The Mechanics of Religion and Beer

As I always do whenever I have a problem, such as this business in Maine (perhaps you’ve heard about it?), I called the guy who fixes my car, Ken.Ken lives in Monson, a couple of towns over, and he’s a wiz with internal combustion engines, and he’s a Jehovah’s Witness. His favorite beer in the world happens to be Achel Extra, a 9.5% beer brewed and bottled by monks at the Achel monastery in Belgium. I passed on to Ken a few of the messages we’ve received from well-meaning Christians who think that Santa Claus is ‘demeaned’ or ‘sullied’ by association with beer, which the Bible, in their view, forbids us to drink. I figured that Ken, a Witness who likes the big Trappist brews, would have an opinion on the topic, and he did.

Ken thinks it’s hard for any tee-totaling churchgoer to get around the fact that Jesus’s first miracle was changing water to wine. He especially noted that this wasn’t just cheap jug wine from California, but really good stuff. So it seems that Jesus was not just a wine-drinker, but something of a connoisseur.

Ken then goes on to summarize the scholarship on this issue of the Bible and alcohol, and then addresses another of the faulty assumptions that some Christians make. Santa Claus, as he exists now, Ken says, is not a religious figure, and he doesn’t belong to the Church. He finds it odd that some Christians want to keep Santa free from any associations with beer on religious grounds.

I’d say that this material, which gets a little dry (Can I get a beer over here?) looks like some Jehovah’s Witness literature that comes from a website or something. Of course the Witnesses are known for their generosity in passing out literature, which seems to bother some people. I want to go on the record right now to say that I’ve always answered the door when they’ve shown up, and been happy to consider the reading materials they give. They’re sincere, they’re polite, and they seem happy, which is to me a good sign.

Anyway, here’s what we got from Ken:


Dear Dan, I hope the following information will be of help to you and your wonderful beer.


Jesus’s First Miracle

IT HAS been only a day or two since Andrew, Peter, John, Philip, Nathanael, and perhaps James became Jesus’s first disciples. These now are on their way home to the district of Galilee, where all of them originated. Their destination is Cana, the hometown of Nathanael, located in the hills not far from Nazareth, where Jesus himself grew up. They have been invited to a wedding feast in Cana.

Jesus’s mother too has come to the wedding. As a friend of the family of the ones getting married, Mary appears to have been involved in ministering to the needs of the many guests. So she is quick to note a shortage, which she reports to Jesus: “They have no wine.”

When Mary thus, in effect, suggests that Jesus do something about the lack of wine, Jesus at first is reluctant. “What have I to do with you?” he asks. As God’s appointed King, he is not to be directed in his activity by family or friends. So Mary wisely leaves the matter in her son’s hands, simply saying to those ministering: “Whatever he tells you, do.”

Well, there are six large stone water jars, each of which can hold over ten gallons [40 L]. Jesus instructs those ministering: “Fill the water jars with water.” And the attendants fill them to the brim. Then Jesus says: “Draw some out now and take it to the director of the feast.”

The director is impressed by the fine quality of the wine, not realizing that it has been miraculously produced. Calling the bridegroom, he says: “Every other man puts out the fine wine first, and when people are intoxicated, the inferior. You have reserved the fine wine until now.”

This is the first miracle of Jesus, and on their seeing it, the faith of his new disciples is strengthened. Afterward, along with his mother and his half brothers, they travel to the city of Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. John 2:1-12.

The Bible’s Viewpoint

Does God Condemn the Use of Alcohol?

‘FORGET crack, smack, acid, and pot—alcohol is still the biggest demon society has to wrestle. Alcohol causes far more deaths and social destruction than does use of all other drugs combined.’ These were the sentiments expressed at the 31st triennial convention of the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in Canada two years ago.

Such delegates see in the growing consumption of alcohol worldwide an appalling cost in human health and life, as well as in millions of dollars that will be spent annually by national governments to combat alcoholism. Convinced that God condemns their use, many well-meaning people argue for the outlawing of all intoxicating beverages. But does the Bible support this viewpoint?

Use of Wine in the Bible

Long ago God promised his obedient people: “Your stores of supply will be filled with plenty; and with new wine your own press vats will overflow.” (Proverbs 3:10) Yes, he is the One who gave us the fruit-bearing vine, even providing tiny yeast organisms that coat the grape as it nears the time for wine making.

The process of producing a fine wine was explained in part by God’s prophet Isaiah. Previewing the blessings of the coming new world of righteousness, Isaiah wrote: “Jehovah of armies will certainly make for all the peoples . . . a banquet of wine kept on the dregs . . . of wine kept on the dregs, filtered.” (Isaiah 25:6) Experienced wine makers know that wine “kept on the dregs,” undisturbed for long periods of time during fermentation, gradually clarifies itself, improving both the bouquet and the flavor.

Enjoyment and Health Benefits?

God outlined both the enjoyment and the health benefits derived from wine. His prophet Jotham spoke of “new wine that makes God and men rejoice.” (Judges 9:13) King Solomon wrote of ‘cheering his flesh even with wine.’ (Ecclesiastes 2:3) And in the well-known account of the marriage feast at Cana, Jesus, in his first miracle, turned a large amount of water into “the best wine,” to the delight of the wedding guests.—John 2:6, 7, 10, The New English Bible.

Jesus’s recognition of the medicinal use of wine is apparent in his illustration of the neighborly Samaritan. Binding up the wounds of an injured man, the neighborly Samaritan poured “oil and wine” on them. (Luke 10:30-34) The recommendation by the apostle Paul to young Timothy to ‘use a little wine for the sake of his stomach and his frequent cases of sickness’ harmonizes well with modern recognition of wine’s dietary and medicinal value.—1 Timothy 5:23.

Dr. Salvatore P. Lucia, a former professor at the University of California School of Medicine, stated in his book Wine and Your Well-Being that “wine [is] not only the oldest dietary alcoholic beverage but the most important medicinal agent in continuous use throughout the history of man.” And research nutritionist Janet McDonald said that wine drunk in moderate amounts seems to be effective as a mild tranquilizer, an appetite stimulant, and an aid to digestion and to absorption of minerals in food eaten.

Moderation and Self-Control Needed

However, despite such favorable references to wine and intoxicating liquor in both the Bible and secular medicine, alcohol abuse has heaped terrible woe on much of mankind. Does that make God responsible for all the tragedies that have followed in the wake of the misuse of alcohol? On the contrary, in his Word, the Bible, he has given comprehensive guidelines governing the use and abuse of wine.

Consider, for example, the following strong warning against the abuse of this gift: “Do not come to be among heavy drinkers of wine, among those who are gluttonous eaters of flesh.” Certainly this does not mean that only vegetarian teetotalers are pleasing to God, nor does the text condemn those who use a little wine or eat meat moderately. Rather, the Bible’s warning is against overindulgence in both eating and drinking. This is evident as another proverb states: “Who has woe? Who has uneasiness? Who has contentions? Who has concern? Who has wounds for no reason? Who has dullness of eyes? Those staying a long time with the wine.”—Proverbs 23:20, 29, 30.

The Bible writers Peter and Paul advised moderation by counseling the early Christians to avoid “excesses with wine” and not to “be getting drunk with wine.” This admonition was to be taken seriously, as the apostle warned: ‘Drunkards will not inherit God’s kingdom.’ In other words, habitual abusers of alcoholic beverages do not have God’s approval and lose out on everlasting life.—1 Peter 4:3; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10.

Thus, if individuals lack self-control in the use of alcohol, they should abstain from it entirely. (Compare Matthew 5:29, 30.) Besides physical deterioration, increased dependency on alcohol can cause grave spiritual damage. Hence, God wisely cautions us against overindulgence in alcoholic beverages.

Contrary to the point of view of the prohibitionist, the Bible does not require, or even indicate, total abstinence from wine or alcoholic beverages for all persons. (Deuteronomy 14:26) The psalmist says of Jehovah: “He is making green grass sprout for the beasts, and vegetation for the service of mankind, to cause food to go forth from the earth, and wine that makes the heart of mortal man rejoice.” Indeed, God has appointed wine for a good and honorable purpose, when taken in moderation.—Psalm 104:14, 15.

“St. Nicholas Day”—Where Did It Come From?

WALK through the streets of Belgium in early December, and you will see a captivating sight: small groups of children going from house to house, singing short rhymes called “St. Nicholas songs.” Householders respond to the charming youngsters by rewarding them with fruit, candy, or money.

The occasion? “St. Nicholas Day”! In the United States and other lands, “St. Nicholas,” or “Santa Claus,” is connected with Christmas day. But in Belgium, the bearded “saint” has a day of his own. Indeed, “St. Nicholas” (Sinterklaas, or Sint Nicolaas), whose day of festivity falls on the sixth of December, is one of the most popular “saints” in Belgium and the Netherlands. Many a church, chapel, street, or housing quarter has been named after him. He is traditionally known as “the great friend of the children” who readily distributes gifts to them on his feast day.

The evening before that holiday, the young children place one of their shoes or slippers near the chimney while they sing their little rhymes. They have been told that “Saint” Nicholas and his black servant (called Black Peter) will arrive that night by steamship from Spain. Afterward, the “saint” will ride his gray horse across the rooftops, followed by Black Peter, who carries a rod and a large bag containing toys and sweets. Nicholas also brings apples, nuts, and other produce of the field. Often he leaves a kind of brown, spiced biscuit called speculaas, or bishop’s biscuits, which are baked in special, cleverly designed shapes.

The recipients? Children who have been good during the past year. The disobedient ones, though, will supposedly get the rod; or worse, they may be put into Black Peter’s bag and carried off! Understandably, then, the children are eager to appease these nocturnal visitors. Thus, a glass of gin awaits the “saint,” and a carrot or a few sugar cubes are laid ready for his horse.

Many parents in Belgium consider “St. Nicholas Day” the most joyful time of the year. They delight to watch the expectant faces of their little ones who are eager to find out what the “good saint” has brought them! So they pass on the legends to their offspring, little knowing where these customs originated. If they knew, perhaps they would be shocked.

“Saint” Nicholas and Odin

The Oosthoeks Encyclopedia explains: “[St. Nicholas’] celebration in the household sprang from the church festivity (including surprises for the children) which in turn sprang from pre-Christian elements. Saint Nicholas, who rides on the rooftops, is the pagan god Wodan [Odin]. . . . Saint Nicholas was also the leader of the wild chase in which the souls of the dead visit the earth.”

Yes, the Teutons believed that Odin, or Wodan, their chief god, led the souls of the dead on a furious cross-country ride during the “twelve bad days” between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6). The resulting gale carried along the seeds of the produce of the fields, stimulating fertility. The apples, nuts, and other autumn produce given around “St. Nicholas Day”? These were symbols of fertility. Ancient people believed that they could appease their gods by giving them presents during the cold, dark winter days. This would result in increased fertility for man, animal, and soil.

Odin was accompanied by his servant Eckhard, the forerunner of Black Peter, who also carried a rod. As recently as the Middle Ages, it was the popular belief that certain trees and plants could render humans fertile and that merely striking a woman with a branch of such a tree sufficed to make her pregnant.

The book Feest-en Vierdagen in kerk en volksgebruik (Holidays and Celebrations in the Church and in Popular Customs) mentions a few other similarities between Odin and “Saint” Nicholas: “Wodan, too, filled the boots and wooden shoes placed by the chimney but with gold. For Wodan’s steed, hay and straw were also placed in the wooden shoe. The last sheaf of the field was also for the horse.”

The book Sint Nicolaas, by B. S. P. van den Aardweg, points to a few other striking similarities:

“St. Nicholas: a tall, powerful figure on a white horse. He has a long white beard, a crosier in his hand, and a miter on his head . . . with a wide, flowing bishop’s cloak.

“Wodan: a person of tall stature with a white beard. He wears a wide-brimmed hat pulled deeply over his eyes. In his hand he holds a magic spear. He is clad in a wide mantle and rides his loyal gray horse Sleipnir.

“There are more of these apparent similarities: Wodan rode his gray horse through the air and shuddering people offered cakes with filling in addition to meat and produce of the fields. St. Nicholas rides on the rooftops and children prepare hay, carrots, and water for the horse. Gingersnaps and the rod were symbols of fertility long before the beginning of the St. Nicholas festivities.”

Modern-Day Fertility Rites

A number of other customs in connection with “Saint” Nicholas likewise betray their pagan origins. For example, in northern areas on December 4, young boys from 12 to 18 years of age appear on the streets. Dressed in grotesque costumes adorned with feathers, shells, and other regional products, the masked boys represent “little Saint Nicholases,” or Sunne Klaezjen. During the evening of the following day, men 18 years and older get their turn. In the early evening, they rove the streets. Using brooms, buffalo horns, and cudgels, they drive away all the women, girls, and little boys they happen to meet. Young girls are made to dance or jump over a stick.

The purpose of all of this? Again it was fertility—the ever-recurring concern of ancient cultures. Winter was a dark and anxious period, and it was often viewed as the time during which the fertility god was asleep or dead. It was thought that by various means the deity could be given new life or that the god or goddess could at least be given some assistance. Gifts, dances, noise, blows from a fertility rod—all of these were viewed as ways to expel wicked spirits and increase fertility in humans, animals, and the soil.

So when young girls jump over the stick, they mimic their ancestors who believed that the height to which they jumped would be the height to which flax would grow. By driving out women and children, the young men reenact the rite of driving out wicked spirits.

A Decision for True Worshipers

Why have such rites become a part of so-called Christianity? Because centuries ago, church missionaries did not insist that their converts follow the Scriptural command: “Get out from among them, and separate yourselves . . . and quit touching the unclean thing.” (2 Corinthians 6:17) Instead of eliminating pagan practices, Christendom’s missionaries actually perpetuated these customs by modifying and using them. Such customs were then spread throughout the world.

Dutch emigrants who settled in North America took the “Saint” Nicholas celebration with them. In time the name was corrupted to “Santa Claus.” The stately bishop was transformed into a red-cheeked, obese fellow dressed in a bright-red suit. His bishop’s miter was exchanged for an elf’s hat and the white horse for a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Santa Claus, however, continued to be a gift bringer, although his visitation was shifted to Christmas Eve.

In Protestant areas of Germany, the Catholic “Saint” Nicholas was replaced by the more neutral “Father Christmas.” The pagan elements, however, remain clearly discernible to this day.

Jesus Christ said that “true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth.” (John 4:23) For sincere worshipers, “Saint” Nicholas customs present a real challenge: Will these worshipers continue to perpetuate the ancient practices of the Odin cult, or will they break free from vestiges of heathenism? This is a good time of the year to think about that serious question.

Foundation of Christmas

But aside from the commercialism that has been injected into it, is the religious aspect of Christmas founded on truth? To know this is very important in order that we may render acceptable worship to God “with spirit and truth.”—John 4:23, 24.

Likely your children have been brought up to believe in Santa Claus. But if you have told them the truth, you will never have to make the grim choice that many parents face at Christmas season—either to break their children’s hearts or push the family over the financial brink. And, if you want your children’s gratitude and love, how much better it is to tell them the truth, and give them gifts spontaneously at times when you are able. Then, it is no legendary Santa Claus, but you, their parent, whom they thank and on whom they know that they can rely for truthful communication. Furthermore, they will be spared the disillusionment and resulting cynicism that many children develop when the Santa Claus myth is exploded for them.

Today, scholars generally acknowledge that the date December 25 is NOT Jesus Christ’s birth date. Not until the fourth century C.E. was any record made of the observation of a Christmas festival. By that time the church had gained great secular power under Emperor Constantine. Sun worship was particularly strong then in Rome. The worshipers of the Persian sun-god Mithra celebrated December 25 as the “birthday of the invincible sun.” The Roman church’s adoption of that date as Christmas day was not to advance worship “with spirit and truth,” but was to introduce a so-called Christian festival that would be readily adopted by the population. Actually it was the absorbing of a pagan ritual into a celebration in pretended honor of God and Christ.

The Christmas Star and Gift-Giving

Someone may call attention to the giving of gifts to the “young child” Jesus. (Matt. 2:11, NW; Authorized Version) ‘Did not the “wise men” do this? And did they not follow a star that led them to where Jesus was?’ However, when the Bible is examined, we find that the “wise men” represented, not Christianity, but paganism. Also, we discover that they were unwitting performers in a plot of Satan the Devil to kill Jesus.

Consider the Bible account: Just prior to Jesus’ birth, his parents had arrived in Bethlehem to register for taxation. All the inns in the town were full. When Mary gave birth to Jesus, she laid him, bound in cloth, in a manger. On that very night God, by means of an angelic host, and not by a star, directed humble Jewish shepherds, worshipers of God, to the infant. The announcement was made to them that a child had been born to be a Savior, Christ (Messiah) the Lord.—Luke 2:1-17.

Were the so-called “wise men” worshipers of the true God? No. The original Greek language of the Christian Scriptures calls them magoi—Magians, Zoroastrian priests (the term is related to the English word “magician”). They were astrologers from Mesopotamia, far to the east. They did not look upon Jesus as their Savior or Messiah, but as “king of the Jews.”—Matt. 2:1, 2.

Note other evidence that the Bible provides. It was actually months after Jesus’ birth that these astrologers went to King Herod, saying that they had followed a star that they saw ‘when they were in the east,’ and wanted to do homage to the infant “king of the Jews.” And the “star” that led them was not a real star, nor a conjunction of planets, for only the astrologers reported seeing it. Herod then went to the Jewish religious leaders and inquired as to where the Messiah was to be born. They quoted to him the prophecy in Micah 5:2, designating his birthplace as Bethlehem.—Matt. 2:3-6.

Herod now secretly summoned the astrologers and sent them to Bethlehem under command to report back to him. But the Bible says: “Because they were given divine warning in a dream not to return to Herod, they withdrew to their country by another way.”—Matt. 2:7, 8, 12.

Herod was enraged. To be sure that he got Jesus, he had all the boys in the area of Bethlehem killed, “from two years of age and under, according to the time that he had carefully ascertained from the astrologers.” (Matt. 2:16) But Jesus escaped, because he had been taken by his foster-father Joseph to Egypt at God’s warning, thus thwarting the plot to kill the child at that time.—Matt. 2:13, 14.

So Jesus was no newborn infant at the time of the astrologers’ visit, but was approaching two years of age. These “wise men” had seen the “star” first when they were in Mesopotamia, many months’ travel away from Bethlehem, and by the time that they found Jesus he was no longer in a manger, but in a house. (Matt. 2:11) Clearly, then, their gifts had no connection with the date of Jesus’ birth.

Accordingly, is it not evident that the Christmas shopping spree and the exchanging of gifts, the astrologers’ “star,” the December 25 date and other features of Christmas, are not from God? And giving honor to the infant Jesus today is misleading, for Jesus Christ is no longer an infant, nor is he to be worshiped as such. For now, being a mighty spirit person at the right hand of God in heaven, the resurrected Jesus Christ is the chief advocate of the worship of God “with spirit and truth,” which does not include Christmas and the Santa Claus myth.—John 4:24; Acts 2:33; Rev. 3:21; Matt. 28:18.

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