Beware This Cult!

Chapter 12 - Ellen White and Alcohol

By Gregory G. P. Hunt, M.D., B.Sc., F.R.C.P.

Whenever discussing alcohol with a group of Christians it usually becomes a rather emotional subject. People remember personal events involving alcohol and this causes one to lose his objectivity concerning the subject. Many Christians use Bible passages erroneously to try to justify overdrinking. Others, however, try to use the Bible to indicate that alcohol should not be used under any circumstances. This latter group is as bad as the first. Ellen White belong to this teetotaler group. You might say she was the original prohibitionist and putting it mildly she never had a good thing to say about alcohol.

It may be unspeakable for some people to consider alcohol as a gift from God. All gifts from God can be mightily abused or used for the purposes intended. Unfortunately, sex and alcohol appear to be two gifts that are more often abused than not. This does not make the subject inherently 'bad'. The bad part depends on the one who is using it and how perverted the use becomes.

There has been a fair amount written about alcohol and the Bible. My primary purpose here is not to either condone or condemn alcohol. I am primarily interested in discrediting Ellen White's claim to be a prophet of God.

Whenever talking about alcohol in the Bible the opponent of alcohol tries to point out that the word wine in the Bible actually means grape juice. Some of the following passages will explode that myth for you.

Mrs. White says, "The Bible nowhere sanctions the use of intoxicating wine." (Ministry of Healing, p. 333) This is a straight forward statement. It is all inclusive with the word nowhere being employed. It is contradictory to many Bible passages.

Let us particularly consider a passage from the book of Proverbs, a book written by the wisest man in history next to Jesus Christ. "Give strong drink to him who is perishing and wine to those in bitter distress: let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more." (Prov. 31:6-7) Here we see strong drink and wine being prescribed for people who are dying. This Biblical passage indicates that alcohol can be used for medicinal purposes. However it is also indicated here that people who are of low spirits or who are depressed should use alcohol to escape their miseries. I do not particularly like to see this passage in the Bible as I personally feel that alcohol does not generally benefit someone who is depressed. However it certainly does provide escape for many so that they may forget their troubles for a time. Used under these circumstances it usually becomes addictive and the person ends up suffering more misery from the alcohol than his original troubles. However, regardless as to whether I personally agree with the advice or not, the advice is there in the Bible and I cannot deny it. I must try to look beyond my prejudice about alcohol.

The main point I want to make from this reading from Proverbs is that Ellen White actually lied when she said, "The Bible nowhere sanctions the use of intoxicating wine."

Let us look at one more very plain commandment in the Bible concerning the use of alcohol. Note that with this statement no argument can be made either. I would suggest you read the whole passage in Deuteronomy 14:2226. It reads in part, "Then you shall turn it into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses, 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." Note that God is actually commanding one to use his tithe to buy something his appetite craves whether it be meat, wine or strong drink and to consume it in his church. I find this a rather disturbing passage also but I must be realistic and admit that it exists. Certainly this is not the way I would expect Christians of this day to behave. To have a drink of alcohol in church would almost be considered blasphemy; but it seems God has different ideas than we do. Personally I really don't think I could tolerate a bunch of people sitting in church drinking wine and liquor but that is really my biased prejudice coming out. Obviously God doesn't have any of the hang-ups that you and I have. My point however is valid; Ellen White is a liar. Whether we personally like it or not these commandments are in the Bible and Ellen White has misrepresented God and His commandments. Granted, she may well have good personal reasons for hating alcohol but it is fairly obvious that God did not give her this message to pass on to us.

Let us be aware that the term 'wine' is used in both of these passages and one can argue forever whether this means plain grape juice or fermented grape juice. However the term 'strong drink' is also used in both passages. There can be no doubt as to the meaning of this terminology. The never failing argument that wine means grape juice has just failed.

Mrs. White went to great lengths to discredit alcohol. Certainly we don't have to look very far around us to discredit alcohol for ourselves but that is really not the point. Mrs. White was always reading something into the Bible that was not present. Her rendition of the story is always accepted by Adventists rather than the Biblical account. Mrs. White has done a very successful job in perverting the story about two priests during the time of Moses. "Nabab and Abihu drank too freely of wine, and the result was, they used common fire instead of sacred, and were destroyed for thus dishonouring God." (Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 4, p. 124) The Old Testament story about this occurrence does not mention anything about these two priests drinking alcohol and it does not indicate this was the cause of their not following God's instructions concerning sacred fire. The story is recorded in Leviticus 10:1-3. Nothing is said there about alcohol.

Later in the same chapter God does indicate to Aaron that the priests and his sons should drink no wine or strong drink when they are going to serve in the temple. He has put a penalty of death on this commandment. It seems fairly obvious that these priests were allowed to drink alcohol when off duty. Anyway there is certainly no indication here that alcohol was the cause of these two young priests getting into trouble. I think Mrs. White has let her imagination run away with her again.

Why did Mrs. White throw in the part about the two priests getting drunk? If drunkenness was the issue here, why did Moses not make that plain in his original account of the story? I don't think we can conclude that Moses' rendition was untrue or that Moses was misguided or stupid. The only conclusion we can draw is that the untruth is coming from Ellen White.

God led the Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness, and they lived all those years without any alcohol. "I have lead you 40 years in the wilderness; your clothes have not worn out upon you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet, you have not eaten bread, and you have not drunk wine or strong drink; that you may know that I am the Lord your God." (Deut. 29:5-6) These Israelites were teetotalers for 40 years. Of those who entered the Promised Land none of them had ever tasted alcohol. If God felt they should remain abstainers He certainly would have given them a commandment prior to their entering the Promised Land. There just is no such commandment in the Bible.

In the book of Psalms we find the writer thanking and praising God for providing many good things in life including wine. "And wine that maketh glad the heart of man and oil to make his face to shine and bread which strengtheneth man's heart." (Psalms 1044:15) Surely we cannot conclude from this verse that it is grape juice making glad the heart of man. The psalmist is thanking God for alcohol.

Whenever the subject of alcohol comes up, Paul's famous passage is always quoted. "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments." I realize that many people will still insist that this is grape juice being used for frequent ailments. However the logic does not seem to hold up.

Paul lays down some rules for bishops in his writings. "Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money." (I Tim. 3:2,3) This passage indicates that the bishop must be 'temperate'. It does not say he is to be an abstainer. It does indicate that he should not be a drunkard. In the same chapter we see some rules for deacons. "Deacons likewise must be serious, not double tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain." Here it indicates that they must not be ‘addicted to much wine’. It does not say that they are to be abstainers from alcohol. It indicates that they must not overdo it. I don't think anyone will argue that the Bible is talking about grape juice. After all it is rather hard to drink too much grape juice.

The Pharisees were always finding fault with Jesus and trying to find something to condemn. Jesus spent considerable effort in pointing out the inconsistencies and false accusations of the Pharisees. Jesus speaks about John the Baptist indicating that he preached and lived by the rules of the Nazarites. John followed these special rules to indicate to the people that he was set apart by God for a particular job. Jesus points out that the Pharisees did not accept the preaching of John the Baptist even though he fulfilled all the requirements of a Nazarite. He then contrasted his own lifestyle in that He personally socialized with the people and did not follow the rules of a Nazarite. In describing this situation Jesus said; "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'he has a demon'; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'behold a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Here they were accusing Jesus of being a glutton and a drunkard. They tried to accuse Jesus of eating too much and of drinking too much alcoholic beverage. It is obvious that Jesus ate food but we know He was not a glutton. Jesus did not say here that He was not drinking any alcoholic beverages; it seems quite logical that He was. But we certainly know that He was not a drunkard. (Mt. 11:19)

The King James version does not use the word drunkard, it uses the term 'winebibber'. As this word is used here there is no question as to its meaning. No one goes around accusing someone else of being a 'grape juice bibber'. There is no doubt that this word wine meant alcoholic wine. Many people cannot tolerate the idea that Jesus drank alcoholic beverage but they should try to put their prejudice aside and accept what is written in God's word.

In John 2 we have the account of Jesus' first miracle. This was done rather reluctantly at the request of His mother and consisted of changing water into wine. Many people would have us believe that He changed water into grape juice. There are several points that do not support the notion that this was grape juice. One could take some grapes and quite quickly produce grape juice by pressing out the juice and could have the beverage available within a very few minutes. However it would be truly miraculous to produce a fermented beverage in a very short time. The miracle is that not only did Jesus change the water to a juice but He changed it to a fermented juice.

More impressive is the fact that the governor of the feast called the bridegroom after he had tasted the wine and questioned him as to why he kept the good wine for the end of the celebration. It does not seem realistic that an important man would comment on getting better grape juice at the end of a party than at the beginning.

When I was a believer in Ellen White I had a very good argument which I felt supported the notion that this was really grape juice. Assuming these people had been drinking wine for quite some time one would expect that many of them would be drunk. I felt that it would not be consistent with Jesus' character to produce more alcoholic beverage so that they could get drunker. However let us look at the same idea in a different light. Supposing the guests had run out of food and Jesus was asked to miraculously produce some food. Certainly many of the guests were overweight and even those that weren't were probably on the verge of gluttony if all the food had been eaten up. I don't think Jesus would have refused to produce food just because there were some fat people around or because He had decided that they had already had enough to eat. This good argument loses its impact when viewed realistically. I have no doubt that Jesus turned the water into alcoholic wine. Ellen White in her accounts insists that the water was changed into grape juice. But as we are seeing over and over again, we cannot believe any of Ellen White's renditions of Bible happenings.

Jesus spoke a parable in which He used wine to illustrate a point. "And no one puts new wine into old wine skins; if he does, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wine skins." (Lk 5:37,38) Grape juice will not burst old wine skins. It is obvious from this passage that Jesus is talking about fermented wine which builds up pressure in the wine skins. Old hardened wine skins would burst under the pressure but new wine skins would be quite pliant and would stretch as the pressure built up.

Jesus goes on to say; "And no one after drinking old wine desires new; for he says, 'The old is better' ". (Lk 5:39) Old grape juice does not taste better than fresh grape juice. Certainly Jesus is talking about alcoholic wine.

Jesus tells another parable concerning the Good Samaritan. In the story He points out how the Samaritan cares for the poor wounded man on the road. "But a Samaritan, as he journeyed came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him." (Lk 10:33-34) I don't think anyone will argue that the Samaritan was pouring grape juice into the wounds of this poor man. Even in Biblical days alcohol was recognized as an antiseptic.

A lot of controversy about alcohol is built around this convenient excuse that there were no separate words in the language to distinguish between grape juice and wine. I do realize that the Old and New Testaments were written in different tongues originally but let us look at an Old Testament passage. This describes the requirements of a Nazarite. "When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazarite, to separate himself to the Lord, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink, and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins ... no razor shall come upon his head ... he shall not go near a dead body." (Numbers 6:2-6) Notice that the Nazarite could not shave his hair. Samson was a Nazarite and got into difficulties as he did not follow this commandment. He lost his strength when his head was shaven and as you know that lead to his great tragedy. However there is nothing intrinsically wrong or bad about shaving one's hair. It was simply a special rule God set up for this special person.

Likewise note that the Nazarite was not allowed to drink wine or strong drink, nor was he allowed to eat any grapes or consume anything that came from the vine. This does not mean that it is wrong to eat grapes. Nor can one conclude that it is wrong to drink wine or strong drink. Again these are simply rules God set up for these special people.

It is notable that after the Nazarite's vow is finished; "After that the Nazarite may drink wine." (Numbers 6:20) This passage indicates that people other than Nazarites were allowed to consume all these things and the Nazarite himself was allowed to consume it after his period of separation was ended.

John the Baptist was a Nazarite for life and I believe he never drank alcohol. He followed the rules and was beheaded. Samson did not follow the rules and was crushed to death when he brought the temple down upon the Philistines. I don't think we can look on either of these events as being the reward or the judgement of these particular Nazarites. By faith we must believe that they will be rewarded.

Another interesting Bible documentation involves Paul's instructions to the young church at Corinth. Paul was always pointing out errors that were quickly springing up in the early Christian church. The subject of this episode involved the perversion of the Lord's supper. By the way it is interesting to notice that there is a need for divisions or factions in the church so that the genuine Christians can be recognized. "For there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you meet together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?" (1 Cor. 11:19-22) Paul is pointing out that at the so called Lord's supper, some are going ahead and eating a big meal, others are drinking and getting drunk. But does he say anything about getting drunk or drinking alcohol in the church? No. He simply tells people that they must wait for one another and all eat and drink together. "So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another, if anyone is hungry let him eat at home ... lest you come together to be condemned. About the other thing I will give directions when I come." (1 Cor. 11:33,34) The priority for Paul here is that the Lord's supper be celebrated by all people together not some going ahead without the others. He did not have anything to say about overindulging in alcoholic beverages. Perhaps that was included in later directions.

There are many other Bible passages which we could study but I think I have made my point. I do not want anyone to get the idea that we should all become drunkards. There is much Biblical exhortation to be temperate and drunkenness is defined as a sin. As an example consider, "And do not get drunk with wine for that is debauchery; but be filled with the spirit." (Eph. 5:18)

All that God has provided man is to be received with thanksgiving. We have the choice as to whether we shall use it as God intended or whether we shall abuse it to our own detriment. Unfortunately alcohol has been abused and its evil consequences are everywhere. However, abuse of one of God’s gifts does not give us the privilege of changing and perverting God's word to try to prevent the use of alcohol. God does not insist on abstinence but he does expect control and temperance. If one makes a personal decision to abstain I can certainly accept that decision, but he does not have the right to insist to the world that God has commanded abstinence from alcohol.

As I have indicated, I am not particularly happy with some of these Biblical passages concerning alcohol. However that is my personal problem and I have to accept what is written in God's word and be realistic. I think I have pointed out quite nicely that Ellen White is unable to accept what is written in God's word. She preaches total abstinence and insists that this is God's position. Again we see Ellen White contradicting God's counsel. We are asked to make a decision as to whether she truly represents God as one of his prophets. To Adventists I would ask, will you live under the guidance of God's word, or do you still need Ellen White's blessing?

Previous Chapter Next Chapter BACK HOME