Jesus and Wine

Did Jesus turn water into “alcoholic” wine at a party?

Did Jesus drink alcoholic wine? It is assumed by a great many that He did. Let’s examine this for a moment. Do you know how much wine Jesus made during His first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana? He made 6 firkins, or about 150 gallons. Now, of course, the New International Version (NIV), which never changes anything of significance (yea, right), says by implication that Jesus did this “after the GUESTS had too much to drink”. You do understand that Jesus was a GUEST don't you??? So, let me understand this correctly, Jesus was at a party where the guests were drinking to excess, Jesus was one of the guests, and He supplied a few extra kegs to liven things up a bit after they had already drank to excess. Is that your Jesus?

Jesus Sinned?

The King James Bible (KJB) rendering which states they had "well drunken" (had plenty to drink) is the correct one. The New American Standard Version and other literal modern versions agree with the KJB here, leaving the NIV alone in its radically liberal paraphrase. Even if you take the rendering in the KJB, which I do, you have to conclude the guests had drank their fill of wine. If this wine was alcoholic then it is likely that they would not be ready for another 150 gallons of alcoholic wine. Think about it. How many glass of wine would this be? If you figure 4 ounces to a glass, 128 ounces to a gallon, you get 32 glasses of wine per gallon and a grand total of 4,800 glasses of wine.  Now I do not know how many people were at this feast, but surely 500 would be a large number for such an event at this time. If this wine was alcoholic then Jesus did cause all who were there to drink to excess. This is clearly a sin in the Old Testament. Not only would His excessive drinking have been a sin, but causing others to do so is also a sin. Every Jew present at this wedding, and they were undoubtedly all Jews, would have known Him to be a sinner because of this verse, and many others:

Habakkuk 2:15 Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also,.......

Now my liberal (apostate) friends are quick to assert that Jesus drank alcoholic wine, as a tea totaler of course, but are often shocked by the implication this has in John 2. Some have suggested that Jesus didn't drink any, and that the guests did not have to drink all that he made. These are interesting thoughts, but I think it is clear from context that the guests had drank their fill and were now given a great deal more to drink. I think it is also abundantly clear from context this was not alcoholic wine.

Biblical Word Wine and Its Usage

The word "wine" is mentioned 231 times in the King James Bible. In the Old Testament there are 3 Hebrew words that are all translated as “wine”.

  • YAYIN: Intoxicating, fermented wine (Genesis 9:21).
  • TIROSH: Fresh grape juice (Proverbs 3:10).
  • SHAKAR: Intoxicating, intensely alcoholic, strong drink (often referred to other intoxicants than wine) (Numbers 28:7).

The New Testament, translated from Greek, uses the word “wine” for both fermented and unfermented drink. There are 2 Greek words for wine the New Testament.

  • OINOS: Wine (generic) - Matthew 9:17 -- unfermented, Ephesians 5:18 -- fermented.
  • GLEUKOS: Sweet wine, fresh juice (Acts 2:13).

The context reveals the type of wine as in Proverbs 20:1, ”Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise”. If grape juice is substituted for the word wine, the verse doesn't make sense.

The Bible is full of prohibitions about using alcoholic wine. It was forbidden for priests and for those who took the Nazarite vow. It was forbidden for kings and princes (Proverbs 31:4-6) and pronounced woe upon anyone who provided his neighbor alcoholic wine and made him drunk (Habakkuk 2:15). It would be inconsistent for the Bible to speak against alcoholic wine and then have Jesus ignore it.

Relevant Questions to the Discussion

Didn't they use fermentation to preserve wine? How much alcohol content does naturally fermented wine have? Did they ever water it down? Is granulated sugar important to fermentation and alcoholic content? Was fermentation the only way to preserve grape juice?

Fermentation, Preservation and Alcoholic Content

One must have a clear understanding of fermentation to see the unlikelihood of the above contention. First, naturally (no additives) fermented wine has a low alcoholic content. Until the advent of widely available granulated sugar, strongly alcoholic wine was rare. To make wine strongly alcoholic like what we have today (10%-15%) you must add a lot of sugar and yeast. These are the two key components to fermentation, and they are not present in large enough quantities naturally to create the strong wine we have today. Alcoholic wine during biblical times, which was much weaker than the wine of today, was often watered down for drinking. They basically only had water and wine. Like Pepsi or Coke today, wine was consumed by adults and children alike as a tasty substitute for water. Watering down wine was something they did and they drank it this way regularly. Also, boiling it down to a syrup was frequently done for preservation. This boiling killed the yeast that would cause fermentation. The syrup could easily be reconstituted later for drinking purposes. A third form of preservation was by straining out the yeast to prevent fermentation.

The Myth of Natural Fermentation

Nature NEVER forms spiritous liquors. The fruit (grape) may rot and turn sour but it takes ART to convert juice to alcohol. The indispensable conditions for vinous fermentation are exact proportions of sugar, yeast or gluten and water with air temperature between 50 and 75 degrees. Chemical science forbids vinous fermentation when heat exceeds 75 degrees and assures the acetous (vinegar). Since the Middle East is well above that even at night most of the year, something had to be done to preserve the juice (wine) for the year, or else it would all turn to vinegar! To assume it was all turned to alcoholic wine is a ridiculous assertion and flies in the face of historical fact. Josephus, famous Jewish historian declares that he has seen provisions at the Jewish fortress Massada including grapes and fruits, kept fresh to last for 100 years!!!! Pliny the Roman historian confirms this. Don't let anyone tell you that grapes have to be kept by making alcoholic wine so they can last the year!! 

So we see that the portrayal that grape juice was only preserved by fermentation is utterly false. Unfermented wine was the most common wine in biblical times. It was not what we know as wine today which is always alcoholic. You cannot defend wine drinking today on the basis of biblical times because the two are totally different.

Argument from the Passover

Some will still say that Jesus Christ indeed drank alcoholic wine and we know this by the passover (which was the last supper - Mark 14:14-17). There is a difference of seven months grapes between the harvest and passover. They will say “they didn't have refrigerators, so to keep the grapes from souring, they were fermented”. As we have shown above, the seven month time span would not have been a problem due to the multitude of frequently used preservation methods, all of which easier than fermentation, available to the people at that time.

Furthermore, in Matthew 26 it was "the fruit of the vine” (verse 29) they drank. This is also in Mark 14, Luke 22, and 1Corinthians 11. The “fruit of the vine” would be grapes, and when the grapes are crushed they do not make alcoholic wine. You do know that God calls it wine while the juice is still in the grape don't you?

Isaiah 65:8 Thus saith the LORD, As the new wine is found in the cluster....

Argument from the Good Samaritan

Another contention about Jesus drinking alcoholic wine stems from the story of the Good Samaritan. The Greek word for wine used here is oinos. The claim is that it is alcoholic here because the Good Samaritan used it as an antiseptic. This is the same Greek word used in John 2, so it is contended that Jesus did turn the water into alcoholic wine.

If you know anything at all about Greek you know that oinos can refer to fermented or unfermented grape juice. The word oinos is used at least 33 times in the LXX to translate tirosh the Hebrew word for grape juice. The word “wine” not only in Greek, but in Old English, in Latin, and in Hebrew is a generic term including all kinds of wine, unfermented and fermented.

In the 1828 Webster’s dictionary wine is defined as unfermented and fermented juice. Only by context can one know whether the wine in question is fermented or not. Thus, the fact the wine made by Christ at Cana is called oinos offers no grounds for concluding hat it was fermented wine.

It is interesting that the new versions, which claim to have up-to-date language, still translate all these original language words as wine since the definition of the English word "wine" has changed in the last 100 years. Where the KJB is accurate in its translation given the definition of the word in 1611, the new versions misrepresent the true meaning of these Hebrew and Greek words when they translate what is by definition juice in the Old Testament (tirosh) and clearly presented as such in context in the New Testament.

It is a false private interpretation of these passages in the NIV that the guests, including Jesus, were drunken and then Jesus made more to further the intoxication. The fact is that the context tells us otherwise. By the simple fact that the governor of the feast noted that He had saved the good wine until last. If they had been intoxicated the governor would not have been able to tell it was the best because his senses would be dulled. The argument from the Greek word oinos is completely invalid.

Argument from the Pharisee's Accusation

Another contention about Jesus drinking alcoholic wine comes from what our Lord said about the Pharisees. The Lord was demonstrating how it was impossible to please these arrogant theological intellectuals. No matter what you did they could find it to be wrong somehow. Jesus gives the illustration like this:

Matthew 11:18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. 19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.

 The argument from this passage goes like this: "Jesus must have drank alcoholic wine or they would not have made the accusation". That is an interesting comment, one that I considered very closely. However, if this argumentation is correct it must be applicable to the former comment about John the Baptist. For them to accuse him he must have been possessed by a devil (maybe just a little one and only infrequently). The obvious implication of this analogy is that neither is true. John was not possessed of a devil, and Jesus did not drink alcoholic wine and therefore could not have been a winebibber. It also bears mention that the Pharisees also accused him of breaking the sabbath by healing the sick, and of blaspheming God by making Himself equal with God. Neither of these accusations were true since helping the sick on the sabbath does not fall under the category of work (Mark 3:3-5), and He was equal and co-eternal with the Father (John 1:1-18).

What Does the Bible Say About Drinking?

Proverbs 23:29 Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? 30 They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. 31 Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. 32 At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. 33 Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. 34 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. 35 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.

I know, I know, you guys that drink alcohol never drink too much do you? Sure you don't. I was around people who drank this stuff a lot before I was saved and I know from experience that someone who drinks almost always does it to get a buzz from it.  Do your eyes behold strange women when you drink? Do you utter perverse things, like curse words, or dirty jokes when you drink? I am convinced that most of the fornication going on out there is at least partially attributable to alcohol consumption. Even the most worldly people consider it a sin product. Keep justifying it in your mind, but remember this verse:

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

Is Wine Destructive?

As I have demonstrated, nowhere in scripture do we find Jesus drinking alcoholic wine. Alcohol is destructive and addictive. It is a depressant drug that actually attacks the brain cells and destroys them. Twenty percent of all patients admitted into mental hospitals have a problem with alcohol. Alcohol has caused numerous health and social problems. In addition to this a majority of traffic fatalities and accidents can be directly attributive to alcohol. Drunkenness destroys lives and relationships. It is not just a disease. It is a sin.

Notice the damage alcohol did in the lives of these Bible characters:

  • Noah - It brought shame (Genesis 9:21).
  • Lot - His daughters committed incest (Genesis 19:30-36).
  • Nabal - God killed him (1Samuel 25:36-37).
  • Elah - Was murdered by Zimri (1Kings 16:9-10).
  • Belshazzar - The Assyrians take his kingdom (Daniel 5)
  • The Corinthians - During the Lord's Super God kills some (1Corinthians 11).

Where Do You Get Your Joy?

Some people seek their happiness, comfort and peace in a bottle. The Lord will always be the Christian's source of joy. Jesus said in John 15:11, "These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full". 1John 1:4 reminds us, "And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full".

God has given us His Word to provide comfort and to maintain joy in our lives. The Christian's happiness does not come in a bottle. It comes in a book -- the Bible!  Consider that others are watching our example. What example are we setting? 1Thessalonians 5:22 warns us, “Abstain from all appearance of evil”.  

Will Hoyt

Daily Proverb

Proverbs 31:19

She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.