Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Chistians & Drugs - What's Lost in Translation

This is Part 2 in a series exploring God’s opinions on drugs from scripture. Last week’s post, Christians & Drugs - What the Bible Does Not Say, exposed common quotes falsely attributed to the Bible. This post will begin to examine what the Bible actually does say. While our English translations of the Bible are perfect for our spiritual thriving, the limitations of modern English miss some of the nuances from the original language and cultures in which it was written. This is the case with probably every translated work of history. This does not mean there are errors in the Bible. It means that some language/cultural nuances can be lost in translation. For example, in the Greek New Testament there are several words for “love” each with a different nuance. But, all of them are translated into one word in modern English, “love”. And, like "love," “wine” suffers a similar fate in translation.

The way in which the Bible (written primarily in Hebrew and Greek) was translated over hundreds of years is a lengthy and complex story. Of note, many of those years were characterized by the restriction of translation into Latin (a dead language). By 600 A.D. Latin was the only language allowed for scripture translation. Because of this restriction, the Church effectively blocked the reading and study of the Bible except for clergy. Aside from the travesty that resulted from the lack of individual study, the ultimate goal of communicating original meaning was impacted by the dominance of the Latin language and the cultural biases of those periods. Remember that English has its roots in Latin. As a result, the words used for virtually all forms of grape juice became primarily filtered through the Latin “vinum,” and therefore, ultimately into the word “wine” and wine alone. But, “vinum” also meant grape juice. If this strikes you as hard to believe, read onward.

Have you ever wondered why in every English translation of the Bible, there is virtually never a mention of grape juice (except only twice in the NIV, and once in the NASB and ESV)? Did nobody in the Bible make or consume grape juice? Was grape juice forbidden unless it was fermented? Or are we blinded by ancient translations restricted to a word that means something different today? Even in old English, the word wine meant more than just the fermented form of grape juice. Wine meant all forms of juice from the grape. A perfect analogy of this is the word cider. Even in modern usage, the word “cider” can refer to either fermented or unfermented forms. Likewise, much earlier cultures used the word “wine” as interchangeably as we today use the word cider. Vinum and wine are words that were derived from the broader category of “fruit of the vine”. In fact, “vine” is the central concept that vinum and wine convey. It was not the process of fermentation that these words originally meant to convey. And, the closer you get to the vine, the further you are from fermentation. Only centuries later did we confine the word wine to mean only fermented forms. Therefore, from old English to modern English, the translation seems to have been lazy. It was entirely accurate during the culture of old English to translate grape juice to “wine.” But today, especially in our culture, that word is dangerously misleading in many passages. And, we are paying a dear price for translational laziness.

Of course people in the Bible drank grape juice. In fact they had specific words for it. For example, in the Old Testament, 38 of the references translated as “wine” are actually the Hebrew word tiyrowsh, which we know in Hebrew means freshly-squeezed grape juice (unfermented). In fact, several times, it is translated into the words “new wine.” There is no such thing as aged/fermented wine that anyone would refer to as “new”. New wine means freshly-squeezed from the grape not freshly-fermented. Freshly-fermented is an oxymoron. Some appropriate examples of grape juice referred to as “wine” are Joel 3:18 and Isaiah 65:8, to name a couple. For example, Isaiah 65:8 says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘As the new wine is found in the cluster...’” How is it possible that “new wine” is found inside the grape cluster unless it is unfermented? Fermentation is possible on the vine, but extremely rare, especially in vineyards. The accurate modern translation would be “as grape juice is found in the cluster…” This lack of updated translation of the word in our present culture is unwisely dangerous.

Before we leave Tiyrowsh (unfermented grape juice), it is important to note that this is heralded in the Bible as the best “wine” of all. “Wine” or grape juice in the Bible, was not evaluated as connoisseurs do today. Grape juice in the Bible was primarily evaluated based on its taste and taste alone – and by taste that means sweetness (Nehemiah 8:10, Joel 1:5, Joel 3:18, Amos 9:13, etc.). While fermented wine has always been an acquired taste, grape juice is desired by almost all and upon first taste by even a child. It is the most desired of all juices. And, this has apparently always been the case as wines have never been comparatively critiqued for their alcohol content. Even today, taste is the dominant measure, not the level of fermentation. The fact that fresh-squeezed grape juice was by far considered the best “wine” of all, allows us to much more accurately study and apply many Bible verses today that we currently misapply.

In addition to Tiyrowsh, the other primary Hebrew and Greek words for “wine” used in the Bible included the Hebrew words yayin, shekar, shemer, and the Greek word oinos. While each of these words have different nuances, all of them are used for both fermented and unfermented forms (like cider). But, when you read the modern day word “wine” you will never get that impression because that is not our present cultural usage of the word wine. In fact, the New Testament re-quotes Old Testament passages which used Tiyrowsh (unfermented grape juice) by use of the Greek word oinos 36 times. Like our modern use of the word cider, we need other adjectives or phrases in order to understand if the “wine” being referred to is fermented or not. With that knowledge, wouldn’t it be unwise to assume that every mention of “wine” means fermented? Of course certain mentions we know are fermented – like references to getting drunk. But, if no clarifications are present, we should not always assume a bias in favor of alcohol. We should all agree that to do so with more complete knowledge is unwise.

Therefore, we should not interpret these words and related passages from inside our culture, but from inside their culture. To that end, was the “wine” in the Bible the same as our “wine” today? Wine in the Bible was much more precious because firstly it was very expensive. From the book, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” we learn that 1 pint (2 cups) of wine in Biblical times cost 3.50 denarii. We know from Matthew 20:2 that one day’s wage in their agrarian society was commonly 1.00 denarii. That means that the common man earned approximately 300 denarii per year and spent 200 of that on food for his family. If two cups of wine cost 3.50 denarii, how carefully would they consume it back then? For example, in today’s dollars, two cups of wine would cost us on average $400 - $800 or more. Assuming you have an agrarian family budget, how sparing would you be? Read on before you answer that question.

Is fermented wine all bad? No. In fact, fermented wine in the Bible had fantastic uses and saved many lives. Luke 10:34 refers to fermented wine being used as medicine to cleanse wounds. We also see from 1 Timothy 5:23, that fermented wine was used to sterilize water. They did not have the benefit of refrigerators and stoves. So, they “mixed” fermented wine with almost everything using “mixing bowls”. They even dipped their bread in it (Ruth 2:14). They would store the wine undiluted in “wineskins” and sparingly pour enough into one bowl for mixing with the family's drinking water for that day. Wine was the preserving lifeline for many. In fact, they used wine to mix with daily water as the most common sterilization practice. The typical mixture was between 4:1 (4 parts water to 1 part wine) up to 20:1 (20 parts water to 1 part wine). By the way, even a ratio as liberal as 3:1 would result in a mixture that has an average alcohol content of less than 2.5%. By today’s standards, that would not even be considered by the FDA as an alcoholic beverage. But, they commonly diluted it up to 6 times more than that (0.5% alcohol). Given how important just a small amount of wine was for sterilizing, how do you think a common agrarian family would use 2 cups that cost them almost 2% of their annual food budget? By the way, guess what they called this mixture of water and wine? That’s right, this was referred to as “mixed wine.” For those who find this hard to initially accept, consider what we today call coffee. How many parts water is coffee? But, we don’t call coffee, “coffee-flavored water.” We call it coffee.

Today’s wine contains 9-11% alcohol as compared to theirs which was as low as .5%. Comparing what we know about then with our culture now, is the wine today the same as then? Probably not. Can you get drunk from wine back then? Yes, from undiluted wine (drinking from the "wineskin"), but probably not if you are drinking either fresh-squeezed grape juice or “mixed wine.” It is through the lenses of Biblical languages and cultures that we must read and apply all 230 verses in order for us to truthfully discern God’s undiluted opinion on wine (drugs). Without that background, something will be lost in translation. And, too many times that something is us. 

You can purchase the book "Reason If You Will - How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith" by clicking HERE. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Christians & Drugs – What the Bible Does Not Say

Does God have a policy on drugs? Or, is this the one area in which we lack His clear or known opinion? Has God spoken in the Bible about His policy on drugs? Or, is the Bible lacking clear guidance? Does the Bible only guide us away from extremes or does it guide us toward an extreme? Does the Bible only direct us in large matters or does it guide us in everything? Is there any area of our lives that God does not care about? Is the issue of drugs a gray area? In matters that we see as gray, what would wisdom do?

Before we begin to answer these questions, both sides must observe a few Biblical rules. God totally disapproves of arguing (Philippians 2:14). Further, in the spiritual family, God totally disapproves of “demonizing” your spiritual brother/sister on either side (James 4:11). No Christian is ever called to judge another Christian (James 4:12). But, every Christian is called to judge whether certain behaviors are wise or unwise, right or wrong (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). Most importantly, if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, you and your opinions are crucified with Him (Galatians 2:20). Therefore, we are called to race each other to the depth of humility that Christ demonstrated  (Philippians 2:3-4). If any of us are going to analyze God’s word on such a sensitive topic, both sides have a moral obligation to obey these rules (God’s rules), without exception. After all, multitudes of lives hang in the balance on this very issue. And, while the enemy is having a field day with it, he continues to reign if we bow to him by dividing each other, instead of bowing to Christ along with each other. So, let’s bow before God together.

Before we study in-depth what the Bible actually says, we must first expose what it does not say. Too many Christians fail to read God’s word enough to know which human quotes to rely on and which ones to not. And, I have lost count of the number of pastors who have used unreliable quotes with surprising confidence. If any of the quotes I'm about to share make you bristle with disbelief that they are absent from the Bible, just pause and search for them yourself. With today’s online technology, the search is rather easy. So, please search and you will find that none of the following quotes are supported by the Bible:
  • "The Bible really doesn't speak about drugs"
  • “Marijuana is natural, therefore God made it for us to consume”
  • “The Bible says ‘everything is permissible!’”
  • “The Bible teaches ‘everything in moderation’”
  • "Wine is not a drug"
  • “If you drink alcohol in private it won’t affect your witness”
  • “Wine is nothing but evil”
  • “The Bible says drinking is a sin”
  • “Jesus said, ‘Judge not, period’”
  • “Jesus drank alcohol”
  • “The Bible only says getting drunk is wrong”
  • “There’s nothing in the Bible that says it is wrong to drink alcohol”
  • “Paul told Timothy to drink”
  • “On this issue the Bible does not say ‘thou shalt not’”
  • “The Bible never teaches abstinence”
  • “Jesus died to give us freedom to drink”
  • “If you don’t drink, you are judgmental or self-righteous”
  • “You need to drink in order to have a relevant witness”
Every single one of these quotes have little to no basis in the Bible. However, they are used quite frequently in the Church and by Christians. But, opinions behind these quotes are not well-grounded. As with every issue, any opinion is a waste if the God of scripture does not explicitly back it. If these conclusions strike you as extreme, I invite you to read on and journey with us through scripture for the next several posts to determine together why they are. As we do, remember our God is extreme in that He is holy, and He calls us to be as well. So, with what the Bible does not say behind us, let’s examine together what the Bible actually does say about God’s policy on drugs of all types.

The first thing that we have to recognize is that drugs are always a matter of flesh. And, flesh is always an enemy of God’s spirit (Galatians 5:17). Christians are called towards constant alignment and reconciliation with the opinions of God on every matter. And, God is not flesh. God is spirit (John 4:24). And, while we are only partly flesh, it is our flesh that is our corruption – it must not be indulged. These principles alone should answer the vast majority of questions that we consider gray. And, if something remains gray for us, remember that nothing is gray with an omniscient God. Gray areas for mankind represent lack of spiritual knowledge. God is spirit – ultimate Spirit. Therefore, for God, there are no spiritual gray areas. And, on this issue, as with all, for Him it is black and white. And, God's view-point is that with which we are called to ultimately align.

As we search for more direct evidence of God’s opinion, remember that it is not always communicated with the phrase, “thou shalt not.” For example, we know full well that polygamy (having multiple spouses) is against God’s will. But, you won’t find a verse in the Bible that says anything like, “thou shalt not have more than one spouse.” In fact, the Bible never explicitly condemns polygamy. So, how did we ultimately conclude that polygamy is so unwise? God did not have to say “thou shalt not” in order to communicate his preference of wisdom. His preferences are communicated in so many other ways. For example, on polygamy, we have the examples of Adam and Eve, scriptures on marriage, the qualifications of elders and deacons, etc. And, it is clear that, while the Bible does not condemn it, God does not approve of polygamy. If we can search scripture to find God’s preference on the wise position on polygamy, can’t we also do this with regards to the wise position on drugs? Before we move from this point, remind yourself over and over of this example regarding polygamy. Because, the way in which we arrived at our Biblical opinions on polygamy are righteous and should instruct and rebuke us in how we approach any topic of morality, especially those that we are too blind to see in any shade other than gray.

So, how from scripture can we discern God’s policy on drugs? Well, did you know that wine is a “narcotic”? Yes, today we have both legal narcotics and illegal narcotics. Unfortunately, we rarely speak of wine in such terms in our culture. But, narcotic is a defined term for a specific class of drugs. According to the dictionary, a narcotic is “an addictive drug that reduces pain, alters mood and behavior, and usually induces narcosis (sleep and/or stupor).” The scientific classification of wine is narcotic. And, as addiction goes, alcohol is one of the more addictive of all narcotics by almost every measure – more addictive than even marijuana (another narcotic). Therefore, it stands to reason that what the Bible says about wine should instruct us regarding God’s opinion on other addictive narcotics and drugs in general. The principles that apply to wine should apply to other narcotics and vice-versa. 

Therefore, the scriptures to use to discern His policy on drugs are the 230 verses that address alcohol. These verses detail for us God’s holistic policy on drugs. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Christians never study all of these verses, which span both Testaments. And, the vast majority of pastors refuse to preach on them either. Do you really know what all 230 verses reveal on the subject? For example, allow me to list just a few of the instructive subtopics on alcohol from the Bible. As you read this list, count how many of them you can explain with sufficient detail so as to determine God’s opinion: 
  • “New wine” versus other wines
  • “Mixing bowls”
  • “Mixed wine”
  • Drinking rules for priests
  • Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper
  • The Nazirite vow
  • “Wineskins”
  • The Recabites
  • John the Baptist
  • Daniel
  • Hebrews in the wilderness
  • Qualifications for Elders
  • The marriage at Cana
  • “Stumbling blocks”
If you can’t adequately explain some of the above, then your knowledge of scripture on this subject is probably less than it should be – you are probably missing something that you should know about God’s opinion. And, if your pastor refuses to ever preach on these topics such that God's opinion remains unclear to you, then you might need to discern why that is.

What do you think is God’s opinion of us indulging our flesh with addictive narcotics for recreation? How does wine compare in alcohol content with other alcoholic beverages? How does wine compare with marijuana or heroin? What is God’s (not man’s) definition of “drunk”? Does God approve of getting a “buzz”?

In the next blog post, we will answer these and many others from scripture. In doing so, we will begin to actually examine what the literal Hebrew and Greek words mean in the Bible. Until then, I will leave you with this truth. Even in countries where other drugs are legal, alcohol kills more people and is the oil that fuels more violent crimes than all other drugs combined. This is clearly an effective tool of God’s enemy. The enemy’s fingerprint is to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). But, the fingerprint of God is wisdom. Therefore, with all matters of moral gray, if given the choice we should ask, “What would Wisdom do?”

You can purchase the book "Reason If You Will - How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith" by clicking HERE. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.