Adventists and Wine, Part 2

I can hear some of you saying, “the texts cited in part 1 were about drunkenness, not the wine connoisseur who only has a glass or two of wine with dinner” and “Ellen White wanted to shut down saloons where hard liquor was sold, not the wine rack at the local supermarket” and “studies show that moderate wine-drinking is good for your heart health” and “even Paul advised Timothy to drink a little wine, not just water” and “what about Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana?” Those issues will be addressed in this article. 

 Any Amount of Alcohol is Bad for Our Health

Alcohol is the fifth leading risk factor for death and disability. More than 30,700 people died last year of alcohol poisoning and cirrhosis of the liver.  Binge drinking is on the rise, and six people a day die from alcohol poisoning

Alcohol’s harmful effects on the liver, colon, breast, and upper digestive tract have been firmly established. For example, researchers have found that consuming only three drinks per week increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer by fifteen percent (15%) and the risk increases by 10% for each additional drink.  Drinking two drinks a day triples the risk of oral cancer.  Most people are aware of the connection between tobacco and cancer, but most are not aware that consuming even one to two drinks per day increases the risk of cancers of the mouth and throat, larynx, esophagus, colon, bowel, liver, breast and pancreas.  A study published just a few days ago in Cell Host & Microbe has found that alcohol allows intestinal bacteria to migrate to the liver, promoting alcohol-induced liver diseases.

But what about those studies finding that moderate drinking has a “cardio-protective” effect?  The short answer is that some studies have found that moderate alcohol consumption lowers the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, but (1) the studies were so poorly designed that it is very likely that confounding factors invalidated their conclusions, and (2) more stringently designed research indicates that moderate drinking does not promote heart health.

In the studies that found lowered risk of heart attacks and stroke, the wine-drinkers were drawn from a higher educational and socio-economic stratum with better overall health and exercise practices.  The socio-economic skewing of the study groups is sufficient to invalidate the research, but to illustrate just how poorly these studies were designed, most of them placed former alcoholics, including those who were forced to stop drinking for health reasons, into the category of nondrinkers.  Brian Bull reports that, "these former heavy drinkers get lumped in with the nondrinkers because at the time of the study they are, in fact, nondrinkers!" 

"How often has this happened? Out of 54 studies analyzed by Fillmore et al., 47 of those studies had failed to exclude former drinkers. And here’s the important point: None of the remaining seven studies confirmed the widely held opinion that drinking alcohol in moderation benefits one’s health.  Not surprisingly, nondrinkers can be made to look unhealthy if all of the illnesses of former heavy drinkers (now too sick or too old to continue abusing alcohol) are added into health statistics of the nondrinkers."

The absurdly biased design of these studies is likely attributable to the fact that several of them were done in countries like France and Italy, where the domestic wine industry is important to the economy, and a finding against moderate drinking would have been very unpopular.  A Czech study done a couple of years ago suggested that any cardio-protective benefits were due to exercise, not wine-drinking.

Moreover, these studies have recently been rebutted by a very large-scale study finding an association between lowered alcohol consumption and lowered risk of heart disease.  The researchers studied a cohort having an unusual gene that causes its carriers to metabolize alcohol differently than those without the gene; they flush and feel nausea, and hence are genetically predisposed to drink less alcohol than non-carriers.[1] The study found that people with the gene consume on average 17% less alcohol each week, and had a ten percent lower risk of coronary heart disease:

“These findings suggest that reductions of alcohol consumption, even for light to moderate drinkers, may be beneficial for cardiovascular health. Our results therefore challenge the concept of a cardio-protective effect associated with light to moderate alcohol consumption reported in observational studies and suggest that this effect may have been due to residual confounding or selection bias.”

Some studies suggest that the reported health benefits of moderate red wine consumption are probably attributable to anti-oxidants found in high concentration in red wine.  But anti-oxidants can be supplied by fresh grape juice and other fruits and fruit juices.  I would suggest Loma Linda do a longitudinal study following a group that drinks one or two 5-ounce servings of grape juice per day with and another groups that has 1 to 2 glasses of red wine, and see who has the better cardio-health outcome.  We might find that the grape juice drinkers are healthier.

 Paul’s Advice to Timothy

Some argue that 1 Timothy 5:23 is a license for Christians to engage in moderate drinking.  In that passage, Paul advised Timothy to “stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” But Paul was addressing a specific health problem that Timothy was experiencing: gastrointestinal problems caused by water. Throughout history, most people have had to cope with water contaminated with various micro-organisms. As Timothy traveled from place to place, he would have been drinking water swimming with microbes that his body was not used to.  Even today, travelers often encounter problems with microbe-laden drinking water, and must take steps to either purify the water or avoid drinking it. 

The ancients solved this problem by mixing wine into the drinking water.  With their main meal of the day, the ancient Greeks drank wine diluted at a ratio of one-part wine to three parts water; the wine killed the germs in the water, and the water diluted the alcohol to the point where it had no intoxicating effect. Thus, when Paul advised Timothy to use a little wine for the sake of his stomach, he was saying that Timothy might avoid some stomach trouble if he would follow the custom of drinking watered wine.

That wine will kill bacteria that causes gastrointestinal ailments was verified by a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). The researchers found that wine was more effective at fighting three types of bacteria that cause digestive problems (Escherichia coli, Salmonella enteriditis, and Shigella sonnei) than even bismuth salicylate, a medicine often prescribed as a preventative against traveler’s diarrhea.  The researchers found that wine retained its disinfectant qualities under dilution of up to 8 parts water to one part wine, if the mixture is allowed to sit for 24 hours before drinking.  Wine can be extremely diluted and still maintain its anti-microbial effectiveness. 

Moreover, it is not just any alcohol that can be used for this purpose; there are properties specific to wine that make it effective in killing germs.  Fermentation produces ethanol and ethanol is sometimes used as a disinfectant or antiseptic, but the researchers found that a diluted ethanol solution and a solution based upon tequila (fermented from the blue agave plant) had little effect at checking bacterial growth.  More than other foods, grapes produce a family of phytochemicals called phenols; when phenols get together they form polyphenols and they have many positive nutritional benefits, including anti-oxidation.  The BMJ researchers believed that these polyphenols, released during fermentation, give wine its legendary anti-microbial effectiveness.[2] 

There is evidence that the ancients knew about wine’s antiseptic properties.  The great Galen (AD 131 – 201) a Greek physician who worked in Rome and became the personal physician of Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus, used wine to good effect as an antiseptic on wounded gladiators. 

When we understand wine’s antiseptic qualities, and that the ancients were aware of them, the story of the Good Samaritan comes into clearer focus: “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.” Luke 10:33-34. Here is a detail of Jesus’ parable that makes little sense unless you are aware of wine’s antiseptic qualities—its usefulness in treating wounds. 

So we cannot fairly take Paul’s advice to Timothy as an excuse for moderate drinking. To do so is to wrest the passage from its historical context and misapply it.  Fortunately, most of us have little trouble finding safe drinking water, and we have many other options for purifying it besides wine.  Thus we don’t need any wine to avoid dysentery or other gastro-intestinal problems associated with suboptimal or unsafe drinking water. 

 Jesus’ Miracle at the Wedding Feast at Cana

What of Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine?  John 2:1-12.  Is this not an endorsement of social drinking? In a word, no. The same Greek word, oinos, is used both for fermented wine and for unfermented wine, or grape juice, so the meaning has to be inferred from the context.  The context here is a miracle.  Jesus supernaturally created this wine out of water, so He was not limited by the usual methods of making and storing wine.  He could make it any way He wanted it, fermented or fresh. 

And He made a lot of it.  We are told there were six stone cisterns, each holding 20 to 30 gallons, and they were filled to the brim with water which became wine. John 2:6-7. So Christ made about 150 gallons of wine.  Now is it conceivable that the same Christ who through the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible writers to warn against drunkenness would create enough fermented wine to intoxicate an entire cohort of Roman soldiers (about 500 men)? Does that make any sense? The context clearly indicates that the oinos that Jesus created was fresh, unfermented wine, and Ellen White confirms that:

The wine which Christ provided for the feast, and that which He gave to the disciples as a symbol of His own blood, was the pure juice of the grape.  . . . It was Christ who in the Old Testament gave the warning to Israel, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise." Prov. 20:1. And He Himself provided no such beverage. Satan tempts men to indulgence that will becloud reason and benumb the spiritual perceptions, but Christ teaches us to bring the lower nature into subjection. His whole life was an example of self-denial.  . . . Christ did not contradict His own teaching. The unfermented wine which He provided for the wedding guests was a wholesome and refreshing drink. Its effect was to bring the taste into harmony with a healthful appetite.  DA 149.

I like to think that Christ created this grape juice with an extra dose of polyphenols to give it the same or better antiseptic quality it would have had if fermented.  Why did Jesus create so much?  Perhaps because Jewish wedding celebrations at that time could last up to a week, and the leftovers could be given to departing guests for their trip home, and/or sold and the proceeds given as a wedding present to the bride and groom. 


Total Abstinence the Christian’s Duty

A.     Alcohol Numbs Spiritual Sensibilities

In part 1, we noted that alcohol is off limits to spiritual leaders because of its tendency to numb the conscience.  But the prohibition applies not only to preachers but to every follower of Christ: 

“The apostle Peter declares, ‘Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.’ 1 Peter 2:9. We are required by God to preserve every power in the best possible condition, that we may render acceptable service to our Creator. When intoxicants are used, . . . the conscience will lose its sensibility to sin, and a process of hardening to iniquity will most certainly take place, till the common and the sacred will lose all difference of significance. How can we then meet the standard of the divine requirements?” PP 362.

Alcohol clouds the mind and numbs the spiritual sensibilities, which makes total abstinence the only path for the Christian who would be an overcomer. 

 B.      We Are Living in the Anti-Typical Day of Atonement

Because we live in the anti-typical Day of Atonement, it is especially important for us not to numb our spiritual sensibilities.  The Day of Atonement was the most sacred and solemn of all days in the Hebrew calendar, and a time of the strictest self-denial.  Lev. 16:29, 31; 23:29, 32; Num. 29:7. The imperative of self-denial applies equally to us: 

We are now living in the great day of atonement. In the typical service, while the high priest was making the atonement for Israel, all were required to afflict their souls by repentance of sin and humiliation before the Lord, lest they be cut off from among the people. In like manner, all who would have their names retained in the book of life should now, in the few remaining days of their probation, afflict their souls before God by sorrow for sin and true repentance. There must be deep, faithful searching of heart. The light, frivolous spirit indulged by so many professed Christians must be put away. GC 489-90.

The seriousness of the times is totally incompatible with drinking, even “a glass or two of wine with dinner.”  The Christian’s duty is total abstinence. 

 Time to Re-instate the Temperance Pledge

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, it was common for Christians to sign temperance pledges, pledging not to drink even one drop of alcohol.  Ellen White strongly endorsed the use of temperance pledges (and “temperance” meant abstinence to her, as we see below):

Let not one drop of wine or liquor pass your lips, for in its use is madness and woe. Pledge yourself to entire abstinence, for it is your only safety.  Temperance, 198.4; Manuscript 25, 1893. 

Let no excuse be offered when you are asked to put your name to the temperance pledge, but sign every pledge presented, and induce others to sign with you. Work for the good of your own souls, and the good of others. Never let an opportunity pass to cast your influence on the side of strict temperance.  Temperance, 199.2; Counsels on Health, p. 441.

Those who claim to believe the truth have not all taken their position in relation to temperance which it is their sacred duty to do. There have been those who have stood aloof from decided committal on the side of temperance, and for what reason? Some say that if wine or beer is passed to them, they have not the moral courage to say, I have signed the pledge not to taste of fermented wine or beer or strong drink. Shall the names of those stand registered in the books of heaven as defending the indulgence of appetite?  Temperance, 200.2; Review & Herald, April 19, 1887. 

Clearly, our denomination once advocated strict temperance—and Fundamental Belief 22 still mentions abstaining from alcoholic beverages—but laxness has crept in.  Rumors of “wine-drinking California Adventists” are a cliché, but as a life-long resident of southern California, I can confirm that they are true.  Many California Adventists are very open about drinking wine.  I suspect that this is not limited to California, but is common in other liberal Adventist precincts around the developed world.

Therefore, I believe it is time to re-instate the practice of circulating and signing abstinence pledges.  This is most urgently required of those who draw a tithe-supported paycheck from the church, but it should be sought of all who have their names on the membership rolls.  The pledge could be worded as follows:   

Though wine was used in the past as a disinfectant (1 Tim5:23) it is no longer needed in that role.  I pledge that I will totally abstain from wine, beer, liquor, and all intoxicating spirits and recreational drugs and substances.  Should I ever renounce this pledge, I promise to discuss it with my denominational employer and/or with my pastor.

Those who violate the pledge would be subject to a censure on the first offense and disfellowshiping for any subsequent offense.  This policy of universal, compulsory abstinence pledges would need to be voted on and carried at the 2020 General Conference Session; the process of getting this on the agenda for 2020 and promoting it in denominational media should begin now. 

Some might object that there is nothing to stop members signing the pledge and drinking anyway. But I know many of these socially drinking Adventists, and I believe some would not violate their pledge.  A second group would not want to be seen violating it, hence they would not drink in social or public situations, which would be an improvement over current practice.  A third group would simply refuse to sign the pledge, preferring to keep socially drinking than to remain members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is an issue of personal integrity, and I think most would have the integrity to leave the church rather than violate the pledge.

Abstinence could be the issue that begins the shaking, as cultural Adventists exit the Church rather than sign the abstinence pledges. Ellen White was shown that “some will not bear this straight testimony.  They will rise up against it, and this is what will cause a shaking among God’s people.”  CET 176.1.  Perhaps part of the “straight testimony” that some cannot bear is the testimony of abstinence from alcohol and recreational drugs. But their places would be filled by Christians from other denominations who would be attracted to the high standards that we would be upholding.  Great fortitude and resolve would be required of our conference and union officers because those who would leave the church would likely be some of the most affluent California Adventists, and hence some of the biggest donors.   

There would likely be beneficial secondary effects from liberal Adventists leaving the church, such as quieting down the constant agitation to normalize homosexuality and transgenderism, and the frequent sniping at doctrines such as the sanctuary/1844 doctrine, the recent creation in six literal days, the papacy as the beast power of Daniel and Revelation, etc. 

Elder Wilson has made revival and reformation his platform, and nowhere is reformation more urgently needed than on the question of strict temperance.  Bring back the temperance pledge!




[1] Alcohol is absorbed into the blood where enzymes metabolize it.  Two liver enzymes - alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) - break apart the alcohol molecule.  ADH metabolizes the alcohol to acetaldehyde and ALDH metabolizes the acetaldehyde into acetate, which is further broken down into water and carbon dioxide. Although acetaldehyde is highly toxic, normally it is not in the body for long, because it is rapidly converted to acetate.  But, due to genetic variations, some people have a version of the ADH enzyme that is faster at converting alcohol into acetaldehyde, and a version of ALDH that is slower at reducing acetaldehyde to acetate.  Hence, when they drink alcohol they have a toxic acetaldehyde build up, which causes symptoms similar to an allergic reaction:  They experience facial flushing, nausea, and a rapid heart rate. These effects can occur with even moderate alcohol consumption.  Not surprisingly, people with this gene variant, ADH1B*2 (relatively common among Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans, but rare among Europeans and Africans), tend to drink less because drinking alcohol is an unpleasant experience. Their gene variant has a protective effect for developing alcoholism.


[2] Excessively alkaline water has also been suggested as a reason why Paul would have advised Timothy to mix a little wine in with his water. Drinking highly alkaline water could be another possible source of water-caused stomach problems, because such water creates a pH imbalance that the stomach must redress by secreting stomach acid. Mixing wine with alkaline water would correct the pH imbalance before drinking, saving the stomach the effort of secreting extra acid.