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.
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.
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.
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.