Introduction: The Fruit of The Vine
hristians today are divided into two camps concerning the use of alcoholic beverages. While it is fairly unanimous that so-called “hard liquor” has no place in the temple of the Holy Spirit, there is some confusion as to the Biblical viewpoint about the use of less intoxicating, although still fermented, drinks such as beer and wine. As the same arguments tend to apply for both, we can restrict this examination to the latter specifically. Another good reason for doing so is because wine is the more disputed of the two, since one of the claims is that Christ Himself made use of it, and in fact commanded its use until His return when He instituted the Last Supper.
I intend to show here, however, that no fermented drink was ever used or sanctioned by Yahshua or His disciples, and in fact that the use of any intoxicating drink, to any degree, was strongly and consistently discouraged, if not outright condemned, by the Old Testament, Peter, Paul and of course the Lord Himself. It is my objective to demonstrate that in spite of the fact that there seems to be quite a clear-cut case in favor of the moderate use of alcoholic beverages, this arises as a result of two false assumptions: firstly that the term “wine” in the Bible always refers to an intoxicating drink (either because 1. the word “wine” today is almost universally taken to mean fermented liquids, or 2. there is a notion that it was impossible to preserve fruit juices from the effects of decay), and secondly that the word “temperance” as used in the New Testament is to be accurately defined as “moderate use.”
From an expansion of those two wrong concepts, the argument in favor of moderation rather than abstinence can be segmented into about four main subsections:
1) In both the Old and New Testaments, wine is considered in many passages as a blessing, and a gift from God: “And the vine said unto them, ‘Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?’” (Judges 9:13)
2) Yahshua used wine Himself, and made it for others to drink: “So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where He made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum...” (John 4:46)
3) Wine has a deeply religious significance, which overrides its ill effects on the body if it is used in small doses. “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come.” (1 Cor 11:26)
4) Wine was used and recommended by the Apostles, just not in excess: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” (1 Tim 5:23) “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18)
I will deal with each of these four points in the sections below; but we can begin by examining the first of the faulty assumptions, concerning the definition of the word “wine” in the Bible. Is it always used as an alcohol-containing drink merely because modern English considers it so?
1. Definitions of “Wine”
There are four words that are generally used in the Bible which are translated into the English “wine” or “new wine.” The first of these is tirowsh (Hebrew) found in verses like Gen 27:28: “Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine.” The second Hebrew word is yayin which appears more frequently than the former term in passages like: “And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.” (Gen 9:24)
The primary Greek term for wine is oinos, and is found in the vast majority of NT passages where the English word appears: “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” (Rom 14:21) Another word is also used in the New Testament for wine, but only one time, and it has deep significance, I believe. It’s found here: “Others mocking said, ‘These men are full of new wine.’” (Acts 2:13) The word there is the Greek term gleukos. We will examine this verse in some more detail in section four, dealing with the apostles and wine.
The first Hebrew word, tirowsh, is found in 38 verses. It is translated as “wine” in English, however in not one of these references is it used to hint at fermented liquors. It is always used in the context of fresh vintage, and usually mentioned along with oil and corn, as offerings of the harvest unto Yah. This is the kind that is as “dew from Heaven,” (Deu 33:28), that “cheereth God and man,” (Judges 9:13), that was offered to the Father along with the firstfruits, an uncorrupt sacrifice (Neh 10:39) and is clearly found freely in fresh grapes as Isaiah records. “Thus saith the LORD, ‘As the new wine (tirowsh) is found in the cluster, and one saith, “Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it,” so will I do for my servants’ sakes, that I may not destroy them all.’” (Isa 65:8)
Interestingly enough, Israelites were cautioned against even this form of “wine” in one verse: “Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.” (Hos 4:11) However, this was not necessarily due to the alcoholic content of tirowsh, as demonstrated by the fact that Nazarites were forbidden to eat even fresh grapes in order to remain ritually pure: “He [the Nazarite] shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk.” (Numbers 6:3,4) This was, it seems, for either a symbolic reason, or merely because an indulgence in pleasant food too often would draw the attentions earthward during their time of separation and communion with heaven. This is the basis for the “pleasant bread fast” mentioned in Daniel 10:2,3.
Yayin, the second word, occurs much more frequently (140 verses in the Old Testament), and the meaning of this one appears to be more general. It comes from either a root word meaning to “effervesce/ferment,” OR a term for “to tread out,” a description that implies no transformation into an alcoholic drink. Essentially, it can mean either one. This is the general term for wine that is constantly spoken against in Scripture. “Wine (yayin) is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Pro 20:1)
“Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the yayin; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red [when it is fermented], when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. ‘They have stricken me,’ shalt thou say, ‘and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.’” (Pro 23:29-35) By the very description of the effects of this yayin, including its addictive element, we know that the wine of this passage is that of an alcoholic nature.
Here we see there is a condition of “wine” specified, either “strong drink” in the first verse or “when it is red” in the second, meaning it can have more than one state. It would not be a fair treatment to say that all uses of yayin are negative. For example, “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.” (Gen 14:18) To contend that this was unfermented wine simply because it was borne by a priest, offering no other evidence, would admittedly be a circular argument. However, there are other places were yayin is used to refer to non-alcoholic wine, which is why in Proverbs the wine that is fermented is specified.
The passage concerning Nazarites again becomes useful: “All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the yayin tree, from the kernels even to the husk.” (Num 6:4) That term translated “vine tree,” is actually more accurately rendered, “the tree of wine.”
Here again we find this: “Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink: that ye might know that I am the LORD your God,” (Deu 29:6) where yayin is separated from “strong drink,” as opposed to Proverbs 20:1. Even more clearly it is stated: “And gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting: the treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease.” (Isa 16:10) Here it is said that the treaders produce yayin in their presses – this statement allows no time for the fermentation of the “vintage” which is obtained.
Essentially, then, we find two terms for the word “wine” in the Old Testament. The first we’ve examined contains, by usage, no hint of a fermented and intoxicating nature. The second appears to be most often used as a debilitating drug, in which case it is strictly warned against, but does not appear to be exclusively alcoholic. If it were the case that references to “yayin” were always of the fermented kind of beverage, it would rightly be concluded that the Bible is ambiguous in its standpoint about the matter. This is not the case, however, for even this term for wine is consistently separated from shekar or “strong drink,” and is considered to be wine from the moment it is pressed out of the fresh fruit of the vine.
In the New Testament, the Greek “oinos” is similarly a general term; and the evidence of this is not only from its usage in the passages we will examine later on, but also from the fact that both the words above from the Hebrew language are translated into the Greek “oinos” in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. Admittedly, the issue of wine in the Bible is a complex one if we wish to get at the truth of the matter, and for that reason, this will be no short article.
2. Preserving The Blessing
In many of the Old Testament verses, some of which we looked at above, wine is considered a blessing from Heaven, and a sign of prosperity. “Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto His people, ‘Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen.’” (Joel 2:19) As demonstrated in the previous segment, most of the time wine is spoken of as a gift from Yah, such as in this verse, the word used there is “tirowsh,” meaning simply that liquid which comes from grapes.
One of the major conceptions that leads people to conclude that any grape-based beverage must necessarily be of the alcoholic type comes from a lack of knowledge about the preservation methods used in the ancient world of avoiding fermentation. This is a fairly widespread belief, and I will confess that I too was of this mind until I began to study the issue. My thought was that the winepresses produced grape juice, which was used as quickly as possible before fermentation set in, and any that was not consumed in time became the “yayin” which was tolerated (except in the case of priests), but certainly discouraged.
The fact of the matter is, however, that fermented wine in Old Testament days was the more difficult liquid to preserve. It needed to be carefully stored, as well as produced, in order to prevent it from becoming vinegar. The fresh juice of the grape, however, could be refined, boiled and subjected to various other techniques for the purpose of preservation without destroying any existing alcoholic content (since it contained none).
Rather than re-invent the wheel, I will merely quote from another study I came across concerning the methods of preserving grape juice in ancient times, complete with references (see Footnote 1 for details):
Quote: “In protest against the assertion that yayin can be used of either fermented or unfermented wine, moderationists make uninformed claims like the following: “Unfermented grape juice is a very difficult thing to keep without the aid of modern antiseptic precautions, and its preservation in the warm and not overcleanly conditions of ancient Palestine was impossible” (3). In fact, it takes no more ingenuity to prevent fermentation of grape juice than to prevent vinegarization of fermented wine. The ancients knew at least five methods of making nonalcoholic wine.
1) Vinous fermentation (fermentation yielding alcoholic wine) proceeds only if the concentration of grape sugar within the must (the unfermented juice) falls within a certain range. Fermentation can be prevented by boiling the must until the sugar concentration exceeds the maximum permitting fermentation. That this method of preserving grape juice was known to the ancients is attested by Pliny (4), Columella (5), Virgil (6), and others (7). Must reduced to a fraction (perhaps a half or a third) of its original volume was commonly known as defrutum (8).
2) Grape juice with enough sweetness to remain unfermented can be made just by pressing dried grapes. Pliny refers to a wine, called raisin-wine, that was made from grapes dried to half their weight (9). Polybius states that passum, a raisin-wine, was the staple drink of Roman women, who, at least in the early days of the Republic, were forbidden to drink ordinary wine (10).
3) Vinous fermentation occurs only within a certain temperature range, the lower limit being about 45°F. The ancients knew that if a cooled wine was allowed to sit undisturbed, the clear juice poured off from the sediment would remain unfermented for about a year. The benefit of keeping the wine still was that the yeast bodies responsible for fermentation settled to the bottom. This third method of making nonalcoholic wine is described by no less than three Latin writers—Cato (11), Columella (12), and Pliny (13).
Salt retards fermentation. According to Columella, “Some people—and indeed almost all the Greeks—preserve must with salt or sea-water” (14).
The boiling point of alcohol is lower than the boiling point of water. Therefore, by bringing fermented wine to the boiling point of water, the alcohol is driven off. According to Pliny, the ancients made a drink called adynamon (weak wine) by adding water to wine and boiling the mixture until the quantity was considerably reduced. This drink was a favorite preparation for the sick and invalid (15).” Endquote.
In concluding this matter of preservation from the effects of fermentation, it needs to be noted that the ancients did not know about “alcohol” specifically. All they knew was that the juice from grapes, if left long enough under certain conditions, had effects which were not good for the body. They did not make the distinction between “wine” and “grape juice” as we do today, for we have a greater understanding of the process of fermentation and the vastly dramatic effects of the chemicals produced during that time; and this is why there was a general term for “wine,” that includes both types.
Today, in cooking for example, a recipe might call for tomatoes that are firm, without soft spots. We don’t have two different words for the fruits possessing these states; but we simply avoid one based upon its characteristics. If it’s good for you, use it. If it won’t do the recipe justice, and won’t give a good result to the overall dish, avoid it. That’s just common sense. As this study progresses, the negative effects of alcohol, even in small doses, cannot be ignored... and let the reader who wishes to please Yah decide if the Bible gives good advice concerning this matter. We will also look at the benefits of unfermented wine, and we will see that due to its characteristics, and many positive effects on the body, it may rightly be considered a blessing from our Father in Heaven.
3. Our Savior and Wine
“Jesus Himself was a drinking man.” There are few misconceptions about my precious Redeemer that bother me as much as this statement, and it is made by even the most well-meaning Christians. Some say, “He never forbade it, but as alcohol will put a stumbling block before many brethren, because the law of love I myself abstain.” I think that this is a wonderful argument against drinking in and of itself, and I certainly praise their noble desire to not offend, and to love their neighbors as themselves; however, how much stronger their conviction would be if they understood Yahshua’s position on intoxicants aright!
There are three distinct events as recorded in the Gospels that have given people a wrong idea of our Lord’s attitude towards wine. Not surprisingly, they are all based upon one of the two faulty assumptions; the first: that the word “wine” is exclusive to the alcoholic type. As stated previously, the Greek word for wine, as used in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, is “oinos.” Evidence from the Septuagint’s translation of the Hebrew Old Testament indicates that it is also a general term; at least as general as “yayin,” for both that word and “tirowsh” were translated to “oinos” in the Scriptures that were used by Yahshua and His disciples. The meaning must therefore be taken from the context of its use; but that of course will be no problem, for Scripture interprets Scripture.
The three events that have led to this issue are these: 1) The wedding at Cana, 2) The accusation of the Pharisees that the Messiah was a “winebibber,” and 3) The use of wine as a symbol for His blood when He instituted the Last Supper.
Let’s examine the first of these. Here are the relevant verses: “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and His disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto Him, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus saith unto her, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.’ His mother saith unto the servants, ‘Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.’ And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, ‘Fill the waterpots with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And He saith unto them, ‘Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast.’ And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and saith unto him, ‘Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.’ This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him.” (John 2:1-11)
Now here is the key question: what was the nature of the wine there? We can get a few facts from the passage. First, this creation of wine was a miracle, and so that His disciples would believe in Him. Second, this wine was served when the participants had already “well drunk” of the previous wine, for the governor said they had kept this new drink “until now.” Third, the governor of the feast called it “the good wine,” using the Greek term “kalos” for good; the significance of which we will shortly see.
Examining the first of these three points, consider that this creation was a miracle. It was made instantaneously at the command of Christ. When we examine the way in which the Father and Son make things, we find that they are always instantaneous, mature, and perfect. The world was created without a hint of decay or corruption. Yahshua healed lepers, the blind and the lame; and He did it completely, a restoration that affected not only the body, but also the soul and spirit: “Jesus saith unto him, ‘Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.’ And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the Sabbath. Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, ‘Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.’ The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus which had made him whole.” (John 5:8,9,14,15)
There is nothing that our Messiah ever made that was not wholly beneficial; His healings followed the pattern of the creation of the Universe and world as described in the early chapters: “And Elohim saw every thing that He/They had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” (Gen 1:31). To suppose that He generated a substance here which would not be good in terms of health and common sense is to claim that this is the one exception to the Biblical pattern set forth in the rest of the Canonized writings. This evidence is only strengthened by an examination of the next two points.
Aside from it being miraculous, the timing of the event is also important. The governor of the feast stated that this “good wine” was saved till last, whereas wine of this quality was usually served first; while the taste for it was still new. It should be noted that the expression “well drunk,” methuo, does not always mean intoxicated, only that one has had his fill. We can look at it both ways and yet arrive at the same conclusion; if methuo here means simply filled, we have no problem at all; both wines would be non-alcoholic. If it did mean that the “good wine” was not usually served after the attendants were intoxicated, we can still find plenty of evidence that Christ’s gift to the celebrants was not of this quality.
If the guests were already drunk, and our Master provided them with more alcoholic beverages, does this not seem to be a conflict of interests for His character? Yahshua’s life was one of joy in His Father’s will, and an example of the utmost purity and self-denial. Furthermore, He encouraged all who met Him to be the same way, both by exhortation and example. “Then said Jesus unto His disciples, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.’” (Mat 16:24) In no way could the Savior condone, aid or encourage drunkenness. If the previous wine had been intoxicating in nature (and that is already a big IF), He could not have provided more of the same to them without violating a most basic principle of His mission on earth. To love Christ is to know His character... let those who use this incident as a means to justify an indulgence of their appetite meditate on this.
The third point concerns the description of the wine by the governor of the feast. He called it “the good wine.” Now in Greek, the standard term for “good” is agathos. “‘And other [seeds] fell on good (agathos) ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold.’ And when He had said these things, He cried, ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.’” (Luke 8:8) There is another word for good, however – kalos, that means quite a bit more.
“And Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good (kalos) work on me.’” (Mark 14:6) “I am the kalos shepherd: the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) The word there means much more than good, it means, “good, excellent in nature and characteristics; praiseworthy, noble; morally good; beautiful by reason of purity of heart and life, and hence praiseworthy; affecting the mind agreeably, comforting and confirming.” All these are according to Strong’s Concordance, and take note of the italicized sections, which I have emphasized. This was the word used to describe the wine which our Master made that day.
In today’s world, “good wine” is generally taken to mean that which is high in intoxicating ability. However, in the earlier centuries, no such connotation existed. Some sources which indicate this quite clearly include:
“The ancients filtered their wines repeatedly before they could have fermented, and thus the leaven which nourish the strength of the wine being taken away, they rendered the wine itself more liquid, weaker, lighter, and more pleasant to drink.” (Delphian Commentary on Horace, Book 1, Ode 17).
“Wine is rendered old or feeble in strength when it is frequently filtered. The strength or spirit being thus excluded, the wine neither inflames the brain or infests the mind and the passions and is much more pleasant to drink.” (Plutarch, Symposium).
The persons of ages past apparently had much greater discernment in terms of taste than we do today.
The second set of evidence against Yahshua was that He was accused of being a “winebibber” by His Pharisaical adversaries. We need not take too much time here. This is the passage in question: “And the Lord said, ‘Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! But wisdom is justified of all her children.’” (Luke 7:31-35)
Now, the first thing to keep in mind when dealing with this passage is that this is an accusation. The Pharisees also accused Him of sedition, of breaking the Sabbath, of being possessed, and a host of other conditions of spiritual and moral disorder. That they could consider Him a drunkard should be no great surprise. Secondly, we should not let ourselves be thrown by the contrast between Yahshua and John the Baptist. Christ said that John (in contrast to Himself), came not eating or drinking wine. Looking again at the conditions for a Nazarite (which the Baptist was – Luke 1:15), we find that he was not to touch anything that came from the “wine tree,” including grapes. There is no way we can limit our scope of understanding here to include only alcoholic wine.
Christ, contrary to John, had a social mission; and thus He sat with publicans, sinners and Pharisees (Mat 9:10, Luke 11:37), sharing food and drink with them; both bread and wine, to use the general terms for these things. The point Christ was making here was that if He had been ascetic, He would not have been held in any higher regard by the religious leaders. No matter what He did, their spirits were opposed to His, and their accusations would fall upon Him. He was in no way admitting guilt in relation to their charges of being indulgent in intoxicating liquors.
While we are on the subject of the Messiah’s teachings concerning wine, we can briefly make mention of two other incidents. The first concerns this parable: “And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.” (Mark 2:22) This is taken as conclusive evidence that in New Testament times, “New Wine” also fermented to become old wine, and then it was used for drinking.
It has been shown, however, that even new bottles (the word there means “wineskins”) would be burst by the fermentation of grape juice into alcohol. Furthermore, wine was fermented in carefully controlled vats, not in wineskins; these were used exclusively for storage. Therefore, the new wine was not put into new bottles in order to ferment it, but to store it. In other words, the reason why new wine was put into new bottles was to keep it from fermenting due to contact with the residue left over from the old wine in the previously used bottles. “But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved,” as another author expounds in Luke 5:38
Secondly there is this statement in the following verse, in which Christ seems to praise, or at least tolerate, an individual’s taste for the more potent form of oinos: “No man having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, ‘The old is better.’” (Luke 5:39) Taking this verse in its context of the parable above, and the previous verses, we find that Christ is speaking of the Gospel. He considers the Pharisees and their system to be the “old vessel,” and His statements about wine simply meant that if the unconverted religious zealots were to learn of the Gospel, the “new wine,” without first having a change of heart, it would ferment in them, become corrupted, and both they and the message would be lost.
In this verse, saying that a man who is used to strong drink will not desire new wine is in no way a commendation of a “sophisticated” taste. He is saying here that those who have perverted their appetites will find little use for the fresh, unpolluted truths of Heaven, and we find that He was painfully accurate in these last, wicked days.
The final charge against Christ concerning the use of alcohol deserves an article all by itself. This concerns the third major moderationist point listed in the introduction; that of wine having such a deep religious significance that it overrides its harmful effects, particularly if used in reasonably small amounts.
I am speaking, of course, of the Last Supper, in which Yahshua made some modifications to the style and meaning of the Passover festival. Of this event it was written, “And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’”(Mat 26:27-29)
There are at least two things wrong with the assumption that alcoholic wine was used in this ceremony. And the reason why this event in particular deserves special attention is because this is exactly where “wine” becomes an issue in the church setting. Many churches today use alcoholic wine in their communion services. I will be as plain as I can on the matter... this is a perversion of what our Lord intended.
The first major error deals with just that, the symbolism. What is that wine intended to represent? Yahshua said, “this is my blood of the New Testament.” The wine in that cup was to signify the most pure, the most uncorrupt, the most excellent drink, for He said of this day some time before, “my blood is drink indeed.” (John 6:55b) Even in the very directions for keeping a proper Passover, we find it clearly stated that no fermented liquid could possibly be a fitting representation of our Redeemer’s lifeblood.
“And this day [the Passover] shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever. Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.” (Exo 12:14,15) In the New Testament, this is specifically connected to the Last Supper: “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Cor 5:7,8)
Notice that leaven in the New Testament is applied to the doctrine of the Pharisees (Mat 16:6) and that same doctrine is likened unto fermented wine in the Luke verses from the previous section. (Luke 5:30-39) Both fermentation and leaven are used to refer to that which is morally corrupt, to that which is old, decaying and harmful. It was forbidden to use any such substances in the ritual that the Last Supper was representing, upon pain of exile or death, and it’s easy to see why. From the beginning, the Passover meal was a foreshadowing of our Savior’s body and blood – it was absolutely necessary that the participants understand that this was to be a wholly pure sacrifice, so much so that they could not even have leaven in their habitations (Exo 12:19), how then could our Messiah have used an intoxicating liquor to represent this most untainted, this most sweet drink?
Satan is well pleased with the corruption of this sacred ceremony, which is extant in many of the major churches today. And the humans involved are aware of the discrepancy, at least to some degree. The Catholics and the Protestants deal with it in two different ways, and both are contrary to the explicit commandments of our Lord. This is stated plainly: “And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink ye all of it.’” (Mat 26:27) He told them ALL to partake! The clergy of the Roman church have to a large degree restricted the usage of communion wine to themselves, knowing fully well that this would be an awful compulsion to visit upon the young, the aged, the sick and those with already-existing addiction issues. They know fully well that they are teaching in every one of these services that our Messiah commanded something that cannot be fulfilled in good conscience. I say to you that He did no such thing.
Those Protestant denominations which use the fermented form of wine during their Communion services “rob Peter to pay Paul,” as the expression goes, removing one error while introducing another. Thinking to improve upon the Catholic mistake, they return the wine to the congregation. To have mercy upon the feeble, old, young, and recovering addicts, however, they reduce the amount imbibed to a mere sip or two. This just as blatantly violates the spirit of Yahshua’s command, for He bids us to drink deeply of His sacrifice; to fully associate with His death, so that we can fully and literally associate with His resurrection.
Furthermore, we know from Rabbinical literature that the amount of wine served during Passover is no small mouthful. Some sources indicate that not one, but four cups were passed during the traditional ceremony. “The four cups of wine are customarily drunk at the Passover Seder. An innocent-looking choice between wine and grape juice for the Passover Seder can, under appropriate circumstances, become a focus for complex moral, political, and religious issues.” Thus begins one examination of the Passover ceremony. This was taken from a website coming from a Jewish standpoint (Footnote 2), and goes into the rules of fermentation in terms of types of grain, showing why wine is not necessarily ruled out.
From a Christian perspective, understanding what that wine symbolizes, the spirit of the choice should be clear, especially since the sheer amount of liquid used in the ceremony Yahshua kept with His disciples can “become a focus for complex moral, political, and religious issues.” The Catholics and some Protestants seem to have fallen off into the left and right ditches on the side of the straight-and-narrow here, and Yah would be pleased if His children will quickly amended this affront to the memory of His Son’s precious and pure blood.
4. The Apostles and Wine
Although I hope the evidence presented above concerning Christ’s attitude towards wine is fairly in depth, it would truly not be complete without an examination of the way the issue was dealt with in the early Church. If I am asked, “Were you there? Do you know for sure?” concerning the Messiah’s decisions relating to alcohol, I would have to reply negatively. However, we can certainly draw conclusions from what is written, the record we are left with, to a quite reasonable degree of certainty. We can also make our study complete though, by following along the writings of those who were there with Him, and who did see firsthand His words and actions, and His mindset in terms of intoxicants (and everything else).
So we turn now to the apostles, as we continue to trace the Bible’s teachings on wine from Old Testament times to our present day. The major portion of this section will deal with the apostles’ teachings on the use of wine, but first I would like to examine a seemingly insignificant event which occured during the Church’s first Pentecost.
Of the day when the apostles received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, 50 days after the crucifixion of the Messiah, we find this written: “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)
The chapter goes on to speak of the devout Jews who were in Jerusalem at the time from “out of every nation under heaven.” (verse 5) The gift of speaking in other tongues was provided at this opportune moment to allow the followers of Yahshua to proclaim His death and resurrection to all those there gathered, in a language they were familiar with.(verse 8, 1 Cor 14:22) In verse 13, however, the last of that chapter, we find that there were some critics of the evangelical effort, and they expressed their contempt for the preaching, which was “as thunder in their ears.” “Others, mocking, said, ‘These men are full of new wine.’” (Acts 2:13)
In our discussion thus far of the Biblical words for wine, we have come across three so far: tirowsh, yayin and oinos. The last two, one in Hebrew and one in Greek, have been shown to be fairly general – indicating both that which is able to intoxicate, and that which is newly obtained from a “winepress.” The first word in Hebrew appears to refer specifically to the non-intoxicating article; and it seems that in Acts 2 we encounter its New Testament counterpart.
The word for wine in Acts 2:13 is found in only that place in the entire set of Scriptures. It is gleukos, and those familiar with chemistry should immediately recognize therein the root from which we derive the name of the sugar glucose. Glucose is a naturally occurring, simple sugar which is found in fruits, and unlike its processed counterparts, is easily digested by the human body. Newly-pressed grape juice is high in this sugar, and therefore the Greeks referred to it as gleukos, or “sweet” wine.
The relevant point is this: no one can get drunk from imbibing gleukos. This kind of drink in no way, and in no quantities, can render an individual powerless to control his tongue in the way the accusers perceived the apostles to be. Why is it, then, that those in opposition to the Spirit’s working would make such a ridiculous claim? Only one theory I have heard holds water, although I would be interested in other suggestions my readers may care to make. The theory is this: that the apostles were known to abstain from the fermented forms of wine.
This is the only explanation that seems to make any sense at all, and will be examined in more depth when we discuss the apostles’ teachings on the use of “oinos.” Consider, however, that if the apostles did ever use oinos in its intoxicating version, it would have only made sense for their critics to say, “These men have been drinking too much liquor!” It is significant, however, that instead of that, they mocked, saying, “These men are drunk on grape-juice!”
If the apostles were merely “temperate” in their use of wine as we understand the words temperance and wine today, there could be no accounting for this statement. It is only if the followers of the Savior had a decided, absolute and well-known position against the use of alcohol (both in their ceremonial gatherings and in their daily life) that this verse makes any sense at all.
On to the teachings, then:
In the introduction, we quoted this verse: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18) A surface reading may cause one to conclude that Paul is teaching a moderate use of intoxicants, but that the condition of drunkenness is due to an “excess,” an excessive use of that which is not necessarily bad.
If we look at the meaning of the word translated excess, however, and the context of that verse, we get a different meaning from Paul’s words. The word he uses is asotia which means “riotousness,” “abandonment,” “lacking moral restraint,” or “recklessly wasteful.” It becomes more difficult to apply this adjective to the state of drunkenness if we look at the meanings of asotia. There is no connotation of “too much of a good thing,” but of moral degeneracy, and an unrestrained quality.
Is being drunk on too much wine even “recklessly wasteful,” which is the closest meaning to “excess” given? Turning to the context of the verse, we find that Paul is speaking of being wise (verse 17) and of having nothing to do with evil practices (verses 7, 11-14). Consider also that Paul contrasts being “drunk with wine” to being “filled with the Spirit.” It is therefore not the state of drunkenness that Paul is speaking against (in its broader sense), but the wine itself.
Unravelling the Greek grammar and sentence structure, we find that Paul is actually saying this: “And be not drunk with wine, for wine is recklessly wasteful, riotous, morally degenerate, etc... but be filled with the Spirit of Yah.” Being filled with the Spirit of God is the “good” kind of being drunk (although Charismatics have taken this comparison rather to “excess” themselves) for the kind that comes from wine is the result of a dissolute course of action.
Another passage which is used in an attempt to show Paul’s concession to the use of a little wine is found here: “For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? I praise you not.” (1 Cor 11:21,22)
Here, the apostle is condemning the mockery that the Corinthian church is making of the Lord’s Supper. In this passage, some conclude that Paul is saying that public drunkenness is wrong, but that to drink in one’s own house is a better arrangement. It should be obvious from reading the passage, however, that Paul is contrasting the “haves” and the “have-nots,” declaring that those who have much bring lavish meals to the occasion; more concerned with display than with the humbling, heart-searching state of mind that was to be present the reverent, though joyful atmosphere of that gathering. (1 Cor 11:26-30)
Paul is contrasting those who are filled with those who are hungry. Drunkenness is not the opposite of hunger, yet he says, “one is hungry, and another is drunken.” The problem is that the word methusko, is commonly used to refer to the state of intoxication. However, that is not the only definition of that word! It means simply filled, or sated. Paul’s meaning then is clear. Let not some bring their own food in large quantities and consume it before those who don’t have anything to eat. The result of this will be that some are full, while others are yet hungry.
There is no mention of alcohol in this passage; those who “eat and drink” in their own houses do so in order to avoid display before others, not to hide their love of fermented wine. Paul writes in another place, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” (Rom 14:21) If he is now saying that it IS good to drink wine, only not in the presence of those who can’t afford it, we have a problem. But Scripture interprets Scripture, and there is no contradiction between the two.
We need only to see the way Paul concludes this teaching, in order to get his point; it is not public drinking he is speaking against (while condoning private indulgence), but the lack of a spirit of compassion and sharing that was present at the misuse of the public gathering. “Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.” (verses 33,34) Notice he says “if any man hunger” let him do the things described above, he speaks nothing of “if any man desire wine...”
There is a great uniformity in the New Testament concerning the teachings of the apostles about wine. The advice given to church members is consistently: “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.” (1 Thess 5:6-8)
Paul here contrasts sobriety and drunkenness, leading moderationists to claim that the apostle here is simply speaking of not carrying wine-use to excess. However, the word “sober” there is nepho in Greek, and there is a unanimity among writers of the existing Lexicons that this means literally, “to drink no wine.” (Footnote 3) Paul therefore is not contrasting excess with moderation, but rather those who get drunk on wine and those who do not use it at all in its intoxicating form. Paul himself recommends the use of a form of wine to Timothy, and therefore could not simply say “drink no oinos” in any of his letters. We must remember that the term was a general one, therefore the meaning has to be taken from the passages. For this reason the contrast is given between abstinence and drunkenness, so that the reader could clearly see that the wine we are to avoid is not the freshly obtained vintage, but that which makes one drunk. Of the advice to Timothy in Paul’s epistle to the young man we will see the specifics momentarily.
First, to continue the matter of temperance and its use in the New Testament, we turn to Peter, and his parallel admonition. Here he writes, “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye sober, and watch unto prayer.” (1 Pet 4:7) “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Pet 5:8) We can understand Peter’s constant reminders to “watch unto prayer” and to be vigilant, as he himself needed the lesson, during the Redeemer’s agony in Gethsemane. He fell asleep when the Savior required his attention the most, and this was a significant factor in his later denial of Yahshua during the trial.
It is ever Satan’s plan to weaken our defenses, and lure us into situations wherein we will fail at holding up our faith as a shield to his temptations. The Bible writes that he who is faithful in small matters will also be faithful in large; and the converse is also true. Those who fail in small matters will have no power to resist when the telling trial is brought upon them. “Be sober,” Peter says, and his word nepsate comes from the same root as nepho, and means literally, “be without wine.”
Moderation is not the answer; alcohol, in ANY amount, impairs judgment. Those who think it wise to weaken their minds, even temporarily, even to a relatively small degree; these have little conception of the power of our enemy – a “roaring lion,” as Peter describes him. Yes, Christ gives us the power to resist each and every temptation, but we are constantly, consistently warned to “gird up” our minds, to be sober, to be vigilant; to watch with prayer so that we can accept this grace. We who understand that we are standing on the brink of eternity, with the Day of Atonement at hand, will willingly “afflict our souls,” (Lev 16:31) and search our hearts diligently for traces if impurity, lest the day come upon us unawares. There can be no place in such a life for intoxicants.
So, if fermented wine in ANY amount is contrary to Yah’s purpose for His children, how is it that Paul suggested Timothy use a little for his stomach’s sake? “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” (1 Tim 5:23) Moderationists will say, “See, Paul says that a little wine is actually good for you.” Well, going back to the list of initial assumptions that lead to one believing in the modern definition of oinos only, we can see clearly that this need not have been the case.
Again we may site Paul’s testimony to the Roman church that it was not good to drink wine (Rom 14:21), but more than that, we need only look at the medical information now available to us to determine which of the two Paul would have recommended under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
“Gastrointestinal symptoms. Alcohol can cause a wide range of common, uncomfortable but reversible problems, including gastritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach), diarrhea and weight loss. These interrelated problems are all due to the effects that alcohol has on the lining of the stomach, as well as impairment of intestinal enzymes and transport systems.” (Footnote 4)
Keep in mind that although in small doses this may not always be manifest, Paul recommends to Timothy regular use of wine: “drink no longer water...”
Wine that contains alcohol could not have been recommended by Paul for Timothy’s “stomach’s sake!” Even without the express unction of the Holy Spirit directing the apostle’s thoughts and writings, we may also keep in mind that while Paul was writing this epistle, he was in the constant company of Luke, the “beloved physician.”
It may be that Dr. Luke also shared with the writer the benefits of the unfermented oinos. “We are investigating whether purple grape juice may offer an attractive alternative to aspirin.” A quote from Dr. John D. Folts, Director of the Coronary Thrombosis Research Laboratory, University of Wisconsin Medical School: (Footnote 5) A host of websites confirm the wonderful medical benefits of grape juice, having positive effects on blood pressure, heart conditions and many other “infirmities” which would have greatly blessed the apparently sickly young man.
Medical studies are showing that wine (in the current usage of the word) may reduce the risk of heart disease, but research shows that the true benefits are found in the fruits themselves and their products. This is best received fresh, so that the positive effects are gained without the intoxicating (and physically debilitating) addition of alcohol to the equation.
Interestingly enough, according to the website for Welch’s, (http://www.welchs.com/health_pr/alcohol.html), purple or red grape juice is the best for this and other medicinal purposes; yet another testimony to the power of symbolism in the Scriptures, for these are the colors which would symbolize best the Redeemer’s blood shed for the remission of sins and the healing of all nations. As often as we do drink that cup, we are blessed by Yah, and not least in terms of physical health.
5. Wine and The Modern World
In the previous section, I made reference to the Day of Atonement, a ceremony in which Israel was released from its sins once a year. Seen through spiritual eyes, we find that this is a foreshadowing of the great Day of Judgment, when Christ returns, forever breaking us free from the curse of sin on all levels. Even our bodies will be redeemed from its corruptible nature, and those who first fell asleep will be raised with us to life eternal.
But before that Day is a time of great trial; not only is this last generation the most wicked, the most sin-sick, but the wiles of the Devil are at their most subtle, and watchfulness must be a decided attitude of the Christian as never before. Everything Yah has ever given us has been for our good; but of alcoholic beverages, not one benefit can be pointed out that cannot be obtained from safer, healthier, and probably less expensive sources.
We have seen that there is no moral, Scriptural or spiritual incentive for drinking fermented liquors, but there are plenty of passages that warn against and outright forbid the use of such drinks for those who wish to guard their relationship with the Heavenly Father. The only reason, therefore, a person would drink is either for the purpose of sheer, fleshly pleasure, or because he/she is addicted.
If the reason is the former, a person need only repent, and give this sinful tendency to Christ, who cleanses us from all unrighteousness. We are commanded, “seek ye first the Kingdom,” (Mat 6:33) and the good things of this world will not be withheld from us.
If there is addiction involved, this also may be healed as easily as blindness, leprosy, paralysis – by a word from the Master. Thereafter, however, those who fellowship with him or her have a special responsibility. This is where that verse quoted once or twice before truly comes into play: “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” (Rom 14:21) This is yet another reason why those in the Body of Christ cannot afford to stain their testimony with this evil influence.
The whole of the law is summed up in one concept, our Redeemer taught: that of love for one’s neighbor. To include liquor in our lifestyles and in our ceremonies is in conflict with this idea. Aside from the origins of these practices simply being false, they are actually harmful – not only to our own bodies and minds, but they cast stumbling blocks in the paths of those trying to avoid the temptations inherent in fermented drinks.
Recently I spoke with a woman who was a Catholic parishioner. She is also a recovering alcoholic, and she said, “I have a real struggle within myself as to whether or not to partake of the wine during communion.” She apparently goes to one of the churches where the laity is also offered the cup, but the main idea here is that even though she believes the teachings of the Roman Church, and would probably strongly disagree with my research on the fact that wine was never used by Christ and the Apostles – in spite of this, she is aware that the use of the intoxicant, even in such a small amount, would be bad for her.
Even some of those who cannot clearly see the doctrinal teaching of abstaining from wine see the idea behind it, the principle of it. This was the very heart of Yahshua’s teachings – that we see the reason behind Yah’s instructions for our lifestyles, and that we delight to do them because they just make good sense.
Finally, when looking at the modern liquor industry, an appeal must also be made to the Christian for social responsibility. Just as with smoking, illegal drugs, gambling etc... although we may not be physically addicted to these things ourselves, we cannot dare to sanction them with our actions. Even less can we afford to financially support the monstrous corporations and companies that make their living on the suffering, disease and death that are the natural results of these evils – a concept I need take no great pains to expound.
Should I choose to examine this issue alone, the article here presented would be twice or three times its current length. The incidents of crime, the individual and collective misery of humanity as a result of these chemical demons; we must be as far from this satanic agency as the east is from the west. Even before such companies were in existence, even before it could be conceived of that the world would become this degenerate, the principle was in effect. Solomon warned us that drinkers would have woe, and in the New Testament, Peter warns us that professed Christians who drink, to any degree, not only have woe themselves, but are responsible for those who use our example to turn their foot away from Yahshua:
“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles; that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (1 Pet 2:11,12)
In terms of examining our relationship with Yah itself, which is always a nice way to conclude any study, we have one final reason to abstain. Aside from being believers, (and whatsoever we do to our bodies, we do also to the Christ who bore our wounds) there is the knowledge that we are priests of the Most High, and this comes with great responsibility. Peter taught that we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that [we] should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called [us] out of darkness into His marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
And what does the Bible say about Yah’s priests? “Neither shall any priest drink wine, when they enter into the inner court.” (Ezek 44:21) “And the LORD spoke unto Aaron, saying, ‘Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons [the priests] with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statue forever throughout your generations: and that ye may put a difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.’” (Lev 10:8-10)
Look at the reason Yah gives for the priests not drinking wine! So that there can be a visible difference between the holy and clean and the unclean and unholy. And notice that this is especially true when the priests were in the tabernacle... particularly the most holy place. Where are we as Christians standing in these last days? We are called to minister as priests always in the Tabernacle; as it is written: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 2:5) Sacrifices were offered in the tabernacle, and we not only work forever IN the tabernacle, but we are part OF it.
Will we not willingly be clean, then, rather than end up offering “strange fire” as did Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu? (Lev 10) It was for this reason that the first injunction against priests drinking was given in the first place: those in the service of Yah must be clear-headed, especially in these most desperately wicked of times. Ours is the responsibility to show the world the difference between the holy and the unholy. If we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we fulfill all of the law; and in the fulfilling of that law, we will naturally avoid all that would weaken our own connection to Christ, and anything that would weaken it for others.
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Footnote 1: References for quote – (http://www.themoorings.org/life/separation/drinking/drink2.html)
03) Burton Scott Easton, “Wine,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised ed., ed. James Orr (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955), 5:3086.
04) Pliny Natural History 14.11.80 (Loeb ed.).
05) Columella On Agriculture 12.21.1 (Loeb ed.).
06) Virgil Georgic 1.295 (Great Books of the Western World ed.).
07) William Patton, Bible Wines or The Laws of Fermentation (repr., Little Rock, Ark.: Challenge Press, n.d.), 24.
08) Pliny Natural History 14.11.80; Columella On Agriculture 12.21.1.
09) Pliny Natural History 14.11.81-82.
10) Polybius Histories 6 (the relevant passage missing from extant manuscripts), quoted in Athenaeus The Deipnosophists 10.440e-f (Loeb ed.).
11) Cato On Agriculture 120.1 (Loeb ed.).
12) Columella On Agriculture 12.29.1.
13) Pliny Natural History 14.11.83.
14) Columella On Agriculture 12.25.1.
15) Pliny Natural History 14.19.100.
Footnote 2: http://biblicalholidays.com/Passover/4cups.htm
Footnote 3: A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford, 1961), A Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament (New York, 1850), A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, (1937)
Footnote 4: http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WSIHW000/9273/28980/261313.html?d=dmtContent
Footnote 5: http://www.pslgroup.com/dg/68BAE.htm