Why John the Baptist Could NOT Drink Beer

Today (August 29) commemorates the beheading of Saint John the Baptist. But today I’d like to take a look at why this great martyr and forerunner of Christ could not drink a brewski. When I was studying the Synoptic Gospels, I became particularly interested in the “aramaisms” (Aramaic phrases transliterated in Greek) found in the Gospels.

head of john the baptist

I came across this interesting Aramaic word in Luke:

“For he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink [σικερα]; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:15)

In Aramaic sikera or שכרא means “beer” and it derives from the Akkadian shikaru meaning fermented barley water, i.e. beer. I have done a lot of homebrewing and so I know what happens when water with mashed barley malt ferments. You get beer!

Could John the Baptist Drink a Pabst Blue Ribbon?

Pabst Blue Ribbon is hardly beer. Nevertheless, it was forbidden to John the Baptist. This means that Saint John the Baptist never enjoyed a glass of wine or even a beer. A small price to pay for being the greatest man “born of women” (Luke 7:28).

So if you start up a micro-brewery, don’t name it after this holy prophet – he had little experience in the craft or pleasure of beer.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us.

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  • Tom Henry

    Taylor, I’ve always wondered about the “why” of this passage. Was it so that his bold proclamation could not be, in any way, attributed to his being taken with booze? What’s the dilly-o?

    • It all has to do with the nazarite vow of the Old Testament.

      • JoeAllen

        I have read that Mary, like her cousin John The Baptizer, was a Nazirite. Nazirites were free to marry.

    • Being a Nazirite gives John credibility.

  • Adam

    Speaking of beer, it might interest your readers to know that the last totally Christian village in the Holy Land called Taybeh (ancient Ephraim) about 12 miles northeast of Jerusalem in the same desert where John the Baptist once lived, has recently become world famous for its beer, quite an achievement in the Arab Muslim Middle East. Its Palestinian population traces its ancestry back to Benjamin, one of the twelve tribes, where according to John 11:53, 54 after raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus hid from the Pharisees who “planned to kill him. So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews, but fled to the region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, and there he remained with his disciples.” Ever since then, the villagers have faithfully remained Christian for almost 2000 years!

    Incidentally, Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who later inspired the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus, made his retreat in Taybeh in January 1889 and again in 1898. Ironically, on 19 April 2013, Israeli American settlers forcibly took over Taybeh’s monastery, expelling the Melchite Catholic hermit monk, a Jewish convert who built it with his own hands. They subsequently raised an Israeli flag over the monastery as the first step in confiscating the surrounding farmlands of Taybeh’s Christian fellahin peasants.

    • Adam,

      Great story. I didn’t know that. I need to try some of that beer!

  • HermitTalker

    hat was his choice. Jesus drank wine. My old joke JB drank grass-hoppers but non one knew the name o his wild honey.

  • Rich Hertz

    How sad.

  • IB Gonzalez

    Was he born without sin since he was filled with the Holy Spirit like a baptism?

    • John the Baptist was conceived without original sin like the rest of us, but he was technically born without original sin since original sin was removed from him while still in the womb.

      This miracle happened at Our Lady’s visitation.

      • Zephaniah

        Hi Taylor… ‘conceived with original sin.” Original sin removed in the womb when in the presence of the pregnant Mary he was in the presence of God the Son and leapt in the womb… at that moment original sin was removed from him and thus, as you say, born without original sin.

        • I like this but never heard it before.

          • Zephaniah

            KK… Hello. See Numbers 6:1-12. blessings

          • Christian LeBlanc

            Zeph, thanks. Actually we cover that in class- not seeing how that treats John being born without original sin if that was the idea.

  • Michelle C

    Hi Dr Marshall,
    Just as an aside, I wondered whether you (or any of your readers) could suggest a good Catholic Bible concordance for lay people/general readers as I would love to learn more about the meanings of the original Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic words used in the Scriptures, which I am sure add a depth to ones understanding of the Bible. Thanks for any help you can provide.

    • I recommend buying Verbum Bible software. It’s linked in the side bar. If you enter the code “Marshall” when you order, you’ll get 15% off.

      I’ll disclose openly that I am a paid affiliate for them, but I’ve been using their products for years. It’s the best Bible software on the market (and I think the only Catholic version).

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  • abdiesus

    I always assumed he must be something like Sampson in the Old Testament book of Judges…though that doesn’t explain the “why” question either…

    • johnw

      Nazirite Vow for both of them. Before the golden calf, all Jews could make sacrifices (a priesthood act). After the golden calf, only one tribe was allowed to sacrifice: the Levites. However, if one wanted to be inducted into the Levites, they could take a vow and follow it for life… by taking the Nazirite vow which included not cutting hair and no alcohol. This vow was one in which both Sampson and John the Baptist were born.

    • Zephaniah

      Why? See Numbers 6:1-12 blessings

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  • A Walters

    So why did St. John the Baptist not drink, while Jesus did? Have you ever pondered the Scriptures on the people’s response? What did the people call John the Baptist, and what did the people call Jesus? They called one demon possessed and the other a drunk and a glutton. No matter how you live your life in the will of the Father, the world will condemn you. Please God, not men!

    • I have a full section on “Jesus drinking but John not drinking” question in my book The Crucified Rabbi.

      Also, it touches on the popular question, was Jesus under the Nazarite vow.

  • Victor

    (((“For he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink [σικερα]; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:15) )))
    For what “IT” is worth, as far as I’m concerned, that’s The Way The Holy Spirit wanted John The Baptist to behave and He did not want this man to drink any kind of other “Spiritual and/or reality Drinks”. Long story short, He had been restricted to stay off “IT” since the beginning, even while He was in His Mother’s Womb and so who am “I” and/or any other human being to question “The Holy Spirit”. just because some of U>S (usual sinners) enjoy a good beer and other spirits now and then! 🙂

  • Hey, don’t lose your head on PBR. It’s the beer that made Milwaukee famous and has served the needs of frat houses since 1844. 🙂

    • Rick Evans

      I believe that was Schlitz Gil. None the less, as you stated, it was popular amongst college students back in the day. And I did drink my share of PBR and definitely enjoyed it. To say that “Pabst Blue Ribbon is hardly beer” is a rather disparaging remark. I wonder what brands of beer Dr. Marshall endorses.

  • I believe cider is a direct cognate of sikera. BTW in catechism class we cover Nazirites. By the time we get to Elizabeth and Zechariah, the kids can tell me on about John by themselves.

  • Zephaniah

    There were only ever two conceieved without original sin — Mary and Jesus. But there were three born without original sin: Mary, John the Baptist, Jesus.

    • Christian LeBlanc

      I may use this in Catechism class. It’ll make the kids think.

    • Justin

      St. Joseph was also born without original sin because no grace given to any other saint was denied him, except that of the Immaculate Conception.

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  • MC

    Nazerite consecration: no boozes…AND no blades. Since he was consecrated already in his mother’s womb, no circumcision upon birth…

    No worries if you don’t publish this 🙂