Levitical Priests

There seems to be some remaining confusion about what exactly the Levitical priests were forbidden to do, thanks to some prohibitionists’ poor handling of Leviticus 10:8-9. The passage is referenced in an attempt to show that God forbade all alcohol consumption by the priests.

Let’s look at the passage:

And the LORD spake unto Aaron, saying, Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations

It’s quite obvious from this passage that the priests were in fact not forbidden all alcohol consumption. They were only prohibited from drinking alcoholic beverages while serving in “the tabernacle of the congregation” (the tent of meeting), which was an enclosed area inside the tabernacle. This is significant. The prohibition did not apply even in the rest of the tabernacle.

It is unmistakable that the prohibition only applied in a specific place and time. There was never a general prohibition for priests.

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Ignore Me No Longer!

I’m renaming my blog from Ignore Me to Pedantic Dan.

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Eggs Per Hen-Day

There’s an old brain teaser that is posed as a word problem, something like this:

If a hen and a half lays an egg and a half in a day and a half, how many days will it take three hens to lay three eggs?

or

If a hen and a half lays an egg in a half in a day and a half, how many hens will it take to lay six eggs in six days?

These are essentially the same problem and there is no significant difference to “three” or “six”. I’ve seen several internet sites that go through the math to calculate the rate of egg laying to come up with the answer, but that is not necessary.

With a little knowledge of Algebra, we realize that this is a rate problem: how many eggs are produced per hen-day? Mathematically, we would write that this way:

Eggs

=

Rate * Hens * Days

and then solving for “Rate” we get this:

Rate

=

Eggs


(Hens)(Days)

We then see immediately that we don’t even need to know Rate.

If we multiply Eggs and Hens by the same factor N:

Rate

=

N * Eggs


(N * Hens)(Days)

that factor, being in both the numerator and denominator, will cancel and Days must remain unchanged.

In the same way if we multiply Eggs and Days by the same factor N:

Rate

=

N * Eggs


(Hens)(N * Days)

again that factor, being in both the numerator and denominator, will cancel and Hens must remain unchanged.

So, we can change “one and a half” to X and three (or six) to Y:

If X hens lay X eggs in X days, how many days will it take for Y hens to lay Y eggs?

or

If X hens lay X eggs in X days, how many hens will it take to lay Y eggs in Y days?

For all values of X and Y, the answer will always be X.

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Degrees of Separation

When I was in high school, I met my best friend’s father (not at all unusual, I hear). My best friend’s father was, and is, a cinematographer and worked on such films as Second Hand Lions, Space Cowboys, and Unforgiven. In fact, he was nominated for the 1992 Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Unforgiven. His name is Jack Green.

Jack Green has been the Director of Photography for many films, and he worked many times with world famous actor and director Clint Eastwood.

Clint Eastwood has acted in and directed many successful films, including Mystic River starring Kevin Bacon.

That’s three degrees of Kevin Bacon.

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Not Given To Wine

1 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 1:7 both include “not given to wine” (KJV) in the qualifications for a bishop. Some prohibitionists interpret these verses to say that church leaders must abstain from alcoholic beverages. Some even say that the Greek word translated as “given to wine”, πάροινος, comes from πάρα οινος, meaning “next to wine”, and therefore prohibits a church leader from even being near wine. The problem with this is that looking at etymology alone can lead to inaccurate conclusions about a word’s meaning.

Take the word pedophile, for example. If we examine the derivation of that word, we would conclude that the word refers to someone who likes children, which obviously does not capture the true meaning of the word. We must also look at the usage of pedophile to understand it’s meaning. The same is true for πάροινος.

Fortunately, Greek scholars have already done that work for us, and we can look at various published works on the meaning of Greek words instead of trying to figure it out ourselves. For example, according to Warren C. Trenchard’s Complete Vocabulary Guide To The Greek New Testament, p. 192, πάροινος is an adjective which means drunken, addicted to wine, or when used substantively (as if it were a noun), as it is in Timothy and Titus, a drunkard.

The prohibitionist interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 1:7 falls apart when we look at what πάροινος actually means. As it it used in the New Testament, πάροινος means a drunkard.

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The Feast of Unleavened Wine

One argument that is supposed to prove that the wine used by Jesus to institute the Lord’s Supper was just grape juice, is that leavening was forbidden to be used in the Passover, also called The Feast of Unleavened Bread. I read one claim that Jews were forbidden to partake of anything that contained any leaven ever.

A little bit of research shows that no leaven was allowed in the bread. That’s why it is called The Feast of Unleavened Bread. There was never a prohibition against wine (fermented grape juice), in fact it was and remains the norm for Passover celebrations. In fact, the term Jesus used, fruit of the vine, was used throughout the Mediterranean region to refer to fermented grape juice (aka wine) used for ceremonial purposes.

Passover is not The Feast of No Leavening — it is The Feast of Unleavened Bread.

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Don’t Look!

Proverbs 23:31-33 says [NASB®]:

Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it goes down smoothly;
At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things, And your mind will utter perverse things.

This passage is interpreted differently by different kinds of prohibitionists. The “all fermented beverages were always forbidden” prohibitionists interpret 23:31 to prohibit looking at all fermented beverages, while the “wine was always diluted in biblical times” prohibitionists interpret it to only prohibit looking at undiluted fermented beverages. I disagree with both.

I don’t think that Proverbs is in the category of “Law”, but is advice for wise living written in the form of poetry. I would agree that it would be foolish to not follow the advice in Proverbs, and that it is just as valid today as it was when it was written. But it is still poetry, and that can present some challenges.

The passage (in the context of verses 29 through 35 ) is talking about the foolishness of alcohol abuse. “Redness of eyes”, “tarry long”, “they beat me, but I did not feel it”, etc. All refer to a level of drinking that goes way beyond any definition of moderate. The message is a warning against drunkenness and alcoholism.

The Hebrew lexicon available at http://www.blueletterbible.org (see the full entry from Gesenius’s Lexicon) describes the meaning of the Hebrew word translated “look”, and it seems to mean more than simply seeing a thing. It carries the idea of looking at something with great pleasure and longing. And in my opinion, the rest of the verse is not describing actual characteristics of wine, but the perceived attributes of wine as viewed by someone who is intoxicated (e.g., wine does not sparkle or go down smoothly unless you’ve had a few). Therefore, I believe that Proverbs 23:31 is saying, “do not long for, desire, or seek intoxication.” That verse is preceded and followed by examples of what intoxication leads to: woe, sorrow, strife, etc.

The passage warns against drunkenness and does not forbid all consumption of alcoholic beverages.

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Love Thy Neighbor

Since I was a boy, I’ve heard it said that when Jesus preached, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, He meant that we must first learn to love ourselves before we can love others. Thus, many have taken the teaching to mean that we must all become self-absorbed and focus on building our own self esteem. I lost a brother to a “Recovered Memory” cult because of this “love thyself” reversal of Jesus’ teaching.

In reality, Love thy neighbor as thyself is based on the premise that we all already do love ourselves. The trick is to figure out what that means. In what way do we all love ourselves?

We could probably think of others, but the primary way in which we all love ourselves is that we all seek the basic necessities of life for ourselves: food, water, warmth, shelter. We never thoughtlessly disregard our own hunger, for example. Even the most depressed person eats and drinks, and tries to stay warm and dry (even someone who commits suicide does so because they think it will benefit them).

Once we understand the ways we already love ourselves, then we can begin to understand what Jesus meant by “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

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Only Barbarians

Once again, I’d like to look at a quote from Robert Stein’s 1975 article. In my last posting, I quoted this: “The ratio of water might vary, but ony barbarians drank it unmixed, and a mixture of wine and water of equals parts was seen as ‘strong drink’ and frowned upon.” This time, I’d like to focus on “only barbarians drank it unmixed.”

I’ve already mentioned that the wine the ancient Greeks drank was concentrated. With this in mind we could say that only barbarians drank the heavy syrup directly. But, the real issue is that we’re talking about the Greek intellectual elite, their definition of barbarian, and their opinions of what these barbarians did or did not do.

The ancient Greek intellectual elite regarded anyone who was not Greek as a barbarian. This alone would suggest we have cause to disregard the ancient Greek view of barbarians. When the ancient Greeks called someone a barbarian, that just means they were not Greek.

Also, at least some of what the Greeks believed about barbarians was mere supposition. They might say, that only barbarians XYZ when, in fact, they had no knowledge of any particular non-Greek society that actually did XYZ.

Finally, the ancient Greek view of acceptible behavior is not necessarily binding on Bible believing christians. For example, Plato is credited with this quote:

Homosexuality, is regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them, because it is apparently not in the interest of such rulers to have great ideas engendered in their subjects, or powerful friendships or passionate love-all of which homosexuality is particularly apt to produce.

Do prohibitionists really want to base their views on what the ancient Greek intellectuals said about barbarians?

I submit that we have no reason to take notice of what the ancient Greeks believed about barbarians.

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Wine Distinct From Strong Drink

In Robert Stein’s article mentioned previously, he said “The ratio of water might vary, but only barbarians drank it unmixed, and a mixture of wine and water of equals parts was seen as ‘strong drink’ and frowned upon.” A bit later he says, “In several instances in the Old Testament a distinction is made between ‘wine’ and ‘strong drink.'” This, he suggests, supports the idea that perhaps even in Old Testament times wine was diluted.

He is correct that the Old Testament distinguishes between wine and strong drink. They are clearly two different things, and Stein provides scripture references in which wine and strong drink are mentioned together, establishing that they are, in fact, two different things. The reader is left to conclude that wine is diluted and acceptable; strong drink is not diluted and unacceptable. But in the passages in which both appear in distinction, they are both treated exactly the same. There is no verse that mentions both that gives any hint that one is permitted and the other is not. To make my point I’d like to look at three such passages.

Deuteronomy 14:26

Wine and strong drink are both equally acceptable choices to buy and consume as part of the observance of the tithe. They are distinct, but are equally acceptable beverages.

Leviticus 10:8-9

Again, wine and strong drink are clearly distinct things, but are not treated distinctly in the prohibition. The Levitical priests were forbidden to drink either beverage while serving in the Tent of Meeting. There is no moral distinction at all. Since the prohibition is specifically limited to the Tent of Meeting, it seems logical to conclude that either was an acceptable beverage outside the Tent of Meeting.

Numbers 6:3-20

And yet again, wine and strong drink are clearly distinct things, but both are equally forbidden to the Nazirite during the period of their vow. After the vow is completed, the Nazirite is allowed to resume all the practices that were forbidden during the time of the vow.

In careful study of each passage that distinguishes wine and strong drink as being two different things, we see that they are yet treated equally. Both are capable of producing drunkenness, both require caution, and both can be consumed as beverages with gratitude to the God who made them.

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