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What About Alcoholic Beverages For Christians?

Updated: Jun 13

I remember about 28 years ago, I was preaching with some friends outside of a sport's 🏉🥎 bar 🥃 up in Chattanooga. Things were going along well until this man came out of the bar, obviously inebriated.


He came to where we were, dodging cars along the way (we thought he was going to get himself killed) and wanted to have a "theological" discussion.

The one passage that he wanted to share with us, was John 2:1-11. The passage where Jesus made water into wine 🍇.


As you can imagine, there was really not much that we could do with this tanked up teacher of Scripture. That story is not really too far out there, but listen to the next one!





I remember another, and similar, occurrence not long ago. The discussion was not with a drunk on a roadside, but with a well spoken young "Christian" that felt that he had been misled theologically about alcohol and that, although he would probably never drink, he was troubled that preachers were basically lying to people about alcohol intake and the Bible. He informed me that all wine in the Bible had alcoholic content. The difference between the wines was just in the amount of alcohol content. He even went into detail telling me how wines in the Bible were made. He specifically referenced John 2, just like the drunken man did.


It was this issue, he told me, that led him to investigate his current and past religious experience. It was this initiating experience that led him down a more contemporary (theologically and practically) path which was placing him in more contemporary churches and away from Independent Baptist Churches.


Well now.....this throws a whole new wrinkle into the matter, does it not?


What do you think?


Have preachers been lying to the people?


Is is OK to drink alcohol as a beverage?


How about Beer (Ales, Lagers)






How about Wine, Red Wine (pinot noir, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, etc), White Wine (chardonnay, sauvingnon blanc, pinot grigio, etc), Rose Wine (usually soft red grape varieties), Sparkling Wine (Champagne, prosecco are types of sparkling wine), Fortified Wine (A combination of wine & liquor), Cider.




How about Liquor or Spirits - Vodka – (Smirnoff, grey goose, Belvedere, Absolut, etc), Gin – (Tanqueray, Gordon’s, Bombay Sapphire, etc), Whisk(e)y – (Scotch, bourbon, rye whiskey are all types of whisk(e)y), Rum – (Havana Club, Bacardi, Captain Morgan’s, etc), Tequila – (Hornito’s, Patron, Don Julio, etc), Brandy – (Cognac, calvados and Armagnac are all types of brandy)



I can't believe I am even having to talk about this!


Do all Bible wines have alcohol content?


Did Jesus make alcoholic wine?


Let's talk about this for a moment




John 2:1–11

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: 2 And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. 3 And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. 4 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. 5 His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. 6 And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. 7 Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. 9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, 10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. 11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.


The Word, Wine, appears 5 times in this passage. Each time the English Word wine appears in this passage, it is translated from the same Greek word. That word is...


οἶνος

It would be pronounced oinos


Did you know that this is not the only Greek word that is translated wine in the Bible? In fact, there are about 15 (+) words (Hebrew and Greek) that are translated wine (or are wine related words) in the Bible?


Take a look at these diagrams: They represent the Hebrew and Greek Words in the Bible that are translated "wine" (in various forms) in the Bible.





Take just a brief moment and look at a few of the Old Testament vocabulary translated "wine."


• Occurring 141 times in the Old Testament, the most common word for wine is יַיִן (yayin). The Septuagint translates this word most often as οἶνος (oinos), the general term for wine used in the New Testament.


• Another common word for wine is תִּירוֹשׁ (tirosh). Commonly translated “new wine,” it conveys a wider range of meaning, including all products of the vine from an individual grape to an intoxicating beverage (Isa 65:8; Mic 6:15; Hos 4:11; Naeh and Weitzman, “Tīrōš—Wine or Grape?”). It frequently appears in a series with “grain” (דָּגָן, dagan) and “oil” (יִצְהָר, yitshar).


• Often translated as “sweet wine,” the word עָסִיס (asis) occurs five times (Isa 49:26; Joel 1:5; 3:18; Amos 9:13; Song 8:2). Song of Songs 8:2 suggests this wine could be produced from fruit other than the grape.


• The Aramaic word for wine, חֲמַר (chamar), occurs six times (Dan 5:1–2, 4, 23; Ezra 6:9; 7:22).


• A Hebrew cognate of חמר (chmr) occurs three times (Deut 32:14; Isa 27:2; Psa 75:9). (1)




Now for the New Testament....



This is very interesting, is it not?


Four different words in the Greek NT that are translated in ways that are directly related to wine.....Two primary words that are translated wine. Those two words are:


γλεῦκος - Found only one time, in the NT (Acts 2:13)

οἶνος - Found 32 times in the NT


First look at

γλεῦκος gleukos


Mounce defines this word as the unfermented juice of grapes; hence,

sweet new wine, Acts 2:13 (2)




Pretty easy to understand.....right? Here is a wine that is unfermented.


But what about


οἶνος? oinos


Oinos (οἶνος) is defined by the same Greek Scholar as

34× wine, Mt. 9:17; Mk. 2:22;

the vine and its clusters, Rev. 6:6

met. οἶνος, a potion,

οἶνος τοῦ θυμοῦ, a furious potion (wine), Rev. 14:8, 10; 16:19; 17:2; 18:3. (3)



It appears obvious that, according to this scholar, there are at least two different ways that oinos may be used in Scripture....

  • sometimes literally and

  • sometimes figuratively (metaphorically or metonymically).

This definition also seems to give at least the plausibility that "wine" might only mean "the vine and its clusters."


However, another respected Greek reference, defines οἶνος a bit differently.


This reference states,

"a fermented beverage made from the juice of grapes" (4)


Louw - Nida further states concerning oinos - "Though some persons have argued that whenever mention is made of Jesus either making or drinking wine, one must assume that this was only unfermented grape juice, there is no real basis for such a conclusion. Only where οἶνος νέος ‘new wine’ (6.198) is mentioned can one assume that this is unfermented grape juice or grape juice in the initial stages of fermentation." (5)


This word "assume," used two times in this short paragraph, is symbolic of the confusion caused by the scholars on this most important topic! Assumptions being made in this area are causing untold havoc on people's understanding and providing an open door to the world of alcohol for those who are undiscerning.


The devil has used this issue and the ever-so-slight confusion surrounding the terms to create confusion in the minds of people (God's people and otherwise) through the years.


Here is another author that brings out this ambivalence concerning the definitions...


"Nature of Wine. Few would question that at least some wine of the OT was fermented. Some scholars argue, however, that certain forms of wine in the

ancient world were unfermented. They contrast two Hebrew words for wine, concluding that one particular Hebrew word which refers to fresh wine meant

only grape juice (Prv 3:10; Hos 9:2; Jl 2:24; Mi 6:15). The inconclusiveness of

these arguments may be seen from the following points..." (6)


I found this same conundrum (some believing that wine is always alcoholic while others believe it could be alcoholic or non-alcoholic) again in a very old, yet very good, book on the subject of Bible wines (Bible Wines - by William Patton). Here is the quote from the book. Italics in the rest of this paper indicate that the words come from this book. (7)


"Dr. Frederick R. Lees, of England, the author of several learned articles in Kitto’s Cyclopaedia, in which he shows an intimate acquaintance with the ancient languages, says: “In Hebrew, Chaldee, Greek, Syriac, Arabic, Latin, and English, the words for wine in all these languages are originally, and always, and inclusively, applied to the blood of the grape in its primitive and natural condition, as well, subsequently, as to that juice both boiled and fermented.”

Dr. Laurie, on the contrary, says: “This word denotes intoxicating wine in some places of Scripture; therefore, it denotes the same in all places of Scripture.”




TWO DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED POSITIONS ON THE DEFINITION OF THE WORD!








And yet, various commentators seem to agree that there is a distinction between wine (juice) and wine (fermented juice).





Adam Clarke


Rev. Dr. Adam Clarke, on Gen. 40:11, says: “From this we find that wine anciently was the mere expressed juice of the grape without fermentation. The saky, or cupbearer, took the bunch, pressed the juice into the cup, and instantly delivered it into the hands of his master. This was anciently the yayin [wine] of the Hebrews, the oinos [wine] of the Greeks, and the mustum [new fresh wine] of the ancient Latins.” (8)



Albert Barnes


The good wine - This shows that this had all the qualities of real wine. 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.


The wine referred to here was doubtless such as was commonly drunk in Palestine. That was the pure juice of the grape. It was not brandied wine, nor drugged wine, nor wine compounded of various substances, such as we drink in this land. The common wine drunk in Palestine was that which was the simple juice of the grape. we use the word “wine” now to denote the kind of liquid which passes under that name in this country - always containing a considerable portion of alcohol not only the alcohol produced by fermentation, but alcohol “added” to keep it or make it stronger. But we have no right to take that sense of the word, and go with it to the interpretation of the Scriptures. We should endeavor to place ourselves in the exact circumstances of those times, ascertain precisely what idea the word would convey to those who used it then, and apply that sense to the word in the interpretation of the Bible; and there is not the slightest evidence that the word so used would have conveyed any idea but that of the pure juice of the grape, nor the slightest circumstance mentioned in this account that would not be fully met by such a supposition.


No man should adduce This instance in favor of drinking wine unless he can prove that the wine made in the waterpots of Cana was just like the wine which he proposes to drink. (9)



New American Commentary


"The dream depicted the cupbearer with Pharaoh’s 'cup' (kôs), a drinking vessel (e.g., 2 Sam 12:3; Ps 23:5; Prov 23:31; cp. gābîaʿ, 44:2), into which he 'squeezed' (from śāḥaṭ) the juice of the matured grapes, placing the cup into the king’s hand. The two-step activity portrayed the duties of the royal cupbearer, pouring and serving wine." (10)



Matthew Henry


"Probably it had been usual with him to press the full-ripe grapes immediately into Pharaoh’s cup, the simplicity of that age not being acquainted with the modern arts of making the wine fine." (11)


John Gill


"..and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup; which some think was the custom of those times, to take a bunch of grapes and squeeze them into a cup, especially when they would make trial of what sort of wine they would produce; for it can hardly be thought that this was usually done, or that it was customary to drink such new wine; but it is more probable that the grapes were first pressed into another vessel, and so made wine of, and then poured into Pharaoh's cup, or mixed in it, though this circumstance is omitted. Indeed Herodotus a relates of the Egyptian priests, that wine pressed out of the vine is given them:" (12)



BIBLE WINE, ACCORDING TO THESE COMMENTATORS COULD BE THE FRESH SQUEEZED JUICE OF THE GRAPE! THE PROBLEM IS THAT WHEN THE MODERN MAN THINKS OF WINE, HE THINKS OF IT IN HIS CURRENT CULTURAL CONTEXT.....ALCOHOLIC!





WHAT ABOUT JOHN 2?


Concerning John 2, consider what William Patton wrote in his book, Bible Wines


"Joh. 2:1-11 : The distinguishing fact is that Christ turned the water into wine. The Greek word is oinos; and it is claimed that therefore the wine was alcoholic and intoxicating. But as oinos is a generic word, and, as such, includes all kinds of wine and all stages of the juice of the grape, and sometimes the clusters and even the vine, it is begging the whole question to assert that it was intoxicating."


"A familiar illustration and confirmation may be had from the expressed juice of the apple. If the fresh unfermented apple-juice is not cider, what is it? Every boy, straw in hand, knows that it is cider—so does every farmer and housewife. After it has fermented, it is also called cider. It is a generic word, applicable to the juice of the apple in all its stages, just as yayin in the Hebrew, oinos in the Greek, vinum in the Latin, and wine in English are generic words, and denote the juice of the grape in all conditions."


"Athenaeus says: 'The sweet wine (glukus), which among the Sicilians is called Pollian, may be the same as the Biblinos oinos.' "


"Oinos—Biblical scholars are agreed that in the Septuagint or Greek translation of the Old Testament and in the New Testament, the word oinos corresponds to the Hebrew word yayin. Stuart says: 'In the New Testament we have oinos, which corresponds exactly to the Hebrew yayin.' As both yayin and oinos are generic words, they designate the juice of the grape in all its stages. "


It seems obvious, at least to me, that commentators who truly understood (understand) the language and the culture, understood (understand) that fresh-squeezed grape juice could be called "wine."


Now then, what about John 2, and Jesus turning the water into wine?


First,


Consider more information from this interesting book

"BIBLE WINES"


Ancient Scholars and John 2


St. Augustine


St. Augustine, born a.d. 354, thus explains this miracle: “For He on that marriage-day made wine in the six jars which He ordered to be filled with water—He who now makes it (wine) every year in the vines; for, as what the servants had poured into the water-jars was turned into wine by the power of the Lord, so, also, that which the clouds pour forth is turned into wine by the power of the self-same Lord. But we cease to wonder at what is done every year; its very frequency makes astonishment to fail.” (He is stating that the rain from heaven is sucked up into the grape and that the juice in the grape is wine)


Chrysostom

Chrysostom, born a.d. 344, says: “Now, indeed, making plain that it is He who changes into wine the water in the vines and the rain drawn up by the roots. He produced instantly at the wedding-feast that which is formed in the plant during a long course of time.” (He states that the wine in the plant was formed from water).

Joseph Hall


Dr. Joseph Hall, Bishop of Norwich, England, in 1600, says: “What doeth He in the ordinary way of nature but turn the watery juice that arises up from the root into wine? He will only do this, now suddenly and at once, which He does usually by sensible degrees.”

Dr. Trench


The critical Dr. Trench, now Archbishop of Dublin, says: “He who each year prepares the wine in the grape, causing it to drink up and swell with the moisture of earth and heaven, to transmute this into its own nobler juices, concentrated all those slower processes now into the act of a single moment, and accomplished in an instant what ordinarily He does not accomplish but in months.”


Compare these thoughts with the opinions of


Modern Scholars


Borchert


"Jesus’ making wine in this case has caused some readers another major problem. One of my sons once returned from a class and informed me that Jesus made nonalcoholic wine in this story. His teacher also had informed him that the Greek word for the drink here meant nonalcoholic grape juice. It serves no purpose for evangelicals to twist the Greek language for the sake of their ethical opinions because such an argument cannot be sustained from Greek.

For the meaning of οἶνος see BAGD, 562. Christian styles of morality should not be based on false premises. If one abstains from alcohol, as I do, it should not be based on twisting biblical texts. Other texts (such as Matt 11:18–19; Luke 7:33–34) may come back to haunt a person." (13)


This is all that this commentator says about wine in the passage. How is this helpful? How are his words to be taken? He is, without a doubt, giving legitimacy to the idea that Jesus made alcoholic wine.



Blum


His first miracle was a gracious indication of the joy which He provides by the Spirit. The sign points to Jesus as the Word in the flesh, who is the mighty Creator. Each year He turns water to wine in the agricultural and fermentation processes. Here He simply did the process immediately. The 120 gallons of fine wine were His gift to the young couple. (14)



This particular author is giving credence to the "two wine theory" and suggests that Jesus did (in an instant) what His design in nature does every year (turns water into grape juice/wine). But then he adds the word fermentation in his explanation. Although the process of fermentation does occur in nature (and in the human body), NO fermentation for the process of making a "found in nature" alcoholic beverage for human consumption does (There are three stories in the literature about naturally occurring ethanol - Apes drinking fermented palm sap, Bear and deer getting drunk after eating rotting fruits, and honey that has fermented in the comb)!


What Has God Always Done?

God designed the natural process of making water into grape juice (wine) every year. What do you think Jesus (God) made when he sped up the natural process in John 2?


It certainly would not have been alcoholic!

Also, looking at this from a rational perspective, this wine was new, freshly made, wine. It would not have had time to ferment!


Common Sense

Can it be seriously entertained that Christ should, by His miraculous power, make alcohol, an article abundantly proved not to be found in all the ranges of His creation? Can it be believed that He, by making alcohol, sanctions the making of it and the giving of it to His creatures, when He, better than all others, knew that it, in the past, had been the cause of the temporal and eternal ruin of myriads, and which, in all the ages to come, would plunge myriads upon myriads into the depths of eternal damnation?


The moral influence of the miracle will be determined by the character of the wine. It is pertinent to ask, Is it not derogatory to the character of Christ and the teachings of the Bible to suppose that He exerted his miraculous power to produce, according to Alvord, and according to Smith, at least 60 gallons of intoxicating wine?—wine which inspiration had denounced as “a mocker,” as “biting like a serpent,” and “stinging like an adder,” as “the poison of dragons,” “the cruel venom of asps,” and which the Holy Ghost had selected as the emblem of the wrath of God Almighty? Is it probable that He gave that to the guests after they had used the wine provided by the host, and which, it is claimed, was intoxicating?


Conclusion


In Psa 104:14-15, we read: “That He may bring forth food out of the earth, and wine that maketh glad the heart of man.”


Here the juice of the grape which is produced out of the earth is called wine. This wine was made by the direct law of God—that law by which the vine draws water from the earth and transmutes it into pure juice in the clusters.


Every Christian has to make their own decision about this matter. Every church has to take some position on the matter as well, but may I give you an algorithm that will help you make a wise decision, and not just about this matter. You may use this process to make wiser decisions about other matters as well.





Let me help you use this flowchart:


1. What is the basic Idea? - Should Christians drink alcoholic beverage?

2. Is this (Drinking alcoholic beverage) specifically declared to be the will of God? - NO

3. Is it (drinking alcoholic beverage) demanded by clear Biblical Principle? - NO

4. Is it (drinking alcoholic beverage) compatible with explicit teaching and clear principle? - NO

5. STOP


Even if you chose "yes" under point 4, and you think it is OK to drink alcoholic beverages, then you must, as a Christ-honoring Bible believing Christian designate clearly your biblical basis / authority for imbibing, and thus encouraging others to do the same.....


_____________________


(1) Joseph Kelly, “Wine,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).


(2) William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 1113.


Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 1222.


(4) Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies,

1996), 76.


(5) Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies,

1996), 76.


 (6) Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Wine,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 2146.


(7) Patton, William. 1874. Bible Wines.


(8) “Genesis 40 - Clarke’s Commentary - Bible Commentaries.” n.d. StudyLight.org. Accessed June 13, 2024. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/genesis-40.html.


Most of this comment is also found in the following reference: B. Blayney, Thomas Scott, and R.A. Torrey with John Canne, Browne, The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, vol. 1 (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, n.d.), 29.


(9) “John 2 - Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible - Bible Commentaries.” n.d. StudyLight.org. Accessed June 13, 2024. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/john-2.html.


(10) K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 747-748.



(12) “Genesis 40:11 - Bible Verse Meaning and Commentary.” n.d. Bible Study Tools. Accessed June 13, 2024. https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/genesis-40-11.html.


(13) Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 157.


(14) Edwin A. Blum, “John,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 278.

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