Does Romans 14 Authorize Christians To Drink Alcohol For Non-Medicinal Purposes?
By Nathan Battey
In response to my recent article (wherein I discuss the Bible’s two strongest prohibitions against drinking alcohol for non-medicinal purposes), several individuals have contacted me asking that I explain Paul’s use of the word “wine” in Romans 14. In light of these questions (both sincere and otherwise) I have written the following article on Romans 14 and the word “wine”.
With the argument in favor of beverage alcohol before us, we will turn our attention to Romans 14:
“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.11 For it is written:
“As I live, says the Lord,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”
12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.
19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. 22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.”
Romans 14 in its entirety is dealing with the regulation of liberties. It is therefore mandatory that the term “liberty” be defined before proceeding with an explanation of its regulation. A liberty is something that is neither required nor forbidden; it is allowed. Stated another way, what God requires, men are not at liberty to ignore, and what He forbids, men are not at liberty to engage in. For example, one cannot argue that belief and baptism are both matters of liberty in regard to salvation since they are both required by God in Mark 16:16. Drunkenness is not a matter of liberty since God forbid it in Galatians 5:21. Before a matter can be classified as a liberty, it must be shown that God has allowed it; such must not be assumed, but rather proven (Colossians 3:17). Once an item has been established as a liberty, then, and only then, may it be considered in light of Romans 14 and God’s regulation of liberties.
Drinking alcohol for non-medicinal purposes is not a matter of liberty since God has forbidden it. First, God forbid the consumption alcohol for non-medicinal purposes by commanding Christians to remain sober in 1 Peter 5:8. Second, by classifying drunkenness as a process in 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8, and condemning that process in Galatians 5:21, God has forbidden His children from drinking any alcohol for non-medicinal purposes. Non-medicinal alcohol is therefore not a liberty, and cannot be what is under consideration in Romans 14 when Paul uses the word “wine”.
Question: “If alcohol is not a liberty, then why does Paul use the word “wine” in Romans 14, and what does it mean?
Brethren must stop assuming that every time the Bible uses the word “wine” it is referring to alcoholic wine. In Isaiah 16:10 the Bible speaks of “wine” in the winepress; obviously wine in this passage refers to grape juice. Grape juice is again called wine in Jeremiah 48:33. The point is clear: the term “wine” does not always refer to alcoholic wine. So, instead of assuming a passage is speaks of alcoholic wine, (such as Romans 14:21), one must prove from the context what type of wine is under consideration. The word translated “wine” in Romans 14:21 is the Greek word oinos and can refer to either grape juice or fermented wine. The word itself does not indicate what kind of wine is under consideration, so the context must determine.
In regards to the wine of Romans 14, alcoholic wine cannot be under consideration since Paul is discussing matters of liberty, and drinking alcohol for non-medicinal purposes is clearly not a matter of liberty (per 1 Peter 5:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8, and Galatians 5:21).
In Romans 14, both eating and drinking are under consideration in verse 17 before wine is ever mentioned in verse 21; this is very important. In verse 17 the eating and drinking are connected, i.e. they are causing the same type of problem; the two are paired together and cannot be separated. The reason Paul is addressing eating is the same reason he is addressing drinking.
Why was eating under question? If it can be determined why eating was under question, it can also be determined why drinking is as well since the two are paired together. Obviously, not every kind of eating is being discussed since Christians must eat to survive; nor is every type drinking.
In Romans 14:2 some people were only eating vegetables only while others were eating meat. The reason some were refraining from meat was not because they believe eating meat was wrong, but because they were afraid (like the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 8-10) they may end up purchasing some meat that had been offered to idols. Since meat offered to idols is what is under consideration in the context of Romans 14 (verse 2) in reference to eating, and since eating and drinking are connected in verse 17, the drink under consideration must therefore be a drink that has been offered to idols; a liquid libation.
In Romans 14:21 Paul states, “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.” The weak brother is one who is weak in conscience and is not able to eat meat because it was offered to idols. The same brother has the same weakness when it comes to the wine under consideration: his conscience will not allow him to drink the wine because it was offered to idols – not because it is alcoholic in nature.
To assume that the wine of Romans 14:21 is alcoholic wine, conclude the reason the man has a weak conscience about drinking it is because it is alcoholic, and teach that this passage authorizes drinking alcohol for pleasure is absolutely wrong.
In conclusion, drinking alcohol for non-medicinal purposes is not a liberty (1 Peter 5:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8, and Galatians 5:21) and Romans 14 does not authorize its use.
May the Lord’s people always approach His word exegetically rather than eisegetically, and listen as He speaks.