Does Deuteronomy 14:26 support social drinking in the Bible?

Kevin R. Airrington
edited 10/30/2011

Recently I issued a challenge to show me in the Bible a scripture that supported social drinking.  I was then presented with Deuteronomy 14:26 as proof the Bible supports social drinking.  Since this is not the first time this scripture has come up, I figured it was time to put something in writing to put the whole thing to rest.

And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household,”

Before, I go any further, I want to be clear that I still contend that the Bible MAY support drinking in only three ways:

1)      Medicinal purposes (1 Timothy 5:23) Perhaps, today we have medications that work better.

2)      At a wedding or feast (John 2:1-11) Subjection!  Were the people at the wedding Christians or godly?”

3)      Grieving the death of a loved one/poverty. (Proverbs 31:6,7) In context however, this chapter forbids kings & priests to drink and talks about the consequences of drinking.

However, it is pretty tough to get around scriptures like 1 Thessalonians 5:22 “Avoiding the appearance of evil.” And Romans 14:21, “Do not cause your brother to stumble”.  I realize the verse discusses more than just drinking but the study is on drinking and thus that is where the emphasis is.  It is true we shouldn’t do anything that might cause our brother to stumble.  Romans 14:21 should always be read in its entirety, but again emphasis are placed on drinking because of the topic of study.

Few things anger me more than when people try and take our eyes off of the real issue…the real sin by trying to water down and minimize this verse.   It is true we should not do ANYTHING to cause our brother to stumble but there is a reason Paul specifically mentioned drinking.  There is a reason he mentioned drinking and not drunkenness.

Now back to answering the question about Deuteronomy 14:26 supporting social drinking.  As with any portion of scripture for proper understand we need to get the full context, understand who the audience was, understand the times and the customs, understand what was going on.  At first glance it almost seems as if Deuteronomy 14:26 could easily at the very least support purchasing wine and strong drink.  But is that really the case?

As I have taught in my study on alcohol there are 13 Hebrew & Greek words that were translated into the word wine in 1611.  In this verse “strong drink” comes from the Hebrew word , “shekar” and refers to intoxicating drink.   This Hebrew word is found 23 times in the Old Testament (Lev. 10:9; Num. 6:3 [twice]; 28:7; Deut. 14:26; 29:6; Judg. 13:4,7,14; 1 Sam. 1:15; Psa. 69:12; Prov. 20:1; 31:4,6; Isa. 5:11,22; 24:9; 28:7 [three times]; 29:9; 56:12; Mic. 2:11). When you study these passages you find that “strong drink” is often condemned. So, why does it appear to not be commended in Deuteronomy 14:26?

To answer these questions let’s first look to the context.   The context is clearly dealing with the law of tithes.   An Israelite was to bring his tithe to the sanctuary (14:22-23). If it was too far to carry his tithe or his tithe would spoil he could turn his tithe into money at home and then bring the money to the sanctuary (14:24-25).   We learned about this in Pastor Tim’s Sermon on Malachi 3:6-12 on Sunday 10/30/2011.  When he arrived at the place of offering, he was to spend his money to purchase what he needed to eat before the Lord and also give a portion to the Levites (14:26-29). Deuteronomy 12:1-19 also deals with this law. The “strong drink” in verse 26 along with the oxen, sheep and wine could be used for sacrifices.  Specifically, “strong drink” was used for a drink offering according to Numbers 28:7. In this case, the “strong drink” here would not even be swallowed, but would be poured out upon the altar as a drink offering.

Also, both the “wine” (Hebrew, tiyrosh in v.23, and yayin in v.26, both could be unfermented grape juice) and the “strong drink” in Deuteronomy 14:26 were often mixed with water in Bible times (up to twenty parts water to one part wine).  This was done as a way to “purify” the water as it was not good to drink.  Even if an Israelite drank the “strong drink” at the sanctuary, he was not drinking a modern alcoholic type beverage, he was not allowed to get drunk on it (Prov. 20:1; Isa. 5:11,22; 28:7; Mic. 2:11), and he was not allowed to offer it to the Levite (Lev. 10:9). The other Old Testament passages listed above that condemn drunkenness would certainly apply here. Deuteronomy 14:26 should not be taken out of its immediate context, or the broader context of the Old Testament in order to justify drinking alcohol today. One’s interpretation of Deuteronomy 14:26 should not contradict other clear passages in the Old Testament that are against “strong drink.”

Deuteronomy 14:26 is talking about a religious, sacrificial meal at the sanctuary, not the daily, social drinking of alcohol. Second, the “strong drink” in this passage may not have even been swallowed at all.  Third, the diluted “strong drink” of Bible times does not compare to the alcoholic content of modern intoxicants. And finally, the Old Testament law concerning “strong drink” at the sanctuary has been done away and there is no New Testament law replacing it. The New Testament forbids both the drinking of small amounts of alcohol (1 Pet. 4:3), and the process of getting drunk (Eph. 5:18). Both start with the first drink.

I have said it many times.  I am not the wine police…I am not even the sin police.  Someone else has that job and that person is the Holy Ghost.  If you are feeling convicted or you are trying to find ways to justify your sin then perhaps it is time to get it right.  My job as a Christian is to rightly divide the Word and to share God’s Word.


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