Vol. 3, No. 7
Amusingly, some passionate proponents of alcoholic beverages audaciously assert that all references to "wine" in the Bible pertain to an intoxicating drink. Of course, irrespective of the political or social mood of America, the Bible is not in any real sense subject to contemporary interpretation. Unlike a dictionary, the meanings of biblical words are changeless and are not dependent upon current usage for their definitions.
Starting in 1820 there was a growing movement to outlaw alcohol. Over the next 100 years, these 'Drys' as they were called, were to have a huge effect. In 1880, Kansas became the first dry state. Text books, and even literature, had the mention of wine and alcohol removed from them, nationwide. The Bible, with its many mentions of wine, was a problem, so a campaign was started to convince people that the wine of the Bible was nothing more than grape juice. (Stephen Reiss, Ph.D., C.W.E., "History of Wine," Wine Education Site, https:// www.Wine Education.com/WineEducation/Text/history.html /. [17 Sep 1998])
To imagine that religious people would attempt, for whatever reason, to distort biblical information is to picture them at their worst. To suppose that generally religious people would heartily accept politically motivated distortion of biblical information is uncomplimentary toward religious people and our government. Such an accusation concurs nicely with efforts by even pious souls to champion beverage alcohol. However, in truth, it is utterly false that every reference to "wine" in the Bible refers to an alcoholic drink. It is true that sometimes the word "wine" is employed in Scripture for grape juice.
The reaction of Americans to prohibition, laws enacted by a benevolent government for its citizenry as current alcohol statistics underscore, was widely unpopular. Popular clamor for legal alcohol, of course, eventually toppled prohibition. During the interim, organized crime seized the moment and provided illegal beverages. The television show The Untouchables glamorized and chronicled these years. Still others sought loopholes in prohibition laws.
In 1920 the Volstead Act and the 18th Amendment, outlawed wine and all alcohol in the United States. Or did it? A small loophole was found in the act, one that was meant to appease the Virginia apple farmers, so that they could continue to make cider. It allowed people to make "nonintoxicating cider and fruit juices exclusively for the use in the home," and not just a little either, 200 gallons a year! The grape growers, who had started to rip out their vineyards, saw a light at the end of the tunnel, and they began to sell 'juice grapes' like wild fire. . . . Making your own, was not the only way to get wine. Medicinal 'wine tonics' were available without a prescription, and it was soon discovered that if refrigerated, the medicinal herbs would drop to the bottom leaving a palatable wine in the rest of the bottle. By far the most popular way to obtain wine, was as a religious sacrament. Since the Jewish faith called for the use of wine at home, Rabbis were allowed to buy wine for their congregations. Suddenly, everyone was a Rabbi, and the lists of congregations were often little more than a copy of the phone book, and Synagogues sprung up in extra bedrooms. (Ibid.)
History thus records the desperation with which man sought his own destruction through alcohol. No more pitiful example of one's passion for alcohol can be found than when religious people, including Christians, attempt to call God as a witness, through the Holy Bible, for the defense of the pleasurable consumption of alcohol.
Sentiments such as these are based solely on an unenlightened emotional rationalization to justify social drinking. Several Hebrew and Greek words are translated with the English word "wine" in our Bibles. Irrespective of the variations in meanings that may be discernible between the several words, the overriding factor by which they derive their meanings pertains to the context in which they are used. Understanding the context in which they are employed is vital to their proper interpretation and explanation.
The word translated "wine" in English (in Koiné Greek) can refer to either alcoholic or non-alcoholic wine. At present, the term "wine" is almost used exclusively of alcoholic wine, but let us never be guilty of interpretation based solely upon modern day definitions. Consider these examples of the word "wine" being used in Scripture with reference to unfermented grape juice.
Joel 1:10 says "The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth." (This refers to grapes dried up in the fields which could not be intoxicating.)
Isaiah 65:8 says "Thus saith the LORD, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants' sakes, that I may not destroy them all." (Alcoholic wine in the cluster? No, the juice of the grape while in the cluster could not be intoxicating.)
Jeremiah 48:33 says "And joy and gladness is taken from the plentiful field, and from the land of Moab; and I have caused wine to fail from the winepresses: none shall tread with shouting; their shouting shall be no shouting." (The wine of fresh squeezed grapes coming out of the winepress is grape juice and could not be fermented.) Certainly other passages could be considered, but these are sufficient to illustrate that the word "wine" can refer to alcoholic wine or simply grape juice. (Chuck Northrop, "Did Jesus Turn Water into Wine?," an e-mail article circulated on the internet, 1998.)
Supposed evidence, permitting the pleasurable consumption of alcoholic beverages, like this statement is extremely lean. It is hardly worthy of an answer. Lacking true evidence for a stated proposition, in this case to exonerate beverage alcohol, men often resort to fanciful and delirious notions. This is such a defenseless notion.
First, contemporary practice, right or wrong, cannot be used to prove the validity or even wrongness of an activity about which the Bible stipulates something. What God through the Bible affirms is all that matters. Man's preferences cannot overrule God. Surely it is not a secret that God will have the last word -- in the final judgment. If God condemns consumption of alcohol, which he does through the Bible, man's conduct contrariwise cannot set at naught the will of God.
Second, perhaps the one writing above eats his fish and onion rings differently than I do! In the event that a restaurant to which I may go advertises that their fish and onion rings are beer-battered dipped, and if I were to order either or both of those menu items, there would still be no alcohol at my table. Now on the other hand, if the apologist above uses beer for a "sauce" at the table, "he" might have alcohol at his table (besides a beverage order for which he may opt). What happens to alcohol when it is cooked in food? It evaporates!
Once more, an appeal to a medicinal application of alcohol is wrongly supposed to demonstrate that social drinking is divinely approved. Alcohol is not the only drug that can affect a person similarly to the way in which alcohol affects humans. In any case, there often are alternative medicines to alcohol and similar drugs. Alcohol, once widely used in medicines, has been largely replaced with other medicines that do not possess the same detrimental effect on the human body. (W.D. Jeffcoat, The Bible and “Social” Drinking, c. 1987, p. 115.)
Further, social drinking and a medicinal application are not the same. They differ in purpose and quantity. It is merely desperately grasping for angles by which one can rationalize that social drinking is acceptable to God to argue favoring alcohol by suspicious references to alcohol as a medicine.
The only conceivable way in which a medicinal dose of alcohol could commend anything akin to social drinking is if: (1) One's friends and acquaintances were all ill, (2) all the ill friends were afflicted by a malady that was favorably affected by consuming alcohol, (3) these ill friends assembled themselves together in one place, and (4) all these ill friends drank their medicine together. Incidentally, how many shots of whiskey or bottles of beer constitute a medicinal dosage of alcohol?
By citing the above passage, proponents of social drinking suppose that: (1) the word "wine" appearing in the verse refers to alcoholic wine, and (2) alcoholic wine, not grape juice, would 'make glad the heart of man.' Both points are merely unsubstantiated assumptions.
First, just because some contemporary fellow attributes his happy disposition to the influence of alcohol, is no assurance that all other men now or anciently supposed that they, too, must be intoxicated to enjoy life. Second, the word "wine" is used in the Bible for both for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. The context is the only way of determining which reference is meant.
Sadly, many people subscribe to the notion that the only way a person can be happy in this world is to be under the influence of alcohol. It does not occur to them, apparently, that something besides an alcoholic drink could result in "gladness."
To discern from this passage that alcoholic wine is meant, one must come to the text with the presupposition that the reference pertains to alcohol. At the least, I can approach the same passage with the predisposed conclusion that the "wine" here is not alcoholic. In any case, the passage does not on the surface, other than what I have noted, tell whether the "wine" here is either alcoholic or non-alcoholic.
The argument goes something like this:
I cannot think of a clearer way for an apostle to demonstrate that drinking wine is not inherently sinful. Surely no one would contend that drinking grape juice offended the consciences of weak brethren. The word "wine" must refer to an alcoholic drink which ordinarily Christians were permitted to drink, comparable to the "flesh" which ordinarily Christians could eat.
Reference to Romans 14:21 is the strongest argument proponents of social drinking can make from the Bible. It, however, does not justify social drinking.
Even if Romans 14:21 mentioned in passing alcoholic wine, the context forbade its use because it offended the consciences of brethren. Therefore, Romans 14:21 fails to license social drinking because it offends the consciences of brethren. However, it is far from certain that the reference to "wine" here refers to beverage alcohol.
Biblical, historical, scientific and medical evidence to which reference has already been made in this series discount claims for social drinking based on Romans 14. The Romans 14 passage must be understood in harmony with all other biblical, historical and scientific evidence regarding wine in biblical Palestine. These considerations alone would preclude the rendering of wine in the Romans 14 context as alcoholic.
The Gospel of Christ was preached to Jews and Gentiles alike (Romans 1:16). It is reasonable to conclude that the church at Rome was comprised of both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 2:10). Romans 14:2-3 portrays Christians at Rome concerned over whether to eat meat or resort to a vegetarian diet for conscience sake.
Especially Gentiles who formerly were idolaters might adopt a vegetarian diet to purposely avoid eating meat that may have been dedicated to idols. For some of them, if they ate such meat, they would remember how they worshipped idols and their consciences would condemn them.
Jewish Christians, aware that some of the meat in the markets may have been dedicated to idols, would doubtless be equally wary of such meat for the same reason. Also, Jewish Christians who still followed the dietary rules they formerly practiced under Judaism and Jewish tradition might reject food that they suspected was not kosher. The apostle Peter was such a Jewish Christian.
"I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me: Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth" (Acts 11:5-8).
Irrespective of whether the animal were ceremonially clean under Judaism, even improper bleeding of the meat made it unacceptable to Jews and Christians.
"But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood" (Acts 15:20; see also Acts 15:29; 22:20).
As Romans 14 begins, the weaker conscience appears to be a Gentile Christian who may have been formerly an idolater. (See 1 Corinthians 8:1-13.) Verses two and three introduce a concern regarding what one may or may not eat and be pleasing to God. Verses 6, 15, 17, 20-21 continue to refer to the question of eating. However, references in verse 5-6 to special days are reminiscent of a problem noted among Jewish Christians (Colossians 2:16-17). Also, references to "clean" and "unclean" in verse 14 concur with references to issues affecting some Jewish Christians in the first century. Then, references to food and drink, too, could apply to Jewish Christians ("Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink . . ." Colossians 2:16).
The apostle Paul, by inspiration, permitted Christians to hold private opinions, disallowed the elevation of opinions to the level of doctrine and instructed the Roman Christians to demonstrate compassion by not unnecessarily offending the consciences of brethren. Also, Christians in Rome were forbidden from judging their brethren regarding these opinions.
Further, the King James Version in verse 15 refers to eating "meat" which is a translation of a Greek word for food. In verse 17 food is categorized as "meat and drink." Verse 20 refers to food as "meat" and what one "eateth." In verse 21, the food is described as "eat flesh" and "drink wine. Both items were equally offensive for the same reason. Together they represented a unit (i.e., food) in one's diet, but that unit, inclusive of both "meat" and "wine," was to be avoided. For whatever reason the "meat" was to be avoided in this context is the same reason for which the "wine" was to be avoided.
The reason to avoid the food under consideration was to prevent offense to the consciences of brethren. The underlying reasons pertained, depending upon the specific individuals under consideration, either: (1) to avoid food dedicated to idols, (2) to avoid non-kosher food, or (3) both of the foregoing.
It is no more necessary for the "wine" in verse 21 to be alcoholic than would it be necessary to suppose the ridiculous that the "meat" was alcoholic. The meat or flesh was something that could, if eaten by a strong brother, because it had been dedicated to idols, prompt a weaker brother to also eat whereby he offended his conscience. The "drink" or "wine" was potentially offensive to the weaker conscience for the same reason, dedication to idols. Irrespective of whether it were fermented or unfermented, the wine under consideration, as a matter of conscience and a matter of expediency, was not to be consumed because of its dedication to idols.
Whether the "wine" in verse 21 were alcoholic or non-alcoholic is irrelative to the reason for which the "wine" and the "meat" were avoided. Therefore, Romans 14:21 falls far short of sufficing as a proof text for social drinking.
Paul's instruction to Timothy to take wine for his often stomach infirmities hardly argues for the approval of God for the pleasurable consumption of alcohol. Irrespective of whether the drink recommended by Paul was alcoholic or non-alcoholic, a medicinal application of "wine" hardly exonerates social drinking. Besides, 1 Timothy 5:23 is inconclusive of whether the "wine" in that context is grape juice or alcoholic wine. In either case, one's argument is not substantiated by appealing to a medicinal application for social drinking.
This event is the most popular supposed biblical evidence that social drinking is divinely sanctioned. That Jesus turned water into wine is the first line of quasi-biblical evidence customarily advanced. The validity of referring to John 2:1-10 depends on the unfounded assumption that the "wine" in the passage is alcoholic.
In this series, historical, medical and biblical considerations strongly dispute such a claim. Of special importance is the Jewish law under which Jesus lived, relative to drunkenness. It was a sin to furnish alcohol to another person. "Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!" (Habakkuk 2:15).
The key to our redemption and the hope of spending eternity in heaven is the sinless sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins (Hebrews 4:15; 9:28). However, if Jesus sinned, then he could not be that perfect, atoning sacrifice. If Jesus Christ is not our redeemer, then mankind remains hopelessly mired in sin. If mankind is unable to obtain forgiveness of his sins, the eternity that awaits him is not heaven but hell instead. Borrowing a verse from the great discourse regarding the resurrection of Christ, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Had Jesus made alcoholic wine, he would have contributed to a state of drunkenness by anyone's definition, as the guests had "well drunk" before Jesus' miraculous conversion of water to wine. Had Jesus made alcoholic wine, he would have clearly sinned for violating Habbakuk 2:15.
The immediate context of John 2:1-11 is quite clear. The guests at the marriage feast of Cana were able to discern between the quality of the drink that the Lord had made and that which had already been served. If intoxicating wine had been served, and people "well drunk" or "drunk freely" (American Standard Version, 1901) of it (verse 10), then they would not have had such keen discernment. Though the amount is not specified as to what they had previously drunk, if they consumed the six waterpots that Jesus had the servants fill with water and which contained "two or three firkins apiece" (verse 6), then they would have consumed somewhere between 106 to 162 gallons of booze! This is far more than enough to make the most casual drinker drunk. Those who twist this account to condone social drinking say the term "well drunk" refers to the idea that the crowd was so drunk that they could not distinguish. However, the point of "the governor of the feast" to the bridegroom is that the guests were able to discern between the "worse" and the "good wine." If it is the case that these wedding guests were so drunk that they could not distinguish, then the Lord made the six pots of alcoholic beverage for those who were already strongly under the influence, and caused them to be even more drunk! Thus, the "good wine" of the wedding feast of Canaan must have been the fresh juice of the grape. . . . Further, consider the general context of the Bible. Habakkuk wrote, "Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!" (2:15). The sin Habakkuk is rebuking is the sin of contributing to drunkenness. If Jesus supplied intoxicating wine to the wedding guests at Cana, then He contributed to their intoxication. Not only did Jesus contribute to it, He, also, condoned and encouraged people to get completely soused! Since intoxication is sinful, then Jesus sinned, and the "woe" of Habakkuk would be upon Him. If this be the case, then it would be better for Jesus "that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea" (Luke 17:2). As a perfect man, Jesus could not have turned water into alcoholic wine and offer such to others. (Northrop)
If "drunk freely" in John 2:10 means "become intoxicated," as some persons affirm, then those under consideration were intoxicated. Since additional wine was not supplied until they had "drunk freely," it follows that Jesus did contribute to intoxication if He supplied intoxicating wine. (Jeffcoat, p. 39.)
Additionally, the context of John 2:1-10 provides enough incidentals to see that Jesus did not make alcoholic wine at the marriage feast in Cana. Notice in particular verse 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" (John 2:10).
The ruler of the feast would have been unable to discern that a better wine were served last if the wine at that marriage feast was alcoholic. Alcohol dulls the senses and numbs the taste buds so that discernment of a better wine later would have been compromised. The fact that the guests could discern a wine of superior quality (that Jesus made by miracle) indicates that the former wine was not alcoholic.
The common beverage of the Romans was grape juice, which they mixed with water, both hot and cold, and often with spices. . . . Fresh grape juice or mustum was boiled until it became thick, after which it was stored to be eaten with bread, or mixed with water to make an unfermented beverage. To give variety of flavor, herbs and spices were often boiled in the juice during its preparation. Such was the superior wine of antiquity, the sweetest and nicest flavored, and not the most intoxicating as some persons have indicated. Many of the wines of antiquity which were alcoholic, were intoxicating only to a small degree. They contained, even diluted, but 4 or 5 percent alcohol. (Ibid., p. 45.)
Sometimes brethren suppose from the text above that elders are prohibited from drinking any alcoholic beverages, while deacons are allowed to drink alcoholic beverages in moderation. This proposition is wholly false. It is not the case that elders are required to practice complete sobriety while deacons are not under the same obligation.
The wording in the two verses is different in both Greek and English. The intended meaning, though, is the same in each instance. Verse eight is no more giving permission for the consumption of a little wine than does Ecclesiastes, with God's approval, permit the children of God to practice a little wickedness. "Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?" (Ecclesiastes 7:17). Note the similar construction of 1 Peter 4:4, though God by inspiration was not approving riotous living: "Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you."
Regarding new wine and old or new wineskins (Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:3-39), some affirm that the fluid under consideration was in the process of fermenting. New wineskins versus old wineskins, it is argued, would expand with the resulting fermentation whereas old wineskins would burst.
No skin however could remain whole if fermentation should get under full headway. The carbonic acid gas generated by the process would rupture a new skin almost as rapidly as an old one. Job recognized this principle when he stated, "Behold, my breast is as new wine which hath no vent; Like new wine-skins it is ready to burst" (Job 32:19). (Ibid., p. 53.)
The true purpose of employing new wine skins rather than previously used wineskins was to prevent fermented residue inside the latter skins from promoting fermentation in the fresh grape juice.
For a more thorough treatment of quasi-biblical proof texts sought for the defense of beverage alcohol, the reader is invited to review the same in the volume, The Bible and "Social" Drinking by W.D. Jeffcoat.
It is bad enough that people, including Christians, passionately desire alcohol, knowing full well that it is hurtful to our society and individuals in particular. It borders on blasphemy to represent God as approving this vice.
Once our nation's lawmakers attempted to spare our country from the misery that alcohol brings. These days, our government licenses and taxes it, providing implicit approval of alcohol. The dangers of alcohol are masked behind a flood of advertising and coffers anxious to receive tribute.
[Editor's Note: A book entitled Beverage Alcohol, written by the Editor is available for sale ($3.50 + S&H). This title is published in paperback format. Please contact us via email to purchase it.]