What’s Wrong With Alcohol?

"Drinker" by Paul Cezanne. In today's world, drinking is seen as a normal part of life. As Copts, we go against this trend and often suffer ridicule for doing so. Why do we take this narrow path?


What’s wrong with having the occasional alcoholic drink? Why does the Coptic Church make such a big fuss over this issue?

The Coptic Orthodox Church strongly recommends that alcohol not be a part of its member’s lives, apart from Holy Communion of course. Today, I’d like to take a look at both sides of the story.

Critics of this policy attack it on the following grounds:

– The Bible never condemns the drinking of alcohol, only drunkenness

– Jesus Himself changed the water into wine.

– Most other Christian Churches allow social drinking of alcohol. Even their clergy drink.

– The Coptic Church bans alcohol only because it exists within a Muslim society where alcohol is banned by Islam.

– Alcohol is not evil in itself. What counts is how you use it. People are responsible enough to use it wisely, so there is no need for it to be banned.

I will address these points below. On the other side of the debate, the following points need to be made:

– Alcohol is responsible for a tremendous amount of disease and death in our society.

– Alcohol is a drug. If it were only newly discovered today, it would never be released for use, not even on prescription, because of its incredibly toxic profile of side effects. It is far more harmful than many other drugs that have been scrapped because of their side effects.

– Alcohol is a drug of addiction. Research has shown that 10% of “social drinkers” will go on to become alcoholic at some stage of their life. Interestingly, this cuts across all social classes, both genders and all personality types. There appears to be no such thing as a ‘strong personality’ who is less at risk of becoming alcoholic – we are all equally vulnerable.

To my mind, the most powerful arguments against the use of alcohol are the health issues. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our health is a gift from God, a wonderful gift that we don’t appreciate perhaps, until it is taken away from us. Alcohol is a known poison. Yes, you can die directly from alcohol overdose – it is rare only because the drinker usually passes out before he can kill himself. Does it make sense for the faithful Christian to abuse this gift in this way?

On a statistical level, while I have no actual figures, I can say with some confidence that within our Coptic community the incidence of alcoholism is vanishingly small. It does happen, but it is very rare, and certainly nowhere near the incidence of the wider Australian community. I have no doubt that this excellent health outcome is due to the Church’s policy against even social drinking. Weigh it up: what do we lose and what do we gain? We lose a little bit of chemical stimulation at social events, but we gain better health for thousands of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, who are allowed to continue caring for their families and living useful, fulfilling and productive lives.

In Biblical times, there was little choice in what a person had to drink. They didn’t have the rows upon rows of juices and soft drinks we have today. Nor did they always have clean water, and at times, alcoholic drinks were much safer to drink than water from a polluted source. Alcohol can have short term beneficial effects as well, and was often used as a medicine, but today we have far more effective and far less dangerous medicines available to us.

The Church also bans cigarette smoking. No one disagrees with that policy,even smokers, who spend most of their smoking life wishing they could stop. And yet, cigarettes and alcohol cause damage to the user of roughly the same magnitude. I wonder why there is a difference in the community’s attitude between the two?

In response to the arguments above in favour of drinking, think about this:

– Whilst the Bible never condemns alcohol in itself, it does teach us to be wise in how we use our Christian freedom. “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.” 1 Corinthians 6:12. To be a social drinker is to put oneself at a 1 in 10 chance of being brought under the power of a drug. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” 1 Corinthians 10:23. Alcohol does not edify – it does not build us up or improve us as human beings, and it certainly does not help us to become better spiritually.

– At the wedding of Cana of Galillee, Jesus changed the water into oinos. This is the Greek word used in the Gospel of John. It actually denotes the juice of the grape in general and was most likely very low on alcohol content. Dr Morris writes: “This ‘good wine’ had been miraculously created by the Creator and was brand new, with no time to ferment and become old, intoxicating wine. The Greek word oinos was used for the juice of grapes in general, the same word for both unfermented and fermented wine, with the context determining which.” (http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/wine.html).

– Other Christian Churches do indeed accept social drinking. But is it good for them? I recall one day having a discussion with a teenager at Church on the topic. “I go to a Catholic School, Abouna,” she told me, “and we had a celebration there the other day. The Catholic priest was drinking alcohol.” She said this confidently, but then paused in thought. “Actually,” she went on, “he got drunk.” Why leave this door open? If even a consecrated and celibate clergyman can give in to the temptation of drinking to excess, why should I put myself in that position? What’s the point of asking God to, “lead us not into temptation” when I am going to live my life in a way that plummets me into temptation on a regular basis?

– Doubtless, the Muslim society in which the Church has developed for fourteen centuries has contributed to this no alcohol policy, but what difference does that make? Does it matter why we have the policy? Isn’t it much more important whether it is a good policy to have or not? I think that there are many public health workers today in Western societies who wish dearly that they could introduce a policy like this! Practically speaking, this is probably too hard, as the prohibition days of the 1930s in the United States proved. But imagine the health benefits if it were possible! We as a Coptic community already have this policy – who cares where it came from?

– It is true that alcohol in itself is not evil. That is why we can use it as the material which becomes the very Blood of Christ. It is a good antiseptic that can prevent nasty infections in wounds. Emergency doctors can use it to save lives – given intravenously, it is the antidote to poisoning with antifreeze. But we have seen that addiction to alcohol does not discriminate. Anyone, regardless of who they are, is vulnerable. The simple fact is that all of us will go through times of great stress in our lives. If alcohol is available, 1 in 10 of us will be drawn to it and find comfort and escape through it, thus falling in to the pit of alcoholism. If alcohol is simply not an option – it is not in our homes or on our dinner tables in the first place, then this solution to our problems with all its drawbacks will simply not even come up, and we will find other ways of coping.

Finally, think about the others in your life. You might be one of the 9 in 10 who could drink socially all your life and never become an alcoholic. But what if your child is among the 1 in 10? By allowing alcohol to be a part of your home and your family customs, you are partially responsible for his or her suffering.

Is it worth it?

Fr Ant

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5 Replies to “What’s Wrong With Alcohol?”

  1. Abouna, I think we will find more answers in the bible. There is more Scripture condemning the use of alcoholic beverages than will be found on the subjects of lying, adultery, swearing, cheating, hypocrisy, pride, or even blasphemy. There are 75 verses.
    1) Genesis 9:20-26 – Noah became drunk; the result was immorality and family trouble.
    2) Genesis 19:30-38 – Lot was so drunk he did not know what he was doing; this led to immorality
    3) Leviticus 10:9-11 – God commanded priests not to drink so that they could tell the difference between the holy and the unholy.

    4) Numbers 6:3 – The Nazarites were told to eat or drink nothing from the grape vine.

    5) Deuteronomy 21:20 – A drunken son was stubborn and rebellious.

    6) Deuteronomy 29:5-6 – God gave no grape juice to Israel nor did they have intoxicating drink in the wilderness.

    7) Deuteronomy 32:33 – Intoxicating wine is like the poison of serpents, the cruel venom of asps.

    8) Judges 13:4, 7, 14 – Samson was to be a Nazarite for life. His mother was told not to drink wine or strong drink.

    9) 1 Samuel 1:14-15 – Accused, Hannah said she drank no wine.

    10) 1 Samuel 25:32-38 – Nabal died after a drunken spree.

    11) 2 Samuel 11:13 – By getting Uriah drunk, David hoped to cover his sin.

    12) 2 Samuel 13:28-29 – Amnon was drunk when he was killed.

    13) 1 Kings 16:8-10 – The king was drinking himself into drunkenness when he was assassinated

    14) 1 Kings 20:12-21 – Ben-Hadad and 32 other kings were drinking when they were attacked and defeated by the Israelites.

    15) Esther 1:5-12 – The king gave each one all the drink he wanted. The king was intoxicated when he commanded the queen to come.

    16) Psalm 75:8 – The Lord’s anger is pictured as mixed wine poured out and drunk by the wicked.

    17) Proverbs 4:17 – Alcoholic drink is called the wine of violence.

    18) Proverbs 20:1 – Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging.

    19) Proverbs 23:19-20 – A wise person will not be among the drinkers of alcoholic beverages.

    20) Proverbs 23:21 – Drunkenness causes poverty.

    21) Proverbs 23:29-30 – Drinking causes woe, sorrow, fighting, babbling, wounds without cause and red eyes.

    22) Proverbs 23:31 – God instructs not to look at intoxicating drinks.

    23) Proverbs 23:32 – Alcoholic drinks bite like a serpent, sting like an adder.

    24) Proverbs 23:33 – Alcohol causes the drinker to have strange and adulterous thoughts, produces willfulness, and prevents reformation.

    25) Proverbs 23:34 – Alcohol makes the drinker unstable

    26) Proverbs 23:35 – Alcohol makes the drinker insensitive to pain so he does not perceive it as a warning. Alcohol is habit forming.

    27) Proverb 31:4-5 – Kings, Princes, and others who rule and judge must not drink alcohol. Alcohol perverts good judgment.

    28) Proverbs 31:6-7 – Strong drink could be given to those about to perish or those in pain. Better anesthetics are available today.

    29) Ecclesiastes 2:3 – The king tried everything, including intoxicating drink, to see if it satisfied. It did not. (Ecclesiastes 12:8)

    30) Ecclesiastes 10:17 – A land is blessed when its leaders do not drink.

    31) Isaiah 5:11-12 – Woe to those who get up early to drink and stay up late at night to get drunk.

    32) Isaiah 5:22 – Woe to “champion” drinkers and “experts” at mixing drinks.

    33) Isaiah 19:14 – Drunken men stagger in their vomit.

    34) Isaiah 22:12-13 – The Israelites choose to drink; their future looks hopeless to them.

    35) Isaiah 24:9 – Drinkers cannot escape the consequences when God judges.

    36) Isaiah 28:1 – God pronounces woe on the drunkards of Ephraim.

    37) Isaiah 28:3 – Proud drunkards shall be trodden down.

    38) Isaiah 28:7 – Priests and prophets stagger and reel from beer and wine, err in vision, and stumble in judgment.

    39) Isaiah 28:8 – Drinkers’ tables are covered with vomit and filth.

    40) Isaiah 56:9-12 – Drinkers seek their own gain and expect tomorrow to be just like today.

    41) Jeremiah 35:2-14 – The Rechabites drank no grape juice or intoxicating wine and were blessed.

    42) Ezekiel 44:21 – Again God instructed the priests not to drink wine.

    43) Daniel 1:5-17 – Daniel refused the king’s intoxicating wine and was blessed for it along with his abstaining friends.

    44) Daniel 5:1 – Belshazzar, ruler of Babylon; led his people in drinking.

    45) Daniel 5:2-3 – The king, along with his nobles, wives, and concubines, drank from the goblets which had been taken from God’s temple.

    46) Daniel 5:4 – Drinking wine was combined with praising false gods.

    47) Daniel 5:23 – God sent word to Belshazzar that punishment would be swift for the evil he had committed.

    48) Hosea 4:11 – Intoxicating wine takes away intelligence.

    49) Hosea 7:5 – God reproves princes for drinking.

    50) Joel 1:5 – Drunkards awake to see God’s judgment.

    51) Joel 3:3 – The enemy is judged for selling girls for wine.

    52) Amos 2:8 – Unrighteous acts of Israel included the drinking of wine which had been taken for the payment of fines.

    53) Amos 2:12 – Israel is condemned for forcing Nazarites to drink wine.

    54) Micah 2:11 – Israelites are eager to follow false teachers who prophesy plenty of intoxicating drinks.

    55) Nahum 1:10 – The drunkards of Nineveh will be destroyed by God.

    56) Habakkuk 2:5 – A man is betrayed by wine.

    57) Habakkuk 2:15 – Woe to him that gives his neighbor drink.

    58) Habakkuk 2:16 – Drinking leads to shame.

    59) Matthew 24:48-51 – A drinking servant is unprepared for his Lord’s return.

    60) Luke 1:15 – John the Baptist drank neither grape juice nor wine.

    61) Luke 12:45 – Christ warned against drunkenness.

    62) Luke 21:34 – Drunkenness will cause a person not to be ready for the Lord’s return.

    63) Romans 13:13 – Do not walk in drunkenness or immorality.

    64) Romans 14:21 – Do not do anything that will hurt your testimony as a believer.

    65) 1 Corinthians 5:11 – If a Christian brother is a drinker, do not associate with him.

    66) 1 Corinthians 6:10 – Drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God

    67) Galatians 5:21 – Acts of the sinful nature, such as drunkenness, will prohibit a person from inheriting the kingdom of God.

    68) Ephesians 5:18 – In contrast to being drunk with wine, the believer is to be filled with the Spirit.

    69) 1 Thessalonians 5:6-7 – Christians are to be alert and self-controlled, belonging to the day. Drunkards belong to the night and darkness.

    70) 1 Timothy 3:2-3 – Bishops (elders) are to be temperate, sober, and not near any wine.

    71) 1 Timothy 3:8 – Deacons are to be worthy of respect and not drinkers.

    72) 1 Timothy 3:11 – Deacons’ wives are to be temperate and sober.

    73) Titus 1:7-8 – An overseer is to be disciplined.

    74) Titus 2:2-3 – The older men and older women of the church are to be temperate and not addicted to wine.

    75) 1 Peter 4:3-4 – The past life of drunkenness and carousing has no place in the Christian’s life

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  2. I wish I could get a more clear and satisfying answer to my question. I always thought alcohol is strongly prohibited by church and God and I still believe it is. I agree on how a holy body where God Lives should not be corrupted by alcoholic stuff which could be a good reason for church to prohibit alcohol. But the health issue is still kind of 3aymaa. I think there is a more satisfying argument other than the health and the leading-to-drunkenness ones.

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  3. Your argument would suggest that alcohol is in itself somehow a ‘corrupt substance’. If that were so, how could Christ teach the Church to use it in His own Blood in communion? Nothing in this physical world is evil in itself – it can only be used for evil or for good. Alcohol can have both kinds of uses. The question is: “What qualifies as evil use?”

    Drunkenness is clearly and repeatedly designated as an evil use in the Bible, and it is not hard to see why. If following Christ means being set free from our passions and sin, and drunkenness makes those things much more likely, then clearly drunkenness is out.

    But the same things cannot be said of moderate social drinking. Nor does the Bible ever condemn it (it condemns DRUNKENNESS but not alcohol as such). Nor do the vast majority of Christian traditions, particularly Catholic and Orthodox, prohibit it. That being so, we are only left with practical arguments against using alcohol, such as those in my blog post. However, I think those practical arguments are pretty strong, even if only considered from a health point of view.

    Fr Ant

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  4. As a recovered alcoholic with nearly 12 years of total sobriety, only Coptic Orthodox Christianity allows me to follow Jesus without the pressure to use alcohol. My sister is Bahai, and she must abstain from alcohol. I thank The Lord for HH Pope Shenouda III who was sent into my life to assure me I can be sober and be a Christian, Thanks be to God for the freedom from alcohol.

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  5. Jesus the son of Sirach says wine was created to make men glad (chapter 31).
    Please note that I don’t drink though. I point this out to show that drinking is not a sin. The Psalmist also says wine gladdens the hearts of men.
    Wine has also been shown to have certain health benefits although there has long been an ongoing debate in this regard.

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