Did Bible wine contain alcohol?

Why do we use grape juice as one of the elements of the Lord's Supper when we know that Wine was used in the First Century? Give me a yes or no answer, did the "Fruit of the Vine" used at the Passover meal contain alcohol or not? Did the wine Jesus produced at the wedding celebration contain alcohol or not?

There is really no "yes" or "no" answer to these questions. In some places the "fruit of the vine" was clearly the product of Fermentation, in other passages it is entirely possible that it was simply grape juice.

Dr. William Patton in his book, Bible Wines: The Laws of Fermentation and Wines of the Ancients argues that the Greek word for "fruit of the vine" can indeed mean both Fermented and nonfermented grape juice.

Text by Dr. Denny Petrillo

John 2:1-11B
1* On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2* and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3* When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine." 4* And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come." 5* His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it." 6* Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7* Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water." So they filled them up to the brim. 8* And He said to them, "Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter." So they took it to him. 9 When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10* and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now." 11* This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

There has been, and continues to be much controversy concerning the wine that Jesus made at the wedding feast. The word translated "wine" cannot, with any degree of certainty, be proven to be either intoxicating or not intoxicating. The Greek word "oinos" is a generic term, which designates the juice of the grape in all it stages according to William Patton (Bible Wines, Ft. Worth, Tx. Star Bible Publications, 1871, p. 52).

There are two predominant views on this subject:

1) THE WINE WAS NOT INTOXICATING. This position is based primarily on the following arguments:

(a) The wine of the First Century was watered down (i.e. 3 parts water to 1 part wine) and that a considerable amount would have to be consumed before one would be drunk. Rabbinic literature frowned upon drinking undiluted wine (Shabbath 77a; Peshahim 108b and 2 Macc.15:39, which says "It is harmful to drink wine alone, or again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious and enhances one's enjoyment.")

(b) Those of Biblical times frowned upon the abuse of wine. There are many references that discuss drunkenness or otherwise being tempted by wine:

Gen. 9:21
20 Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.

Prov. 20:1;21:17; 23:20-21
1 ? Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.

17 ? He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; He who loves wine and oil will not become rich. 20 Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, Or with gluttonous eaters of meat; 21 For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, And drowsiness will clothe one with rags.

Is. 5:11-12
11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, Who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them! 12 Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine; But they do not pay attention to the deeds of the LORD, Nor do they consider the work of His hands.

(see also 3 Macc. 5:2).

(c) Those of Jesus' day knew the Old Testament warned of the misuse of wine and therefore did not serve intoxicating drinks:

1 Cor. 5:11; 6:10
11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler–not even to eat with such a one. 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

Gal. 5:21
21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Eph. 5:18
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit

1 Pet. 4:3
3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.

(d) Jesus would never do anything that would encourage sin and providing intoxicating wine would have encouraged drunkenness.

(e) There is nothing in the text of John two that would require this to be intoxicating wine. Even verse 10 does not suggest that the guests were drunk. "Drunk freely" could mean nothing more than "they have consumed all that they could hold" with no reference to intoxication.

2) The second position is that THE WINE WAS INTOXICATING. This position is based primarily on the following arguments:

(a) While it is true that wine of the First century was usually watered down (if it wasn't, it was called "strong drink" – cf.Lev. 10:8f; Deut. 14:26, et.al), that which was consumed was nevertheless intoxicating if one consumed a sufficient amount.

(b) Those of Biblical times frowned upon DRUNKENNESS or otherwise being unduly influenced by wine. Thus, it was acceptable, even by divine standards, to consume wine. It was not acceptable to get drunk.

(c) Those of Jesus day knew the Old Testament warned of the misuse of wine and therefore encouraged CONTROL and MODERATION. This would be similar to Paul's advise to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:21). Paul would never encourage Timothy to get drunk. But drinking a small amount (similar to our "social drinking") would be acceptable. (Note: while this argument about control and moderation might have some merit, the discussion in 1 Timothy has nothing to do with social drinking. A modern application would be "take some medicine for your stomach's sake…"). (Bible Wine, p.3)

(d) God created a number of things that could be misused and abused. For example, God created sex, and intended for it to be a good thing within His designed parameters (marriage). Yet, men have misused this creation of God. Equally, God created the vine. Still, God placed parameters around the use of the vine. Men are then responsible for whether they obey God's instructions concerning wine or not.

(e) The best translation of verse 10 is "when they have become drunk," indicating that the guests were, at this time, already intoxicated.

So, there it is, both sides of the argument. I think you can see that there is merit to both arguments, and therefore one should not become dogmatic with either position.

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