Wine

Jesus, the Scriptures, and Alcohol

“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).communion cup

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)

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).

Ecclesiastes says;

“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).

Judges says;

“Should I cease my new wine which cheers both God and men” (Judges 9: 13).

Isaiah says;

“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).

Amos says;

“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 Lord and 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 also fear being maligned in the same way? If Jesus drank wine, does it somehow 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.

Michiana Covenant Presbyterian Church in Granger Indiana explains it this way: “Wine, much more so than grape juice, symbolizes the blood of Christ, which was shed for our sins. It is the glorified body and blood of Christ that brings us the blessing of the eschaton. Wine’s resemblance to Christ’s blood is found not simply in its color, but most importantly in its power to gladden man’s heart. That is why wine’s alcoholic content, the result of transformation by fermentation, is significant. The “alcoholic glorification” of the grape juice has theological and eschatological significance. In the same way that meager grape juice gives way to the wine of blessing, the old gives way to the new and better covenant. Grape juice is dead, but wine has passed from death to life through fermentation.”

Grape juice is dead, it represents a dead church, an impotent body of believers without the power to effect real lasting change in their individual lives and their surrounding community; spiritually, economically, and governmentally. Wine represents the power of Christ’s shed blood — and the empowered life of His church through the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

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 His 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.

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  1. 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.

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wine candlesA Brief Theology of Winecommunion cup

By Dr. Gary North

And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household.(Deut. 14:26)

 The key biblical passage that is rarely discussed in detail by anti-alcohol, total abstinence advocates is Deuteronomy 14:26, which refers to the festival of celebration, part of thebread and wine mandatory tithe system. “And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household.”1 Total abstainers will occasionally refer to the passage’s authorization of wine, and then say that the Hebrew word really means grape juice. But their exegetical problem is the Hebrew word shekar, here translated as “strong drink.” It is based on the Hebrew word shakar, which means “to be, or become, drunk, drunken.”2 Shekar is accompanied by the Hebrew word for wine in all but one instance (Numbers 28:7) of the 22 times that it appears in the Old Testament.3 This is because wine also intoxicates, just as stronger alcoholic beverages do.

This places the strict prohibitionist in an intellectually embarrassing exegetical position. He is either forced to deny literally all of the Hebrew lexicons4 and also the contexts of the passages that include shekar,5 or else he is forced to conclude that God in the Old Covenant authorized the consumption of alcohol as part of a mandated family festival of celebration. How can a Christian logically make a universal condemnation of something that was specifically authorized by God for His covenant people, as part of their mandatory national worship?

If he argues that alcohol used to be morally acceptable to God, but is now prohibited by God, he must find explicit references in the New Testament to prove his case. Problem: there is no such universal New Testament prohibition.6

The Mosaic priests were not allowed to drink either wine or strong drink inside the tabernacle. “Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations” (Lev. 10:9).7 The reason for this prohibition was that alcohol belonged exclusively to God inside the tabernacle or the temple. Alcohol was a special offering to God. It was poured out to Him, not just wine, but strong wine—clearly not grape juice! “And the drink offering thereof shall be the fourth part of an hin for the one lamb: in the holy place shalt thou cause the strong wine to be poured unto the LORD for a drink offering” (Num. 28:7). Why would God demand a sacrificial offering of something inherently corrupt, foul, or immoral? This makes no sense. This is why strict prohibitionism makes no sense.

Wine in the Old Testament was not grape juice. Grape juice does not have the following effect: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). Obviously, grape juice does not have any inflaming effect. Both wine and strong drink were legitimate for most people most of the time. They were both part of God’s holy system of mandatory national festivals. Furthermore, “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts” (Prov. 31:6). It is addiction to alcohol that is prohibited: “Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!” (Isa. 5:11). Wine is dangerous for addicts.

Grape juice is not. “But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment” (Isa. 28:7). Wine inebriates. So does strong drink. “Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink.

For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered” (Isa. 29:9–10). It is clear why the proponents of total abstinence from alcohol never discuss wine in the context of strong drink: both are intoxicants, yet God authorized both for one of His mandatory festivals. Did God authorize something that is immoral? Of course not. So, total abstainers avoid discussing Deuteronomy 14:26.

In the world before pasteurization, all commercially available wine was fermented, i.e., alcoholic. Only after a Methodist dentist, Dr. Thomas Welch, figured out in 1869 that he could kill wine by pasteurizing it, so that he and his Methodist peers would no longer have to drink wine at the Lord’s Supper, did grape juice appear, or, as his commercial product was originally called, Dr. Welch’s Non-Fermented Wine. This company eventually evolved into the Welch company, which specializes in fruit juices.

Weak Christians should not drink alcohol if they think it violates some moral prohibition, but the source of their error is theological vinegar. Weak Christians are being herded like sheep by pastors who do not understand or respect the doctrine of Christian liberty. The task of the mature Christian is to refrain from publicly assailing the weak Christian’s sensibilities. He has another responsibility, however: to wean the weak Christian away from a theology that does not honor the principle of Christian liberty.8

It should not surprise us that the most scholarly published defense of wine as exclusively grape juice, and the Bible as teaching total abstinence from alcohol, was written by a Seventh Day Adventist. It should also not surprise us that his book has been praised by Protestant fundamentalists, who have yet to publish anything equally scholarly on the subject.9 We should not regard these fundamentalist authors as weak Christians. We should regard them as stubbornly, heretically, arrogantly wrong.10 When David Wilkerson writes that “Christians who drink alcoholic beverages of any kind are deceiving themselves,”11 he is deceiving his fundamentalist readers. When Jack Van Impe writes that “Alcohol is never approved of by God in any amount for the obedient Christian,”12 he is being disobedient to God. When he writes that “Everyone who drinks has an alcohol problem,”13 he reveals that he has an exegesis problem.

Conclusion

Strict prohibitionism is a manifestation of legalism. Legalism is a system of man-made rules that are not found in the Bible, which are then substituted for covenantal obedience to God’s Bible-revealed laws. Legalism also substitutes the traditions of men for the clear revelation of God in His Bible. The heart of Pharisaism was its legalism. Jesus did not tolerate it. Neither did Paul.

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1. Gary North, Inheritance and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on

Deuteronomy, 2nd ed.(Dallas, Georgia: Point Five Press, [1999] 2012), ch. 35.

2. According to the standard lexicon by Brown, Driver, and Briggs. See Gentry,

God Gave Wine: What the Bible Says About Alcohol (Lincoln, California: Oakdown,

2001), p. 60. This is an update of his book, The Christian and Alcoholic Beverages: A

Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1986).

3. Gentry, idem.

4. Ibid., p. 34.

5. Ibid., pp. 38–39.

6. Ibid., ch. 4.

7. Gary North, Boundaries and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Leviticus,

2nd ed. (Dallas, Georgia: Point Five Press, [1994] 2012), ch. 8.

8. Gentry, God Gave Wine. See also G. I. Williamson, Wine in the Bible and the

Church (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Pilgrim, 1976).

9. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible: A Biblical Study on the Use of Alcoholic

Beverages (Chicago: Signal Press, 1989). For a list of laudatory praise from

fundamentalists, including Dallas Theological Seminary’s John Walvoord, see

Bacchiocchi’s Web site: http://tinyurl.com/2mev9

10. Is “heretical” too strong a word? Fundamentalists regard Dr. Bacchiocchi’s and

the SDA’s position on soul-sleep rather than hell as heretical. They regard the SDA’s

and his view of the Saturday sabbath as heretical. It is their task to show exegetically

why they are not heretical when they stand with Seventh Day Adventism on the

alcohol issue.

11. David Wilkerson, Sipping Saints (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Revell, 1978), p. 35;

cited in Gentry, God Gave Wine, p. 4.

12. Jack Van Impe, Alcohol: The Beloved Enemy (Nashville, Tennessee: Nelson,

1980), p. 8; cited in Gentry, idem.

13. Van Impe, Alcohol, p. 149; cited in Gentry, ibid., p. 2.

Article from Dr. Gary North’s Judgement and Dominion – An Economic Commentary on I Corinthians, Appendix B, Legalism vs. Alcohol. (garynorth.com)

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