Is this true that Jesus drank alcoholic wine as the lyrics, “Cause I heard Jesus, He drank wine”? Some question this. What kind of wine did Jesus drink? Did Jesus drink intoxicating amounts of wine?
The Definition of Biblical Wine
The word “wine” in the Bible is not always alcoholic or equivalent to modern wine. The Bible uses one Greek word for “wine” and “grape juice” which could mean alcoholic wine of varying amounts or non-alcoholic grape juice (1 Tim 3:8; Titus 2:3). The Hebrew word for “wine” is yayin and the Greek is oinos (MT; LXX). Biblical “wine” is grape juice that may or may not have fermented. However, the wine of today has considerably more alcohol than wine in the first century because of modified yeast. The Bible includes a number of examples of unfermented “wine”:
- “Wine” is the blood of the grape (Gen 49:11–12, Heb. yayin, Gr. oinos LXX; Deut 32:14, Heb. chemer; Gr. oinos LXX).
- The vineyard is the place of “red wine” (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; Gr. oinos LXX; Jer 40:10, 12, Heb. yayin; Gr. oinos LXX).
- 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; Gr. oinos LXX; Isa 16:10; Jer 48:33, Heb. yayin; Gr. oinos LXX).
These references reveal that the word “wine” in Hebrew and Greek often refers to non-alcoholic grape juice in the Bible. Linguistics requires that one begin with the generic meaning and then determine other specific meanings of a word by its context and, or use.
In reading the Old Testament, Bible translations represent six different Hebrew words “wine” for which two words exclude alcohol. These words are asis meaning “sweet grape juice” or “new grape juice” and another word hemer simply meaning “grape juice.” Both words have no reference to alcohol, yet translators interpret these words as “wine” to avoid interpreting the contexts with their nuances and ambiguity. Therefore, the word “wine” does not mean alcoholic wine.
The Bible does not contain one positive statement about intoxicating wine or any such drink. The Bible does include positive words about generic “wine” that is grape juice (Gen 14:18; Num 15:5–10; Deut 14:26; Ps 104:15; Isa 55:1; Amos 9:14; John 2:1–11; 1 Tim 5:23). References to “strong drink” or “liquor” in the Bible refer to cider in biblical translations of sikera, σικερα, according to Danker and Gingrich’s Greek lexicon (cf. Deut 14:26; Luke 1:15; Wycliffe’s Bible).
Ancient Wine and Today’s Wine
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 — airborne yeast. For grape juice to exceed 4% alcohol, then the winemaker must add yeast. The yeast added to ancient wines produced between 4–11% alcohol. Alcohol kills these yeast cells and prevents levels of alcohol from exceeding ~10%. Today, wines average 12–20% 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, Wines & Vines, UC Davis, International Biblical Encyclopedia, “Alcohol in the Church,” Bible Wine). Today’s wine is not like biblical wine in regards to alcoholic content. Due to the later invention of distilling, strong drinks like liquor exceed 20% alcohol for which today’s wine is coming close to matching.
When reading the word “wine” in the Bible, the word may simply refer to grape juice or intoxicating wine not exceeding ~10% alcohol. The reader must interpret the word “wine” within its context to determine if it is alcoholic. However, biblical wine is certainly not like wine today.
Because of the use of the word “wine” in English Bibles, many presume that Jesus drank alcoholic wine. Jesus did not drink modern wine. The methods for fermenting highly-alcoholic wine had not yet been invented. Jesus’s opponents accused Him of being a “wine-drinker” from the Greek oinopoteis, because He came freely eating and also drinking grape juice unlike John the Baptist who restricted his eating and drinking (Matt 11:18–19; Luke 7:33–34). These antagonists appear to accuse Jesus of moderately drinking alcoholic wine. However, when the reader considers the wedding that Jesus attended in Cana and Jesus’s institution of the Lord’s Supper, then His drinking of wine is not what many have presumed.
Water to Wine
What about Jesus turning water into wine? Many have been mistaken to think that Jesus turned water into intoxicating wine at the wedding in Cana, a small town in Galilee (John 2). These scriptures infer that the wedding guests “have well drunk” a large amount of oinos wine. The Greek word translated “well drunk” is methuo meaning literally to fill or make full, and many times the word means “drunk” depending on the context. Translators correctly render methuo as “drunk” in many contexts referring to drunkenness by drinking intoxicating wine or filling oneself with wine (Gingrich and Danker’s lexicon). John’s reference to the guests having “drunk well” and becoming full also implies that the wedding feast was relatively short especially if one takes this word in John 2:10 to mean that the guests were “drunk.”
In this case, Jesus either made more alcoholic wine for those who were drunk or He merely made more grape juice for the wedding feast. Which is plausible: that Jesus created intoxicating wine for those who were drunk or that He made fresh “new wine,” grape juice, for those who had drunk well of the previous supply? If one interprets this passage as Jesus making alcoholic wine, then Jesus created more intoxicating wine for those who were already drunk. If one perceives that the wedding guests were simply full of non-alcoholic wine, then Jesus made “new wine” with minimal to no alcohol.
Furthermore, Jesus provided them with “good wine” as though received from the grape press. The making of new wine magnifies Jesus’s sign because this was just before the Passover and before the first harvest of grapes. The reference to Jesus’s wine as “good wine” indicates that Jesus made fresh grape juice before the first harvest. Therefore, Jesus’s production of fresh grape juice would have been an evident miraculous wonder of God. Good wine was limited late in winter and just before Passover when the wine had aged throughout the year (John 2:13). Jesus providing more aged and intoxicating wine would not have been an apparent miraculous sign. However, John’s Gospel said that Jesus made “good wine” as fresh wine at the wedding feast in Cana.
The master of the feast depicted the situation that which the guests had filled themselves with wine from the meaning of “filled” of the Greek word methuo in John 2:9–10. A wedding feast may last a day and sometimes more (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah). John depicted that many had drunk well of the winemaking the guests full as implied by the Greek word methuo. Being filled with wine tells that this drinking of the wedding feast occurred in a short amount of time within a few hours. The guests would immediately drink the wine that Jesus made. If Jesus made alcoholic wine, Jesus would have made more intoxicating wine amounting to between 120 to 180 gallons of additional alcoholic wine. What would happen if three hundred guests “have well drunk” and then drank an additional 150 gallons of alcoholic wine? Jesus would have given each guest an additional 64 ounces of alcoholic wine. The average person would have drunk another 10 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 have been vomiting and passing out.
Even considering a wedding party of a thousand guests who have well drunk, each person would have consumed about 19 ounces of wine. Presuming that this wine contained 10% alcohol because the scenario includes fermented wine, Jesus would have aided a thousand people in binge drinking having intoxicated the guests with three additional drinks who were already intoxicated as indicated by the Greek methuo for having “well drunk.” For each guest to have had simply two more drinks, then the wedding would have had at least 1,600 attendees. Despite the number in attendance, Jesus would have presumably contributed a considerable amount of alcohol to those who were already drunk. For those proposing that Jesus made highly intoxicating wine like today’s wine, 16–24 ounces would intoxicate anyone at an alcoholic level of 12–15% according to the CDC. Either today’s intoxicating wine or first-century fermented wine would have been an absurdity at this wedding.
To assume that Jesus made alcoholic wine is to assume that after everyone had drunk all the other wine, then Jesus made more intoxicating wine for all of those who were already drunk. The scenario of Jesus producing alcoholic wine appears implausible and uncharacteristic of biblical commands to refrain from drunkenness. If Jesus did make a great amount of fermented wine, He would have aided the sin of drunkenness and excessive drinking and participated in a drinking party, which are all condemned by His disciple and apostle Peter in the Scriptures (1 Pet 4:3).
Wine and the Lord’s Supper
Did Jesus use alcoholic wine in the Lord’s Supper? What kind of wine would someone drink at a feast where yeast was thrown out? Many have assumed that Jesus drank wine because 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? First, the Scriptures never use the word “wine” in any of the four accounts of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper. Jesus mentioned the specific content of the cup containing “the fruit of the grapevine.” The passages about the Lord’s Supper make no reference to alcoholic wine. The Greek word for “wine” is never used in Scripture to describe any part of the Lord’s Supper.
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper during the Passover Feast. What kind of wine did the Jews use during Passover? Jesus used unleavened bread in the Passover because this is also the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Israel threw out all leaven by God’s command including the leavened bread (Exod 13:6–7). The throwing out of the yeast implies that Israel removed the grape juice fermented by the leavening of yeast. Fermented wine was not a part of the Passover taught by Moses. Furthermore, Jesus referred to the contents of the cup as “fruit of the grapevine” in the Lord’s Supper indicating minimal to no fermentation even from wild yeast. The intent of the cup of the Lord was not to intoxicate.
What about those who got drunk by drinking the Lord’s Supper? Getting drunk by bringing intoxicating wine to the Lord’s Supper does not mean that Jesus gave the disciples alcoholic wine in the Lord’s Supper. First Corinthians 11:21–22 depicts, “Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk [methuo]” (ESV). This passage also uses the Greek word methuo, which can mean drunk or filled (cf. John 2:10). Some ate the Lord’s Supper as a meal so that they were filled and those who drank were also filled not necessarily drunk. However, Paul could have been correcting such intoxication as well. If one assumes that these Christians became drunk in the assembly using the grape juice for the Lord’s Supper, then they must also presume that those drinking brought enough intoxicating wine to get drunk and intended to use such for the Lord’s Supper. The use of alcoholic wine implies that some of these Christians brought intoxicating wine for the church to drink together for the Lord’s Supper. They would also have decided to drink and get drunk from that wine in assembly rather than wait for others. Whether the wine was alcoholic or not, 1 Corinthians 11 is not condoning alcoholic wine for the Lord’s Supper or suggesting that Jesus used alcoholic wine for His disciples to commune with Christ in remembrance of His blood given in His death.
Warnings about Wine
Jesus warned against drunkenness and filling oneself with intoxicating drinks that trap people in this life (Luke 21:34). The Bible warns those who do drink, linger, and look at the cup (Prov 23:29–35; Rom 14:17–22). Christians can and should warn others about alcohol.
The apostle Paul revealed that those who continue in drunkenness will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9–11; Gal 5:19–21). 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.” Galatians 5 also condemned “wild parties” or “revelries” where any of the lists of sins like drunkenness would constitute a party as sinful and carnal. Paul also revealed 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 and compromises the sobriety of the Christian conscience and one’s heart (cf. Rom 2:14–15; 1 John 3:19–21). Christ’s words and those of His apostles and prophets urge all to avoid drunkenness, and so Christians should do likewise and warn others of drunkenness. Peter warned, “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” (1 Pet 4:3). The word for “drunkenness” in 1 Peter 4:3 is not the usual word for drunkenness, but the Greek word is oinophlugia made of two words oinos meaning “wine” and phlugia is “to do something in excess.” Excessive drinking is a sin. Furthermore, “drinking parties” is translated from the Greek word potos, which literally denotes occasions that people gather for the purpose of drinking.
The apostle Paul commanded Christians to remain sober and make no provision to become drunk on any level (1 Thess 5:8). Christ had no part with drunkenness and drinking parties, so His followers must not. According to Romans 14, Christians should not condemn their brother over a drink; although, every Christian has the scriptural example and the foresight to warn against its use and against looking at the cup (Prov 23:29–35; Rom 14:17–22). Solomon warned 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 assertions of positive statements about drinking alcohol in the Bible are private interpretations.
The wine that Jesus drank was not intoxicating. Alcoholic wine is not characteristic of Jesus or any godly behavior in the Bible. Jesus neither encouraged drunkenness nor drank intoxicating wine. No one can rightly reference Jesus to justify excessive drinking, drunkenness, and drinking events. The Bible neither promotes nor supports the drinking of intoxicants. God’s grace compels Christians no longer to continue in any excessive drinking of alcohol because they have been forgiven.
Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Rom 13:13–14)
- Jeff Chorniak. “Wild Yeast: The Pros and Cons of Spontaneous Fermentation.” Winemakers Magazine. 2005. <http://winemakermag.com/758-wild-yeast-the-pros-and-cons-of-spontaneous-fermentation>.
- Jean L. Jacobson. “Upsides of Wild Fermentation.” Wine & Vines, 2012. <http://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section=features&content=98687>.
- “Marking Red Table Wine.” University of California Davis, 2016. <http://wineserver.ucdavis.edu/pdf/HWM3.pdf>.
- James Orr, M.A., D.D. “Wine; Wine Press.” International Bible Encyclopedia, 1915. <http://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/isb/view.cgi?n=9116>.
- “Alcohol in the Church.” 2016. <http://www.abidingplace.org/features/alcohol-in-the-church.html>.
- Kyle Pope. “Bible Wine.” Olsen Park church of Christ, 2013. <http://www.olsenpark.com/Sermons13/BibleWine.html>.
- Alfred Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1883. <https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes>.
“Reconsider the Biblical Concept of Drunkenness“
“Why No Wine in the Lord’s Supper?“
Before we knew about microbes, drinking water was a sure way to become ill. Everyone used fermented drinks simply because the fermentation process in wine, and boiling for beers, sterilised the water. In the same way, the medieval Christian practice of using alcoholic wine and a silver shared cup ensured that everyone was safe (silver is viricidal). There has never been a confirmed case of infection through a shared communion cup (look it up). Roman wine was real alcoholic wine and shipped throughout the empire, and traces have been found in amphora. If Jesus made wine at a Jewish party it would have been fermented. The injunction is not to get drunk. Likewise Pauls advice to Timothy to take a little wine for his frequent ailments (fermented wine was used as a medicine, internally and externally – we still use alcohol wipes today).
It’s amazing how long this blog topic has endured – we’ve been having an exciting dialogue for six years now. If you take the time to read the entire 875 responses, you will notice there are two diverse groups. The larger group has presented unassailable, specific biblical references to support their point of view and fact after fact about everything having to do with wine and alcoholic beverages. The second, smaller group, unable to prove their opinion, has resorted to tricks, innuendo, taking Bible passages out of context, reading between the lines, appealing to emotions and false facts. The result has been a most interesting give and take over the years.
Your post revealed a most important fact concerning the Christian practice of Holy Communion. Over the years we have seen an egregious change to God’s Word by the use of individual cups in the majority of Christian churches, replacing the biblically commanded common or single cup. Although to many it seems unimaginable, this capricious change to individual cups was made solely for hygienic reasons and is now perpetuated by practical reasons such as convenience, saving time, cultural accommodation and political correctness. It’s inconceivable Christians would change Christ’s pattern for distributing his blood based on health reasons, but that is the rational of most churches that use individual cups.
As you stated, there is absolutely no danger of any type of transmission of disease or infection by using the common cup. The Journal of Infectious Diseases reported an extensive study that showed absolutely no transmission of organisms from one person via the common cup to another could be detected. A 1998 article by the US Centers for Disease Control states that risk of transmitting infectious diseases via the common cup is so small that it is undetectable. Another study by the Anglican Church concluded receiving Holy Communion as often as daily does not increase one’s illness rate. No episode of any disease contacted by using a common communion cup has ever been reported. As long ago as 1943, an article by William Burrows and Elizabeth S. Hemmens declared attendance at choir practice or social functions are as likely to cause transmission of disease as is the common cup. They concluded that breathing the same air or shaking hands are more likely to transfer diseases than sharing the cup.
You also correctly pointed out the combination of wine and silver cup is what prevents disease transmission. How is this so? First, the alcohol content in the wine serves as a powerful antiseptic. Secondly, when wine is served in a silver chalice, the combination of noble metal with alcohol is an even more powerful antiseptic, killing germs on contact. This makes it much safer to drink from a chalice than from individual plastic cups. Third, germs are mostly transmitted via the hands. When individual cups are prepared each one of them is touched by human hands, taken out of the package and placed on the tray by grabbing the lip of each cup. With a common cup the drinking surface is never touched by human hands.
Therefore, in the final analysis, if the church is going to abandon the unanimous way the church has always administered and received Communion, it should have a good reason for doing so. It doesn’t. Since there is no Scriptural basis for using individual cups, the ritual they call Holy Communion is cheapened, perverted and distorted.
You perfectly summarized the position of the majority responding to this blog, “If Jesus made wine at a Jewish party it would have been fermented. The injunction is not to get drunk. Wine was used as a medicine, internally and externally”.
Thanks for your insight.
“And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves:.…” – Luke 22:17
Is passing a single container (“cup”) along a line or among a group with each communicant taking a sip ”dividing it among” them?
In “common cup” congregations larger than a few, two or more “common” cups are typically used. Whether two or a thousand cups are used, both constitute multiple cups.
IMO both factions are in error: the Thomas (individual mini-cups in a Thomas tray) system proponents (salesmen) who pushed their way into resistant one-common-cup congregations, and the one-common-cup adherents who condemned the individual serving cupette promoters.
“Cup” in the context of the Lord’s Supper means the contents of the cup, not the container itself. Liquids require containers. Calling the contents by the container is a figure of speech. Instead of saying “cup of the juice of the fruit of the vine” every time the communion is mentioned, we say, “cup.” We do this with other containers: “fill my tank” instead of “fill my tank with gasoline.” “School” instead of “the building within which school is conducted.”
Many “one cup” congregations were broken up by the drive to convert them to the individual serving mini-cup system. I know of congregations that were founded around 1915, which is when the great push to introduce the individual serving container system was being conducted by the Thomas system salesmen. If the larger faction went with cups, they kept the meeting house, driving the “one-cuppers” out. If the larger faction stayed with a single common cup, the “cups” faction left. Or, the faction led by the more forceful elders kept the building and ran the less forcefully led faction off. One congregation split into two. The one group went with cups and built a new building ¼ mile away. Both bear the same location name on their signboards. The new group has “1915” on their sign. Some from the “cups” congregation attend “gospel meetings” at the “one cup” meeting house but the “one cup” people will not set foot on the grounds of the “cups” “heretics.”
Brothers, this should not be. Each congregation should mind its own business in such matters. Fellowship is individual, not congregational. Don’t we have enough substance to deal with instead of getting bogged down with procedural matters while the world around us goes to hell?
I hear you. You’ve given good observations about alcohol and silver.
Before water purification with chlorine bleach or ozonation was invented, alcoholic wine was mixed with water to a low concentration to prevent illness. We now know that various microbes are the cause of disease from impure water. Giardia, cholera, some strains of escherichia coli, others are killed by a low concentration of ethanol in the water. Even if strong wine of 9½% (dry)-17% (strong) ethanol wine is mixed 9 parts water to 1 part 17% ethanol content wine, this results in an alcohol content of 1.7%. This is ample to kill most if not all microbes that may contaminate the water.
I once drank 23 12 ounce cans of Coors beer in a period of 2-3 hours with barely a buzz. I did not stagger or slur my speech. I eventually went back to my car, parked on private property, and went to sleep.
A couple of mugs of water mixed with strong wine at 10% wouldn’t generate a BAC enough to even begin to cause inebriation.
Today, Christians who do not have access to sanitized municipal or community water have access to chlorine bleach and can sanitize their water with a few drops of 5¼%-6% sodium hypochlorite thereby avoiding the “appearance of evil,” as the unbelievers impose their ideas of how Christians should behave upon us. We not only should want to directly please our Master but also to promote His kingdom before the eyes of infidels (the unfaithful toward God). This isn’t being legalistic. It’s putting the interests of the kingdom of heaven, the “land” of our citizenship, ahead of our personal convenience. Avoiding anything to do with alcoholic beverages, including purchases of other products that bear brand names associated with alcoholic beverages, presents a purer image to the unbelievers and to weak brethren in Christ Jesus. Seagram’s® ginger ale, actually produced and distributed by Coca-Cola® and affiliates under license from Seagram’s, comes to mind. Personally, I do not want an unbeliever or weak brother to see anything on my pantry shelf bearing a name that has a close association with alcoholic beverages (or other doubtful substances).