Many have presumed as the lyrics go, “Cause I heard Jesus, He drank wine”, that Jesus drank alcoholic wine and even indulged in drinking intoxicating amounts of wine. What kind of wine did Jesus drink? By the reading of scripture in the original language, scholarship presents that Jesus did not drink or make wine like today’s distilled wine. How can this be? Most assume that the word “wine” in the Bible is always alcoholic or equivalent to modern wine. The Bible does that clearly show that “wine” could mean alcoholic wine or non-alcoholic grape juice (1 Tim. 3:8, Titus 2:3). What kind of wine did Jesus drink?
Remember the Bible was originally written in other languages, so the meaning and nuances of words are slightly different. Biblical “wine” is grape juice that may or may not be fermented. Both in Hebrew and Greek, the words translated “wine” can refer to non-alcoholic juice or fermented wine. The Hebrew word is yayin, and the Greek is oinos. There are a number of examples of unfermented “wine”. Note the passages and references to non-alcoholic wine throughout the Bible:
- The blood of the grape is called “wine” (Gen. 49:11-12, Heb. yayin, Deut. 32:14, Heb. chemer).
- The vineyard is described to consist of “red wine” (Isa. 27:2, Heb. chemer).
- The grape juice from the grapes of the field is called “wine” (Deut. 11:14, 2 Chron. 31:5, Heb. tirosh, Jer. 40:10, 12, Heb. yayin).
- Wine is mentioned to be in the grape (Isa. 65:8, Heb. tirosh).
- The grape juice of the wine-press is called “wine” too (Prov. 3:10, Heb. tirosh, Isa. 16:10, Jer. 48:33, Heb. yayin).
These references clearly show that wine can simply refer to grape juice. In reading the Old Testament, many would be surprised that there are 6 different Hebrew words that are translated “wine” for which two words, asis means “sweet grape juice” or “new grape juice” while another word, hemer, simply means “grape juice”, which both words have no reference to alcohol and yet these words are translated “wine”. Therefore, be careful not to assume that the word “wine” means alcoholic wine. (Read more ). With this knowledge, there is clearly not one positive statement about intoxicating wine or any such drink throughout the Bible. There are positive words about non-alcoholic “wine”, which many people presume to encourage the use of intoxicating wine. Yet, these positive passages of grape juice do not necessitate any way a reference to alcohol (Gen. 14:18, Num. 15:5-10, Deut. 14:26, Psa. 104:15, Isa. 55:1, Amos 9:14, John 2:1-11, 1 Tim. 5:23).
There are many today professing a faith in Jesus, who look to His drinking of wine to support their excessive drinking. Yet, Jesus’ drinking of wine is presumed upon the occurrence of the word “wine” for grape juice throughout the Bible. Jesus never drunk distilled wine. Distilling wine had not yet been invented. Actually, Jesus was accused of being a “wine-drinker” from the Greek oinopoteis, because He came freely eating and drinking grape juice unlike John the Baptist, who restricted his eating and drinking (Matt. 11:18-19, Luke 7:33-34). Yet, when we consider the wedding that Jesus attended in Cana, Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper, and Jesus’ life, then Jesus’ drinking of wine is not what many think.
What about Jesus turning water to wine? Many are mistaken to think that Jesus turned water into intoxicating wine at the wedding in Cana, which is a small town in Galilee (John 2). One would have to assume this “wine”, oinos, was alcoholic since oinos generally means grape juice and refers to alcoholic and non-alcoholic wine. Consider the whole wedding and assume that Jesus made fermented wine. The Scripture infers that the wedding guests “have well drunk” a large amount of supposedly intoxicating wine, and then Jesus would have made better and more intoxicating wine amounting to between 120 to 180 gallons of “the good wine”. If there were 300 people there to drink an additional 150 gallons, these would have already each had much alcoholic wine considering that “the guests have well drunk”, then Jesus would have substantially increased the amount of wine to what they had already “well drunk”. That would mean that each guest had an additional 64 ounces of alcoholic wine. Supposing that Jesus purposely made fermented wine, then the alcoholic level would have intentionally consisted of 10% alcohol, which is as close as to the alcoholic content of today’s wine as was possible at that time. The average person would have drunk an additional 4-6 drinks of alcoholic wine. This wedding party of 300 would have been poisoned from the toxin of ethyl alcohol, and the guests would had been vomiting and passing out. Then, let us consider a wedding party of 1,000 guests. If 1,000 people partook of 150 gallons of fermented wine that Jesus supposedly made, then the average amount of wine consumed by each person would have been 19.2 ounces of wine in addition to having well drunk. Presuming that this wine contained 10% alcohol, Jesus would have aided 1,000 people in binge drinking having intoxicated the guests with 3 additional drinks after already “have well drunk”. For each guest to have had simply 2 drinks, then the wedding would have had at least 2,400 attendees.
If Jesus did make a great amount of fermented wine, He would had aided the sin of drunkenness, excessive drinking, and a drinking party, which are all condemned as sins. If Jesus made intoxicating wine, Jesus would have turned this wedding into be a drinking party, when His Spirit teaches against drinking parties in 1 Peter 4:3. To assume that Jesus made intoxicating wine is to assume that after everyone had drunk all the other intoxicating wine, then they needed more of the better intoxicating wine and Jesus was the man to do it. For those proposing that Jesus made highly intoxicating wine like today’s wine, 16-24 oz. of today’s distilled wine would intoxicate anyone at an alcoholic level of 12-15% according to the CDC. Such intoxicating wine would have been an absurdity at this wedding as much as simply fermented wine.
In the Bible, alcoholic wine was limited in content and is not like wine today. The sugar of grape juice can only ferment to 3% alcohol. For grape juice to exceed 3% alcohol, then yeast must be added. The yeast added to ancient wines produced between 4-10% alcohol. Alcohol kills yeast cells and prevents levels of alcohol from exceeding 10%. Today, wines average 12-15% alcohol due to distilling that was invented centuries after the Bible was completed (UC Davis, International Biblical Encyclopedia, “Bible Study Guide“, “Alcohol in the Church“, Bible Wine, Winemaker Magazine). Today’s wine is not Biblical wine in regards to alcohol content. Due to distilling, strong drinks like liquor exceed 20% alcohol. When we read the word “wine” in the Bible, it may be simply grape juice or intoxicating wine never exceeding 10%, but certainly not like wine today.
The misuse of the word “wine” has become the means for many to presume that the excessive drinking of alcohol to some level of intoxication is permissible behavior with God. By the word “wine”, many try to justify the sins of drunkenness and excessive drinking. The Bible warns about the temptations of wine. Solomon wrote by the wisdom of God,
“Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things” (Proverb 23:31-33).
Therefore, “Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). The Scriptures are clear about drinking intoxicating drinks. Christians are not to walk in drunkenness filling themselves with alcohol. The Greek word translated drunkenness literally means “filling oneself” (Eph. 5:18-19, cf. Rom. 13:13). Christ’s Spirit in Galatians 5:19-21 teaches that such “drunkenness” is a “work of the flesh” and “those who are doing such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Christ also reveals in 1 Corinthians 6:10 that drunkards “will not inherit the kingdom of God”. Drunkenness and filling one’s body with intoxicants is a sin. Filling oneself with alcohol is evil being harmful to the sobriety of the Christian conscience.
Christ’s words and those of His Apostles and prophets urge us to reconsider. First Peter 4:3 says,
“For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Nations want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness [lit. excessive drinking], orgies, drinking parties [lit. drinkings], and lawless idolatry.”
The word for “drunkenness” here is not the usually word for drunkenness in Greek, but it is oinophlugia made of two words oinos meaning wine and phlugia is to do something in excess. Excessive drinking is a sin. Also, do not overlook the reference here to drinking parties. This is the word potos, which denotes occasions for drinking. This is any occasion where excessive drinking is permitted. This would include more than bars and drinking parties such as out-of-control athletic events and wild house parties turned into occasions of drinking. Christians being followers of Christ must be sober and make no provision to be drunk on any level (1 Thess. 5:8). Christians cannot be a part of events meeting and centered around drinking. Christ had no part with drunkenness and drinking parties, so His followers must not.
Did Jesus use alcoholic wine in the Lord’s Supper? Many have justified excessive drinking and drunkenness by how many churches have made alcoholic wine a part of the “Eucharist”, the Lord’s Supper. Did Jesus use highly alcoholic wine when He instituted the Lord’s Supper? No, He did not even use the word “wine”. See, alcoholic wine has no reference in Scripture to the Lord’s Supper. The Greek word for “wine” is never used in Scripture to describe any part of the Lord’s Supper. People have again presumed that Jesus used alcoholic wine in the Lord’s Supper for their own purposes. Jesus mentioned the specific content of the cup containing “the fruit of the grapevine”. On top of all of this, Jesus used unleavened bread because it was the time of the Passover when all leaven was thrown out. It is absurd to think that God meant that Israel throw out the yeast, the bread with yeast, but leave the fermented grape juice (Exo. 13:6-7). Throwing out the yeast included that all of Israel threw out leavened grape juice, intoxicating wine. Since “fruit of the grapevine” was unleavened in the Lord’s Supper, then the only possible fermentation would be between 0-3%. If one assumed this to be alcoholic wine, then the highest level of alcohol could only reach 3%. When Jesus used “the fruit of the grapevine”, then this cup would have been nonalcoholic or never exceeded 3% alcohol. The intent of the cup of the Lord was not to intoxicate.
The wine that Jesus drank cannot be assumed to be intoxicating or any more than grape juice with no more than 3% alcohol. Jesus neither encouraged drunkenness nor is He recorded to have used intoxicating wine. Many need to reconsider their position on drinking alcohol based upon Jesus. If anyone has been using Jesus to justify excessive drinking, drunkenness, and drinking events, then let that person hear this plea to rethink their views according to the words and life of Christ. The reality is that the Bible does not support the drinking of intoxicants.