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. -Deuteronomy 14:26 (KJV).
You may spend the money on anything you want: cattle, sheep, wine, beer, or anything you desire. You are to feast there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice with your family. -Deuteronomy 14:26 (HCSB)
Christians who favor drinking seem to ignore plain Scriptures that speak directly against alcohol (Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-35; 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8; etc.), while glorying in Deuteronomy 14:26, an obscure verse that only mentions wine and strong drink in passing. This has become a favorite verse of those seeking to justify Christians’ drinking.
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. It sounds strange because it is a contradiction, and because it never happened.
The word in Deuteronomy 14:26 translated "strong drink" or even "beer" by some translations, is the Hebrew word "shekar."
Many authorities theorize that shekar always means an alcoholic drink. But significant authorities disagree. They believe shekar, like the biblical words for wine, could refer either to an alcoholic, or a nonalcoholic drink, but made from fruit other than grapes.
A few of those authorities:
The New King James Version (NKJV) translates shekar in Deuteronomy 14:26 as “similar drink.” Elsewhere, when it is obvious shekar is referring to an alcoholic drink, it uses the term, “strong drink.”
And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. -Deuteronomy 14:26 (NKJV).
“It is tolerably clear that the general words ‘wine [yayin; oinos]’ and ‘strong drink [shekar]’ do not necessarily imply fermented liquors, the former signifying only a production of the vine, the latter the produce of other fruits than the grape.” -Dr. Lyman Abbott, A Dictionary of Religious Knowledge,
Shekar - “Sweet drink (what satiates or intoxicates).” -Dr. Robert Young, Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, Eerdmans, 1970.
“Not only the word yayin, but also shekar can refer to grape juice as well as to wine (cf. Deuteronomy 29:6; Numbers 28:7; Exodus 29:40).” -Dr. Robert P. Teachout in his doctoral dissertation on The Use of Wine in the Old Testament, 1979, Dallas Theological Seminary.
It is also interesting that we get our English words sugar, saccharine, cider from the Hebrew word shekar. These words allude to a root meaning of sweet, rather than alcoholic. Also, cider can mean alcoholic, or nonalcoholic apple juice, just like the original word shekar.
Next time a drinker waves Deuteronomy 14:26 in your face, let everyone know that many authorities say shekar, the word for strong drink, can also refer to a nonalcoholic beverage.
Finally, in that day they could more easily make and preserve nonalcoholic wine and shekar, than the alcoholic kind. Nonalcoholic drinks were common in their day, just as they are in ours.
-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, August 22, AD 2011.
Note: Much more information on Shekar and Deuteronomy 14:26 is in the book Ancient Wine and the Bible by David R. Brumbelow.
Preserving Unfermented Wine in Bible Times
2006 SBC Resolution on Alcohol Use in America
Alabama Baptist Review of "Ancient Wine and the Bible"
Dr. Brad Reynolds' Book Recommendations on Alcohol
Alcohol Condemned in the Bible
Biblical Principles Condemn Alcohol
Other related articles can be found in lower right margin under Gulf Coast Pastor Articles (Labels).