Does Proverbs 31:6-7 encourage alcoholism?
Proverbs 31:6-7 says, “Give beer to one who is dying and wine to one whose life is bitter. Let him drink so that he can forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more.” http://bible.com/1713/pro.31.6-7.csb Isn’t this scripture encouraging alcoholism?
Given scriptures such as Eph 5:18, Rom 13:13, 1 Pet 4:3, Is 5:11-12, and, perhaps even more relevantly, Prov 20:1, 23:20-21, 31:4, we can most certainly conclude that the Bible strongly condemns drunkenness, and especially habitual drunkenness of the sort that alcoholics take part in. It is particularly notable that the strong command against drunkenness is found just two verses before Prov 31:6-7.
So… What is going on in Proverbs 31:6-7. As MacBeth said, “that is the question.” First of all, there are believers who have a very strong anti-alcohol stance. There are some who teach that any use of alcohol, even with relatively less strong drink such as beer and wine, is sinful, in all cases. Clearly, this is not a correct understanding of the scripture. Not only does Prov. 31:6-7 establish this, Paul also advised Timothy to drink some wine because of his condition. (1 Tim 5:23).
My conclusion is that drinking relatively small amounts of beer and wine is not sinful. Proverbs 31:6-7 tells me that for a person who is in the throes of death, it might actually be helpful and a form of compassion. For us in the 21st century, we give palliative care to those who are dying, which includes giving them pain medication which has a much stronger effect than moderate alcohol use. In fact, to the dying we even give addictive pain relief such as morphine or oxycontin as our compassion in this case allows us to do something for the dying we would not normally do. For people who are suffering from extreme chronic depression, I would never suggest using alcohol as medicine, as we have drugs available to us through the prescription of psychiatrists which are much more appropriate, but the writer of Proverbs allows for this possibility.
Another factor to bear in mind is that in ancient times, most of the water available to humans, especially in the Near East, was polluted and even very dangerous to human health. Wells could be an exception, but nearly all surface water was highly contaminated with bacteria. Certainly this water needed at the very least to be boiled in order to be safe. Nearly everyone drank diluted wine or beer as the only safe source of drinking water. This was especially true for travelers. If I understand correctly, typically alcohol levels of less than 3% were used, as it is sufficient to kill most bacteria, it is less expensive than straight wine or beer, and it can be drunk in fairly large volumes without leading to drunkenness.
Bottom line, the fact that the writer of Proverbs suggest allowing the dying to drink beer or wine has nothing to do with suggesting being an alcoholic is not sinful. Alcoholism and drunkenness are sinful, as is demonstrated dozens of times in scripture. Disciples of Jesus who are healthy should use alcohol either not at all, which is obviously acceptable, or they should drink in moderate amounts. My advice is to limit ourselves to one beer or one glass of wine in a four hour period. I do not feel it is my place to prescribe this as a rule as such rules do not help create righteousness (Coll 2:20-23), but it is one I use and one I suggest.