WINE AND THE BIBLE (Part 1: Not All Wine is Alcoholic)

This series will hit a number of topics and questions that I have received since moving to Northeast Mississippi. The series will be controversial, not everyone will agree with the conclusions in the articles. Nevertheless, I hope the facts will speak for themselves. Hopefully, all readers will consider the biblical and scientific evidence with an open mind. If nothing else, these articles will be useful in referring them to people who ask questions about alcohol. The individuals can study the information at will and over time without having to be hit with several facts all at once. Furthermore, the information may contradict what the inquirers have heard and believed, which will make the conclusions harder to accept.

In the current culture, the average speaker makes a referential distinction between the grape product that is alcoholic and the grape product that is non-alcoholic, which is wine and grape juice. Unfortunately, in 1611, when the King James Version appeared on the scene, the western world universally accepted and practiced the drinking of wine, especially in Europe. Thus, the necessity to differentiate between “new” and “strong” wine or wine and grape juice was not felt or followed. Therefore, when modern Christians read that Jesus drank wine (John 2:1-11; Matthew 11:19), that the apostles drank wine (Acts 2:19), that King Solomon drank wine (Eccl. 9:7), they assume the wine is alcoholic because people understand all wine to be alcoholic.  

God inspired the original writings, not the translations. The Greek and Hebrew words translated “wine” possessed no natural distinctions in themselves to determine if the liquid was juice or alcoholic. The Hebrew words for wine, which can mean either grape juice or alcoholic wine, were yayin, tiyrosh, and chamar. All three of these words meant grape juice or alcoholic wine depending on the context. In the Greek, the word translated wine was oinos,and it too could mean either alcoholic liquor or grape juice depending on the context. The context must be considered and read carefully to determine whether the word was meant to be grape juice or alcoholic wine because if all the Hebrew and Greek words translated “wine” meant the alcoholic beverage then the Bible would contradict itself in several places.

Consider how the Bible uses the word “wine.” Proverbs 20:1 states, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” God likewise calls wine violent (Prov. 4:17), He warns the beverage will bite like a serpent and sting like an adder (Prov. 23:31-32), God sees alcohol as a tool of manipulation commanding His people not to give it to their neighbors (Hab. 2:5, 15), and Isaiah specifically commands the Israelites not to drink wine (Isa. 24:9). The Almighty employs the word yayin. However, the Bible doesn’t use this word in the negative each time.

God utilities the same Hebrew word, yayin, in Genesis 27:28: “Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine.” The Bible describes wine as given by God for comfort. Judges 9:13 says that the wine, which God gave, is cheerful for both man and God. This does not sound like the same drink God describes in Proverbs 20:1. In Ecclesiastes 9:7, Solomon records, “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.” The king tells God’s people to drink wine because God found favor with their work. Certainly, this drink cannot be the same drink that Isaiah tells the followers of God not to drink; if it was then this would be a huge contradiction in scripture.

The Bible calls wine a “blessing” in Isaiah 65:8. This contradicts all the other passages of how wine is described. Isaiah 65:8 also mentions that which is squeezed from the “cluster” of grapes is called “wine.” Obviously, if the juice is squeezed directly from the cluster of fruit while still on the vine it cannot be an alcoholic beverage. Clearly, not every word translated “wine” means the alcoholic beverage because if it did then the Bible would be constantly contradicting itself and God would be the author of confusion, which He is not (1 Cor. 14:33)!

Some have tried to argue that alcoholic wine can be a blessing and a curse depending on who and how one uses it. On the surface, some might see the argument as creditable. However, if alcohol could be drunk socially or recreationally in a responsible way, then why does God categorize the recreational use of alcohol as universally bad? Why forbid His people from drinking any alcoholic wine when one could be told how to drink socially in a respectable way? Every person in AA has at one time told themselves they could drink responsibly and be fine. This is why God said, “whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). God knows the slippery slope of alcohol and how dangerous it is. God obviously doesn’t want His people in a situation where they constantly have to toe the line of wickedness.

When reading the context, alcoholic wine is sometimes called “strong” (Isa. 24:9), “mixed” (Prov. 23:30), or “red” (Prov. 23:31) in order to help readers determine the kind of wine mentioned. Non-alcoholic wine is sometimes called “new” (Isa. 65:8), “the good” (John 2:10), or “the best” (Son. 7:9). Reading the Bible as a whole and in context will amazingly clarify numerous misconceptions that people hold.

Before any real study of biblical wines can begin, one must understand the point that not all mentions of “wine” relates to alcohol. If readers refuse to acknowledge this fact, they will be met with constant confusion and no doubt, come to wrong conclusions.

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