The last of the specified works of the flesh is "revellings" (ASV and KJV), "revelries" (NKJ), "orgies" (NIV) or "carousing" (NASV and NRSV). These are all translations of the Greek word komos. In order to understand the definition and connotation of this word, it is good to consult several authorities regarding the meaning of New Testament words. The following references are included for that purpose:
In modern terms, the above definitions bring to our mind the participants in modern Mardi Gras festivals or the party-goer with a lampshade on his head. It describes the person who has not lost control to the extent of methe (the previous word in Galatians 5:21) or oinophlugia (which komos follows in 1 Peter 4:3). Instead, komos is descriptive of the state of one who retains control, but is merrily intoxicated due to the effects of alcohol. In the vernacular of drinkers, this is the person that has "a buzz," is "mellow" or "high." The effects of inebriation are present with such a person, though he may feel he is still in full control. This is the person, when pulled over for drunken driving, claims to be unaffected by "just two or three drinks." The komos man believes he is still in control, yet in reality alcohol has diminished his degree of alertness and has altered his mental state.
The komos man is one who shows the folly of the beer, wine and spirits industry which tells one "know when to say when." How is one to determine such? One is being told to use the very agent, alcohol, which takes away the ability to make rational judgments, but only up to the point that he judges acceptable. And who is to make that judgment? The one who is using the alcohol which robs him of the ability to make clear judgments. The fact remains that intoxicating drinks begin to rob one of that judgment with the very first drink. Even the alcohol industry advertises the fact that one reaches the state of being "legally drunk" with just two drinks. Whether 2 beers, 2 glasses of wine or 2 mixed drinks (with one shot of liquor), the effect is the same. If even the liquor industry admits that two drinks gets one legally drunk, do we not have cause to wonder what the effect on rational judgment is with the first drink? With the percentage of alcohol in modern beer, wine and liquor all being far higher than the strongest of wine used in Bible times, there is no level of drinking modern intoxicants which can be proven good using the New Testament (see 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). We will return to this point more extensively after noting the use of komos in other N.T. passages.
The Greek word komos is used three times in the New Testament. In the context being considered for this special series, Galatians 5 details sins described as the "works of the flesh." Verse 21 places komos in that list of evils bearing the warning that those who "practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." That should cause one to make sure to avoid the action, not see how close to it he might approach. The broader context of Galatians 5:16-24 suggests the same point. Two directors of life are contrasted: "the Spirit" and "the flesh." The two are said to be "contrary the one to the other" or "against" each other. Those who are "of Christ Jesus" are led by the Spirit and "have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof." One does not crucify the evil of imbibing in intoxicants by continuing their use to a level deemed "moderate" in contrast to total loss of control. One will search in vain for New Testament authority to imbibe of "moderate" use of intoxicants.
In Romans 13:13, we find another use of the word komos. The word komos is used in connection with the word methe there to express a cause and effect relationship. Arndt and Gingrich, in commenting on methe, note that its use in Galatians 5:21 and Romans 13:13 in close proximity to komos suggests that the revelry of komos led to the effect of the more dissipated state of drunkenness represented by methe. Trench also notes that methe is "stronger, and expressing a worse excess" than the milder words. The broader context of Romans 13:11-14 suggests that both methe and komos are condemned as belonging to "the works of darkness" which must be "cast off." A Christian who seeks to "make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof" certainly takes great caution to avoid either the greater or lesser state of effect from intoxicating drink.
However, in 1 Peter 4:3, we find another use of komos which is even more enlightening as to the use of intoxicants. In that verse, komos is the middle word of a triplet dealing with the use of intoxicants. All three states involved participation in the "lusts of men" and "the desires of the Gentiles" and are condemned as "sin" (1 Peter 4:1-5). Let us explore the meaning and implications found in these words used to characterize this action associated with the sinful world.
The first word used is oinophlugia which is translated in various English versions with the words "winebibbings," "excess of wine" or "drunkenness." Trench noted that this word "marks a step in advance of methe" which was the more dissipated state described in Galatians 5:21 and Romans 13:13. One in the state of oinophlugia has lost all control of the senses. It was the word used by Aristotle to suggest a state which may permanently harm the body (Eth. Nic. iii. 5. 15). Arrian used the word to describe the drunken debauch which caused the death of Alexander the Great (vii. 24, 25).
The second word used is komos which is the main word being examined in this study. Since we have already defined it at length, we merely refer to its presence and ask the reader to note the definition already given to this word. It is important to understand that komos does not describe the least level of using intoxicants in this passage. Instead, it denotes the second step of condemned use with one lesser level of use still below it.
The third word used in 1 Peter 4:3 is potos (translated "banquetings," "drinking parties" or "carousings"). R.C. Trench in Synonyms of the New Testament said that the word potos denotes drinking "not of necessity excessive, but giving opportunity for excess" (225). In his commentary on 1 Peter, Kistemaker noted the same point in his comments on the use of potos in this verse (160). The primary meaning given by lexicographers for this word is simply "a drinking." But a drinking of what? Obviously, a drinking of that which leads to komos and then oinophlugia. The drinking of intoxicating beverages leads to the state of intoxication.
Ephesians 5:18 and 1 Peter 4:4 helps to clarify the nature of the drink under consideration in the context. After using the triplet of words to condemn various levels of using intoxicants, Peter told the readers that the world would "think it strange that ye run not with them into the same excess of riot." But is the "excess" merely in the overuse of the drink or might it also involve the nature of the drink? Ephesians 5:18 warns against being "drunk with wine, wherein is excess." Grammatically, the "excess" is said to be in the wine, not in the drinking. In other words, there was a kind of wine "wherein is excess" and a kind of wine which was not associated with excess.
The Greeks of antiquity used the word "wine" to refer to the mixture of wine (fermented or non-fermented) with water. In modern language, we use the word "wine" only to refer to a fermented drink which is not cut with water. However, let us look at some ancient sources which show the wide latitude present within the Greek word oinos.
Simply put, when one referred to "wine" in New Testament times, he meant water mixed with wine, whether fermented or unfermented. To refer to straight wine, it was necessary to add the words "uncut," "unmixed" or "unmingled." It was considered a barbaric action to drink uncut wine. The mixtures of water to wine varied from 20 parts water to 1 of wine (given by Homer as ideal in Odyssey, IX, 208f.) to 3 parts water to 1 of wine (given in the Talmud regarding the Passover cups of wine). Pliny mentions a ratio of 8 parts water to one part wine (Natural History, XIV, vi, 54). A mixture of 1 to 1 was called "strong wine" or, as Athenaeus put it in The Learned Banquet, "Mix it half and half, and you get madness; unmixed, bodily collapse." The standard mixture appears to be from 4 to 6 parts water to 1 of wine. And remember, this mixture was done whether the wine was fermented or unfermented, the latter of which is more probable with respect to the Passover meal (See Everett Ferguson, Restoration Quarterly, 1970, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 141-153).
Now, let us assume for a moment that the "uncut wine" is fermented before mixing. Let us further assume that it is fermented to the maximum possible without enhancing. Encyclopedia Judaica (vol. 16, p. 538) says that was 5% maximum given the grapes of Palestine. Some other sources say the maximum was 6% alcohol. Add another assumption that the mixture of water to wine was 4 parts water to 1 part wine, a mixture on the "stronger" side of the normal range in that time. The result is still a drink far different from the levels of modern alcoholic content.
If one drank "wine" containing a mixture of one part of a 6% alcohol solution cut with 4 parts water, one would have to drink at the rate of 2 1/2 to 3 gallons an hour to be intoxicated. That is one reason those in Bible times associated the word "glutton" with "drunkard" (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34). This mixture called "wine" is certainly not "wine wherein is excess" as condemned in Ephesians 5:18. One drinking this mixture would have grave problems in the stomach and bladder long before the mind was affected. The practice of drinking modern intoxicants has not the faintest resemblance to what happened in New Testament times even with the most liberal interpretation of possible events (See R.H. Stein, Christianity Today, 20 June 1975, pp. 9-11). Beyond this, let us remember that the one wanting to abide by the teaching of Proverbs 23 would not be trying to use "wine" with the highest alcoholic content available. Such a person knew that "wine" which did not "bite like an serpent and sting like an adder" was available and preferred.
Modern alcoholic drinks would be condemned automatically by Bible standards. In the first place, most of them are a product of something other than the grape. Second, their alcoholic content has been enhanced. Domestic wines commonly range from 12 to 16% in alcohol by volume! Third, the drinks are not cut after the fashion of Bible "wine." The only drinks that are commonly cut are the cocktails which still contain 20 to 25% alcohol by volume after cutting! No one that I know really wants to follow the practice in New Testament times even if we assumed the "wine" to come from a substance containing alcohol (See J. Free, Archaeology & Bible History, pp. 351-365). Brother John Clark has some material in chart form on this subject which is excellent. I recommend it highly to all for further study.
Surely no one would seek to prove that the use of alcohol to the point of drunkenness is "good." Clear Bible passages show such to be wrong (Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:21; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 6:10). However, since the end state of intoxication is sinful, the process of getting there could not logically be esteemed as "good." We cannot "prove" any level of consuming intoxicants is "good," therefore, we cannot hold fast to the practice (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).
Normally, the question with Christians regarding the use of alcoholic beverages is not in the area of intoxication, but of the so-called "moderate consumption" of these beverages. Is it right for Christians to drink alcoholic beverages as long as they do not get intoxicated? We have already raised serious problems with such a practice, but we want to consider some attempted justifications raised by some. Remember, we cannot say, "It must be acceptable because no passage condemns it." We must "prove all things, hold fast that which is good."
One might suggest that 1 Timothy 5:23 would approve the practice. Paul there tells Timothy, "Be no longer a drinker of water, but use a little wine for they stomach's sake and thine often infirmities." The very best that this passage can do is suggest that it may be "good" to use in a medicinal sense if we could assume this "wine" was fermented. However, it does not establish that it would be "good" in a general use. A parallel could be seen with the fact that sexual relations are good in the marriage relationship (1 Corinthians 7:3; Hebrews 13:4). However, such does not establish that it would be "good" in any occasion outside of marriage. Therefore, we must conclude this passage does not prove the practice of moderate, recreational use of intoxicants to be "good."
Another passage appealed to by some seeking to justify "moderate consumption" of alcohol is the case of Jesus turning the water into wine in John 2. The volume of the six containers is given in verse 6 as two or three firkins. The total volume in our terms would, therefore, have been about 138 gallons. Verse 10 says that the guests had already "drunk freely" before this "wine" came out. If this had all been "wine" as we think of it, alcoholic in content, Jesus would have helped these people to drink in excess, not in moderation. In short, He would have helped them sin! Surely no one calling himself a Christian would desire to take that position. A little bit of reasoning quickly leads us to understand that we must be missing something in our terminology as compared with the way the Bible uses the same words. If we understand the use of the word "wine" (oinos) may refer to unfermented juice or a non-intoxicating mixture, we recognize that no such problem exists with Jesus' creation of this drink. In either case, it does not begin to give a justification for consuming modern intoxicants in any quantity.
Some claim that the reference made to Jesus as a "winebibber" shows that Jesus must have consumed intoxicants at a moderate level or He would not have been called such. This assumption fails to consider the type of "wine" Jesus did drink, non-intoxicating. It also fails to grasp the true point of contrast between Jesus and John presented in the context. In Numbers 6:3, the Nazarite was forbidden from partaking of any product of the grape to drink or eat. That passage is the point of reference for the command made to Zacharias in Luke 1:15 regarding his coming son, John. Hence, those who appeal to the false charge against Jesus made in Luke 7:31-35 miss the point about the distinction between John and Jesus. The distinction was that Jesus mingled with the people in day-to-day life, whereas John was a Nazarite and was isolated from such interaction in the wilderness during his ministry. It does not even faintly imply that Jesus was a "user" of intoxicating drink. It may also be noted that the passage refers to the false charge of the Pharisees. May it correctly be assumed that all of the false charges against Jesus have some basis in fact? This assumption would present a number of problems about the character and actions of our Lord. Must we also assume that the false charges made by the enemies of Jesus at His trial were based in fact? If so, we will arrive at a far different view of Jesus than that presented by the facts.
In the 1991 study from the University of Michigan funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it was found that 94.1% of those ages 19-28 use alcohol. The study also examined the use of alcohol by those under college age and the findings were shocking. They discovered that 54% of eighth graders, 72.3% of tenth graders, and 77.7% of twelfth graders identified themselves as "users" of alcohol. Should our society's concern over drug use ignore the most used drug?
In 1989, the consumption of alcoholic drinks per person was greater than the per capita consumption of soft drinks and fruit juices combined! On average, the typical American adult drank almost 39 gallons of alcoholic beverages in 1989. That is over three gallons of booze a month! In 1992, Americans spent about $56 billion on alcoholic beverages of all kinds. That is almost twice the amount spent in the same period on furniture and home furnishings!
Is the use of alcohol showing a grave impact upon our society? The answer must be "yes" to anyone who honestly evaluates the evidence. Those receiving treatment for alcohol addiction outnumber those being treated for all other "drug" addictions totaled. In 1989, those arrested for alcohol-related crimes outnumbered those arrested for all "drug abuse" violations by better than two to one.
The hypocrisy of crying about our drug problem while overlooking the most consumed drug in the country, alcohol, is obvious to any thinking person. It makes a mockery of our professed horror over the issue of drug abuse. We need to attack the problem as a nation, but we need to attack the whole problem which includes the problem of alcohol. Until the biblical solution is employed, our nation will continue to suffer the ill effects of justifying the use of intoxicants.
The Bible's solution may not be popular in our present world, but it will work if put into use. Notice what God says on the issue:
Proverbs 23:31-33 - "Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart will utter perverse things."
Proverbs 20:1 - "Wine is a mocker, intoxicating drink arouses brawling, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise."
Isaiah 5:11, 22 - "Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may follow intoxicating drink; who continue until night, till wine inflames them! ... Woe to men mighty at drinking wine, woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink."
Hosea 4:11 - "Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart."
Leviticus 10:9-10 - "Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean."
The hypocrisy of imbibing of intoxicating drinks while decrying the use of other drugs is totally inconsistent. On the other hand, the Bible solution is rational - reject all recreational use of drugs! Our society needs to formulate its attack on the problem of drugs less from the basis of human hypocrisy and more from the standard of the divine truth.
Christians must serve as "lights" in rejecting the use of intoxicants at any level amidst a world of darkened users. We cannot compromise and begin to justify "just a little" drinking. If we do, our potos may easily become komos, our komos may progress further to methe and our methe may eventually end in oinophlugia. However, even if it does not, we are still involved in sin which condemns the soul with our first step in the process. Be not deceived!