They

There has been a lot of fuss over the years about using the word “he” when referring to a general unidentified person. Somewhere along the line authors (or editors) began using “he/she”, “he or she”, or even just “she” in these instances so everyone feels included. A few even alternate between “he” and “she” for each occurrence. All of these options are awkward and confusing.

The Oxford English Dictionary entry for “they” lists this as definition number 2:

2. Often used in reference to a singular noun made universal by every, any, no, etc., or applicable to one of either sex (= ‘he or she’).

Several examples are given dating back as far as the year 1526. Some dictionaries and usage manuals grudgingly mention this usage of “they”, adding that this is not acceptable in formal writing (neglecting to mention that one uses the word “one” in formal writing).

The fact is that “they” is singular in this case and it is grammatically correct to use “they” instead of the awkward modern alternatives. This has always been true. The word “they” has always been plural or singular depending on what “they” is referring to.

How can “they” be plural sometimes and singular sometimes? That would mean we have to use “they are” when it’s plural, and “they is” when it’s singular, right? Nonsense. “You” can be either plural or singular depending on context, yet we never say “you is”, but always “you are” and no one is confused by this.

Just like “you”, “they” can be plural or singular, and is a great way to eliminate the “he/she” nonsense from the English language.

What, you didn’t know that?

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Would Of, Could Of, Should Of

It’s common in the U.S.A. to contract would have, could have or should have in every day speech.

But if you must write the contractions, they are not “would of”, “could of”, “should of.”

They are:

  1. would’ve
  2. could’ve
  3. should’ve

The same is true of must have.

What, you didn’t know that?

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The Law of The Nazir

The Nazirite Vow described in Numbers 6:1-21 is frequently referenced to support the prohibitionist view. Any who would dedicate himself to the Lord must abstain from alcoholic beverages. This can be answered on two fronts. First, the argument fails a simple consistency check. Second, the Nazirite Vow is not as simple as the prohibitionists’ superficial treatment might suggest.

As to the argument’s consistency, a thorough reading of Numbers 6:1-21 reveals that the Nazir was required to abstain from more than just alcohol. The Nazir must abstain from alcoholic beverages, vinegar, grapes, raisins, grape juice, and even the seeds and skins from grapes. The Nazir must not go near a dead person, and must not cut his hair. If the prohibitionists really believed their own argument (modern Christians should adhere to the Nazirite Vow), they would also insist that we must abstain from vinegar, raisins, and funerals. They would also stop shaving and cutting their hair. But, of course, they do none of those things, because they don’t really believe that argument.

The inclusion of mishrat anavim (משׁרת ענבים) in the list establishes quite convincingly that the author of the Pentateuch knew how to clearly distinguish wine from grape juice. This also indicates that grape juice is not included in the meaning of the Hebrew word yayin (יין). The fact that Numbers 6:20 specifically says, “and afterward the Nazirite may drink yayin” and not, “the Nazirite may drink mishrat anavim” shows that God specifically authorized the resumption of wine consumption (and by implication vinegar, raisins, haircuts, etc.) once the vow was complete.

When we look at all the Nazirite prohibitions ignored by the prohibitionist, the argument appears disingenuous. And when we consider the evidence that the Pentateuch author did in fact know how to say “grape juice” when he wanted to, we’re also left wondering why Deuteronomy 14:26 says yayin if it was intended to refer only to mishrat anavim.

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Strong Drink

Recently, someone directed my attention to the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (ISBE), specifically the contents of its entry on wine related to the Hebrew word shekar. This was offered as evidence that shekar was not necessarily alcoholic.

Here is the relevant part of the ISBE entry Wine; Wine Press:

(7) שׁכר, shēkhār (22 times), translated “strong drink” in English Versions of the Bible. Shēkhār appears to mean “intoxicating drink” of any sort and in Num_28:7 is certainly simply “wine” (compare also its use in parallelism to “wine” in Isa_5:11, Isa_5:22, etc.). In certain passages (Lev_10:9; Num_6:3; 1Sa_1:15, etc.), however, it is distinguished from “wine,” and the meaning is not quite certain. But it would seem to mean “drink not made from grapes.” Of such only pomegranate wine is named in the Bible (Son_8:2), but a variety of such preparations (made from apples, quinces, dates, barley, etc.) were known to the ancients and must have been used in Palestine also. The translation “strong drink” is unfortunate, for it suggests “distilled liquor,” “brandy,” which is hardly in point. See DRINK, STRONG.

We notice that shekar “appears to mean ‘intoxicating drink’ of any sort.” Sometimes it simply means wine and sometimes it is distinct from wine, but it is always intoxicating.

When the text says “it would seem to mean ‘drink not made from grapes'”, the context of that statement still refers to intoxicating drink, thus the author identifies shekar as “[intoxicating] drink not made from grapes.”

The sole biblical example of pomegranate wine (not juice) is mentioned, and then the author states that “preparations” of other fruits and grains are know to have been used historically. The author did not say shekar might be apple juice, but that a preparation of apples (etc.) could be used to make shekar.

When examined carefully, this text does not leave room for shekar to be anything other than an alcoholic beverage.

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Drink, Strong

The following article is reproduced from the public-domain version of the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (1913).

James Orr, M.A., D.D., General Editor

John L. Nuelsen, D.D., LL.D.
Edgar Y. Mullins, D.D., LL.D.
Assistant Editors

Morris O. Evans, D.D., PhD., Managing Editor

[ Underlining added for emphasis ]

DRINK, STRONG

(שׁכר, shēkhār; σίκερα, síkera; from שׁכר, shākhar, “to be or become drunk”; probably from the same root as sugar, saccharine): With the exception of Num 28:7, “strong drink” is always coupled with “wine.” The two terms are commonly used as mutually exclusive, and as together exhaustive of all kinds of intoxicants.

Originally shēkhār seems to have been a general term for intoxicating drinks of all kinds, without reference to the material out of which they were made; and in that sense, it would include wine. Reminiscences of this older usage may be found in Num 28:7 (where shēkhār is clearly equivalent to wine, as may be seen by comparing it with Num 28:14, and with Exo 29:40, where the material of the drink offering is expressly designated “wine”).When the Hebrews were living a nomadic life, before their settlement in Canaan, the grape-wine was practically unknown to them, and there would be no need of a special term to describe it. But when they settled down to an agricultural life, and came to cultivate the vine, it would become necessary to distinguish it from the older kinds of intoxicants; hence, the borrowed word yayin (“wine”) was applied to the former, while the latter would be classed together under the old term shēkhār, which would then come to mean all intoxicating beverages other than wine (Lev_10:9; Num_6:3; Deu_14:26; Pro_20:1; Isa_24:9). The exact nature of these drinks is not clearly indicated in the Bible itself. The only fermented beverage other than grape-wine specifically named is pomegranate-wine (Son_8:2 : “the juice of my pomegranate,” the Revised Version, margin “sweet wine of my pomegranate”); but we may infer that other kinds of shēkhār besides that obtained from pomegranates were in use, such as drinks made from dates, honey, raisins, barley, apples, etc. Probably Jerome (circa 400 ad) was near the mark when he wrote, “Sikera in the Hebrew tongue means every kind of drink which can intoxicate, whether made from grain or from the juice of apples, or when honeycombs are boiled down into a sweet and strange drink, or the fruit of palm oppressed into liquor, and when water is colored and thickened from boiled herbs” (Ep. ad Nepotianum). Thus shēkhār is a comprehensive term for all kinds of fermented drinks, excluding wine.

Probably the most common sort of shēkhār used in Biblical times was palm or date-wine. This is not actually mentioned in the Bible, and we do not meet with its Hebrew name yēn temārīm (“wine of dates”) until the Talmudic period. But it is frequently referred to in the Assyrian-Babylonian contract tablets (cuneiform), and from this and other evidence we infer that it was very well known among the ancient Semitic peoples. Moreover, it is known that the palm tree flourished abundantly in Biblical lands, and the presumption is therefore very strong that wine made of the juice of dates was a common beverage. It must not be supposed, however, that the term shēkhār refers exclusively to date-wine. It rather designates all intoxicating liquors other than grape-wine, while in few cases it probably includes even wine.>/p>

There can be no doubt that shēkhār was intoxicating. This is proved (1) from the etymology of the word, it being derived from shākhar, “to be or become drunk” (Gen_9:21; Isa_29:9; Jer_25:27, etc.); compare the word for drunkard (shikkār), and for drunkenness (shikkārōn) from the same root; (2) from descriptions of its effects: e.g. Isaiah graphically describes the stupefying effect of shēkhār on those who drink it excessively (Isa_28:7, Isa_28:8). Hannah defended herself against the charge of being drunk by saying, “I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink,” i.e. neither wine nor any other intoxicating liquor (1Sa_1:15). The attempt made to prove that it was simply the unfermented juice of certain fruits is quite without foundation. Its immoderate use is strongly condemned (Isa_5:11, Isa_5:12; Pro_20:1; see DRUNKENNESS). It was forbidden to ministering priests (Lev_10:9), and to Nazirites (Num_6:3; Jdg_13:4, Jdg_13:7, Jdg_13:14; compare Luk_1:15), but was used in the sacrificial meal as drink offering (Num_28:7), and could be bought with the tithe-money and consumed by the worshipper in the temple (Deu_14:26). It is commended to the weak and perishing as a means of deadening their pain; but not to princes, lest it might lead them to pervert justice (Pro_31:4-7).

Written by D. Miall Edwards


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The Rechabites

Some prohibitionists cite Jeremiah 35:1-19 as an example of people being praised for abstaining from alcoholic beverages.

In that passage God told Jeremiah to give wine to the Rechabites, but when Jeremiah does so, the Rechabites refuse to drink. They explain that their father commanded them to drink no wine, build no houses, sow no seed, and plant no vineyard. The Rechabites obeyed their father in all things and remained nomads. Jeremiah praised the Rechabites for obeying their father, in contrast to the sons of Judah who ignored God’s commands.

So, the Rechabites were not praised for abstaining from alcohol, but for obeying their father.

As with several other passages, the prohibitionist interpretation is refuted by reading the passage.

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Wine is a Mocker

A prohibitionist claimed:

There is no way around Proverbs 20:1.

So, let’s take a look at this verse that will absolutely prove the prohibitionist correct:

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

The first two clauses are offered as absolute proof that any alcohol consumption is forbidden by God, and the last part of the verse is discarded as meaningless rambling to fill out the meter of the poetry.

However, when we read the verse in its entirety, which I’ve been told is a legitimate method of exegesis, we can’t help but notice that “whosoever is deceived [by wine or string drink] is not wise.”

Any moderationist would freely agree that that it is not wise to be deceived by wine, and that falling into drunkenness constitutes such deception. In fact, many concordances and lexicons say that the Hebrew word used here for “deceived” can refer to intoxication, so that can hardly be called an unreasonable interpretation.

The only thing that can be said of Proverbs 20:1 with any certainty is that it is one of the many passages in the Bible that speaks of the foolishness of intoxication.

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Bacchus and Anti-Bacchus

Below are links to a two-part article written by John MacLean in 1841. Dr. MacLean was Professor of Ancient Languages at the College of New Jersey at the time.

In Part 1 of the article below, the author takes too much time on a letter he received from a man in Lebanon. The author seems to think that letter proves something. While a little interesting, it doesn’t really prove anything.

Other than that, I think the author makes some compelling arguments.

The Princeton Review
Volume 13, Issue 2
April 1841
pp. 267-306
Bacchus and Anti-Bacchus, Part 1
The Princeton Review
Volume 13, Issue 4
October 1841
pp. 471-523
Bacchus and Anti-Bacchus, concluded

The distribution of these documents was made possible by: University of Michigan Making of America


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Behold a Gluttonous Man, and a Winebibber

Prohibitionists have an interesting way of dealing with these two passages:

  1. Matthew 11:18-19:
  2. 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil.
    19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.

  3. Luke 7:33-35
  4. 33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil.
    34 The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!
    35 But wisdom is justified of all her children.

When looking at these passages, Prohibitionists generally address this claim: We know that Jesus drank wine because the Pharisees called Him a winebibber. They argue correctly that the accusation does not prove that He drank wine. In fact, the point Jesus was making was that the Pharisees were falsely accusing Him of being a winebibber.

The problem is that no one has made the claim that the accusation of the Pharisees proved that Jesus drank wine. That is a straw man argument, invented because it is easy to refute and provide an appearance of victory over the real argument.

What is the real argument?

The Real Argument

In the event described in the two passages above, Jesus is criticizing the Pharisees because of their sinful attitude towards two people who brought them spiritual truth, which they rejected. The point Jesus made was that the Pharisees accused John of evil because John did NOT drink wine, while at the same time accusing Jesus of evil because Jesus DID drink wine.

Jesus stated as fact that John The Baptist did not drink wine. Jesus also stated as fact that The Son of Man did drink wine. Jesus himself says that He did, in fact, drink wine. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for using the fact that He drank wine as an opportunity to make the false accusation that He was a drunkard (the meaning of “winebibber”).

The proof that Jesus drank wine is that He said Himself that He drank wine.

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Twenty To One Revisited

Let’s revisit the claim that wine was diluted to a water-to-wine ratio of Twenty To One.

This ratio comes up in support of the claim that the only use for wine in biblical times was for purifying water. Citing this ratio as support shows not only the absurdity of the claim, but also reveals the low standards for research among prohibitionists.

First, the twenty to one ratio is absurd on it’s face. Wine diluted to that degree would serve no purpose. It would not have any effect on microbes in the water, and would even be insufficient to improve the taste or the appearance of contaminated water. Add to the this the prohibitionist claim that wine in biblical times had significantly less alcohol than modern wine, and the twenty to one ratio becomes impossible to believe.

Second, the claim of twenty to one reveals sloppy research at best. Some don’t even research the claimed ratio to learn its source. Of those who do, some stop at “we know from Homer” and are not the least bit suspicious about Homer’s credentials as a writer of mythology. Of those who look deeper and see that the ratio comes from The Odyssey, few are at all concerned about that book’s status as mythical fiction. If we count those who sought out a copy of The Odyssey to read first-hand the context in which the ratio was found (magic wine used to defeat the Cyclops), there would be virtually no one. How can a man with a Ph.D. not know what The Odyssey is, and not be immediately suspicious of it being cited for historical support?

So, when we see a prohibitionist claim that wine in biblical times was diluted twenty parts water to one part wine, we know two things about that prohibitionist: that he knows nothing about water purification, and he knows even less about history and literature. When I hear about how thorough their research was, I can’t help but laugh.

As soon as they say “twenty to one” their research has lost all credibility.

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