III. Wine in the Bible
A. Common Myths About The Bible & Alcohol
1. Myth #1: When “Wine” Is Mentioned In The Bible, It Is Always Intoxicating.
a. This is simply not accurate. In the Bible, the word “wine” is a generic term; sometimes it means unfermented grape juice; sometimes it refers to an alcoholic, intoxicating beverage.
b. The clearest proof that the word “wine” includes unfermented grape juice resides in Matt. 9: 17.
1) The word “wine” here is oinos. It is the New Testament word for wine in every case but one (some versions use the term “sour wine” in a couple of places instead of vinegar. That is not from oinos. More on this later.).
2) One doesn’t put fresh, unfermented grape juice, here called “new wine” (oinos), into old wineskins so as to avoid the expansion caused by fermentation.
3) Some have mistakenly assumed that the reason why new wine isn’t put into old wineskins is because only new wineskins could contain the pressure caused by fermentation. In fact, old wineskins were not used because the residue in them would act as the fermenting agent, causing fermentation. No wineskin, new or old, could contain the pressure caused by fermentation ( the process of fermentation creates alcohol and carbon dioxide gas at a rate of about 40 to 1 by volume). But fermentation could be prevented entirely by putting the fresh grape juice in new skins.
4) Point: the “wine” here is obviously unfermented.
c. There are many ancient secular references to oinos that indicate it was understood to include non-fermented grape juice. A clear example is provided by Aristotle (384-322 BC). In his book Metereologica he clearly refers to a sweet grape beverage (glukus) which “though called wine [oinos], it has not the effect of wine, for it does not taste like wine and does not intoxicate like ordinary wine.” He also wrote: “There is more than one kind of liquid called wine [oinos] and different kinds behave differently.”
d. The meaning of the English word “wine” has evolved over the years. It did not always refer exclusively to an intoxicating liquid.
1) When the KJV was first produced, the word “wine” was understood to include non-fermented grape juice. The Hebrew word “tirosh” is used 34 times in the O.T (see Isaiah 65: 8). It refers to fresh grape juice. In the KJV “tirosh” is translated “wine.” That reflects the meaning of the English word “wine” in 1611. In more recent versions, such as the NKJV and the NIV, the word “tirosh” is translated “new wine.” It is still “wine” but, because it is not fermented “wine,” is qualified by the word “new.”
2) Even as recently as 46 years ago, the word wine was understood to include non-fermented grape juice. The 1955 Funk & Wagnall’s New Standard Dictionary of the English Language defines “wine” as follows: “1. The fermented juice of the grape: in loose language the juice of the grape whether fermented or not.”
e. In most cases, the context must determine whether we are dealing with an intoxicating beverage or a non-intoxicating beverage. Wine is shown to a blessing in Prov. 3:10 but a curse in Prov. 20:1. The reason is that one is intoxicating (that’s because it contains a toxin) and the other is not.
f. Often the context clearly reveals an intoxicating beverage.
1) Gen. 9: 21. The Hebrew word here is yayin, the most common word for wine in the Old Testament. Yayin is very often (although not always) used in reference to intoxicating wine.
2) Proverbs 20: 1. Wine (yayin) is said to be a mocker. I would suggest that any substance God calls a “mocker” one should be very wary of. Why? Because it deceives, it makes fools of people, and it causes trouble.
The words “strong drink” are from the Hebrew word shakar (sometimes spelled shekar). This does not refer to what we think of as hard liquor. The process of distillation, from which whiskey and other hard liquor is derived, was not invented until many centuries later. Shakar is the fermented juice of fruits other than grapes.
3) Proverbs 23: 29-35. This is the clearest statement in the Bible on the effects of intoxication. Read this passage carefully.
a) Notice that this wine “bites” and “stings.” It causes the eyes to see things that aren’t there. It makes the heart utter perverse things. It stupefies and creates addiction.
b) Not all “wine” does this. Judges 9:13 speaks of a “wine” that “cheers God and man.” It isn’t reasonable to think that the “wine” that cheers God and man is the same “wine” that God calls a “mocker” and that produces the effects we read of in this passage.
c) Of this intoxicating “wine” the passage (vs. 31) says “Do not look upon…” Does this mean we are free to indulge in this wine as long as we keep our eyes closed? Obviously not. It isn’t the looking at it that intoxicates; it’s the drinking. “Do not look upon” simply means don’t even consider drinking the kind of wine that causes the effects described in this passage. This is a clear indication of God’s disapproval of this kind of wine.
4) Isa. 28:7,8. Even in the days of Isaiah, the priests and prophets were getting sloshed! Six hundred years before Christ, stupidity in a bottle had worked its way into religion.
2. Myth #2: Wine making is simply nature taking its course.
Many people take for granted that if you take the juice of a grape and let it alone, not refrigerating it, it would automatically, in time, turn into alcoholic wine. This is not quite correct. The sugar in grape juice will turn into alcohol if certain factors are present, such as the correct temperature and the presence of a leavening agent. Fermentation is actually a decaying process, also known as putrefaction. If the process is not stopped at precisely the right moment (by human intervention), the sugar will turn to alcohol and then into vinegar. Wine making is not a natural process.
3. Myth #3: The Ancients Had No Way To Prevent Fermentation.
This is simply not true. The people who lived in Bible times did have, and employed several methods to prevent fermentation. Such as:
· Grape juice boils at 212 degrees, and ethyl alcohol evaporates at 172 degrees, thus, boiling the grapes removed the alcohol.
· The thick syrup that remained could be preserved up to a year. Water was added to reconstitute the non-alcoholic beverage.
· By pouring the juice through several filters, the gluten, or the leavening residue, could be strained out, leaving the juice with no “leaven” to produce fermentation.
c. Air Exclusion.
· Fermentation is avoided in the absence of air. Containers were lined with pitch, making them air tight.
· Then they would pour the fresh juice into the containers and seal them, often sinking them in water. Juice preserved in this manner could remain sweet for a whole year.
d. Temperature Reduction.
· If grape juice can be kept below forty degrees, it will not ferment. They would accomplish this by placing their wine in cold streams.
A. Passages Which Supposedly Support The Drinking Of Alcohol
1. John 2:1-10
It is argued that since Jesus made wine, drinking, at least in moderation, must be acceptable. This assumes that the wine Jesus made here is fermented and intoxicating. I am convinced that it was not.
a. First, remember that the word oinos is generic; it can refer to grape juice of any character.
b. The quantity of the liquid involved strongly suggests that this was not intoxicating.
1) There were six pots containing twenty to thirty gallons apiece (vs. 6). That’s 120 to 180 gallons of wine. We don’t know how many people attended this wedding but we do know that if Jesus made an intoxicating wine, He made enough to make a great number of people completely smashed.
2) This is especially true if, as some claim, that “wine” always refers to a fermented beverage, because the original supply of wine had already been consumed and, therefore, these people were already well on their way to being seriously drunk.
3) If these assumptions are true, Jesus created and provided to these people a toxic, stupefying, addictive drug in sufficient quantity to place them in real and present danger, both morally and physically. I consider that to be absurd on its face. If Jesus did this, He would deserve, to use His own words, to have a millstone hung around his neck and be thrown into the sea (Matt. 18: 6).
c. This is another reason why I have insisted that the non-abstinence position bears the burden of proof: there is no moral dilemma involved in under-standing that Jesus made fresh grape juice. However, one steps into a moral quagmire in arguing that Jesus made alcohol. Therefore, those that insist that He did have the burden of proof.
· It is not sufficient to show that Jesus made “wine,” because wine does not necessarily mean alcohol.
· It is not sufficient to find a passage that shows that God commends wine unless it can be established that the wine in that that text means alcoholic wine.
· It is not sufficient to find a passage in which a righteous person is said to drink an intoxicating wine. The Bible is replete with examples of godly men doing ungodly things, such as murder, lying, and drunkenness.
· What one needs to find, to prove the non-abstinence position, is a passage in which God clearly and indisputably approves the drinking (not medicinally) of a wine that is clearly and indisputably alcoholic. There isn’t one.
d. Habakkuk 2: 15 says, “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, Pressing him to your bottle, Even to make him drunk, That you may look on his nakedness!”
1) This speaks of deliberately making a fool of someone, or causing someone him to do something shameful. Jesus knew this verse was in the Scriptures, and did not violate the letter or spirit of it.
2) Some people object to the use of this verse by saying that it would apply only to one who would give his neighbor drink for the specific purpose of looking on his nakedness.
I believe this is a mere quibble. If you supply a stupefying drug to someone in large quantities, you bear some responsibility if they do something stupid, like take their clothes off (remember Noah in Gen. 9), or drive a car, or any of the other stupid things people do under the influence of alcohol.
3) It is often argued that the feast master’s comment (vs. 10, that the good wine is usually served first and the inferior wine is save for last) proves that the wine involved was alcoholic. It is reasoned that one of the effects of drinking the alcoholic wine would be to make it difficult for the drinkers to distinguish good quality wine from bad.
a) It may be true that the inebriated have more difficulty distinguishing between the good and the bad, but that doesn’t prove that the wine was intoxicating.
b) The feast master’s observation is simply a statement of “the law of food and drink.” If you invite guests over for dinner do you serve baloney sandwiches first and reserve the T-bone steaks just in case the baloney runs out? No, the best is served first followed by the lower quality reserves. That same principle would apply to beverages as well, whether alcoholic or not.
c) Also, after eating or drinking any food or beverage to the point of being replete or filled, one losses some degree of sensitivity of taste. The tenth slice of pizza rarely tastes as good as the first. The feast master’s comment proves nothing except that the wine Jesus made was excellent quality.
e. The words “well drunk” (vs. 10, NKJV) have led some people to conclude that these people were inebriated, thus proving that the wine involved here contained alcohol. That conclusion is not warranted:
1) The words “well drunk” are a translation of methuo. Methuo very often does refer to the state of intoxication or inebriation. However, that is not the necessary meaning. The word methuo (and its cognates) often means full, filled up, replete, satisfied, etc.
2) The Septuagint (LXX), the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, sheds some light on this:
· In Ps 23: 5 the Psalmist says “My cup runs over.” The words “runs over” here were translated into the Greek methuskon (a cognate of methuo). Clearly, here the meaning is not intoxication, but filled completely.
· Ps. 36:8. “They are abundantly satisfied (methusthesontai) with the fullness of Your house…” No hint of intoxication here.
· Isa. 55:10. “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water (methuse) the earth…” The idea here is that the earth was soaked or filled with water.
· Jer. 31: 25. “For I have satiated (emethusa) the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul.”
· In all these verses, and many more, methuo simply means filled or satisfied. Of course, if one is filled with intoxicating wine, he will be drunk. Because of that, the word methuo is very often associated with drunkenness.
3) In 1 Cor. 11 Paul rebukes the Corinthian Christians for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper. He says in vs. 21, “For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk (methuo).” I believe that it is extremely likely that methuo here means filled instead of inebriated. Two reasons:
· The word “hungry” is set off in opposition to “drunk.” The opposite of hungry is filled, not intoxicated. I believe Paul is saying, “one is hungry and the other is filled.”
· It seems extremely unlikely to me that if, in addition to the other problems associated with the Lord’s Supper, the brethren were getting smashed in the worship assembly, Paul would have had nothing to say about it.
4) In any case, the comment of the feast master related to what was normal in similar situations, not what was true of that particular feast.
f. It is also argued that the feast master’s comment proves that Jesus produced an alcoholic beverage because “everybody knows” that alcoholic wine is “better” than grape juice.
1. This is merely an assertion; it proves nothing. In fact, it is just plain wrong.
2. The ancients often preferred pure grape juice. Notice the comment on this verse from the noted New Testament scholar Albert Barnes:
We should not be deceived by the phrase “good wine.”WE often use
the phrase to denote that it is good in proportion to its strength and its power
to intoxicate; but no such sense is to be attached to the word here. Pliny,
Plutarch, and Horace describe wine as “good,” or mention that as
“the best wine,” which was harmless or" innocent” —poculo
vini ?innocentis. The most useful wine—”utilissimum vinum”—was
that which had little strength; and the most wholesome wine—”saluberrimum
vinum”—was that which had not been adulterated by “the addition
of anything to the ‘must’ or juice.”
Pliny expressly says that a good wine was one that was destitute of spirit (lib. iv. c. 13). It should not be assumed, therefore, that the “good wine” was “stronger” than the other: it is rather to be presumed that it was milder.
Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament
3. I can assure you that many people, myself included, much prefer the taste of pure sweet grape juice over any beverage containing alcohol. The argument based upon “everybody knows” is ridiculous.
2. Luke 5: 39 “And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’” This comment is said to prove that “old wine” (fermented) is better than “new wine” (unfermented). The problems with this argument are obvious:
a. The one who says “The old is good” here is not Christ but the one who has been drinking “old wine.” Christ is not giving His own opinion, but the opinion of those who have acquired a taste for the old wine.
b. He is simply making the well known observation that anyone who has acquired a taste for old wine does not care for new. If you don’t believe it go down to “skid row” and offer to buy a wino a glass of Welsh’s grape juice.
3. Luke 7:31-35. In this passage, Jesus is accused of being a “winebibber.” It is said to be evidence that Jesus was a drinker while John was a “teetotaler.”
a. The problem with this reasoning is that this accusation is made by Jesus’ enemies who also accused him of gluttony and John of having a demon. Are we to believe these charges too?
b. Also, we are not denying that Jesus drank “wine.” We are denying that the wine Jesus drank was alcoholic. This is in contrast to John, who was a Nazerite and was forbidden to partake of grapes in any form (Numbers 6:1-4).
4. I Tim. 3: 3; (Titus 1: 7). These passages say an elder is to be “not given to wine.”
a. Some have found some comfort for the non-abstinence position in the various renderings of the word paroinos. The KJV and the NKJV render it “not given to wine.” The NASB has “not addicted to wine,” whereas the NIV translates it “not given to drunkenness” (the NIV is a particularly sloppy translation here. The word for drunkenness is nowhere here). All this has led some to believe that Paul was allowing an elder the moderate use of wine as long as he didn’t use it to the point of addiction or drunkenness.
b. This might be a reasonable conclusion based on these translations. But a closer look at the word reveals it to be wrong. Paroinos is made of two Greek words: para and oinos. Oinos is wine. Para is a common Greek preposition meaning beside, alongside of, near. Paul is saying that an elder is not to be near wine. In other words, “Stay away from wine.” This is hardly an endorsement of moderate drinking.
5. I Tim. 3: 8. “Likewise deacons must be…not given to much wine, not greedy for money…”
It is argued that in forbidding “much” wine, Paul is allowing a little wine. This is a serious, but common, logical fallacy. The prohibition of one thing (much wine, in this case) does not imply the approval of another thing (such as, a little wine).
a. This is recognized as true in general:
· The command to “Honor your father and mother” does not give us permission to dishonor someone else.
· Paul says that a deacon is not to be “greedy for money.” Does that imply that greed for power or fame is okay?
· The text specifies that an elder must be the husband of one wife. That doesn’t give permission for others to have multiple wives.
· The law that forbids murder does not imply that a good beating just short of murder is okay.
b. It is especially true in the realm of quantities.
· If I were to say, “Stop your incessant lying,” would I be approving of occasional lying?
· If a parent pleads with a child: “Don’t destroy your life with drugs,” does that imply permission to dabble in drugs? Or to destroy his life with something else?
· Eccl. 7:17 says, “Do not be overly wicked…” Do we find in this statement permission for a moderate amount of wickedness?
· Proverbs 23:22 says, “Listen to your father who begot you, And do not despise your mother when she is old.” Are we hereby allowed to despise her while she’s young?
· James 1: 21 says, “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness…” Does condemning the “overflow” of wickedness endorse moderate wickedness?
c. What is important about these statements is not what they don’t say, but what they do say. Paul is simply telling Timothy that deacons are not to be drunks. Saying that does not imply endorsement for moderate drinking.
6. 1 Timothy 5:23 “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.”
Although this statement is often quoted in support of drinking, there are at least two problems with doing so:
a. There is no reason to believe that Paul refers to alcoholic wine here. There are numerous historical references attesting to the use in the ancient world of unfermented wine for medicinal purposes. Ancient writers such as Aristotle, Athanaeus, and Pliny indicate that unfermented wine was known and preferred to alcoholic wine for internal medical purposes, because it did not have the negative side effects of alcohol. Athenaeus (AD 280) specifically advises the use of unfermented grape juice for stomach disorders.
b. Even if the wine here is alcoholic, the issue here is the medicinal use, not the beverage use of alcohol. It is extremely unlikely, however, that your doctor is going to prescribe alcohol for your stomach problem. Alcohol is usually the first thing doctors tell their patients with stomach problems to avoid.
B. Other Considerations
1. “Fruit of the Vine”
Some have wondered whether the grape juice used in the Lord’s Supper as an emblem for Christ’s blood should be alcoholic. Some denominations routinely use alcoholic wine.
a. The Lord’s Supper was instituted during the feast of the Passover. This was also called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This refers to God’s commandment to the Israelites that they remove anything leavened (Heb. “seor,” meaning sour) during the seven days prior to the Passover (See Exod. 13: 6-7. Note: the Hebrew word for “bread” is not in the text but is supplied by the translators. A more accurate translation would be “fermented things,” which, of course, includes leavened bread).
1) The words leaven and ferment are synonymous. The chemical process involved in turning grape juice into alcohol is identical to the process that makes bread dough rise. In both cases, sugar is turned into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. In bread baking, the alcohol is quickly evaporated due to the heat, and the carbon dioxide gas forms bubbles, making the dough rise. In wine making, the alcohol is retained in the liquid while the gas dissipates into the air. In both cases, a leaven is required.
2) The law regarding leaven applied, not only to bread, but also to wine. It would have been unlawful for Jesus to have used “leavened” grape juice during this feast. Notice this quote from Rabbi S. M. Isaac, an eminent nineteenth-century rabbi and editor of The Jewish Messenger:
“The Jews do not, in their feasts for sacred purposes, including the marriage feast, ever use any kind of fermented drinks. In their oblations and libations, both private and public, they employ the fruit of the vine—that is, fresh grapes—unfermented grape-juice, and raisins, as the symbol of benediction. Fermentation is to them always a symbol of corruption.”
(Cited in William Patton, Bible Wines and the Laws of Fermentation, p. 83.)
3) It is noteworthy that Jesus often used leaven as a symbol of corruption.
b. The word wine (oinos) is never used in Scripture for the juice of the Lord’s Supper. I suspect that is because the word oinos is generic and can also apply to fermented wine. Perhaps Jesus thought “fruit of the vine” was more appropriate to represent His pure life-giving blood than a word that was often associated with drunkenness, corruption, and death.
2. Proverbs 31: 6-7 “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, And wine to those who are bitter of heart. Let him drink and forget his poverty, And remember his misery no more.”
a. This is the only clear statement in the Bible indicating God’s approval of using alcohol.
b. But this is a medicinal use for those who are dying in misery. Remember, the ancients did not have the array of painkillers we have . Alcohol was readily available.
c. The context here (from vs. 1) is noteworthy. Lemuel is a “nickname” for King Solomon. Verse one reveals that his mother is giving him advice (by inspiration) that would be important to a king.
“It is not for kings, O Lemuel, It is not for kings to drink wine, Nor for princes intoxicating drink; Lest they drink and forget the law, And pervert the justice of all the afflicted. Give strong drink to him who is perishing, And wine to those who are bitter of heart. Let him drink and forget his poverty, And remember his misery no more.” (vs. 4-7)
d. What these four verses are really saying is this: Alcohol has no place in the lives of kings and princes, because it makes them forget the law and pervert justice. It steals their good judgment and intellect. So rather than using alcohol by those for whom clear thinking and good judgment are important, reserve it for its legitimate use: anesthesia for those dying in misery.
e. Remember when Jesus was dying on the cross, He was offered an anesthetic, “sour wine” mixed with “gall,” which He refused (Matt. 27: 34). Later, He was offered “sour wine” (with no mention of “gall”) which He accepted (Jn. 19:29).
1) In many versions “strong wine” is rendered “vinegar,” which is likely what it was. The Greek word is oxos, which Strong’s Lexicon defines as vinegar. Strong’s also indicates the word is probably derived from the root word from which we derive the word acid. Barnes says of this verse: “Vinegar was made of light wine rendered acid, and was the common drink of the Roman soldiers, and this might be called either vinegar or wine in common language.”
2) The word “gall” (Mark uses the word “myrrh,” probably the same thing) was used to describe anything that was exceedingly bitter. In this case most scholars think it was probably opium or hemlock.
3) It appears that the sour wine may have been grape juice that had decayed beyond its alcoholic state on to its vinegar state. If so, it was ineffective as an anesthetic, requiring the addition of “gall.” It may also be that Jesus refused the “spiked” vinegar because He did not want His senses to be dulled, but accepted the “straight” vinegar to quench His thirst.
3. “New Wine” Acts 2: 12-15
a. In this passage, the apostles, because of their odd, Spirit-inspired behavior, are accused by these mockers of being “drunk” on “new wine.” This is somewhat confusing because “new wine” here is the Greek word gleukos, which all agree refers to sweet (as in glucose, a type of sugar), unfermented grape juice. This is the only place in the N.T. in which this word is used. The confusion arises from the fact that the apostles are being accused of getting drunk on a non-intoxicating beverage.
b. I believe the confusion is due to a failure to understand these mocker’s use of irony. Irony is defined as:
“1.a. The use of words to express something different than and often opposite to the actual meaning…c. a literary style employing irony for humorous or rhetorical effect. 2.a. Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.”
American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition
c. I am convinced that these mockers were not really accusing the apostles of being drunk at all. If they had really believed they were drunk, they would have referred to an alcoholic wine rather than using a word that means unfermented grape juice.
d. Instead, they are making fun of the apostles based upon their known abstinent life style. They see an incongruity between the apostles current strange behavior and their status as “teetotalers.” The incongruity lies in the inadequacy of the cause, grape juice, to produce the effect, drunkenness, and is the basis of their mocking. They are, in essence, saying (while knowing it to be untrue), “These men, too ‘good’ to drink real wine, have made themselves drunk on their grape juice.” Or to put it in more modern speech, “These mama’s boys have gotten drunk on their sodas.” Isn’t that hilarious?
Conclusion: Having weighed the evidence, I am convinced:
· Alcohol is a dangerous drug with an appalling track record of death and destruction.
· Both the Bible and medical science clearly reveal that drunkenness is a process that begins with the first drink and continues to worsen with each subsequent drink.
· For a person who understands these facts and values his own physical and spiritual welfare, the welfare of others, and his relationship with God, the only rational choice is abstinence.
By Steve Kissell
Return to the General Articles page
Home / Bible studies / Bible Survey / Special Studies / General Articles / Non-Bible Articles / Sermons / Sermon Outlines / Links / Questions and Answers / What Saith The Scriptures /Daily Devotional / Correspondence Courses / What is the Church of Christ / Book: Christian Growth / Website Policy / E-mail / About Me /