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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