Sunday, December 9, 2012

On the consumption of alcohol....Part 3: Supportive passages

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, I introduced the subject and gave a listing, along with rebuttals, of what I was taught in my youth from a prohibitive standpoint.

Note: I'm using the Masoretic numbering of the Psalms for this series, unless otherwise specified, since that's what the people used who were teaching me growing up.

In this post, I will cover the various Scripture passages that seem to support the acceptability of the consumption of alcohol by Christians, the arguments that were used against them, and the rebuttals of those arguments.

I will not yet, however, reveal the verse that changed it all for me, because it was not discussed at all when I was originally being taught. I'll save that for the next post.

"One-offs"

There are several verses that seem to support the consumption of wine, but are not explicit about it, such as Ps. 104:14, 15, Judges 9:13, etc.

These were explained away as follows. The words translated "wine" in the Old (Hebrew) Testament and New (Greek) Testaments have a broad semantic range, and can refer to anything grape-related, including but definitely not limited to alcoholic wine. For example, they can refer to grapes themselves, grape juice (un-fermented), etc., in addition to alcoholic wine.

Therefore, the argument goes, since it is not necessary to read those passages as referring to alcoholic wine, we will not do so, since alcoholic wine is clearly evil — we wouldn't want the Scripture to be contradicting itself, right?!

When it is pointed out that the wine in these verses "makes glad" and "cheers" the heart, they simply deny that it is possibly talking about the effects of alcohol. They say that is referring to the fact that it tastes good, or some such.

Well, the argument is correct in it's premise (that the words can mean more than just alcohol), but are circular in their reasoning, and so non sequitur in their conclusion. i.e. "These verses don't speak of alcohol because the Scripture does not support drinking." When in fact, the verses are part of Scripture. So you're saying, "These verses don't speak of alcohol because these verses don't speak of alcohol." It's decidedly circular.

(NB: This does not automatically make their conclusion false — that would be an example of the fallacy fallacy. It just means that the argument itself is invalid for proving the conclusion; ergo, the conclusion remains unproven.

To actively falsify the conclusion, we would need to discover something in Scripture which admits no other interpretation but that God happily supports the consumption of alcohol. This we will do in the next post. But invalidating this particular argument is all this rebuttal requires.)

Special cases

While the above argument is used for the entirety of Scripture, including the passages in this section, these are specifically thorny (for them) passages, mostly because they are so strongly pro-alcohol. Therefore, they usually garner more attention, and some additional arguments for and against.

Paul's instruction to Timothy (5:23)

Historically, clean drinking water has been hard to come by. The ancients would frequently add some alcoholic wine to their water, to purify it, but not nearly enough to really taste it or to get drunk off of it. The detractors say that this is what is being commanded here: that Timothy was so zealous for the Faith, which (according to them) includes abstention from alcohol, that he was getting upset stomachs from only drinking non-purified-with-wine water, and that Paul, out of concern for his health, was telling him to tone it down a bit and watch out for his health this way.

As for a rebuttal: Well, this argument is actually fairly accurate, as far as the historical reality, and the content of the command. However, what is not accurate is the assumption that a) abstention from alcohol was Timothy's motivation (Church Tradition tells us otherwise: he was actually a frequent practitioner of water-only fasts), or b) that even if it was his motivation, it is therefore somehow a command to all Christians everywhere. So we see that this is actually just another instance of the Exemplary argument, which I covered in part 2.

Give alcohol to the sick and dying (Prov. 31:6, 7)

Here we find a command to give alcohol to the one who is sick and dying, to ease his pain. The argument given against this is that the verse is supportive only of using alcohol as a pain reliever, and that now that we have more effective pain releivers, it is not necessary. It is usually conceded at this point that alcohol is not purely evil, but this concession is swiftly footnoted along the lines that this is a special case, and not generally applicable.

In "rebuttal", I simply concede the footnote. The argument has finally moved away from "alcohol is evil" to "when is alcohol OK", and that's progress. :) (It also happens to be the exact path on which my own convictions evolved in studying this issue.)

An interesting question, though, is: What does the writer mean when she instructs to give alcohol to the one who is "of heavy heart", so he will "forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more"? Isn't this recreational, having nothing to do with pain-killing?

The typical prohibitionist response is: no, it's sarcastic. It's not supposed to be seen as a real command. To which I reply: Based on what? But I'll concede the point, for now, for the sake of argument.

The Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11)

This is the big one that everyone always fights over when this topic is discussed. I'm not really going to cover the argument against, since I did that above (it's the circular one: alcohol is wrong (or, if as above they already conceded that it can be OK sometimes: "alcohol for entertainment is wrong") therefore Jesus couldn't have made alcoholic wine to keep the party going).

I will, however, point out that the passage, particularly the comment by the governor of the feast, makes absolutely no sense if this is non-alcoholic, especially in light of Luke 5:39.

Conclusion

So I have shown that the arguments made against the alcohol-supportive passages are specious. In addition to the proper rebuttal above, I would like to point out that the "wine doesn't really mean wine" argument is a direct violation of the "plain meaning" principle that most of those making that argument claim to hold. (This is the hermeneutical equivalent of Occam's Razor.)

I've detailed my own progression from "alcohol is evil" to "consumption of alcohol is only acceptable in certain dire circumstances, and certainly not for entertainment or gladdening of the heart".

Stay tuned, and next week I'll (finally) reveal the "gamechanger" verse, and show how it can admit of no other interpretation than that God supports the use of alcohol for entertainment purposes.

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