The Wine of the Bible (Part 2)

PMT 2013-008b by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Below is a study on the alcoholic nature of wine in the Bible.

In my current non-eschatology series we are considering the question of the morality of alcoholic beverages for the Christian. In the last study I introduced the matter. In this one I will focus on the issue of whether the wine in the Bible was alcoholic.

Undoubtedly, the starting point for any rational discussion of the matter must be with the nature of the wine in Scripture. The moderationist position is that the wine righteously employed by and allowed for consumption among God’s people in the Bible is a fermented quality, alcoholic content beverage. Consider the evidence for this assertion.

1. Lexical Consensus. The leading Old and New Testament lexicons and etymological dictionaries affirm that the major terms used of wine represent a fermented beverage, a “wine”, not “grape juice.” The most important terms for the debate that are employed in Scripture are yayin and shekar (Hebrew) and oinos (Greek).

2. Translational Consensus. The major English translations of Scripture translate these words by English equivalents that bespeak alcoholic beverages, rather than terms such as “juice,” “grape juice,” and so forth. Translations include: “wine,” “strong drink,” “liquor,” and “beer.”

3. Lexical Relationship. One of the major words in our debate is shekar (“strong drink,” NASB). It is the noun form of the verb shakar, which means “become drunk.” This is evidence of the inebriating capacity of shekar.

4. Contextual Usage. Many of the verses that condemn drunkenness make reference to such beverages as yayin, shekar, and oinos. In addition, yayin is said to “make glad the heart” in a number of places. This surely has reference to the effect of an alcoholic beverage, when used in moderation.

5. Descriptive Reference. In certain places in Scripture the aging of the liquid express of the grape is specifically mentioned (Is. 25:5, 6; Luke 5:39). Aging is an essential factor for wine to be alcoholic.

6. Circumspection Requirement. On some occasions, “strong” Christians are instructed to forgo the use of wine (Rom. 14:21), when there is a serious likelihood of “destroying” (Rom 14:15) a “weaker brother” (Rom. 14:1; 15:1). This surely indicates the temporary forgoing of an alcoholic beverage, rather than grape juice.

7. Ecclesiastical Expectation. Church officers are required to use wine in moderation (I Tim. 3:8; Tit. 2:3), indicating its fermented quality and intoxicating capacity.

8. Qualified Silence. Interestingly, there are no Biblical distinctions between “safe” wines. Scripture lacks any commendation of “new wine” (fresh grape juice) over and exclusive of “old wine” (fermented beverages). Scripture lacks any commendation of watered wine over undiluted wine (it even disparages water wine, Is. 1:22). Scripture lacks any encouragement to retarding fermentation, which occurs naturally. Evidence exists that wine was intentionally exposed in order to accelerate the fermentation process (Is. 25:6; Jer. 48:11).

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Helpful studies

Debate on Use of Alcohol (1 CD)
Kenneth Gentry v. president of National Templar’s Society
For more information or to order: click here

In this on-air radio debate Dr. Gentry engages the president of the National Templar’s Society on the question of whether it is ever acceptable for a Christian to drink alcohol. Provides helpful insights into both sides of the issue.

God Gave Wine Lecture (DVD)
by Kenneth Gentry
For more information or to order: click here

In this professionally-produced, four-part docu-lecture series, Dr. Gentry engages a hotly-debated issue within the Christian church: the question of the Christian and alcoholic beverages.

Dr. Gentry presents and defends the case for a moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages by Christians. These four lectures cover all the essential Bible verses and logical arguments defending a Christian’s right to partake of alcohol. He does so in an irenic manner and while noting biblical warnings about the potential dangers of alcohol, when they are abused.

The four lectures are between 20-25 minutes in length. This is perfect for use in a Sunday school program, or any personal or small group Bible study.

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9 thoughts on “The Wine of the Bible (Part 2)

  1. Heidi Levy Hamil October 3, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    So, are you convinced that Jesus and the apostles drank alchohol at the Communion table? If I remember correctly, the original language says “fruit of the vine”. What do you think of grape juice at the Lord’s supper?

  2. Perry Hess October 3, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    I find it both amusing & frustrating when pastors attempt to dealcoholize the wine in Scripture when we celebrate the Lord’s Table by calling it “the fruit of the vine.”
    That may very well be biblical language, but it’s obviously used today to deny the inebriate quality of wine in the Bible.
    I like the quote by Doug Wilson, “If your pastor says that the wine in the Bible was actually grape juice, how can you trust anything he says?”

  3. Sandra McFerran October 3, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Thank you for the list of useages of ‘wine’ – as found in scripture. Do we know why , or when exactly that the use became an abomination in the eyes of many?
    A few centuries later I know the (earlier) women’s movement hounded every and all about it .. but where did htey get their so-called proof? Other than beating their husbands for spending and getting drunk, being wastrels of the worsrt kind – what was the point?

  4. Kenneth Gentry October 3, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    Yes, I believe so, and for many reasons. (1) Obviously “Fruit of the vine” does not mean a bowl of grapes, for it is a liquid that is drunk. (2) The language “fruit of the vine” was more or less a “sanctified” way of referring to wine. Something of a liturgical expression showing that it is the blessing that comes from the vine. (3) Jesus clearly drank wine; in fact one distinction between him and John the Baptist was over this very issue. Jesus says: “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Matt 11:18-19). John was a radical prophet making a dramatic point by denying himself access to life’s enjoyments as a testimony against Israel: “John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matt 3:4). (4) In 1 Corinthians we see that people were actually getting drunk in the context of Communion (1 Cor 11:21-22).

    I think grape juice is not the best form to use, but it is genealogically related to wine, being made of the same product. Were we to change it Coca Cola or orange juice, that would be a radical departure from the God-ordained element.

  5. Michael Whitrow October 4, 2013 at 1:30 am

    Today’s wine is indeed fermented. But it’s also laced with various additives to enhance taste, color, texture, bouquet and probably shelf-life. Compared to wines in OT and NT times, today’s wines benefit from centuries of experience and expertise. So today, we enjoy a huge range of varieties and styles of wine, thanks to division of labor, technology and sheer hard work.
    I have Christian friends who eschew wine for various reasons, but it’s been a long time since I’ve met a Christian who’s zealously opposed to wine consumption.
    L’chaim!

  6. suhancock October 4, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    While I agree that drinking wine or alcohol is not actually prohibited in the bible (in fact Paul encouraged (a little) for health benefits – this was possibly due to the lack of safe drinking water and of course Jesus turned water into wine (it is an interesting thought though as to whether it was alcoholic or not – it is implied that it may have been, it seems that it at least tasted very good)
    As a young christian in my teenage years it was very much “drilled” into me that a christian should not drink alcohol and so wanting to do thing right I never drank and now many years later to a degree I still have that belief, however now it is more for other reasons than just the alcohol itself.
    I should also add that even though I come from a non believing family, alcohol was never a regular part of our family life (a pre-Christmas drinks and nibbles party for a select few family friends was about all I remember even though there was some in the drinks cabinet it was very rarely consumed)

    My reasons now for abstaining (apart from loathing the smell of alcohol) have become more to do with many years of involvement with a Christian based drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. For an addict – there can be no half measures in that an occasional one is OK – the only way for them is complete abstention. Therefore as a fellow believer it is unhelpful for them to see me or other Christians drinking alcohol (or using drugs???) saying “well I don’t have a problem with it” so I can have some but you can’t”

    Paul discusses where people of “strong faith” are not restricted by these beliefs (eg unclean meat, wine etc) because they give thanks to God for it and are able to keep the required moderation (ie not get drunk).
    Those of “weak faith” or new believers are then exposed to a stumbling block by another believer being inconsiderate.

    I admit to feeling a little uncomfortable when I see pictures of Christian friends (especially some of the younger ones) with glasses of wine or beer having a good time. I wonder if non Christians see this and think “you are no different going out and getting drunk (they may not be getting drunk but that image is being implied by a cheery rise of the glass). We would be horrified if they were using drugs (smoking??) to my mind there is not a lot of difference.

    So it’s more “not about me” but it’s about Jesus and being wise in considering your fellow believer

  7. Kenneth Gentry October 4, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    I wonder if it is unhelpful for former alcoholics to read Bible passage affirming wine-drinking. Even Christ himself drinking it?

  8. J. Wolf October 11, 2013 at 5:43 am

    I just started reading your book on alcohol. I hope it will answer the question many often make in that they say that the wine in Jesus’s day is not the same as that of today.

  9. Kenneth Gentry October 11, 2013 at 5:45 am

    I haven’t looked at it in a LONG time. I think I touch on that.
    But basically the response to that observation would be: That really doesn’t matter. Drunkenness is the problem, and they were able to get drunk on it in biblical days. Nevertheless, God allowed them to drink it, though he condemned alcohol abuse and drunkenness. The “problem” today is that drinking requires extra care. We all know many, many people who drink alcoholic beverages without abusing it.

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