Monday, August 22, 2011

Deuteronomy 14:26 - Does it Commend Alcohol?

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" (CSB) 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.

Related articles:
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).


  1. Some people will go to great lengths to deny the obvious...proper use and not abuse is the ethic of the Bible David. Why do you and Lumpkins beat this drum sooo much?

  2. Anon,
    Questions could also be asked, “Why do those in favor of drinking and recreational drugs keep beating the drum so much? Why do they usually do so anonymously?”

    I have presented authoritative evidence throughout this blog that Scripture is against beverage alcohol. “Ancient Wine and the Bible” will present much, much more. You have presented no evidence.

    A Holy Bible promotes the proper use, recreational use, of a hard, destructive drug? Really? I think not!
    David R. Brumbelow

  3. David, go through 1 and 2 Samuel. Your reasoning is that when it is negative then it is alcoholic wine. When it is used properly then it is nonalcohol wine... i don't buy it! The two wine theory doesn't hold water. But I look forward to reading your book.

  4. How does one get a copy of your book?

  5. My book, "Ancient Wine and the Bible," should be available by October 1, 2011.

    Once it is published, you will be able to order it from your local bookstore, or from, or from the publisher.

    You could also order a signed copy at: David R. Brumbelow, P.O. Box 300, Lake Jackson, Texas 77566. $21 postpaid.
    David R. Brumbelow

  6. UPDATE:
    The book "Ancient Wine and the Bible" by David R. Brumbelow has had a little delay in publication.

    It should, however, be available by October 15, 2011.

    More details about the book, including a number of endorsements, will soon follow.
    David R. Brumbelow

  7. David,

    Who is the publisher?

  8. Thanks for asking, however, I want to wait a little longer before putting out all the information on the new book, Ancient Wine and the Bible. I don't think there is anything much on the internet about it yet, other than a few comments I've made.

    But I will be giving all the details about it on Gulf Coast Pastor, hopefully within a month. The contract was signed over a month ago, and everything seems to be going well with its publication.
    David R. Brumbelow

  9. David, will your book be available this Friday (10-15-11) through Amazon?

  10. Anon,
    Yes, it should be available by then. I will be putting up a post about it, perhaps later today.

    I am also expecting a shipment of "Ancient Wine and the Bible" the middle of this week.
    David R. Brumbelow

  11. 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." (

    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.

  12. 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

  13. "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.

  14. 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

  15. Notice, as mentioned in the original post, how those for drinking magnify Deuteronomy 14:26, yet minimize clear passages against alcohol like Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-35; 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8.

    As Stephen Jones said at SBCToday,
    “It’s amazing and quite disturbing that Christians (Baptists or otherwise) will argue so vehemently FOR the use of a mind-altering, addictive, physically damaging, life-destroying, and completely unnecessary substance.”
    David R. Brumbelow

  16. SHEKHAR: unfermented sweet cider, or else fermented. Certain types of shekhar (sakar) were permitted amongst the Arabs, and other types of it were not, because of alcohol. The breadth of meaning is apparent throughout the Vulgate and NKJV translations.

    "it is unjustifiable to claim that shekar must essentially be an intoxicating drink."
    Stephen M. Reynolds, 2003, The Biblical Approach to Alcohol, p. 31.

  17. I would like clarification on Deut. 14:26 in regard to the tithe. This scripture makes it look like it is ok to exhange theircattle, grains, wine, oil, money if the distance to God's place was too far to travel to bring the tithes in their material form. That's when verse 26 comes in, when it says you may spend that money for whatever your appetite craves, etc.... Sounds like they could spend the tithe money any way they wanted.

    1. Anon,
      Perhaps this will help:

      Speaking of the phrase in Deuteronomy 14:26 (and v. 22), “in the presence of the Lord your God”:
      “This phrase strongly suggests that the Lord is more than an interested observer in what is going on. He is, in fact, a participant, for such was the nature of banquets that accompanied the making and ratification of covenant relationships. The most striking example of this, perhaps, was Jesus’ participation in the communion meal with his disciples at which he spoke of a new covenant (Luke 22:20; cf. 1 Cor 11:25), one that in eschatological times would be celebrated again in the ‘wedding supper of the Lamb’ (Rev 19:6-10). Clearly, God and humankind, in covenant one with the other, celebrate that oneness, mystically at least, in the breaking of bread together.” -Eugene H. Merrill, The New American Commentary, Deuteronomy, B&H.
      That God is a participant is perhaps something we should remember next time we observe the Lord’s Supper, or even a “Dinner-on-the-Grounds.” Interestingly, even today a meal at the church may involve the expenditure of some money given as tithes.

      On the other hand, this is an instruction to ancient Israel in a specific situation. I believe our tithes best belong in the local church.
      David R. Brumbelow

  18. The nearly universal practice of Baptist pastors projecting their preconceived beliefs onto the scriptures instead of allowing them to say what they say is the primary reason that after 52 years I have left the Baptist church for a more Christ-centered / Bible-centered denomination.

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