Adiaphora Part Deux: The Drinking Issue

I wrote an article recently where I covered issues of “Adiaphora”, that is contemporary (and contentious) issues within the church which are neither explicitly commanded nor condemned.  I received a comment recently to which I responded in-depth.  By the time I was finished it was several pages long, so I felt it might be helpful to post it as a follow-on article. (Besides, reading multiple paragraphs in the comments section is brutal!)

I’ll post the original comment, followed by my response.  I want to reiterate (and no matter how clearly or often I state this, it’s going to be misinterpreted) Drunkenness is a sin and is prohibited, explicitly, and repeatedly in scripture.

It. is. a. sin. to. get. drunk. 

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“Christian” wrote: 

“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.”

My Response: 

You make several assertions which I would challenge:

1. “The concept of  ‘drunkenness’ (Eph 5:18). This word is methusko. 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.’”

2. “The concept of being “sober”. The root here is Nepho. This word carries with it in the Greek the force of abstaining from alcohol.”

First, I would like to ask, respectfully, are you, personally, proficient in biblical greek?  I ask because it will determine how I respond moving forward.

Upon what do you base the assertion above? I have looked at both the greek texts and the Symantec range of both words you list (μεθυσκω, νηφω) and nowhere do I see the “additional concepts” you mention.  What are your sources for this assertion?

Below, I’ll take each occurrence of the two words in question (μεθυσκω, νηφω:

Μεθυσκω

1. μεθυσκεσθε

V-PNM/P-2P

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

(Ephesians 5:15-18 ESV)

Comment: There is no sense, whatever, from the greek that this is “imbibing”, the verb tense here is “becoming intoxicated (passive).  To say that this is anything other than “becoming intoxicated” is eisegesis, or inserting ideas from outside the text.

Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk,

(Luke 12:43-45 ESV) (This parable is also in Matthew 24)

Comment:  The language is clear here, the unfaithful servant is drinking to become intoxicated. (Though this parable is not speaking specifically against drunkenness, rather the unfaithfulness of the servant.) Again, there is no sense whatsoever that this is speaking to imbibing in alcohol, it is explicit in describing drunkenness.

 

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

 

(1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 ESV)

 

Comment: Context here is to be aware of the “Day of the Lord”. The charge is to not to be as those who sleep or are drunk, but to be vigilant in faith, love and hope. The context here is not teaching a prohibition of alcohol any more than it is teaching a prohibition against sleeping.  Context is key here.

μεθυω

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 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 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.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

 

(John 2:6-11 ESV)

 

Comment: The amount of wine here is between 120-180 gallons. We do not know how much of it was consumed by the guests. To assume that this was “too much wine” to be alcohol as it would have made every guest intoxicated is speculation. We just don’t have the “math” here: We don’t know how many guest, nor do we know how much was consumed.

With that, there are 2 important notes here;

1. The water was for rites of purification.

2. Jesus first miracle was to turn those waters used for “ritual purification” into the very symbol of his blood (wine)!

It is staggeringly beautiful in its imagery and of my favorite passages in scripture! Jesus is, indeed, the better wine!

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.

 

(Acts 2:14-15 ESV)

Comment: Again, no clear prohibition of drinking or drunkenness. The point here is that Peter was responding that the men they heard speaking the gospel in various languages were not intoxicated.

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

 

(1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 ESV)

 

Comment: As previously written: Context here is to be aware of the “Day of the Lord”. The charge is to not to be as those who sleep or are drunk, but to be vigilant in faith, love and hope. The context here is not teaching a prohibition of alcohol any more than it is teaching a prohibition against sleeping.  Context is key here.

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”

(Revelation 17:1-2 ESV)

 

Now to discuss the term νεφω (sober)

Strong’s Greek: 3525. νήφω (néphó) — 6 Occurrences

1 Thessalonians 5:6 V-PSA-1P

3525 /nḗphō (“be sober, unintoxicated”) refers to having presence of mind (clear judgment), enabling someone to be temperate (self-controlled). 3525 /nḗphō (“uninfluenced by intoxicants”) means to have “one’s wits (faculties) about them,” which is the opposite of being irrational.

But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

 

(1 Thessalonians 5:4-8 ESV)

Comment: I do believe in this case sober does (in one sense) mean “not intoxicated” as it is contrasted to those who are drunk.  The contrast is also between those who are asleep and those who are alert.  The symantic range of  νεφω allows for both and I think in this context, both are intended.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

 

(2 Timothy 4:3-5 ESV)

 

Comment: This text clearly shows that being “sober-minded”, alert, and having clear judgment (as listed in every lexicon I’ve researched).  Context here would make “no drunk” untenable.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

 

(1 Peter 1:10-13 ESV)

 

Comment: As above, suber-minded as “not drunk” makes no sense here. Context clearly shows that this is referring to alert and of clear judgment.

For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

(1 Peter 4:3-7 ESV)

Comment:  Again, an explicit charge to avoid drunkenness among other sins and to be self-controlled and sober-minded.  No argument here.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

(1 Peter 5:6-11 ESV)

 

Comment here: The context again is to be sober-minded/watchful and alert as our adversary prowls like a roaring lion.  While I certainly believe that being intoxicated near a prowling lion on the hunt would be ill advised, I don’t think anyone would logically conclude that as being the context here.

In closing:

1.  None of the passages above prohibit the consumption of alcohol. None. I believe you continue to bring an external pietism into the text.  I would humbly ask if you would have read the texts above, with no cultural influence, and come to the conclusion that consuming alcohol is sinful or prohibited.

2. Those teaching that the consumption of alcohol is sinful do so by logic and personal experience rather than through any scriptural prohibition.  The effects of alcohol abuse are indisputable.  But we do not call what God has called “good” as “bad” because man sins through violating their created purpose. By the extension of this logic, we would not prohibit sex due to abuse outside of its intended purpose, nor food, nor money.

In spite of the questions, assertions, and extra-biblical argumentation, the fact remains that there is no biblical prohibition on the consumption of alcohol. If you choose to abstain, God bless you. It is certainly understandable to avoid areas which may cause you to stumble. However, no man has the right to decree a thing “evil” which God has created as “good”, nor to burden His people with “sin” which has not been labeled such in scripture.

Thanks again for the dialog, brother!

sDg

Marc

 

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