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 more alcoholic wine. How can this be? Most assume that the word “wine” in the Bible is always alcoholic or equivalent to modern wine. The Bible affirms 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 have 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:
- “Wine” is called the blood of the grape (Gen 49:11-12, Heb yayin, Deut 32:14, Heb chemer).
- “Red wine” is a description of a vineyard (Isa 27:2, Heb chemer).
- “Wine” refers to the grape juice from the grapes of the field (Deut 11:14, 2 Chr 31:5, Heb tirosh, Jer 40:10, 12, Heb yayin).
- Scripture describes “wine” that is in the grape (Isa 65:8, Heb. tirosh).
- The grape juice of the wine-press is “wine” (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 Bible versions translate six different Hebrew words “wine” for which two words, asis means “sweet grape juice” or “new grape juice” and another word, hemer, simply means “grape juice”. Both words have no reference to alcohol, and yet translators interpret these words as “wine” to avoid interpreting the contexts with its nuances and ambiguity. Therefore, be careful not to assume that the word “wine” means alcoholic wine.  
With an honest heart, may God’s grace encourage all believers to reconsider biblical wine. With the previous knowledge, a study of the Scriptures reveal that there is not one positive statement about intoxicating wine or any such drink throughout the Bible. There are positive words about non-alcoholic “wine” that many people presume to encourage the use of intoxicating wine. Yet, these positive passages of grape juice do not necessitate a reference to alcohol in any way (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. By God’s grace, God has saved Christians from excessive drinking (1 Pet 4:3). Therefore, be very careful. Our brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with alcohol are receiving from many destructive reasons to justify giving into excessive drinking. The consequences may be disastrous and extensive even to the death of innocents. Therefore, reconsider.
In the Bible, alcoholic wine is not like wine today. The sugar of grape juice can only ferment to 3 or 4% alcohol with wild yeast. For grape juice to exceed 4% alcohol, then the winemaker can add yeast. The yeast added to ancient wines produced between 4–10% alcohol. Alcohol kills these yeast cells and prevents levels of alcohol from exceeding 10%. Today, wines average 12–18% alcohol due to modern fermentation by adding sulfur dioxide and Saccharomyces (a cultured GMO yeast) to a late harvest of ripened grapes with higher fructose (Winemaker Magazine, UC Davis, International Biblical Encyclopedia, “Bible Study Guide“, “Alcohol in the Church“, Bible Wine). Today’s wine is not biblical wine in regards to alcoholic content. Due to the later invention of 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 it is certainly not like wine today. Many presume that Jesus’s drinking of wine was the drinking of alcoholic wine because of the word “wine”. Again, grape juice is either alcoholic or nonalcoholic wine throughout the Bible depending on the context. Jesus also never drunk modern wine. The methods for fermenting highly-alcoholic wine had not yet been invented.
Actually, Jesus’s opponents accused Him 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’s institution of the Lord’s Supper, and Jesus’s life, then His 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, a small town in Galilee (John 2). One would have to assume this “wine”, oinos, was alcoholic when oinos generally means grape juice referring to either alcoholic or nonalcoholic wine.
The Scripture infers that the wedding guests “have well drunk” a large amount of oinos, which the Greek word translated “well drunk” is methuo meaning literally to fill or make full. This word is also translated “drunk” referring to drunkenness by drinking intoxicating wine or filling oneself with nonalcoholic wine (Thayer’s Lexicon).
Consider the wedding and assume that Jesus intentionally made fermented wine consisting of about 10% alcohol. If the wine was alcoholic, then the attendees would have become drunk, because John 2:10 uses the word methuo that scholars translate as “drunk” or “filled”. If the attendees were drinking wine with less than 4% alcohol, their drinking would have “well drunk” rather than get drunk. Jesus would have filled with them with “new wine” that is from the presses although this was before the harvest. This wedding feast would have occurred in a short amount of time if the guests drank intoxicating wine although wedding feasts usually last a day and sometimes more (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah).
Supposing intoxicating wine, Jesus would have made more intoxicating wine amounting to between 120 to 180 gallons of “the good wine”. If there were 300 people there to drink another 150 gallons, these would have already each had much alcoholic wine considering that “the guests have well drunk”. Jesus would have given each guest an additional 64 ounces of alcoholic wine. The average person would have drunk another 4–6 drinks of alcoholic wine. Jesus would have poisoned a wedding party of three hundred attendants from the toxin of ethyl alcohol, and the guests would had been vomiting and passing out.
Now, let us consider a wedding party of 1,000 guests. If 1,000 people drank 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 having previously well drunk. Presuming that this wine contained 10% alcohol, Jesus would have aided 1,000 people in binge drinking having intoxicated the guests with three additional drinks after already “have well drunk”. For each guest to have had simply two drinks, then the wedding would have had at least 2,400 attendees. Yet, the Scripture indicates that they well drunk the first wine.
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 in Scripture (1 Pet 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 divine person to do it. For those proposing that Jesus made highly intoxicating wine like today’s wine, 16–24 oz. of today’s 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.
Jesus could not have made intoxicating wine at the wedding feast in Cana. The reference to Jesus’s wine as good wine indicates fresh grape juice, because this was late in the year just before Passover when old wine remained (John 2:13).
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. Many 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, which is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They threw out all leaven by God’s command including the leavened bread. It is absurd to think that God meant that Israel throw out the yeast, the bread with yeast, but leave the grape juice fermented by yeast (Exo 13:6-7).
When Jesus used “fruit of the grapevine” in the Lord’s Supper, the only possible fermentation would be between 0–4%. If one assumed this was alcoholic wine, then the highest level of alcohol could reach 4%. When Jesus used “the fruit of the grapevine”, then this cup would have been nonalcoholic or never exceeded 4% alcohol. The intent of the cup of the Lord was not to intoxicate.
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. (Prov 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. There is not one positive statement about alcohol in the Bible. The New Testament clearly teaches that Christians are not to walk in drunkenness filling themselves with alcohol.
The Greek word translated “drunkenness” literally means “filling oneself” in Scripture (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 of one’s heart (1 John 3:19–21). Christ’s words and those of His Apostles and prophets urge us to reconsider. First Peter 4:3 warns,
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. Do not overlook the reference here to drinking parties. This is the word potos, which denotes occasions for drinking. This is when hosts permit any occasion to excessive drinking.
Christians being followers of Christ must remain sober and make no provision to become 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.
The wine that Jesus drank cannot be assumed intoxicating or any more than grape juice with no more than 5% 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 uses 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. By God’s grace, Christians are forgiven to no longer continue doing what they have been forgiven for doing. Abstain from drunkenness.