The Bible in One Hand, Beer in the Other

How to Make Oktoberfest Holy

Autumn is the best season. I love it all: gorgeous leaves, crisp temperatures, flannel fresh from the closet, and, if you’re into that sort of thing, pumpkin spice lattes. There’s so much to love this time of year, but my absolute favorite marker of the season is Oktoberfest beer.

A few weeks ago, when I saw the first Oktoberfest display in my local liquor store I couldn’t help but let out an audible, “YES!” much louder than one should shout when walking alone into a liquor store.

Because I seek to live an integrated faith, and because I thought it’d be really fun to write and research, this post connects my love for Oktoberfest beer with the bible. I therefore present: Bible Study + Beer Club: Oktoberfest Edition!

First, let’s correct the record. Despite what you’ll likely (not) find in your Bible, the ancient Israelites did drink beer! For years, thanks to what Michael M. Homan calls, “a general snobbery in academia causing scholars to scorn beer drinking while celebrating wine culture,” you might find the words “strong drink” in the bible, but most bible translations lack the word, “beer.” (No, “Beersheba” doesn’t count.)

I raise my pint glass, then, to wine snobbery-squelching scholars like Homan who explains, “There is no doubt that ancient Israel, like its neighbors, planted, harvested and consumed mass quantities of barley.” With that barley they made beer. Indeed, the ancients often paid workers with—guess what?—beer.

Thanks be to God.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, we can enjoy our Oktoberfest appreciating that many of those “strong drink”—now read “beer”—passages do indeed caution against the dangers of intoxication.

For the uninitiated, Oktoberfest is an annual beer festival celebrated late September and early October in Munich, Germany. There it’s actually called “Wiesn” and the beer served is a blonde, full-bodied lager. This year, multiple millions were expected to attend the festival in Munich.

Elsewhere, though, the beer most associated with stateside Oktoberfest is a Märzen style. It’s absolutely perfect for the season with a well-balanced, roasty, caramel taste. Märzen beers are the goldilocks of approachable craft beers. Not too sweet. Not too hoppy. Just right for pure enjoyment. Aaahhh…

Whoever drinks beer… is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!

~ Martin Luther

But what about that Bible Study, you ask? On tap below are seven mini-reviews of Oktoberfest style beer offerings wth connections to scripture.

Highland Brewing Company’s Clawhammer Oktoberfest—Smooth, golden, and clean with hints of toasted fresh grass. Which reminds me of the mountains. Best sipped while considering the highlands, so prayerfully pair with Psalm 121, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth…” And beer.

Samuel Adams Octoberfest—A classic, with hints of sweetbread and kiss of pumpkin. A kiss? Best drunk while reading Genesis 1:26-29, considering Adam and Eve and “every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth” given to them by God for their sustenance. Without those lovebirds, barley, and hops, Samuel Adams and his fine brews would have never existed. Prost!

Rogue Brewing Maierfest LagerPair with seafood, poultry, or locusts, and wear camel’s hair and a leather belt around your waste. Enjoy while contemplating the rogue nature of John the Baptist’s ministry. Start with Mark 1:4-14.

Paulaner Oktoberfest—Made in Germany, Paulaner’s Märzen was developed over 200 years ago. All the new microbreweries use Paulaner as their standard bearer for the type. The Paulaner doesn’t overwhelm, but it’s reliable and reminds us from whence all Oktoberfests came. As does St. Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-23, and drink while contemplating your true foundation in the faith.

Ballast Point’s Dead Ringer Oktoberfest—Going down smooth and loaded with sweet caramel flavors, Dead Ringer might be confused with Märzen’s from more established breweries. Speaking of misidentification, enjoy Dead Ringer while reading Genesis 27, the story of Isaac’s case of mistaken identity in which he blessed the Jacob instead of Esau.

Surly Brewing Company’s Surly Fest – Some question whether Surly Fest Lager is actually an Oktoberfest due to its stronger hoppy flavor, but in Minnesota, home of Surly, we welcome fall with a bit of bite because we know what’s coming next. Cleanse your palate and consider your attitude with a glass of Surly Fest while reading about Jesus’ show of emotions in the cleansing of the temple Matthew 21:12-27.

Bell’s Brewing Oktoberfest—Medium-bodied, Bell’s brew rings in the season with more hop than it’s lager cousin. Pair with Exodus 39 as you consider the vestments of the ancient priests: “they also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates on the lower hem of the robe all around, between the pomegranates” (Exodus 39:24). Or, even better, gift a six-pack to your pun-loving sweetheart with the message, (roughly) straight from scripture:

Your navel is like rounded pint glass
may it always be filled with good drink.
Your belly is as heap of barley,
adorned with lilies and autumn leaves. (Song of Songs 7:2)

These seven beer and bible pairings have just scratched the surface, but I hope they inspire Oktoberfest-themed Bible studies near and far that celebrate the gifts of the season.

With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose; spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together. ~ Deuteronomy 14:25-26

As the old quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin goes, “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Well, it turns out Franklin didn’t exactly say that. On the other hand, Franklin was indeed writing about Jesus’ miraculous conversion of water into wine at the wedding at Cana (John 2). If the wedding had been in October, surely Jesus would have chosen the finest Märzen instead.

Adam Copeland

Adam J. Copeland teaches at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota where he is director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders. An ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), he is editor of Kissing in the Chapel, Praying in the Frat House: Wrestling with Faith and College (2014) and author of several book chapters on ministry and culture. Follow him at @ajc123 and visit his blog

Cover image: A monk sneaking a drink of wine. British Library, London. Scanned from Maggie Black’s “Den medeltida kokboken”, Swedish translation of ”The Medieval Cookbook” ISBN 91-7712-380-8. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Inside Image: Livre du roi Modus et de la reine Ratio (Peasants Breaking Bread), 14th century. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Département des manuscrits, Français 22545 fol. 72. Via Wikimedia Commons.