Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

All Things Southern Baptist Considered

Paige Patterson’s Take on Alcohol

Posted by Alethes (Truthful) Baptist on July 9, 2006

Exactly one week ago, I sat at my laptop and composed my response to Danny Akin’s rejection of drinking alcohol. Who would know (except God) that one week later I would be composing my response to Dr. Paige Patterson’s BP article rejecting alcohol? There are many similarities between Akin and Patterson’s arguments, but a few differences. I am grateful that Dr. Patterson, President of one of our SBC entities, has chosen to speak to this issue. However, again I am disappointed with the argumentation. Let me briefly summarize his argument and then provide my response.

Unlike Akin, Patterson does not employ any emotional arguments in his article. He gives a brief explanation of four types of fermenting in NT times. Then, he provides an “abstinence” hermeneutic for various NT passages that discuss wine. He inserts some added observations and concludes by reminding his readers of the crux of his argument (which is woven throughout the article): there are three categories: the prohibited, the acceptable, and God’s ideal. Patterson would have his readers believe that, though drinking alcohol is not rejected by Scripture, abstinence is “God’s ideal”.

Here are my thoughts on Patterson’s argument. First, I applauded Patterson for seeking to deal honestly with certain passages (specifically John 2.1-11 and 1 Timothy 5.23). I disagree with his interpretations (which I will get to shortly), but I am grateful that he did not simply skip over them. Second, I do believe there are legitimate categories such as Patterson has outlined: prohibited, acceptable, and ideal for the Christian life. Third, he is right to point out that “one must acknowledge that the ancients, however noble, imbibed without reluctance. Evidently the prophets and the apostles did not view this as wrong, so long as it was a small glass of wine . . . taken with the noon or evening meal”. Despite these points of agreement, I find his overall argument to be unconvincing, at best, and in error, at worst.

First, Patterson’s application of the three categories seems to be too convenient. If one pressed these categories upon other issues within Scripture, would Patterson be as quick to come to the same conclusions. For instance, he argues (rightly) that polygamy is an unacceptable practice. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7, notes that marriage (and the accompanying marital act of sex) is acceptable, but that singleness is the preferable (i.e., ideal) state (see 1 Cor. 7.25-26, 28-29, 34-35, 40). Patterson’s final plea in his article “Can it be anything less than sin for a believer who is genuinely grateful for the atoning power of Christ in his life to pursue anything other than the highest — God’s ideal — the best that he can be for Christ?” rings only hollow as his ‘grid’ pertains to marriage. Paul seems to believe singleness is ideal. Then, according to Patterson, why would anyone grateful for the atoning power of Christ in his life pursue anything other than the highest — God’s ideal — the best that he can be for Christ?

Second, Patterson mentions that the first time wine is ever mentioned in the Bible (Gen 9.21), it is seen as causing Noah to sin. What Patterson fails to mention is that the second pericope in which wine is mentioned (Gen 14.18) is the story of Melchizedek’s encounter with Abram. Melchizedek brings out “bread and wine” and the text describes Melchizedek as “a priest of God Most High”. Melchizedek blessed Abram and then blessed Abram’s God. There is no explicit statement that those gathered ate the bread and drank the wine, but common sense would lead one to just such a conclusion. I wonder if Patterson is willing to say the priest-archetype for Christ (Ps. 110.4; Heb. 7.17) did only ‘the acceptable’ but not ‘God’s ideal’?

Third, one of Patterson’s arguments is that “the noticeable absence of any mention of wine prior to Noah might indicates [sic] that men, in their pristine state, were not drawn to wine. In any case, the fuller revelation in Christ, plus the development of superior medications and purer drinking substances, render the whole subject passé for the believer.” This is silly on multiple levels. First, I am not sure how he is using the word “pristine” when referencing pre-Noah humanity. The standard definition is “perfect” or “unblemished”. Certainly Patterson is not arguing that those before Noah were sinless. However, I am not sure what sort of ‘secondary’ definition he is using. In addition, that the Noah periscope is the first mention of wine in the Bible does not ‘have’ to mean anything other than the obvious (it is the first time the word is mentioned). Patterson’s inference that pre-Noah humanity may not have drunk wine is no more reasonable than saying women may not have had menstrual cycles until Gen 31.35, the first mention of “the manner of women” that fell upon Rachel (though she was lying to hide the idols under her saddle). Also, to call the “whole subject passé” is too simplistic. His case for superior medicine and better drinking substances does not negate the celebratory function of wine, as found in both the Old and New Testaments.

Fourth, his use of 1 Timothy 3.3 appears to be anything but a straightforward reading of the text. Patterson writes “The bishop (pastor) is to be free from wine (1 Timothy 3:3). One would presume that this admonition, at least in part, is for an example. If so, here again the ideal would be total abstinence for all who make up the body of Christ, i.e., the church.” However, that is absolutely NOT what the verse says. Paul wrote to Timothy concerning elders/pastors: that they be “not addicted to wine”. There is a vast divide between Paul’s words and Patterson’s application. Paul writes “Do not be addicted”; Patterson reads “Do not ever drink”. Those are not the same concepts.

Fifth, I take great umbrage with the implications of Patterson’s following statement: “For the believer to say, ‘Let me get as close to sin as I can without being guilty,’ indicates a strange mentality indeed!” Rightly has he identified that drunkenness is a sin. However, to equate drinking alcohol as trying to get as close to sin without being guilty is illogical. If we apply that to gluttony, then one should never eat. If we apply it to sexual temptation, then one should never turn on a TV, drive in areas where there are billboards, or open up a magazine (much less EVER get near the internet). Why is this “logic” only used with alcohol?

Sixth, Patterson’s statement that “the Bible has almost no good word about [wine] and, in fact, usually associates tragedy and sin with the use of wine” simply doesn’t hold up. Any simple electronic word search of “wine” will produce a multiplicity of responses. What about Jacob’s blessing to his son Judah (the tribe from which Jesus would descend), that his eyes would be “dull from wine and his teeth white from milk” (Gen. 49.12)? It doesn’t appear that this is a condemnation, but a praise that he would have an abundance of wine and milk to drink. Such is the example of just one usage of wine in the Bible.

In conclusion, I am still utterly unconvinced that abstinence is the Biblical mandate for Christians. In addition, such a prescription for all leaders, especially in light of no clear instruction from the Bible smacks of legalism. I know many will claim that abstinence is the ‘wise’ choice, but such is, in my opinion, only a flimsy position. Last night I had dinner with a group of people, one of which currently serves on staff at a church in my town. This person ordered one beer to drink while eating dinner. This person was not the driver of a vehicle and during our dinner, exhibited absolutely no change in behavior due to alcohol consumption. There were six of us at dinner; only two of us abstained from drinking and the funny thing was that no one made a deal of it at all. I honestly believe it is a cultural issue: (generally speaking) those over 35 see all alcohol as sinful while those under 35 appreciate moderation. So, should we just wait till the ‘old guard’ dies off before we press for toleration? I do not think this is ‘wise’. I don’t suspect they would allow such generational differences to be pushed on them if younger people said that technology is so important that no one serving in leadership could be without a cell phone and detailed knowledge of how to email, surf the web, and have their own blog. I know comparing issues is apples and oranges. However, since the consumption of (or abstinence from) alcohol is NOT an ESSENTIAL, then the restrictive view should not be forced on the entire convention.

Charis humin,

Alethes (Truthful) Baptist


19 Responses to “Paige Patterson’s Take on Alcohol”

  1. Baptist Theologue said

    Alethes, for what it’s worth, I’ll offer a couple of observations on your commentary. I enjoyed reading it, and it is certainly an important topic that is worth a blog entry.

    First, a minor detail: you did not spell “pericope” correctly. Your spell check probably did not catch “periscope,” or it automatically changed it from “pericope” to “periscope” (as mine just did before I corrected it).

    Second, in regard to the qualifications for the pastor/elder/bishop in 1 Timothy 3, Dr. Patterson didn’t get into a discussion of the Greek words, but the key words are “nephalios” in verse 2 and “paroinos” (alongside the wine) in verse 3. The following comments may be helpful:

    John MacArthur on 1 Timothy 3:3:

    “The Greek word translated ‘given to wine’ (paroinos) means ‘one who drinks.’ It doesn’t refer to a drunkard that’s an obvious disqualification. The issue here is the man’s reputation: Is he known as a drinker? We saw that the Greek word translated ‘temperate’ (v. 3c) refers in its literal sense to one who is not intoxicated. Paroinos, on the other hand, refers to one’s associations: Such a person doesn’t frequent bars, taverns, and inns. He is not at home in the noisy scenes associated with drinking. His lifestyle is not that of a drinker.”

    John MacArthur on Titus 1:7:

    “ ‘Not addicted to wine,’ which translates (Greek word: paroinos), literally having the idea, the word ‘oinos’ is a word for wine; ‘para’ to be alongside wine. This requirement, by the way, is also given in 1 Timothy 3:3, there it says basically the same thing, ‘not being alongside wine.’ You’ll notice in chapter 2, of Titus, verse 3, older women are not to be enslaved to much wine. Back in 1 Timothy it talks about deacons not being given to much wine as well. So we find that not only those in leadership, but even those in the church as such, indicated by these ‘older women’ in Titus, chapter 2, are not to be the kind of people who are associated with wine. Now, what does he mean by this? Well it’s important for us to understand it. We could broaden our concept a little bit if we remember that in 1 Timothy 3, we also have another requirement which is the word ‘temperate’ (Greek: nephalios). It originally meant that he was to abstain from wine. A temperate person was an abstainer from wine. It came metamorphically to mean ‘circumspect, alert, or clear-headed.’ But the idea is the same: anybody in spiritual leadership is to be clear-headed; so never is he to be given over to anything that dulls the clarity of his mind. Pastors, elders are to be in control of their senses at all times. . . .
    Then there is the interesting mention of Timothy, in 1 Timothy 5:23, where Paul says, ‘Take a little wine for your stomach’s sake.’ It certainly seems to me that the fact that Paul had to tell Timothy to do that, meant that it was against the grain of what Timothy’s normal behavior was like. He had to say, ‘Take a little wine’ for medicinal purposes; most likely because Timothy normally wouldn’t take any. If the Nazarites lived at that level, then certainly those who were leaders in the church would live at that level.”

    Albert Barnes on 1 Timothy 3:2:

    “Vigilant – This word (νηφάλεος nēphaleos) occurs only here and in 1Ti 3:11; Tit 2:2. It means, properly, ‘sober, temperate, abstinent,’ especially in respect to wine; then ‘sober-minded, watchful, circumspect. Robinson.’ ”

    Albert Barnes on 1 Timothy 3:3:

    “Then it denotes, as it does here, one who sits ‘by’ wine; that is, who is in the habit of drinking it. It cannot be inferred, from the use of the word here, that wine was absolutely and entirely prohibited; for the word does not properly express that idea. It means that one who is in the habit of drinking wine, or who is accustomed to sit with those who indulge in it, should not be admitted to the ministry. The way in which the apostle mentions the subject here would lead us fairly to suppose that he did not mean to commend its use in any sense; that he regarded its use as dangerous, and that he would wish the ministers of religion to avoid it altogether. In regard to its use at all, except at the communion or as a medicine, it may be remarked, that a minister will do no injury to himself or others by letting it entirely alone; he may do injury by indulging in it.”

  2. Baptist Theologue,

    Thanks for reading my thoughts and, just as importantly, for your points of critique. Let me address both of them.

    1. Concerning ‘periscope’, you are correct, MS Word changed that for me. I was just having that discussion at lunch after church today and I was going to go back and edit the post. Thanks for reminding me.

    2. I read the excerpts from MacArthur and Barnes. Neither of them were convincing to me. Concerning paroinos, the context still seems to be drunkenness in 1 Tim 3.3, not total abstinence. MacArthur’s interpretation of nephaleos in 1 Tim 3.2 seems also to defy legitimate NT lexicons such as BDAG, Friburg, and Louw and Nida, where all define the word as someone who drinks too much. ESV translates the word as ‘self-controlled’ and NASB as “temperate”. One can consume alcohol and still be self-controlled. Again, I see the dividing line as drunkenness, not drinking vs. abstinence.

    It seems MacArthur undercuts his own argument by incorporating Tit 2.3; the qualification for older women is to not be enslaved ‘to much wine’. Clearly there is no prohibition on consumption, just a prohibition against addiction (or drunkenness).

    I do think this is a fruitful discussion that should, if need be, continue to exist if those in our convention continue to believe (as I’m sure they will) consumption of alcohol is sinful. I’ll have another post in the future on another Southern Baptist leader and his take on alcohol. More than Akin or Patterson, I think I am most offended by this person’s inability to understand and interpret the Scriptures. Until then . . .

    Charis humin,
    Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

  3. Baptist Theologue said

    It’s good to talk with you. Best wishes.

  4. erik said

    I enjoyed your posting and your candor..I found your site via a common tag….I just wrote something on Akin’s comments, I had not yet read Patteron’s “Second, Patterson mentions that the first time wine is ever mentioned in the Bible (Gen 9.21), it is seen as causing Noah to sin…”

    Interesting that it was the wine that caused Noah to sin and not Noah. Apply the same logic to the garden and Adam & Eve are off the hook..right? “It was that fruit you gave me!!”


  5. Erik,

    That’s some pretty funny logic. I hadn’t thought of it, actually. Thanks for stopping by.

    Charis humin,
    Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

  6. erik said


    Just to be clear, I am not minimizing human responsibility for sin but trying to contend for it. I think Patterson’s comments do the opposite. It becomes the issue of “cleaning the outside of the cup” (or goblet in this case) while the inside does not get dealt with. We can never blame anything outside of ourselves for our sin, especially something that God made and gave as a blessing to his people.

    You were probably tracking with me, but just wanted to make sure.

    enjoy the site…keep it up!


  7. Erik,

    I understood your point. Thanks for clarifying in case any of my 4 other readers may have misunderstood 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement.

    Charis humin,
    Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

  8. Dolan McKnight said

    I too am more concerned about Patterson’s eisegesis than about his position on alcohol. You did not discuss (I am sure for lack of space) his mangling of the wedding at Cana story. First off, his comment that because Jesus is pure, he would only miraculously produce unfermented wine does not hold water on two grounds: 1) he also miraculously produced fish and bread. The bread would have been leavened by yeast and the fish were cooked, neither were “pure” in the sense of unprocessed, and, I believe that Jesus could miraculously produce wine in whatever state he chose; 2) the governor of the feast (whom Patterson notes is not so drunk as to distinguish good from worse wine) makes the comment that the good wine, which makes the indulger intoxicated enough so that he does not notice the worst, comes first. The statement makes no sense if the “good” wine is non-alcoholic. It also seems that Jesus was also something of an oonophile if the wine was that good!

    He then implies that the wine at the last supper was non-alcoholic (with no real basis)

  9. Dolan,

    Thanks for stopping by and for commenting. You are correct that I did not mention my thoughts on Jesus and Cana. In fact, just today I was conversing with a friend about Patterson’s comment that Jesus’ miracle ‘had to be unfermented’ wine because that’s the only ‘pure’ wine that God would create. You bring up a great point about leavened bread and cooked fish.

    Thanks for critically engaging the issues of our convention and doing it with a decently spirit of humility. I think it does no good for anyone to dole out an opposing position but lace it with venomous language. That just enrages those who we disagree with.

    Charis humin,
    Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

  10. Dolan McKnight said

    One of the main problems of accepting an eisegeses like Patterson’s to bolster one’s particular viewpoint is that it opens the door to accepting other speculative takes on Scripture. A much better case can be made for women pastors than Patterson does for abstinence and if we allow real creativity, a credible case for same sex marriage.

    Patterson et al cannot have it both ways. If we are to be conservative exegetes, we must confirm that Scripture allows (and even celebrates) moderate use of alcohol. If we allow Patterson to be speculative and creative, we must allow that in other positions that lead to all sorts of tenuous conclusions.

  11. dead meat said

    Do you drink, whomever you are? Were you among those who abstained or those who drank in moderation? Why or why not?

    What are your reasons for partaking of alcohol? Because the NT does not forbid it, presumably.

    If you do not partake of alcohol, why not? Because you just don’t want to drink?


  12. dead meat said

    “but I am grateful that he did not simply skip over them. ”

    But in a later blog you’ve suggested that Land was “smarter” than Patterson because he didn’t reference scripture. Which is it?

    Do you really appreciate the fact that Patterson referenced scripture even though that makes him, in your book, less smart than Land?

    Do you appreciate when Patterson makes himself look dumber than Land? What’s your point?

    How can you appreciate the use of scripture, but then suggest that Patterson was less smart than Land to reference it?

    Do you read your own past posts before blogging or do you just write whatever comes into your head at the moment?

    I don’t get it. Either consistently extoll the use of scripture in argumentation or don’t make an issue of it at all.


  13. dead meat said

    “This person was not the driver of a vehicle and during our dinner, exhibited absolutely no change in behavior due to alcohol consumption. There were six of us at dinner; only two of us abstained from drinking and the funny thing was that no one made a deal of it at all.”

    I’m assuming from your post that no one who imbided alcohol was going to later operate a motor vehicle. That seems to be a clear reading of your argumentation here. You only reference one specific person, but then you relate that only two abstained from alcohol. Since the avoidance of operating a motor vehicle after imbibing alcohol seems central to your justification here, I can only assume that no one who imbibed later operated a motor vehicle. Is that the case?

    Or did some of those who imbibed alcohol later operate a motor vehicle? If he/she/they did, then what’s the point, other than obfuscation, that you’re trying to make by suggesting that one particular individual was not planning on operating a motor vehicle? Please response.


  14. dead meat said

    “I don’t suspect they would allow such generational differences to be pushed on them if younger people said that technology is so important that no one serving in leadership could be without a cell phone and detailed knowledge of how to email, surf the web, and have their own blog.”

    You’re right: apples and oranges. No, apples and satellites.

    Your analogy is so far wide of the mark of a useful comparison as to be almost beneath comment.

    But, I will comment: being “without a cell phone and detailed knowledge of how to email, surf the web, and have their own blog” are not considered moral issues are they? And yet, drinking apparently is in today’s SBC. This comparison is simply facile.

    It holds no argumentative weight whatsoever.


  15. Meat,

    I do not drink, and for a number of reasons. Although I choose not to list all of them, two reasons are as follows: I don’t have a desire and I choose to spend my money differently than to pay $3 for a beer or $6 for a glass of wine. And please don’t presume to know anything about me. Your temperment is anything but charitable and, to quote our most recent past president of the SBC: “Your comment is not well-received by the Chair”.

    Also, don’t question my mental faculties. I will not answer your questions about how I write my blog posts.

    Again, I will extol you not to assume anything from me. To answer your question, there were two vehicles and the two who did not drink were the two that drove. And we were the only ones to drive that evening. So, No, no one who drank that night later drove.

    The point of the comparison between alcohol and techonology was not one of morality, as you have pointed out. I never claimed that it was. It was that different generations have different expectations of ‘how to live’. Therefore, it is not a facile argument, as you claim.

    Charis humin,
    Alethes (Truthful) Baptist

  16. Derrick said

    Great article. When I saw Patterson’s article in the BP, I almost vomited — for ethical and biblical reasons.

    When someone pastes the text to fit his own view, then what is trully innerant that that person’s own mind? — His own view.

  17. Derrick said

    I certainly mean no disrespect to Patterson either….just stating an observation

  18. lks said

    Disclaimers to being an intellectual, just food for thought . . .

    Pro 20:1 Wine [is] a mocker, strong drink [is] raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.

    Referencing Thayer’s Lexicon –

    The word, yayin {yah’-yin}, used in this verse for wine is Hebrew and is used interchangeably for unfermented and fermented wine, denoting the use for whichever would be appropriate.

    The word, shekar {shay-kawr’}, used in this verse for strong drink is Hebrew meaning: strong drink, intoxicating drink, fermented or intoxicating liquor. Whether wine, or intoxicating drink like wine, made from barley, or distilled from honey or dates.

    The word, shagah {shaw-gaw’}, used in this verse for “and whoever is deceived” is Hebrew meaning: to go astray, stray, err

    In the New Testament the word, sikera {sik’-er-ah}, is used for “strong drink,” which is Greek meaning: strong drink, an intoxicating beverage, “different from wine”; it was an artificial product, made of a mixture of sweet ingredients, whether derived from grain and vegetables, or from the juice of fruits (dates), or a decoction of honey.

    I’m still studying the Bible aspects of fermented, unfermented, new, good, old, sour and other referenced wine, but wouldn’t beer and other such derivatives fall under “strong drink?”

    The Lord Jesus spoke at the Last Supper of the cup being drunk as His blood of the “new” testament and that He would drink it “new” in the kingdom of God. Matthew 26:28,29

    Again referencing Thayer’s Lexicon, the word, kainos {kahee-nos’}, used in these verses for the word “new” is Greek meaning: new, recently made, fresh, recent, unused, unworn.

    Mat 9:17: (Jesus speaking) Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

    The word, neos {neh’-os}, used in these verses for the word “new” is Greek meaning: recently born, young, youthful, and the word, oinos {oy`-nos}, may also be used to mean; must, new wine.

    Could you intemperate the wine in these previous scripture references as fermented wine?

    It’s my understanding to make alcoholic wine that it takes grape juice 40 days exposed to air to ferment. (I’m opened to correction for I’m far from being any student of its production.) In my assessment, to place the new wine into new bottles would be plausible to avoid contaminants of the old bottles and limit exposure to air thus preventing fermentation and spoilage of the juice, to preserve it for long periods of time in its original pure form. Could this be the same as the bottled juice that we see on the grocery shelves?

    Just food for thought . . .

  19. Good grief. Patterson is just another human being. He is not a prophet. He is not special. He is the president of a SBC seminary after many years of manipulating the system and pushing himself in the right places. His view on alcohol or anything else is just that – his opinion. Why anybody gives him special treatment is beyond me.
    As for my look at the issue, and I am merely a Virginia Baptist pastor, nothing more, the scriptures say not to get drunk. If you don’t drink alcohol you won’t get drunk, but is there a special spiritual breath-a-lizer inside us that determines when we go from non-drunk to sinning? I have never in my life knowingly drunk alcohol and never will. I have no need to do so. My life is no less rich by choosing not to drink beverages that could cause me to get drunk.
    The people who defend drinking alcohol, I have to question their motives. Are they so enamored by alcohol that they try to prove that its ok? Are the adicted to the drink and are trying to prove that its ok to drink something that could cause you to sin?
    If I’m struggling with something, it is not normally my reaction to prove that scripture says its ok, but I realize that I must make a change. Just a moderate perspective here.

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