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>.