Question: "Is 'eat, drink, and be merry' a biblical concept?"
Answer: The phrase eat, drink, and be merry or eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die has been used for centuries throughout literature. Usually this phrase is understood as “enjoy life as much as possible because we won’t live forever.” While the phrase’s wording is an amalgamation of several verses in the Bible (including Isaiah 22:13, Ecclesiastes 8:15, 1 Corinthians 15:32, and Luke 12:19), the underlying principle is quite opposite from biblical teaching.
In Isaiah 22, the prophet warns the people of Jerusalem that their hypocritical nature will be their downfall. When the Lord had called for weeping and mourning over impending invasion, instead the people said flippantly, “Let us eat and drink . . . for tomorrow we die” (verse 13). God’s response to their disobedience was to proclaim, “Till your dying day this sin will not be atoned for” (verse 14).
Some suppose that Ecclesiastes 8 supports the concept of “eat, drink, and be merry.” Verse 15 says, “I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.” Is Solomon, the author, advocating a hedonistic lifestyle here? No, it’s important to keep the verse in context. Just a few sentences earlier, Solomon had promoted righteousness and warned against wickedness: “I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them” (verses 12–13). So, reverence of God is better than pursuing sin. Then, in verse 14, Solomon notices that in this world the righteous are often mistreated and punished as if they were wicked. This is a “vanity” (ESV), and Solomon’s response is basically to say, “We should be thankful for our lot in life, whatever it is. We should eat our food, drink our wine, and be happy.” In no way does this verse promote gluttony, drunkenness, or the party life. Rather, Solomon is advocating the same principle Paul lays down in 1 Timothy 6:8: “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”
Jesus shares the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13–21, wherein a successful man has more crops than he knows what to do with. The man decides to tear down his barns and build larger ones, telling himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (verse 19, ESV). The rich fool seems to be quoting Ecclesiastes 8:15, but he twists it into a cover for his recklessly blithe attitude. God disapproves of the rich man’s shortsightedness, and the man dies that very night, leaving all his riches behind. Jesus explains that the one who lays up treasure for himself is not rich in God’s eyes (verse 20–21; also see Matthew 6:19–21.)
In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul addresses those who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns (verse 12). Paul rebukes them, since, if there is no life after death, they may as well live according to “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (verse 32). At its root, the philosophy of “eat, drink, and be merry” is an expression of hopelessness. If this world is all there is, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (verse 19). Paul has harsh words for those who deny the raising of the dead: “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame” (verse 34, ESV).
To “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”—to live life for pleasure’s sake alone—goes against the biblical mindset to “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). The Lord has called believers to live a holy life (1 Peter 1:16), but we cannot be holy without His help and guidance from the Holy Spirit. A godly life requires a choice to follow God’s will and leave our old, pleasure-seeking ways behind (Romans 12:1–2).
The concept of enjoying earthly life as much as possible because there’s nothing after death is unbiblical. The Bible is clear that there is an eternal spiritual existence after corporeal death, and that existence includes judgment for all (Hebrews 9:27). Those who have been made righteous by faith in Christ will experience eternal life in heaven, but those who reject Christ as Savior will be sent to eternal punishment in hell (Matthew 25:46).
While it may be unbiblical to live for pleasure, living a life of joy for the Lord is certainly biblical. Jesus teaches that abiding in Him and obeying Him will bring us joy in life: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:9–11).