"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Jeremy Green: Paige Patterson on Alcoholic Beverages

Pastor Green has apparently turned off comments on his blog, which included four responses by me in the discussion thread for the above post (click here to read that post). The comments were moderated, and giving Pastor Green the benefit of the doubt, I will assume that he turned them off because he did not have time to read through each comment before posting it. Even if that is the case, the effect is to silence any opposing viewpoints, so I'm going to repost my responses here. While I had saved my own, I do not have the other comments to which I responded. I do feel that I quoted enough of the responses for everyone to understand the objections that were made to my arguments. However, I am more than willing to post the full responses here if they are supplied to me or would welcome Pastor Green to post them in the comment section.

Pastor Green wrote (in a comment): I have found that the moderationists (at least most of them that I have encountered) are not truly willing to discuss the Scripture on the subject.

My Response (MR): I expressed my hope that we could have a civil discussion on this issue. I then began discussing three passages of Scripture:

Deuteronomy 14:24-26 And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household."(ESV)

This passage is clearly about worship, and Moses states that if you make a long journey, and therefore bring money instead of the tithe, then you may buy whatever you want, including wine or strong drink.

1 Corinthians 11:20-21 "When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk." (ESV) I think we have to assume here they were not getting drunk on Communion grape juice. So wine may not be specifically mentioned in this passage, but it is clear the Corinthians were using wine during Communion. Paul does not condemn them for this, but only for getting drunk.

One final passage: Colossians 2:16 "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath." (ESV) Restrictions on drinking wine are an issue for moderationists because Paul here says to make it an issue ("let no one" is a command). So, if Paul is not talking about wine or strong drink in this passage, then to which drink is he referring? What other drink in that day would someone have been looked down on for drinking?

I appreciate both men, Dr. Patterson and Dr. Aiken, and their love for Jesus and their willingness to stand for the truth.

But in this case, Colossians 2:16 holds. "I am bound by the Scriptures that I have adduced, and my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God; and I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen."

[End of my first comment - That was the end of my first post. Pastor Green then responded to this comment. My response follows.]

Pastor Green,

Thanks for your response.

Pastor Green wrote [Regarding Deuteronomy]: Where it is used in Deuteronomy 14:26 it can be argued from the general consistency of all the Scripture that it was not an intoxicant.

MR: This is hard to sustain if you do a word search on the Hebrew. This word is consistently associated with wine and the context strongly indicates an alcoholic content (though not likely a "distilled" content given that time period). His entire article has a lot of "might mean" type of language, and his root argument comes down to saying it cannot mean that because it does not fit his view. That might be acceptable if (1) he could clearly demonstrate the likelihood of the alternate meaning; and (2) he substantiates his view. It is possible he tries to do the latter elsewhere, but I'm of the opposite opinion, that the Old Testament has no statements that in any way necessiate other than the standard understanding of "strong drink."

As for the former point, he clearly fails, IMO. Too many other Hebrew scholars do not hold this view, even those who say that abstaining is the best option for modern Christians.

Pastor Green wrote [Regarding 1 Corinthians]:
"Paul distinguishes this private feasting from the Lord’s Supper. This scandal, which was increased by the lack of concern the wealthy Christians had for the poor, seems to have been limited to the church at Corinth."

MR: Two points here. First, in the context, Paul mentions the Lord's Supper before the statement about being drunk. "When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk."(1 Corinthians 11:20-21 ESV) I agree that a more substantial meal was being eaten, much like the Last Supper, but Paul doesn't seem to distinguish between a love feast and the Lord's Supper.

Second, Paul says nothing indicating it was not appropriate for alcoholic wine to be present. He condemns the drunkness, but has nothing to say about the fact that wine was being consumed.

Pastor Green wrote [Regarding Colossians 2]:
"If God permits alcoholic drinks to mankind, every human being is told by God to refuse to be judged by man on this matter."

MR: Psalm 104:14-15: "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."(ESV)

Is this "true" wine? First, outside of Welch's commercial, people don't talk about grape juice "gladdening the heart." Second, it is suspect that every verse that is against wine is talking about "true" wine and every verse that is for wine is talking about unfermented grape juice. Third, other passages that talk about wine gladdening the heart are clearly references to "true" wine.

Esther 1:10: "On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus."(ESV)

2 Samuel 13:28: "Then Absalom commanded his servants, 'Mark when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, "Strike Amnon," then kill him. Do not fear; have I not commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.'" (ESV)

As for Proverbs 23:31, is it a command not to drink "true" wine? I don't think so. The passage relates not to drinking wine with a meal, but drinking to get drunk. In context it is a warning that when wine is alluring it should be avoided.

"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. 'They struck me,' you will say, 'but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.'" (ESV)

But could Colossians have in mind milk, and not wine? In support of wine is the following. (1) There are no specific restrictions about drinking milk in the Bible. It is not mentioned elsewhere, so to introduce it here is forced. (2) Colossae's population would have intimately acquainted with the worship of Dionysus, the Greek God of wine, and the drunken feasts in his honor. Therefore, it is likely that "drink" here is a reference to wine "offered to idols" much that same way that meat offered to idols is an issue elsewhere.

But in general, the text seems intentionally silent on what type of drink is in view. Food and drink do not defile us, even wine. It is the attitude of the heart. Drunkeness is not a problem because you have imbided wine, but because it reveals something of the heart.

[End of my second comment - The response to this post came from another commentor named Tim. Pastor Green expressed agreement with Tim's response and did not provide any additional responses. Here is my third comment, responding back to Tim.]

Tim wrote: There is always a tendency when making arguments to grasp at evidence which does not in fact help in our effort to pursuade.

MR: Here! Here! I agree.

Tim wrote [in regard to Psalm 104:14-15]: Obviously the context is the harvest. Perhaps you have never farmed but I have and am quite aware of joy that the harvest brings without reference to inebriation.

MR: Let's consider the context. Looking at the verses again: 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. (ESV)

The context is God's provision for His creatures, both cattle and man (v.14). Verse 15 discusses the provision for man in more detail. According to your interpretation, harvesting of olives makes the face to shine and harvesting of bread strengthens man's heart. But do your read them this way? No one else does. Oil makes the face to shine when it has been used to anoint the face (see Matthew 6:17; Luke 7:46; 2 Samuel 12:20; 14:2). Bread strenthens the heart when it has been eaten (Genesis 18:5; 1 Samuel 28:22 - "Now therefore, you also obey your servant. Let me set a morsel of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way." - ESV). I also provided serval other verses linking gladdening of the heart to wine. So why then doesn't this passage speak of wine as a gift of God to gladden the heart? Why should we see the subject of wine here in reference to harvest, when the text clearly indicates otherwise for oil and bread?

Matthew Henry, who Pastor Green quoted earlier in response to one of my posts, says of this passage: "Here is bread, which strengthens man’s heart, and is therefore called the staff of life; let none who have that complain of want. Secondly, Does nature go further, and covet something pleasant? Here is wine, that makes glad the heart, refreshes the spirits, and exhilarates them, when it is soberly and moderately used, that we may not only go through our business, but go through it cheerfully. It is a pity that that should be abused to overcharge the heart, and unfit men for their duty, which was given to revive their heart and quicken them in their duty. Thirdly, Is nature yet more humoursome, and does it crave something for ornament too? Here is that also out of the earth—oil to make the face to shine, that the countenance may not only be cheerful but beautiful, and we may be the more acceptable to one another.

Tim wrote: Furthermore, since alcohol is a depressant it would seem that the psalmist would be innacurate to ascribe gladdening of the heart to an alcoholic drink making the God who inspired it errant in His observation.

MR: Except alcohol can have either a stimulant or depressent effect. At least two factors are involved, dose and time after consumption. Some reports state that its effects will vary from individual to individual.

Tim wrote: Proverbs 23 seems to be crystal clear and any effort to say that it does not state to stay away from highly alcoholic wine is flat denial of the obvious.

MR: I would argue, based on the above, that your interpretation of Psalm 104:14-15 is a flat denial of the obvious. With regard to Proverbs 23, it is nice that it is obvious, but I gave you arguments for my position. Stating that my position is wrong without exegeting the passage to show why does not in fact help in our effort to pursuade.

The preceding verses deal with the drunkard. The verses that follow deal with the drunkard. So with what does v.31 deal? "'Lingering over' alcohol (vv. 30–31) describes those who derive comfort and security in knowing that a glass of wine is at hand, ready to deaden the senses." [Reference: Garrett, D. A. (2001, c1993). Vol. 14: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of songs (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (197). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.] I don't think it's as obvious as you seem to think.

Tim wrote: One only has to look at the potential of even small amounts of alchol consumed by a pregnant woman to cause fetal alcohol syndrome to realize that something is amiss. The AMA advises women who are or want to be pregnant to consume no alcohol because no safe amount is known. But you folks keep suggesting that God has said alcohol is a blessing, is encouraged and ought to be consumed to the glory of God. If that is true then you interpretation seems to make either God or the medical community a liar. I'll let you figure out who.

MR: I never said everyone should drink. The Psalmist doesn't say that everyone should drink. There are times when people should not drink. But let's consider the pregnant women argument. Based on this argument, Christians should refuse to eat anything with sugar, because it is harmful to diabetics. On the flip side, current medical theory states that for heart health, one should consume one to two glasses of dry red wine a day. Grape juice is not sufficient because even though it has the antioxidants, it does not lower LDL like wine.

You state that I'm arguing from silence. But in 1 Corinthians 11:20-26 Paul is talking about the Lord's Supper in v.20 and in v.23ff. In verse 21 he says they were getting drunk. On grape juice? No, the passage clearly indicates that they were using wine for the Lord's Supper. The argument that they were is not an arguement from silence but logically deduced from the text.

As for Colossians, if one Christian judges another Christian because the latter has drunk wine, is former not judging on the basis of drink? The simple reading of the passage is that any drink is in view here. It is the prohibitionist who makes an argument from silence in this passage.

Yet you accuse me of arguing from silence, but do not present any evidence. You don't point out where my interpretion is faulty on these verses. Instead, you issue a blanket statement without support that I'm wrong. I'm willing to review any exegesis that I have done incorrectly, but first you have to show some evidence that it's wrong.

[End of my third comment - The response to this post again came from Tim. Here is my final comment, responding back to Tim.]

MR: Tim,

Thanks for your continued engagement on the issue, but this will likely be my last post. I've already spent more time on this issue than I intended. I still think you are missing parts of my argument, so I'll make one last attempt at clarifying.

For example, in the Psalm 104 passage I assume that the word gladden means to make joyful. I also assume that the word wine means wine. The counter argument assumes wine does not mean wine. You can argue that wine doesn't mean wine, but I'm not arguing from silence. The burden is on the person who assumes a meaning for the word other than the standard meaning.

Tim wrote: In your interpretation of Proverbs 23 you suppose that the words "do not look" do not mean "do not look." . . . I just don't know how you can get from "do not look" to "don't drink too much" without a lot of supposition.

MR: "Do not look" means "do not look." The question is to whom and when does the statement "do not look" apply. It applies to those who tarry long over wine, those to whom it has inordinate appeal. The Reformation Study Bible puts it this way, "The occasions when wine seems especially desirable call for deliberate caution in its use." Or, again, as the NAC commentary puts it, do not look applies to those who "derive comfort and security" from alcohol.

So when wine has the potential to become a crutch, an escape mechanism, it should be avoided. But this verse does not address having a glass of wine with a meal, or with a gathering of friends. The danger about which this passage is warning us is when you are drinking with a focus on the drinking.

Tim wrote: He had already gone out of his way a couple of chapters earlier to point out that the Lord's supper is to be celebrated without leaven.

MR: The leaven/purity argument is not convincing. Leaven is specifically forbidden as part of the Passover celebration, but no mention is made of using only unfermented wine. Jews allow the use of either fermented or unfermented wine.

But, since the Scripture is silent, both sides have to argue from silence. The non-alcohol group makes a leaven = impurity symbolizing sin = fermentation argument. Nowhere in Scripture though is fermentation equated with sin the way leaven is.

What, however, was the stated reason for not using leavened bread in the first Passover? The point about the leaven in the initial Passover was that Israel would have to eat in haste. There would be no time to let the dough rise.

On the other hand, this means they would not have time to pick grapes or trample out juice, even if they had been in season. Passover was about six months after the harvest, so grapes would not have even been in season. So they would have to use what was on hand at the time, wine with some level of fermentation.

Tim wrote: Further folks suppose that Paul does not condemn the drinking of alchol at the celebration because he does not so state in the passage.

MR: It is correct that saying, "since Paul does not condemn wine, this means he allows it" would be an argument from silence. However, the primary reason I reference this passage is to prove that fermented wine was used by the early church in communion, as you realize in the next comment.

Tim wrote: You suppose that wine was used in the celebration of the Lord's supper while what is described in I Cor does not resemble the Lord's supper celebration at all.

MR: I assume that the context is the Lord's Supper because Paul says that he's talking about the Lord's Supper. It is specifically mentioned in 11:20. It is clearly the subject of 11:23ff. While it may not resemble the way we celebrate the Lord's Supper today, that does not surprise me. I know they didn't have little plastic cups or precut wafers. That there would be other more substantial differences in the surrounding elements should not be unexpected.

Again, I'm basing this on what Paul says. Here's the challenge, exegete starting at 11:20 or earlier through at least 11:26 focusing on how Paul can be transitioning from discussing the Lord's Supper in v.20, to not talking about it in v.21, to talking about it again in v.23.

Pastor Green, thanks for keeping this civil. I respect the conviction that you, Tim, and others have on this issue. I just don't see a Biblical mandate for your position. So, I think Colossians 2:16 has to be the overriding statement.

So, in accordance with Romans 14:3, I do not despise those who choose to abstain. I only request that you consider doing likewise and not pass judgement on those who do not.

May God bless your ministry.

[End my fourth and final comment; no response to this was ever posted by Tim or Pastor Green.]

Pastor Green is still posting on this subject (this, for example) and still commenting about it on other blogs (here, for example), so I feel it is appropriate to repost my comments here. I again state that I hope Pastor Green will make the comments public again, and would post those comments to which I responded if they were supplied to me. I have no desire for this discussion to be one sided. Each one needs to review all the information and make a decision that does not offend their conscience.


Anonymous Inspector Fruiteau said...

This is a very serious issue, indeed. It grieves me that Southern Baptist leadership could go beyond Scripture in determining traits required of leaders.

This is a black and white issue of abuse of power. The mainline Lutheran Church (ELCA) was similarly derailed from biblical truth in the mandatory requirement of so-called "apostolic succession" in its ecumenical agreement with the Episcopal Church.

I fear that this is to become one of those "church dividing" issues. It certainly would reduce the field of qualified and gifted leadership. Most significantly, it puts Southern Baptist authority above the authority of God.

7:14 PM EDT  
Blogger Taliesin said...

Inspector Fruiteau,

Thanks for stopping by. The impact on local churches of SBC resolutions tends to be pretty small, since they are not binding. But as you note, it will affect things like denominational leadership and, perhaps most troubling, can impact our missionaries.

While it would still be troubling for those reasons alone, it is more troubling that the resolution attempts to make this an issue for those outside the church. Do we really want to be known as the modern day prohibitionist denomination? Paul in Colossians tells us that man made rules, while having an appearance of wisdom, are of no value against fleshly induldgences. I hope the outcome of this discussion is that we reach out with the gospel, which really has the power to change lives, and do not simply try to enforce a moral code.

9:39 PM EDT  
Blogger Jim said...


You have obviously done your homework on this subject.

While scripture does not demand total abstinence from alcohol, there are enough warnings and accounts given to warrant pause in the matter.

I don't know if we can safely assume all the freedoms that OT Jews had are ours also to possess. After all, God did not forbid multiple wives, as He has obviously now done under the new covenant.

So having said that, I will definitely not spend my time defending the rights of others to use intoxicating drinks. Neither will I demand they abstain.

Let each man be fully persuaded in that which he does.

God bless,

11:22 PM EDT  
Blogger Taliesin said...


Thanks for the comment. I surely would not encourage anyone who was abstaining to start drinking. As I've said somewhere during this debate (maybe in this post, I can't remember) I've spent far more time studying this issue and debating it over the past two months then I have drinking wine or beer. I hope the reality is I'm less concerned about my freedom to drink than I am about my freedom in Christ.

I truly respect your position. Anyone who says based on personal conviction they have chosen to abstain as a witness to others I applaud. I just don't see a case for saying the Bible mandates that we hold an to an abstinence position.

11:42 PM EDT  

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