Is this true that Jesus drank alcoholic wine as the lyrics, “Cause I heard Jesus, He drank wine”? Some Christians question this. What kind of wine did Jesus drink? Did Jesus drink intoxicating amounts of wine?
The Definition of Biblical Wine
Many have assumed that the word “wine” in the Bible is always alcoholic or equivalent to modern wine. The Bible affirms that “wine” could mean alcoholic wine of varying amounts or non-alcoholic grape juice (1 Tim 3:8; Titus 2:3).
Remember the Bible was originally written in the languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, so the meaning and nuances of words are slightly or very different from the corresponding English word. 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 (LXX; MT).
There are a number of examples of unfermented “wine.” Note the passages and references to non-alcoholic wine throughout the Bible:
- “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 clearly show that the word “wine” can simply refer to grape juice in the Bible whether in Hebrew or Greek.
In reading the Old Testament, many are surprised that the Bible versions represent six different Hebrew words “wine” for which two words exclude alcohol. These are 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, one must remain 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. This article is not to engage in the debate over the drinking of alcohol. With the previous knowledge, this writer finds that a study of the Scriptures reveals 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. However, 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). References to “strong drink” or “liquor” can also 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).
There are many today professing a faith in Jesus who look to Jesus’s drinking of wine to support their excessive drinking. By God’s grace, God has saved Christians from excessive drinking (1 Pet 4:3). Therefore, may every Christian remain very careful. Many are delivering destructive reasons to their brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with alcohol so that they justify giving into excessive drinking. The consequences may be disastrous and extensive even to death. The Christian approach to alcohol is not to judge or condemn the person who drinks, but the Christian must follow biblical examples and warn those who do drink, linger, and look at the cup (Prov 23:29–35; Rom 14:17–22).
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. 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. Again, the Greek word oinos can refer to grape juice that is either alcoholic or nonalcoholic wine throughout the Bible. The context reveals whether wine is alcoholic or not. 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 drinking alcohol. 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 think.
Water to Wine
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 must assume this “wine,” oinos, was alcoholic. These scriptures infer 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, and many times the word means “drunk” depending on the context. Translators render methuo as “drunk” referring to drunkenness by drinking intoxicating wine or filling oneself with wine (Gingrich and Danker’s lexicon).
Which is more likely: that Jesus created intoxicating wine for those who were drunk or that He made fresh “new wine” for those who had filled themselves with the previous nonalcoholic wine? If one interprets this passage as Jesus made 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 nonalcoholic wine, then Jesus made “new wine” with little or no alcohol. The reference to the guests 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.”
Furthermore, one may consider that Jesus provided them with “new 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 the first harvest of grapes. The reference to Jesus’s wine as “good wine” indicates fresh grape juice before the first harvest. Therefore, Jesus’s producing of fresh grape juice would have been an evident miraculous wonder of God. This was late in the year in winter and just before Passover when old wine remained (John 2:13). Jesus providing more late and intoxicating wine would not have been an apparent miraculous sign. These facts indicate that Jesus most likely did not make intoxicating wine at the wedding feast in Cana.
The master of the feast depicted the situation that the guests had filled themselves with wine from the meaning of “filled” of the Greek word methuo in John 2:9–10. When one reads the filling of wine made the guests full, then this drinking of the wedding feast occurred in a short amount of time — a matter of hours. However, wedding feasts may last a day and sometimes more (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah). By supposing intoxicating wine, one must suppose an immediate drinking of the wine that Jesus made. Considering this scenario, Jesus would have made more intoxicating wine amounting to between 120 to 180 gallons of “the good wine.” If there were three hundred 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, consider a wedding party of a thousand guests. If one thousand people drank one hundred and fifty gallons of fermented wine that Jesus supposedly made, then each person would have consumed an average amount of wine consumed at ~19 ounces of wine while already having “well drunk” from the Greek methuo in John 2:10. 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 — “have well drunk.” For each guest to have had simply two more drinks, then the wedding would have had at least 2,400 attendees. Despite the number in attendance, Jesus would have presumably contributed a considerable amount of alcohol to those who were already drunk. The scenario of Jesus producing alcoholic wine appears improbable and uncharacteristic of refraining from drunkenness.
If Jesus did make a great amount of fermented wine, He would had aided the sin of drunkenness, excessive drinking, and participated in a drinking party, which are all condemned by His Spirit in the Christian Scriptures (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 Jesus made more intoxicating wine for all of these who were already drunk. 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. Today’s intoxicating wine or first century fermented wine would have been an absurdity at this wedding.
Wine and the Lord’s Supper
Did Jesus use alcoholic wine in the Lord’s Supper? What can a wine would someone drink at a feast where yeast was thrown out? 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? First, the Scriptures never use the word “wine” in any of the four accounts of Christ instituting the Lord’s Supper. Jesus mentioned the specific content of the cup containing “the fruit of the grapevine.” 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 of justifying their use of wine according to Jesus’s use.
Furthermore, 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. Did throwing out the yeast mean that Israel must throw out the yeast, the leavened bread, but leave the grape juice fermented by yeast? The reader should consider the removing of yeast in Exodus 13:6–7.
When Jesus used “fruit of the grapevine” in the Lord’s Supper, the most probable fermentation would be between 0–4% from wild yeast from any possible exposure. 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 the reader may find that this cup would have been nonalcoholic or never exceeded 4% alcohol. The intent of the cup of the Lord was not to intoxicate.
What about those who got drunk over the Lord’s Supper? This is another misconception from the use of the Greek word methuo, which can mean drunk or filled. Remember that this is word from the Wedding Feast recorded in John 2. 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). Some ate the Lord’s Supper as a meal so that they were filled and those who drank were also filled. 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 yet intended to use such for the Lord’s Supper. This implies that some of these Christians brought alcoholic wine for others, and they decided to simply drink that wine in assembly rather than wait for others. However, what grape juice or wine was more probable and characteristic that Lord instituted? First Corinthians 11 is not a conclusive source to support the assertion that the Lord’s Supper consisted of intoxicating wine.
Warnings about Wine
As the Scriptures warn against wine, Christians can and must warn against the use of alcohol. 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).
Christians must warn against drunkenness. 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 list of sins like drunkenness would constitute a party as sinful and carnal. 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 sin.
Filling oneself with alcohol is evil and compromises the sobriety of the Christian conscience — 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 reconsider, 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” here is not the usually word for drunkenness in Greek, but this word 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 to drinking parties translated from the Greek word potos, which literally denotes occasions that people purpose for drinking.
Followers of Christ must remain sober and make no provision to become drunk on any level (1 Thess 5:8). Christians cannot participate in events that meet and center around drinking (1 Pet 4:3). 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).
There is not one positive statement about alcohol in the Bible. The New Testament teaches that Christians are not to walk in drunkenness filling themselves with alcohol. The misuse of the word “wine” has become the means for many to presume that God is permissive of the excessive drinking of alcohol to some level of intoxication. By the word “wine,” many try to justify the sins of excessive drinking.
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 is He recorded to have used intoxicating wine. Anyone using alcohol based upon Jesus should reconsider their position. If anyone uses Jesus to justify excessive drinking, drunkenness, and drinking events, then let that person hear this plea to rethink these views according to the words and life of Christ. The reality is that the Bible neither promotes nor supports the drinking of intoxicants. God’s grace compels Christians to no longer continue 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>.