Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Is Prohibition of Alcohol Demonic?

In less than five minutes, I can finish looking at the websites I view almost daily.  From there, I might read what I find therein.  In today's case, I went to SharperIron, to its blogroll, and saw the headline for Andy Naselli, so I clicked on it.  A colleague where he teaches, Joe Rigney, wrote a book, The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts.  The theme sounded interesting, because I too wonder often about the purpose of various of these good things on earth besides the potential of idolatry.  At what point have we moved from enjoyment to idolatry?  When do we know?  The book is available to the point of exploration according to the supposition of Joe Rigney.

Rigney points to his greatest influences:  Jonathan Edwards, C. S. Lewis, John Piper, and Douglas Wilson.  It's too bad that Edwards is lumped with the other three, but I get it.  Piper has hijacked Edwards some to mean what he says and Wilson takes that thought even further.  And we get to booze. Alcohol consumption takes the stage of the discussion like the clown at a rodeo.  At the bottom of Naselli's post, he links to a two part presentation by Rigney on "Should Christians Drink Alcohol?"  I do hesitate in linking to his talk, because there are vulnerable people out there begging to justify their imbibing.  I go ahead and link for the sake of fairness.  I decided to start listening as I supped and swallowed some soup for lunch.

Joe Rigney offered four possible positions on alcohol from right to left:  prohibition, abstention, moderation, and abuse.  He explained each of those, parking for awhile to offer the reasons why Christians abstain (the second position).  From defining the four, he lopped off the two outside positions as unchristian, saying that prohibition is demonic, taking 1 Timothy 4:1-5 as proof, and that abuse is damning, referring to a few texts that anathematize drunkards.

For sake of consistency and symmetry, I didn't like "abuse" as a position.  I'm going to help Rigney out here with dissipation for a fourth category.  Plus, abuse doesn't sound like a position.  You may as well leave it off completely, because no one takes it as a "position."  And then he lumps prohibition and abuse together like strange bedfellows.

When you hear Rigney talk, he speaks with severe articulation at prohibition and with sympathy toward abuse.  He gets very stern in his denunciation of prohibition, leaving behind measured tones. I think these types of evangelicals are more angry at prohibition than they are drunkenness.  What does that say for them?  He excoriates prohibition as demonic with a feathery brush stroke of 1 Timothy 4:1-5.  He doesn't establish by any means that what Paul is writing there should apply to alcohol. This is what might be termed, "preaching to the choir."

I'm thinking, "Woe, woe, woe, woe, woe. Wait uh minute. That doesn't prove anything."  And Rigney is done with 1 Timothy 4:1-5 and moving on.  Prohibition is demonic, point said, point proved. You've got to ask, "Did God create alcohol?"  Like one might ask, "Did God create the ebola virus?"  I know God has allowed these things, which is different than creating them.  Even further, did God create distilled beverages?   That makes me start to laugh over Rigney's stunning ease at flicking away prohibition as unchristian.

When you call a position on alcohol, "prohibition," you need to know that you are associating it with the constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States from 1920 to 1933.  It isn't easy to amend the Constitution.  We've done it only seventeen times since 1791.  There was widespread support for prohibition in 1920 in the American population, what Rigney would call "demonic."  More laughter ensues.

I wasn't motivated to write this post until I heard Rigney call prohibition "demonic."  Until then, I could have remained somewhat ambivalent to what he was saying, even curious.  I think believers do need to learn the right approach to God's good creation in relation to Christian service.

This post answers a very specific question prompted by Joe Rigney, "Is prohibition of alcohol demonic?"  He uses 1 Timothy 4:1-5 as a proof text.

1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

The demons are in v. 1, "doctrines of devils."  Apostates are seduced by doctrines of devils, prohibition being that doctrine (so says Rigney), so prohibition lies on the road to apostasy.  Apparently, Satan wants to use prohibition of alcohol to damn men's souls.  In contrast, promotion of alcohol ostensibly leads toward eternal life.

The error Paul addresses in the proposed text rejects good things God Himself created for beneficial reasons.  God created marriage and created meat for men to enjoy.  How controversial are marriage and meat in evangelicalism?  Those are at the root of the argument against the false doctrine Paul exposes.  Paul is rejecting the asceticism that was part of the philosophical dualism in Ephesus and other Greek cities.  They thought they could achieve some elevated kind of spiritual existence by denying themselves material things.  You still see this in modern religions, and this can seep into and influence Christians, as in the examples of celibacy and monasticism. The apostasy comes with the denial of true spirituality found through the work of Jesus Christ and in favor of our own work of self-denial.

Is denying alcohol a form of asceticism?  Is this an example Paul would have in mind?  To help yourself understand better, replace prohibition of alcohol with prohibition of crack or crack pipes or heroin or crystal meth. Is denying crystal meth a form of asceticism that could drag someone into a denial of Christ's finished work?  Is meth just another element God created for all men to enjoy? From what I've read, meth is a stress reliever, helps someone get through boring jobs more easily, and boosts creativity, so perhaps Rigney could have kept rolling right into other "created" substances.

Are there physical things on earth that should be denied, based upon bad inherent qualities?  God created everything, but does that mean that sin has had no impact on creation since then?  Is everything innocent since the fall?  I believe that what Naselli calls a 'skillful answer' to the question, "Should Christians drink alcohol?" is actually a horrible answer.  The biblical position is "prohibition," and yet Rigney labels that demonic.  When you call the right answer demonic, you haven't done a very skillful job of answering.  Rigney said he was very serious about "demonic," something that men often say when they're afraid of not being taken seriously -- this time for good reason.

Ephesians 5:18 starts, "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess."  The phrase "wherein is excess" translates four Greek words (en ho estin asotia) that could be translated literally, "in which is dissipation."  Ho ("which," "where") is a relative pronoun that requires an antecedent.  "Wine" (oinos) is masculine and singular and ho, the relative pronoun, is masculine and singular.  The antecedent agrees in gender and number.  "In" the wine itself is the dissipation, the profligacy, the debauchery, the meaning of "excess" (asotia).   How could that be?  Didn't God create everything for man to enjoy?

There are no other possible referents for ho than "wine."  If in contradiction to Greek grammar, ho referred to "drunk," inferred in the infinitive "to be drunk" (not a noun), Paul (and God) would be saying be not drunk with wine, wherein is drunkenness, making Paul (and God) redundant.  In drunkenness is drunkenness. Yes, I see.  Good point, Paul.  Incisive.  In drunkenness is drunkenness. That's not what Paul was writing.

Yes, God created everything for man to enjoy.  But not everything exists for man to enjoy. Everything has been spoiled or corrupted by sin to some degree.  Rigney's view is a simplistic and superficial view of prohibition that deserved more than his condescending brush-off -- actually worse, because he calls it demonic during his brief dismissal.  The Corinthians argument for fornication was meats for the belly and belly for meats (1 Cor 6:13).  This seems to be closer to the Rigney argument against prohibition.

In the wine itself is excess, not just in the abuse of it.  "Abuse" doesn't work as a category if the excess is in the substance itself.  Anyone knows that there are things we shouldn't eat or drink.  They are dangerous or deadly.  If you know what oinos is, you know that Jesus could turn water into an acceptable form of it.  The kind that causes drunkenness is prohibited by scripture.  When wine is alcoholic, it is prohibited (Prov 23:31).  It no longer exists to be enjoyed.

By calling prohibition demonic, Joe Rigney will encourage alcohol and reap drunkenness.  It isn't a skillful argument from scripture, but a perversion.  May everyone see it for what it is.


Lance Ketchum said...

From the context of the priesthood of all believers in the New Covenant, we need but one verse to prove abstention is God's intent.

"Neither shall any priest drink wine, when they enter into the inner court" (Ezekiel 44:21).

Build from there!

Farmer Brown said...

Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.

I have often heard it said that being "Deceived thereby" means getting drunk, as in "The person getting drunk is not wise." I do not believe that is the case. Solomon could have written that if he meant that. I believe it means to be deceived by booze.

Booze deceives in many ways, it allures in many ways. One of the allures is the social enjoyment. Being a teetotaler has hurt my career. It would be better if I went out with colleagues for a pop after work. I would seem like less of a stiff. That is alluring. I want to be accepted and make more money.

Another allure is to not look stupid and judgmental in the eyes of the lost and of compromisers (if you can tell the difference). Another is to show "love" and openmindedness. While Joe Rigney may have never been drunk, he has been deceived thereby.

As an aside, it is no wonder "christian men" are so feminine while listening to men like this. They seek to emulate his feminine mannerisms, styles of speech, and weak and soft words.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I would want to hear an exegetical basis against what I've written, why it is wrong. I believe the other position is based on, "I like alcohol," and that is no better represented then by using 1 Timothy 4:1-5 and calling prohibition demonic. That is an exegetical fallacy. And then he invents a view of alcohol that says, "God created it." Alcohol. He says that God created it, so it was there in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.

But evangelicals are not much different than fundamentalists in the sense that the best argument is not exegetical, but political. They are pragmatists, attempting to cobble together coalitions as the most important. Naselli has shown that.

Rigney tried to bring all these positions together like they all can be right and that they in fact benefit the others. Prohibition is the one position that must be deleted for that to work

Lance Ketchum said...

If you were addressing your comment to me, I do not think you are wrong. I, in fact, think you are right on the mark.

Kent Brandenburg said...

No Bro Ketchum,

I think I was just adding and commenting generally,

I had nothing to add to you. He sees abstention and prohibition as two different positions, abstention not the same as absolute prohibition, but I knew that you meant prohibition by abstention, at least I think you meant that.

George Calvas said...

Good article, Kent. You can justify almost anything these days.

Farmer Brown --> Amen.

Lance Ketchum said...

Yes, I did and do!

Anonymous said...

Then why did Jesus drink wine? The Bible says He did, I believe in Luke chapter seven, when the Pharisees were accusing Him of being a drunkard because He drank alcohol. And His first recorded miracle was turning water into wine (and no, it was not grape juice). To say that God intends for all Christians to abstain from wine or beer is nonsense

Anonymous said...

I am a fundamentalist and have never tasted alcoholic drinks in my 59 years.

I enjoyed this article and would like to hear more from you about why the Bible teaches that Christians should abstain from drinking.

In my case my father told me not to ever drink wine or other alcoholic drinks, so I did not. I also was told that it was a family heritage and 5 generations of my family had people that did not put the cup to their lips that he knows of.

After I was married, I also learned from my wife's mother that their family did not partake of alcoholic drinks for going back 5 generations as well, that she knew of.

I need to find more details of what the Bible teaches regarding this to help my sons and daughters to keep to this belief that is also a family distinctive for us.

How can I safely give my email so you could respond with any other writings you may have?


George Calvas said...

"Then why did Jesus drink wine? The Bible says He did, I believe in Luke chapter seven, when the Pharisees were accusing Him of being a drunkard because He drank alcohol."

The bible says nothing about him drinking any wine. John 2 says he made the wine. Once he made it, they gave it immediately to the ruler of the feast. Anyone knows that it takes time for it to ferment. Anyone that has read his bible knows what God himself wrote about fermented wine in many places.

The Pharisees accused Jesus Christ of being a drunkard. Based on same premise that brought them to their false conclusion, you also are accusing Jesus Christ of being a drunkard. No saved man would ever agree with the devils crowd, even in ignorance!

KJB1611 said...

Dear Steve,

If you want a great case for total abstinence from alcohol, let me suggest Dr. Teachout's doctoral dissertation here: