Is getting drunk a serious sin, especially for Christians, even if no one else is harmed as a result? In response to this question, we will focus on scriptures that address drunkenness.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
I. 1 Corinthians 5:11: The apostle Paul says in his letter to the Corinthian Christians,
But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother [another Christian] , who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.
Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible states in regard to this scripture,
[Christians] are to be entirely separated from one who is a professor of religion and who is guilty of these things.
Not to keep company – To be wholly separated and withdrawn from such a person. Not to associate with him in any manner.
With such an one no not to eat – To have no contact or fellowship with him of any kind; not to do anything that would seem to acknowledge him as a brother; with such an one not even to eat at the same table. . . . The reasons may have been:
(1) The necessity of keeping the church pure, and of not doing anything that would seem to imply that Christians were the patrons and friends of the intemperate and the wicked.
(2) [I]n regard to those who professed to be Christians, but who were drunkards, or licentious, if a man was on terms of intimacy with them, it would seem as if he acknowledged them as brethren and recognized them as Christians.
(3) [T]his entire separation and withdrawing from all communion was necessary in these times to save the church from scandal, and from the injurious reports. . . .
With reference to 1 Corinthians 5:11, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible says,
[S]uch persons remaining impenitent and incorrigible, still persisting, in such a vicious course of life, after due admonition given them, were not only to be removed from their religious society, from the communion of the church, and be debarred [from] sitting down and eating with them at the Lord’s table, or at their love feasts, but also were to be denied civil conversation and familiarity with them, and even not suffered to eat common food at the same table with them . . . partly for vindicating the honour of religion, and preventing the stumbling of the weak; and partly to make such offenders ashamed, and bring them to repentance.
Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible declares in regard the same scripture,
[The Christians to whom Paul was writing] were to avoid all familiarity with [any Christian who engaged in such behavior]; they were to have no commerce with him; but, that they might shame him, and bring him to repentance, must disclaim and shun him. Note, Christians are to avoid the familiar conversation of fellow Christians that are notoriously wicked, and under just censure for their flagitious practices. Such disgrace the Christian name. They may call themselves brethren in Christ, but they are not Christian brethren.
With reference to 1 Corinthians 5:11, Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible asserts,
[W]hen those who claim to be Christians behave in the ways described they are to be ostracised [sic] by fellow-Christians because they are bringing the name of Christ into disrepute. They are not to be openly acknowledged as brothers in front of the outside world.
The consensus opinion of the previously referenced commentaries regarding 1 Corinthians 5:11 is that Christians should not associate at all with a Christian who engages in the specified sins, including drunkenness.
II. Galatians 5:21: In his letter to the Christians in Galatia, Paul states,
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Barnes declares in regard to this scripture,
[T]his passage is full of fearful admonition to those who indulge in any or all of these vices. Paul, inspired of God, has solemnly declared, that such cannot be saved. They cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven as they are.
Regarding Galatians 5:21, John Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible asserts,
Paul does not threaten that all who have sinned, but that all who remain impenitent, shall be excluded from the kingdom of God. The saints themselves often fall into grievous sins, but they return to the path of righteousness . . . and therefore they are not included in this catalogue.
Gill says in reference to the same scripture,
[T]hey that do such works of the flesh as before enumerated; that is, that live in the commission of these things, whose whole lives are employed in such work, living and dying in such a state, without repentance towards God and faith in Christ, shall never enjoy eternal life and happiness; though such who have done these things, being brought to a sense of them, and to the blood and righteousness of Christ for pardon and justification, for life and salvation; such, notwithstanding the works of the flesh done by them, shall, through the free grace of God, and the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, inherit the kingdom and glory of God.
Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible declares with regard to Galatians 5:21,
That they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God; that they who ordinarily do these things, and do not only live in such practices, but die without repentance for them, shall never be saved. . . .
In reference to Galatians 5:21, the consensus of these commentaries is that a person who professes to be a Christian, but regularly engages in drunkenness and/or any of the sins that are mentioned in that scripture and does not genuinely repent, will not inherit the kingdom of God, which is sometimes referred to as the kingdom of heaven. [For a more in-depth discussion of this matter, click on “Can Many Types of Sins Prevent People from Having Eternal Salvation?” and/or “What Is the Kingdom of Heaven and When Is It Coming?”]
III. Ephesians 5:18: Paul, in his letter to the Ephesian Christians, admonishes them, as follows:
[D]o not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit. . . .
Barnes asserts with regard to this scripture, “All intoxication is prohibited in the Scriptures – no matter by what means it is produced. . . . It exists in the cider, the beer, and the wine, after they are fermented. . . .”
Similarly, Calvin states in reference to Ephesians 5:18, “When he [Paul] enjoins them not to be drunk, he forbids excessive and immoderate drinking of every description. . . .”
With regard to the same scripture, Gill provides the following explanation:
The sin of drunkenness here dehorted [sic] from, is a custom, or habit, of voluntary excessive drinking of any strong liquor, whereby the mind is disturbed, and deprived of the use of reason: though wine is only here mentioned, that being the usual liquor drank in the eastern countries, yet the same holds good of any other strong liquor, as of that; nor is drinking wine for necessary use prohibited, nor for honest delight and lawful pleasure; but excessive drinking of it, and this voluntary, and with design, and on purpose; otherwise persons may be overtaken and intoxicated, through ignorance of the strength of the liquor, and their own weakness; and it is a custom, or habit of excessive drinking, for not a single act, but a series of actions, a course of living in this sin, denominates a man a drunkard. . . .
The unanimous opinion of the referenced commentaries pertaining to Ephesians 5:18 is that excessive drinking of any kind of alcoholic beverages (i.e., drunkenness) is prohibited.
Some people may argue that, since all three of the preceding scripture passages were written by Paul, the statements he made are his opinions and don’t necessarily reflect the thinking of any other writers of the books in the New Testament, much less the thinking of God. However, there is ample reason to believe that what Paul stated in these scriptures is more than just his personal opinion. [For a discussion about Paul’s opinions, click on “Do Paul’s Writings Express His Personal Opinions?”]
Anyone, but especially a Christian, who is habitually drunk is a negative example for other people. Furthermore, when a person is drunk, they are more likely to harm other people – particularly, family members – in a number of conspicuous ways, such as by being violent or by not fulfilling their responsibilities. In addition, when a person is intoxicated, their behavior may harm other people in ways that may not be obvious, such as by causing certain people to suffer mental or emotional anguish.
Certainly, all sins are serious, particularly to God, and there is no valid reason to believe that drunkenness is an exception, especially since it is specifically mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:11 and Galatians 5:21, along with other sins that the Bible regards as loathsome or worse.
[Footnote: Although the Bible does not address inappropriate drug use – apparently because drug misuse was not a significant problem during the period when the New Testament Scriptures were written – we think there is sound reason to believe that most of the same considerations that are applicable to habitual excessive drinking can appropriately be applied to the regular use of drugs for any reason other than a legitimate medicinal purpose.]