehow about producing alcoholic wine is this “The production of wine from grapes is not an easy or standard process. Significant education and practice goes into being a successful wine maker.” If you leave a cup of grape juice out it will not turn into alcoholic wine, rather it spoils! What was done in ancient times was wine (simply grape juice) was boiled down into a thick syrup and later water would be added so it could be consumed. This syrup was called defrutum.

    Your first argument about the wedding of Cana was: If Jesus had made nonalcoholic wine why would the master of the feast call Jesus’ wine good? This question arises from a lack of understanding about the wine they commonly drank. They did not have fresh Welch’s juice, they had watered down defrutum. If Jesus had simply made delicious sweet grape juice they would have loved it! Pliny wrote of “good” wine being that which had no alcohol. Here is a Baptist pdf about ancient writers and alcohol. You can find plenty more all over if you care to look.

    I invite you to carefully consider Habakkuk 2:15, part of the Old Law which Jesus followed perfectly. ““Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, Pressing him to your bottle, Even to make him drunk, That you may look on his nakedness!” Our Lord could NOT have made that many pitchers of alcoholic wine for a feast because he would likely have caused some to become intoxicated and would not violate the above scripture.

    Next you conclude that Jesus drank alcoholic wine because his critics said he was a drunkard. Obviously he was not a drunkard because he never sinned. They were attempting to smear him! We cannot conclude that John had a demon anymore than we can conclude Jesus drank alcohol. Jesus was different than John in that he did drink wine (oinos) but it did have alcohol in it.

    Christians can simply not participate in social drinking- it is sinful. Think for a moment about what it looks like to outsiders. We know it is sinful to be drunk (what constitutes drunkenness we can talk about later) but you may go into a bar and order one drink. Do you then tell everyone that as long as you have just one you will not be drunk and you are still on your first? That with one drink you are still “sober”, and do you constantly announce to others that this is your one and only drink? To sit near 5 empty glasses would show others that you are likely drunk and thus you are sinning. One drink certainly can hurt your influence and has already hurt your influence with me! Why a Christian would want to drink something that immediately starts to impair thoughts is mind boggling.

    Paul says “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor DRUNKARDS, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”

    Psalms 104 is obviously not talking about intoxicating drink in a positive light because the Bible tells us the opposite in Proverbs 23.! “Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things.” This passage compares alcohol to a snake, alcohol is similar in that it is crafty like the devil. It may look appealing and seem appealing but its fruit is evil.

    1. I appreciate the time it took to compose this. Rather than respond point by point, I will simply point out that I see, in your writing, the same error I see often by those who seek to impose an early 20th century American pietism onto scripture;

      Drunkenness is explicitly prohibited in scripture while drinking intoxicating drink is absolutely not.

      The 2 references you used prove my point:

      Habakkuk 2 explicitly states the sin of
      Drunkenness (as well as the motive).

      Proverbs 23 in context (begin verse 30-35) again speak to drunkenness (tarry long over wine) with verse 35 showing significant intoxication.

      Wine can, and is, abused and used sinfully as is every good gift.

      I am certainly not trying to convince anyone to drink.

      If you would like to show, in scripture, where drinking wine (not drunkenness) is prohibited, I’m open to reconsider.
      Otherwise, the issue is adiaphora.

  7. Thanks for your kind reply, please consider the 2 points below.

    First is the concept of “drunkenness” (Eph 5:18). This word is methuskō. To be completely impaired is obviously forbidden, but what isn’t carried over from the Greek is the additional concept of not even beginning the process of impairment “to begin being softened.”

    Second is the concept of being “sober” (1 Thess 5:4-8, 1 Pet 1:13, 1 Pet 5:8). The root word here is Nepho. This word carries with it in the Greek the force of abstaining from alcohol.

    1. Christian,

      After finishing my response to your comment, I realize that it is several pages long. Rather than post it here (which is difficult to read), I’ve decided to post it as an article. “Adiaphora Part Deux”.

      Thanks again for the dialog, brother. I believe it is fruitful!


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