Brumbelow’s Bumbles

Had some interaction with a certain pastor David Brumbelow on the issue of alcohol and the Christian in the combox of the article: Deuteronomy 14:26 – Does it Commend Alcohol?

For background, despite the numerous good things the Bible says about wine, some militant abstentationists employ a hermeneutic of interpreting all positive mentions of wine in scripture as referring to non-alcoholic juice. For those who hold to such a self-serving interpretive bias, one passage that’s been pointed out that clearly and overwhelmingly does support proper use of strong drink is from Deuteronomy 14:26:

“…and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.”

Yet despite how clear the scriptures are on the matter, some would-be interpreters like Mr. Brumbelow try to explain it away.

My initial message to him:

You make several glaring errors here,

1. Your attempts at proof-texts that “speak against alcohol” don’t back your case.

Wine is a mocker etc per Proverbs 21 -in a specific context. Many things have a negative side if misused, such as warfare, money, etc. This is a plainly warning against being led astray/deceived by wine, not a wholesale command against ever drinking.

To Proverbs 23, context easily defeats your argument, since this is obviously directed at drunkards “Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, Those who go in search of mixed wine.” (29b-30)

1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 commands us to be sober -not drunk. Surely you can make the distinction between a command not to be drunk and a command to not drink whatsoever?

2. You erect an obvious strawman concerning the allowance of alcohol,

“It may seem strange that God would forbid His Old Testament priests to drink while engaging in worship, yet tell the people they were welcome to drink during worship without regard to age or amount.”

Newsflash: Hebrew society was high-context. A command not specifying every detail isn’t meant to infer no limits. Holding pointed out the problem when Bacchiocchi made the same error,

“But the command is not directed towards use of intoxicants; the command is to lay aside money for the purchase of goods, of which the wine and strong drink are just one of several listed, along with food and “whatsoever thy soul desireth.” This no more allows intoxication than the permission to buy oxen or sheep allows gluttony or overeating.” (http://www.tektonics.org/lp/nowine.html)

3. Your use of the NKJV as a source that suggests non-alcoholic shekar is misapplied. The text states,

“And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink….”

The “similar” is stated in reference to wine -which in English typically does denote fermented drink.

4. Shekar also implying sweetness doesn’t imply that shekar wasn’t alcoholic, since alcohol and sweetness aren’t mutually exclusive.

He responded:

I had thought of just letting J. C. have the last word, especially since I’ve answered his charges elsewhere in this blog and more extensively in “Ancient Wine and the Bible.”

But I’ve recently been asked to give my answer to his statements, so I will briefly do so.

1. He gives one view of Proverbs 20:1, I give another. This verse says directly that wine “is” a mocker; not if you drink too much it is a mocker.

2. Proverbs 23:29-35 is not merely written to drunkards, it is written to all, and specifically to “my son.” Just before this passage Solomon warns against adultery; that does not mean his son is necessarily an adulterer. Just so, all should take warning and not even look at beverage alcohol; that is another way of saying have nothing to do with it.

It is also significant that this passage meticulously describes alcoholic wine, not wine in general, and then says to leave it alone.

3. I disagree on the meaning of the word sober (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8). Ask someone in Alcoholics Anonymous the meaning of sober. The first drink ends your sobriety. Jerry Vines has said,“Moderate drinking is moderate intoxication.” Law enforcement will tell you many auto accidents are caused by drivers who are below the level of official intoxication.

Strange that God uses the word sober, literally meaning wineless, and people still say it does not prohibit alcohol.

4. I simply disagree with the view that God would tell His priests not to drink during worship, yet tell the worshippers to drink alcohol, during worship, to their hearts content. That just doesn’t match up.

5. The NKJV’s use of “similar drink” to wine in Deuteronomy 14:26 does not demand that it mean alcohol. It can be interpreted either way. By the way, your view is an interpretation, the same as mine. Wine meant either a fermented or unfermented drink. Shekar was the same.

Examples of unfermented wine being called wine: Proverbs 3:10; Isaiah 16:10; 65:8; Joel 2:24; Zechariah 9:17; Lamentations 2:11-12; Matthew 9:17. It should be remembered that just pressed grapes produce unfermented wine (grape juice), and ancients could easily preserve it in a nonalcoholic state. This is explained in another article.

6. The word shekar implying sweetness does imply it was not alcoholic. When unfermented wine or unfermented shekar (for example, cider) is fermented, the sugar is converted into alcohol and gas. What was sweet, has had it sweetness taken away. Yes, alcohol could then be sweetened (although they did not have cane sugar as we have today), but normally you could tell the alcohol by its lack of sweetness. Aristotle said sweet wine would not intoxicate.
David R. Brumbelow

I countered:

“This verse says directly that wine “is” a mocker; not if you drink too much it is a mocker.”

You’re apparently not very familiar with ancient forms of expression. Some trait can be attributed to a noun in context without it being a universal. For instance, Christ refers to the “deceitfulness of riches” (Matt 13:22, Mk 4:19). By your reasoning, this would entail that all riches in any circumstance are deceitful and a snare. Clearly, He is speaking of one allowing riches to become his master rather than God. To interpret this as a universal prohibition on money would be far-fetched to say the least, yet you make an almost identical error when interpreting passages that warn against over-drinking.

“Proverbs 23:29-35 is not merely written to drunkards, it is written to all, and specifically to “my son.””

Incorrect, its exhortation against wine is specifically written against drunkards. As quoted above, “Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, Those who go in search of mixed wine.” (29b-30) This bit of context makes it quite clear that your attempt to extend it into some sort of universal prohibition is simply bad, agenda-driven exegesis. But if you’re going to appeal to “his son,” then the burden of proof is upon you to demonstrate that this somehow makes it into a universal prohibition applicable to all people everywhere for all time.

“The first drink ends your sobriety.”

Here, you are employing a fallacy called “equivocation.” You’re changing the meaning of a standard term to make it fit your false conceptions. Standard definitions of drunkenness, e.g.-
“being in a temporary state in which one’s physical and mental faculties are impaired by an excess of alcoholic drink; intoxicated: The wine made him drunk.”
-define it with *excess*, and nowhere in the Bible or any credible dictionary will you find your redefinition of the term. The silliness of such an idea is also demonstrated via reductio ad absurdum: If any alcohol whatsoever ends sobriety/makes one drunk, then even a mild dose of cough syrup makes one a drunkard! Clearly, your position needs a reality-check here!

“Strange that God uses the word sober, literally meaning wineless”

The Greek “sophron” (such as is used in 1 Tim 3:2) implies, “of a sound mind, sane, in one’s senses, curbing one’s desires and impulses, self-controlled, temperate.” It doesn’t imply complete non-consumption of alcohol.

“I simply disagree with the view that God would tell His priests not to drink during worship, yet tell the worshippers to drink alcohol, during worship, to their hearts content. That just doesn’t match up.”

There’s a huge difference between the priests not drinking when going about the sacred duties of the tabernacle (Lev 10:9), and the people being allowed to drink during a feast (Deut 14:26). Two very different contexts. That does match up quite nicely.

“Wine meant either a fermented or unfermented drink. Shekar was the same.”

Showing that the yayin/wine could possibly have a broader semantic range doesn’t prove anything about the semantic range of shekar/strong drink. Like it or don’t, the evidence for reinterpreting “shekar” as anything other than alcoholic drink is sorely lacking.

“The word shekar implying sweetness does imply it was not alcoholic. …the sugar is converted into alcohol and gas. What was sweet, has had it sweetness taken away.”

You are employing “all-or-nothing” reasoning here: sugar being converted to alcohol by no means implies that all sugar in a fermented liquid has been converted. Fermentation is a gradual process, it doesn’t just magically convert all sugar into alcohol in a single instant, and there are wines with varying degrees of sweetness w/o adding more sugar.

Secondly, alcohol actually contributes to the sweetness of the drink (along with remaining sugar), it’s the acids/tannins that counteract it.

His final response, shutting down the conversation:

J.C.,
It seems you do want to have the last word.

Proverbs 23:19 says, “Hear, my son, and be wise.” 23:15, “My son, if your heart is wise.”
Proverbs 23:29-35 is not merely addressed to alcoholics, but to Solomon’s son and to all who wish to be wise. Advice to the wise includes having nothing to do with alcoholic wine.
To say, “Look at that drunkard, and don’t be like him,” would not be advice only to drunkards.

The first drink ends your sobriety. That’s true whether you accept it or not. Bringing up minute amounts of alcohol or alcohol as a medicine is not a serious argument. Alcoholics at AA can easily figure that one out. 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 as well as 1 Peter 5:8 use the Greek word nepho (sober),literally meaning “wineless.” Sober and wineless are not hard for most to understand – they mean don’t drink.

The problem with arguing you can drink right up till you’re about to get drunk, is that no one knows exactly when that point is and the first drink makes it less likely you can rightly judge anything. The first drink adversely affects your judgment. Equivocation indeed.

The ancients as well as modern folk recognize that alcoholic fermentation affects the sweetness of wine. One maker of premium unfermented wine (grape juice) said the only ones disappointed in his product are those who expect it to taste like (alcoholic) wine. Unfermented wine does not taste like fermented wine (unless it’s been doctored).

By the way, riches “are” deceitful, and wine is still a mocker. Lendell Martin summed it up well, “I’ve never seen anything good come out of a can of beer.”

For more detail, my views on these and other subjects are given in other articles here, and more fully in “Ancient Wine and the Bible.”

But feel free, J. C. Thibodaux, to continue to defend taking a mind-altering drug for recreational purposes at your own site.
David R. Brumbelow

And since he apparently won’t take any further replies, I’ll post my response here:

To say, “Look at that drunkard, and don’t be like him,” would not be advice only to drunkards.

No one’s arguing that. But to say, “don’t touch wine” because, “At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things.” (vs 32-33) clearly IS a command specifically for those who are weak to alcohol’s enticement. Case in point: contextually, this does not fit moderate drinking at all, since consuming smaller amounts of alcohol has never been realistically associated with hallucinations or loss of self-control. Such things are typical for those who lack self-control and drink to excess. I myself have a small drink on rare occasions, yet contrary to your reasoning, it’s inexplicably never caused me to hallucinate, et al.

The first drink ends your sobriety. That’s true whether you accept it or not.

No, it does not. You have to be either badly misinformed or simply dishonest to continue to press such an absurd equivocation. Looking at numerous standard definitions of “sober,” one wouldn’t get the idea that sobriety entails no drinking at all, but rather not being impaired by drink. Definitions include,

“not drunk”
“not given to excessive indulgence in drink or any other activity”

Likewise, its antonym, “drunken,”

“stupefied or excited by a chemical substance (especially alcohol)”
“Intoxicated with alcoholic liquor to the point of impairment of physical and mental faculties.”
“intoxicated with alcohol to the extent of losing control over normal physical and mental functions”
“stupefied or excited by a chemical substance (especially alcohol); “a noisy crowd of intoxicated sailors”; “helplessly inebriated””
“overcome by having too much alcohol”

The idea that someone drinking within their tolerance isn’t “non-sober,” i.e. “drunk” is laughable.

Bringing up minute amounts of alcohol or alcohol as a medicine is not a serious argument.

Yes it is: If any amount of alcohol produces inebriation, then the amount found in some medications makes one inebriated, by your logic. You simply refuse to face up to the ridiculous ramifications of your own position, and hand-waving it isn’t going to get rid of the problem.

1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 as well as 1 Peter 5:8 use the Greek word nepho (sober),literally meaning “wineless.”

Looked it up in Strong’s, nepho is of uncertain etymological origin, and their definitions included,

1) to be sober, to be calm and collected in spirit
2) to be temperate, dispassionate, circumspect

Which don’t really seem to indicate abstaining from all alcohol.

Sober and wineless are not hard for most to understand – they mean don’t drink.

Ask “most folks” if one “ceases to be sober” by having a small drink. Your own appeal defeats you yet again, since it’s common knowledge and near-universally accepted that “sober” means “not having drunk to excess.”

The problem with arguing you can drink right up till you’re about to get drunk, is that no one knows exactly when that point is

Which is a complete strawman. No one’s arguing that we should try and see how close we can get. I would insist on staying well within one’s tolerance.

the first drink makes it less likely you can rightly judge anything.

I would challenge what specific data you’re citing and question how significant the shift would be.

The ancients as well as modern folk recognize that alcoholic fermentation affects the sweetness of wine.

I never argued that it didn’t affect its sweetness, I was dismantling your argument that fermented wine was necessarily unsweet (which is easily disproveable given the amount of sweet wines readily available). You really need to lay off these all-or-nothing fallacies.

By the way, riches “are” deceitful, and wine is still a mocker.

In specific contexts, yes, they are. Wine truly does mock those who drink too much of it, just as riches deceive those who trust in them. But since you’re trying to decontextualize them, if wine is [always] a mocker and should therefore never be touched, should riches, being [always] deceitful, accordingly never be possessed? If you think so, I’d be glad to responsibly dispose of all your “sinful” financial holdings for you.

feel free…to continue to defend taking a mind-altering drug for recreational purposes

And of course you’d pull out the “mind-altering drug” canard. Alcohol isn’t the only thing commonly consumed that can be mind-altering in great enough quantities. Nutmeg, for instance, can cause hallucinations in great enough amounts; yet I don’t see you raving against the “mind-altering drugs” in spice cookies.

Further examples abound. Dr. Dan McBride cites research that suggests that several foods, including blueberries, spinach, swiss chard, beets, and asparagus, have mild mind-altering properties (The mind-altering effects of everyday foods).

The issue is not whether a substance can alter thought processes, but whether it’s being used in a quantity that can alter them in a significantly negative way. Despite all of their attempts to play fast-and-loose with terminology, the fact that the militant abstentationist crowd can’t get around is that modest alcohol consumption simply does not significantly impact the brain in any negative sense.

In conclusion,

* Context dictates that Proverbs 23 is giving a warning against excess; to interpret it as a universal condemnation is equivalent to condemning all money in all contexts as “deceitful.”

* The possible interpretations of “yayin” don’t affect what “shekar” means; they are two different terms. Further, there’s no cogent evidence that shekar was ever meant to express anything other than strong/alcoholic drink.

* There is no contradiction between priests being forbidden to drink wine while performing tabernacle service, and the common people being allowed to drink it during a feast.

* The idea that the first drink ends sobriety is utterly indefensible.

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