Thus far in this series I’ve made the case that the Bible allows for a certain amount of moderate drinking. However, we really need to understand that the alcoholic beverages of Bible times were nowhere near as potent as those of our day. So I need to devote a post to that subject. Since I’m far from an expert on this subject, I’ll just offer two quotes and let them do the work for me.
The first quote comes from renowned Bible scholar Dr. Charles Ryrie. In his book The Miracles Of Our Lord, he writes the following concerning Christ’s changing of the water into wine:
Let them (people) also remember that today’s wine is not first boiled before storage, then reconstituted with three parts water before drinking, as was true in the time of Christ. Today’s wine is 10 to 14 percent alcohol as it comes from the bottle. That is why one five-and-one-half ounce glass of wine (about the size of a punch cup) raises the alcohol in the blood as much as a cocktail or two bottles of beer.
Second, Dr. J. Carl Laney, in his commentary on the gospel of John, writes this:
It is of considerable significance that in antiquity wine was diluted with water. Only barbarians would drink unmixed wine. This custom is referred to in the epilogue of 2 Maccabees, where the writer states, “Just as it is injurious to drink wine by itself, or again water, whereas wine mixed with water is pleasant and produces a delightful sense of well being…Although the ratio varied, one part wine was usually mixed with three parts water.”
I really don’t think that it’s necessary to try to nail down the precise ratio of the water to the wine. The point is that the wine of Bible times was usually diluted to a fairly large degree. That is undeniable, and anyone who wants to study this subject in a mature and honest manner will freely admit that. So that covers the wine. But what about the “strong drink”?
Well, I can tell you that the 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia (Vol. 12, p.533) states that in the rabbinic period the wine was diluted with water but the “strong drink” wasn’t. Still, even taking that fact into account, I don’t doubt that the beers and liquors of today are probably even more potent than the “strong drink” described in the Bible. Brewers and alcohol manufacturers, with their advanced knowledge and years of experience, see to that.
And so I write this particular post as a word of warning to anyone who would take the Bible’s allowance for alcohol consumption too flippantly. I don’t mind you understanding that you can do a touch of drinking and still be within the banks of scripture, but I also want you to understand that today’s wine, beer, and liquors have a lot more potency than the alcoholic beverages described in the Bible. That means that “a little dab will do ‘ya.” It also means that too much of a dab will do ‘ya in rather quickly.