“A Feast of Wines”
By Peter C. Coker
Many in modern Christendom believe the Scriptures forbid the use of alcohol for serious-minded Christians, or “true believers.” But, is this perception what the Scriptures truly teach concerning the consumption of alcohol by believers in Jesus Christ? I once heard (on the radio) a well-known pastor and leader of a major Christian movement say that “the Bible has nothing good to say about alcohol.” Is that statement true? In another instance, a Christian college professor remarked that at the time of Jesus and the Disciples, alcoholism was not the problem that it is today, therefore it is best to abstain from alcohol. Really? Do we really think alcoholism was not a problem in a culture that drank wine like it was water?
The first tip-off for determining alcohol consumption for believers should be Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding. And a second tip-off should be Jesus instituting Communion, the Lord’s Supper, with bread — and wine! (I’ll come back to this later in the article).
In order to properly understand the Scriptures references to wine, a brief look at the terms used in the Hebrew (Old Testament) and the Greek (New Testament) is necessary. In the Old Testament (Hebrew) the word “yayin” is the most commonly used term and is used 141 times. (Other terms used are; shekar, tirosh, and asis). In the New Testament (Greek) the two main terms are oinos and gleukos.
According to lexical scholars as well as various Hebrew; lexicons, Old Testament dictionaries, and encyclopedias, the term “yayin” is a fermented beverage or a fermented beverage from grapes. The English word translated “wine” notes that “yayin” is an intoxicating beverage. The word “yayin” first appears in Genesis 9:21, and by its context (Noah’s intoxication) its obvious meaning refers to fermented grape juice.
Other Biblical references to wine further reveal that the Israelites intentionally prepared grape juice in a way that enhances and intensifies the fermentation process. (Is. 25: 6, Jer. 48: 11, Zeph. 1: 12). In this context, this was a blessing from God to His people.
“And in this mountain shall the Lord of Hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined” (aged wine). (Is. 25: 6)
(As a side note: The Ancients were somewhat capable of retarding the fermentation process but the Bible never encourages or mentions such processes.)
Despite modern prohibitionist claims that the Scriptures include “fermented yayin” and “unfermented yayin,” a close analysis reveals that this is simply flawed exegesis and lacks the necessary merit to be legitimately persuasive.
The Scriptures describe Godly men such as Melchizadek giving “yayin” as a gift to other Godly men. In Genesis 14: 18-20, Melchizadek gave “yayin” to Abraham, the faithful friend of God. As the righteous priest of God, Melchizadek offers wine to Abraham in the context of divine blessing.
It should come as no surprise to Christians that God commands “yayin” as an offering in Old Testament worship (Ex. 29: 38,40; Lev 23: 13; Num. 15: 5, 7, 10; Num. 28: 14). Not only does God command the use of wine for worship, He also instructs the Levites to take a portion for their own personal use (Num. 18: 12, 27, 30).
So, the question arises, if (alcohol) wine is so evil, why did God require its use in worship? Why did He also encourage a portion for personal use?
God told the Israelites that if they; faithfully differentiate between clean and unclean animals (Deut. 14: 3-21), tithe to the Lord (v. 22), and live obediently before Him (v. 23), then God promises that they “may spend the money for whatever your heart desires; for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.”(v. 26) Wine is certainly listed among the blessings for an obedient people. If God counts wine as a blessing, why would His people shun such a blessing, and even worse, count such a blessing as an evil?
Psalm 104 also points to God’s grace and provisions as He;
“causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man’s heart glad, so that he may make his face glisten with oil, and food which sustains man’s heart” (Psalm 104: 14, 15).
“Go eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already accepted your works” (Eccl. 9: 7-8).
“Should I cease my new wine which cheers both God and men” (Judges 9: 13).
“Ho! Every-one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Is. 55: 1).
“I will bring back the captives of my people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them” (Amos 9: 14).
The Old Testament considers all sorts of wines as blessings. Statements by modern prohibitionists only display a disingenuous exegesis and an unfounded bias based on an invalid interpretation and an anti-biblical narrative that stands against the overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary.
The New Testament
Since the Old Testament is foundational to the New Testament, and the fundamental unity of the two testaments binding and ethically relevant1; they are completely harmonious regarding the issue of “yayin” (wine).
Firstly, the New Testament Greek term “oinos” is equivalent to the Old Testament Hebrew term, “yayin,” which is fermented wine. Further, “oinos” can be used to refer to: a kind of beer, palm wine or lotus wine, all of which are distinguished from grape wine (oinos apelinos). The term for unfermented grape juice is “trux.”
Nowhere does the New Testament forbid the use of alcoholic beverages although it does strongly warn against the misuse of alcohol, as does the Old Testament. Even with New Testament church office holders or candidates, alcohol is not prohibited. The New Testament adheres to a moderate position on the believer’s use of alcohol while strongly warning against its misuse, drunkenness, or being a drunkard. But, nowhere does the New Testament recommend abstaining from drinking wine.
One major obstacle to the prohibitionist position against alcohol is that our Savior, Jesus, drank wine! In fact, His enemies called Him a winebibber and a drunkard. So, if Jesus was maligned as a drunkard should we fear being maligned in the same way? If Jesus drank wine, does it make us more righteous and holy to abstain from drinking wine? Not only did Jesus drink wine, His first miracle was turning the water into wine at a wedding party that had run out of wine!
Communion and Wine
Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, instituted the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, with bread and wine – not with grape juice. Prohibitionists try to make the case that the “fruit of the vine” refers to grape juice and not wine. But, any honest study of the issue finds that, “the cup” or “fruit of the vine” definitely refers to fermented wine. The designation of the “fruit of the vine” used by Jesus is an expression used by the Hebrews from time immemorial for the wine partaken on sacred occasions. Even in pagan Antiquity the “fruit of the vine” referred to fermented wine.
So, if abstinence from wine was not required of the apostolic church, why should it be required or adhered to today? And, if our Lord and Savior instituted Communion, the Lord’s Supper, with bread and wine – then who are we to change and alter that command – by what right and authority does His church act offended by Christ’s command? Is this not disobedience – do we not disobey Jesus every time we partake of communion using grape juice instead of wine? Are we not being self-righteous by not using wine? Do we not risk positioning ourselves as more righteous than Jesus by not using wine in Communion? Or risk insinuating that Christ made a mistake by using wine? Is this not the same sort of thing the Pharisees were guilty of – changing the commandments of God to accommodate the customs or commandments of men? Do we not subconsciously and symbolically deny the power of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit in the church, and in God’s people by stripping the wine of its power?
I believe it is time for local church bodies and individual believers to stop disobeying Jesus command in this matter. I believe it is time to change and reform Communion practices in line with Jesus instructions. There is nothing holy or righteous about using grape-juice as a substitute for wine in Communion – we are not made more holy or righteous than our Lord and Savior by doing so. I propose reforming the modern Protestant practice of using grape-juice in Communion, to using wine – just as Jesus commanded.
- The exception being – unless the New Testament specifically repeals a principle or practice of the Old Testament.
This article is a brief summary of “God Gave Wine: What the Bible says about Alcohol” by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. For a much more detailed analysis see Mr. Gentry’s book; available at Amazon.com.