Does the Bible Recommend Drinking Alcoholic Beverages?

By Jason Jackson

"Does the book of Proverbs recommend “strong drink” for those who are depressed? Please explain Proverbs 31:6-7."

“Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more” (Prov. 31:6-7; ESV).

What does this passage mean? Does it encourage drinking an alcoholic beverage to relieve depression?

When studying any passage, we must consider an important rule of interpretation. We must read passages with difficulties, or those employing figurative language (e.g., in the case of biblical poetry), with extra care. These passages will not give us a different moral perspective from that which we find elsewhere in Scripture. A difficult text must not be made to contradict clear, easy-to-understand passages.

Remember that the biblical emphasis on alcohol is this:

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1; emphasis added, JJ).

Paul warns that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10; cf. Gal 5:19-21). Depression and poverty are no license to sin.

What does this puzzling passage mean, then? Let us look at the context.

Proverbs 31:1 says, “The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him.”

What did the king’s mother teach him about alcohol? Did she suggest that kings shouldn’t drink (vv. 4-5), but for everyone else it is acceptable (vv. 6-7)? Did she approve of the “Why lie — It’s for beer” slogan —(as one street-corner, cardboard sign read)? Was she offering a program for the down-and-out?

Let’s take a careful look at this motherly advice.

“It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (vv. 4-5).

The king’s mother advised him to stay away from alcohol. It impairs judgment. It leads to improper decisions. This would not only affect Lemuel as a king, but it would also adversely affect the people he governed.

By way of contrast, there are people who “drink to forget.” “Let them do it,” she says, “but as for you, manage the stress of your position to rule with equitable justice.”

Duane Garrett, Professor of Old Testament at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, summarizes the context.

“The queen-mother does not recommend a free beer program for the poor or justify its use as an opiate for the masses; her point is simply that the king must avoid drunkenness in order to reign properly. The comparison to the suffering poor and to their use of alcohol is meant to awaken Lemuel to the duties that go with his class and status rather than to describe some kind of permissible drunkenness” (“Proverbs,” The New American Commentary, Vol. 14. Broadman: Nashville, p. 246).

What about the Christian? If a king needs clear thinking and sound integrity, serving the civil interests of people, does not the Christian need sober thinking and virtuous influence in serving the spiritual interests of people (cf. Mt. 5:13-16; 28:19; Eph. 5:18; 1 Pet. 2:11-12)?