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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






01 August 2005

Understanding Drinking — Understanding Scripture


Q: I find it confusing at times to understand what the Bible is really saying to me. I don’t understand things like the drinking of alcohol: Does the Bible say it’s sinful? In many places in the Bible you will read wine was used in celebrations. Even Jesus turned water into wine. Yet, on the other hand it warns us of drunkenness. So is it saying it is okay to drink as long as it’s not excessive and leads us to drunkenness? There are many other issues along these lines in the Bible that keep me confused. Can you help?

A: Some insist that all drinking is wrong. As you note, it’s drunkenness that is condemned by Scripture. God made wine the drink of the Passover and Jesus continued that by joining to it His own blood in the ultimate Passover as we participate in his death in Holy Communion.

You might also read a previous column on beer in the Bible and one from Aardvark Alley about the marriage feast in Cana.

As for reading the Bible for understanding, how you understand it depends upon what prior assumptions you make about it. I’ll list only a few possibilities here for comparison purposes: If you are looking for a moral code, it will go so far, but then will falter. If you are reading it with the idea that some parts are divine and others human invention, then it will turn on you and devour you. If you read it assuming that it is divinely inspired and true in all its parts, then you are on the right track.

However, this is not the first and most important “bias” toward the Scriptures that a Christian should have. The Bible should — indeed, must — be understood through Jesus Christ. That is, you should read it with Him central to all your interpretation and understanding. God caused his Word (Old and New Testaments) to be written in order to point to the Incarnate (God in the flesh) Word, His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ (see John 1:1-18).

Creation, the Fall, patriarchs and prophets, the Covenant, salvation history, miracles, the Psalms, and God’s judgment and redemption are not only part of the human story, they are God’s story for us. They are all intertwined with God’s plan and God’s action in sending our Redeemer, the eternal Son from heaven to take on our flesh, to carry our sins, and to bring us to live in heaven.

When placing Christ in the center of your Biblical interpretation, I recommend reading Galatians or Romans and then going to the Gospels. Matthew and John, while they cover some different parts of Jesus’ life and ministry, will tie the two Testaments more closely in your mind than will Mark and Luke, but each fills in part of the picture. If you then go to the Old Testament to see how God makes the connections, you’ll be rewarded by reading Isaiah, Genesis, and Exodus (especially up through the crossing of the Red Sea). During all of this, regular reading of the Psalms will enhance your prayer life as well as your understanding, especially if you read them aloud.

Continue reading Scripture in this manner and you’ll have a clearer view of how Jesus points to Himself in the prophets. His miracles echo Messianic prophecies. Likewise, the Epistle writers refer to many events of the Old Testament as pointing to things of Christ. Among these are Paul speaking of Sarah and Hagar to the Galatians and Peter mentioning the Flood as a companion to Baptism, which saves sinners even as the Flood lifted the Ark and saved Noah. And as you see more clearly how God saved mankind through Christ, you’ll appreciate even more how He saved and loves you!

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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