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In discussions I have had in the past over the acceptability of a Christian drinking alcohol I have heard that some 'dry' believers say that the wine in the Bible was not wine as we know it commonly today. It was actually non-alcoholic grape juice.

I personally believe that the wine of Jesus' day is the wine that we know.

Is there any Biblical/historical evidence to the contrary, that the wine of the past was non-fermented juice?

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    My understanding is that "wine" refers to diluted wine, whereas "strong drink" refers to what we call wine. Distillation was not an available technology, so the strongest available was wine. I will have to find a reference. – Ray Aug 23 '11 at 19:48
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    It's clear that some translation/preservation issues exist in some places. For example, during the incident on the Day of Pentecost, when the Apostles spoke in tongues, some Jews mocked them and said "these men are full of new wine." (Meaning, specifically, unfermented grape juice; other translations also use words specific to non-alcoholic drinks.) And yet the clear implication, which is also embodied in the rebuttal to this accusation, is that they were drunk and babbling, so something's wrong somewhere in the text... – Mason Wheeler Aug 23 '11 at 20:20
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    Without refrigeration, it's nearly impossible to keep grape juice from fermenting. Put a glass of grape juice on your counter and see how fast (2 - 3 days) it ferments. – Gilbert Le Blanc Aug 15 '12 at 13:24
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    @Mason Wheeler: Yes, the translation "new wine" is quite erroneous. The Greek word is γλεῦκος, from which we derive our English word "glucose," meaning "sugar," and thus, "sweet." Now, the question is, is γλεῦκος ever used in a context that certainly indicates it is or can be an intoxicating substance? Would you like me to start a new thread? – user900 Dec 18 '12 at 18:46

13 Answers 13

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First, understand people will adjust the literal translations of the Bible in order to hear what they want to hear. They will also interpret the words of the Bible based off of their own definitions as defined by their surroundings without truly finding out what those words meant to Jesus.

When the Bible says that Jesus turned water into wine. Then that's what it means. Jesus literally turned water into wine.

Jesus was not opposed to you drinking alcohol. He specifically states that we need to stay sober in all things and to not drink to the point that we become fools. We also have a responsibility to take care of our bodies and not trash them with excessive drink.


1 Samuel 1:13-14, NIV
13Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

It's pretty clear that they had fermented drinks far before Christ came.


And finally to answer your question, here is a verse just for you, straight from God.

1 Timothy 5:23, NIV
23Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

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    I think that last verse from Timothy gives some important temporal context. Some 2000 years ago, pure water was not as ubiquitous as it is today, and illness from contaminated water was likely a far more frequent occurrence than it is in advanced societies today. Wine had the benefit of being less prone to contamination due to the alcohol, "more healthy" than water. – jrista Aug 23 '11 at 21:15
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    This is getting away from the original question but the point of mentioning 1 Timothy 5:23 was to show that drinking alcohol is not sinful in itself. To argue otherwise would be to argue that this command in 1 Timothy is sinful. – Jeff Aug 26 '11 at 22:44
  • @jrista: I'm pretty sure that isn't the only reason for that direction, as I believe there are various studies showing that there are various health benefits to drinking (very) moderate amounts of wine/alcohol. Just my theory, anyway :) – RCIX Aug 31 '11 at 2:17
  • @RCIX: Sure, there are definitely health benefits to drinking a glass of one every day or two...its loaded with antioxidants. Not that they would have really known that scientifically back then like we do today... I just wanted to point out that there was a fundamental health benefit to drinking fermented alcoholic drinks, given the far more limited ability to purify water 2000+ years ago. – jrista Aug 31 '11 at 2:38
  • Good points. But, I'd swap in the verse from gmoothart's answer instead of your 2nd, which doesn't necessarily imply, in my opinion, that the "wine" was alcoholic; only that it wasn't water. – svidgen Dec 18 '12 at 15:54
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It is simply impossible to keep the juice from crushed grapes from fermenting without modern refrigeration and pasteurization techniques. So yes, the wine was alcoholic.

There is plenty of textual evidence as well, but this should do:

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Luke 7:34, Darby

Hard to be accused of being a drunkard if the wine isn't alcoholic!

  • Great point (+1), boldly I say (to go along with your answer) that the wine Jesus was drinking had little alcohol and it was just to have some grape drink with his meal or w/e. I doubt he ever got any kind of buzz. The accusations were probably very extreme, as they were trying to find any reason to accuse Him. – Nick Rolando Feb 3 '12 at 1:57
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    @shredder according to John 6:10 the master of the wedding was shocked that It was "good wine" because it was well into the ceremony and the people were already pretty happy. This does not sound like something with hardly any alcohol. – onetwopunch Jan 11 '14 at 18:00
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    Thanks I did mean John 2:10. And you would be hard-pressed to find a 'good wine' with 'little alcohol' especially so little to be compared with 'grape drink'. The reason the master seemed shocked is that in Jewish weddings of the time, the celebration would go on for days and if there was no more wine, logic dictates the people drank it all. I'd assume they were pretty happy by that point but that is an assumption. To assume though that Jesus was at the wedding and made the wine yet did not partake seems a bit silly to me. – onetwopunch Jan 14 '14 at 21:01
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    @ecesurfer Even if Jesus himself did not drink the wine that he created from water, would he have even provided it if its mere consumption was a sin? I don't think so. – outXast Oct 24 '14 at 2:33
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    @ecesurfer, Yes I read your comment and was agreeing with you. You commented about whether Jesus drank the wine he provided. I was just adding that if it was sinful simply to drink, he would not have provided it in the first place. – outXast Oct 24 '14 at 15:51
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Important Question

What purpose could the prohibition against drunkenness possibly have to a group of people who were unable to get drunk?

If the wine wasn't really wine, then how could they get drunk? Noah certainly got drunk and appears to have passed out from wine. This could be the result of wine fermenting faster in the post-flood environment than it did prior to that. Nonetheless, he certainly became drunk on wine.

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. Genesis 9:20-21

Additionally, there is proverb that prescribes wine and strong drink for those who are in misery. It seems to reach a level of absurity if you think grape juice will help people forget their misery.

Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.

It seems that "dry" Christians as you call them are fearful that some people among them (in their church or even their children) will become alcoholics if they don't think any alcohol at all is absolutely sinful.

There is also an issue of "the weaker brother". If you're around a group of devout Christians who believe it's wrong to drink alcohol, it would certainly be wrong for you to do so in their midst and be a stumbling block to them.

Finally, there are those whose consciences bother them about things that aren't sin. Eating meat sacrificed to idols was the issue addressed by Paul. People who came out of idolatry had a genuine problem with that. For that reason, Paul was willing to honor them by his own personal choices, lest he make them stumble. Those who have come from backgrounds where alcohol was a vice often have similar reactions against alcohol. For such people, it is best to honor them and not be a stumbling block to them.

We live as free men--free from the law--yet it is wrong to exercise our freedom to the detriment of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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    Exellent answer. There is nothing wrong with alcoholic drinks. Jesus and his disciples drank wine, and his first miracle was making it. Wine is good, just like food and sex is good. It is only wrong when misused (Drunkenness). Sex is wrong when done in the wrong context (Lust, Fornication), but in marriage it is a great thing, blessed by God. Food is wrong when you over do it (Gluttony). People just love to add "new laws". – ryanwinchester Aug 25 '14 at 16:30
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Wine in the Bible may have had alcohol in it, as it was necessary to keep it from spoiling. Proverbs 23:31 does seem to distinguish that some wines had higher alcohol contents than others and it says to avoid that wine:

Proverbs 23:29-31 Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? 30They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. 31Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.

Also, in Isaiah 65:8, it mentions new wine being found in a cluster, which obviously is not fermented, so it clearly doesn't always have alcohol in it, at least.

Isaiah 65:8 Thus saith the LORD, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants' sakes, that I may not destroy them all.

  • Yup, back in the day they had no preservatives. – leeand00 Aug 31 '11 at 4:36
  • grapes will ferment on the vine – warren Nov 23 '16 at 16:43
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Hebrew and Greek Words Translated as 'Wine'

When the Bible referes to "wine" it does not necessarily refer to the same thing every time, there are at least 18 different words that have all been translated as "wine" somewhere in the bible, they are listed below.

It is interesting to note that in the N.T., which was composed in Koine Greek, all occurrences of wine are primarily translated from the generic term "Oinos" which is used to refer to all types of wine EXCEPT Shekar, which is defined below as, "What satiates, intoxicates" and is rendered instead in Greek as "Sikera" which is translated as "Strong Drink."

The wine that we know most certainly existed in Christ's time, but not all references to wine made in the bible are the same kind of drink, some were most certainly just juice.

The only occurrence of the word "juice" anywhere in the bible is in Song of Solomon 8:2;

... I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.

The Hebrew word asis translated in this verse as "juice", is translated everywhere else in the bible as either "new wine", or "sweet wine".


Yayin - Generic term for the "juice of the grape", either fermented or unfermented; meaning "what is pressed out".

Tirosh - "Freshly expressed grape-juice in its natural condition". Translated in the Authorized Version (A.V.) as "new wine" eleven times; "wine" twenty-six times; "sweet wine" once; and "vintage" three times. Always translated as "new wine" in the Revised Version (R.V.). Not used for fermented wine.

Shekar - Hebrew: "What satiates, intoxicates". A saccharine drink rendered as "strong drink" (21x), and "strong wine" (1x). Described as a liquor made from dates, barley, etc. and always as a curse. In the Greek Old Testament (LXX) rendered as 'sikera', or sometimes as 'methusma' or 'methé'; and once as 'oinos'. Occurs only once in the New Testament (N.T.).

Asis - "Anything pressed on or trodden out". Rendered as "juice" (1x), "new wine" (2x), and "sweet wine" (2x). Not necessarily unfermented; not to be confused with "tirosh" (ISAIAH 49:26; JOEL 1:5; JOEL 3:18; AMOS 9:13). Ashishah - Denotes "a cake of raisins". Rendered wrongly in A.V. as "flagons", but corrected in the Revised Versions.

Chemer - "A thick, sticky syrup; foaming juice". Indicates all kinds of wine (ISAIAH 27:2).

Chamar - The Aramaic form, used in EZRA 6:9 and DANIEL 5:1-4, literally means "foaming" and denotes fermented wine.

Sobe - "Anything sucked in or up". Probably indicated inspissated or boiled wines. Non-intoxicating beverage. 'Sobe-yayin' - lit. "soakers of wine".

Shemer - "What is preserved; the sediment". Rendered as "dregs", "lees", or "wine in the lees" (See ISAIAH 25:6).

Nasek - "Drink offering". Lit. "that which is poured out; a libation".

Mimsak - "Anything mixed". Rendered "drink-offering", or "mixed wine" (ISAIAH 65:11).

Yeqeb - Originally a vat or trough; then used as a wine-press or wine-vat. Occurs 16 times (e.g. NUMBERS 18:27).

Enab - Ripe or round grape, or grape-cake (HOSEA 3:1).

Chomets - Vinegar, sour or unripe grapes (Greek: 'oxos').

Misteh - General term for beverage, especially wine (EZRA 3:7; DANIEL 1:10).

Oinos - Generic term (used in the LXX) for all kinds of wine except 'shekar'. Also occurs in N.T. (Greek) 32 times.

Sikera - Greek: "Strong drink" (See 'shekar').

Gleukos - Used only once (ACTS 2:13), as "new wine"; corresponds to fermented.

Methuo - To be "drunk", or "filled to the full" (Greek).

source

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Jesus first miracle was to turn water into wine. The guest of the party responds to the host, saying that most people serve bad wine after the guests are drunk:

John 2:10 (NWT)

and said to him: “Every other man puts out the fine wine first, and when people are intoxicated, the inferior. You have reserved the fine wine until now.”

If we go further back in the bible, we see Noah getting drunk on wine directly after getting off the ark:

Genesis 9:20-21 (NWT)

20 Now Noah started off as a farmer and proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 And he began drinking of the wine and became intoxicated, and so he uncovered himself in the midst of his tent.

I don't know about you, but drinking a bunch of grape juice generally doesn't make me run around naked.

It's very safe to say that wine from back then would get you drunk. (And that's not even mentioning the multitude of verses telling you not to get drunk on wine!)

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I've heard this debated for many years. Has no one here ever made wine? There is no such thing as unfermented wine, 'new' wine refers to wine that has only been fermented for a short period (about 6 weeks). Being grape growers and vinedressers for centuries, I'm pretty certain the people of Jesus' day were pretty expert winemakers. There are ways to make wine with lower alcohol content (witness todays white zinfandel) but natural fermentation peaks at about 14%, although it can be raised higher by fortifying with sugar.

I do love the Lord Jesus and worship Him forever as God and king. I am a dedicated Bible scholar and believe in the literal interpretation of the bible as the infallible word of God, however I believe this one counts as another one of those 'Christian Fables' that usually start with "well back in those days (fill in the blank).

  • "Has no one here ever made wine?" - Not I, and probably not most people. – user900 Sep 20 '15 at 1:06
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Wine (and alcoholic) beverages most certainly are in the Bible - in similar or identical forms to what we'd consider now (possibly excluding complex distillation).

I've recently started a study on the history of alcohol in the Bible, and have found nearly 200 references to the substances.

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A lot is made, by Christians opposed to the drinking of wine, of the idea that the same word in NT Greek might have been used to describe unfermented grape juice and alcoholic wine. While it gives an 'out' for the interpreters opposed to wine to interpret all the passages in favour of wine as meaning 'grape juice' while interpreting all the passage opposed to it as 'wine', the very idea actually indicates the insigificance of the problem. If it was really important in the early church that believers abstain from alcohol, the bible writers would certainly have made the distinction clear - otherwise they would be just opening themselves to misinterpretation.

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In order for grape juice not to become either wine or vinegar, it has to be protected from the action of the airborne bacteria that cause these reactions. The ways to accomplish this are

  1. Sterilization and hermetically sealing the grape juice so that any present bacteria (yeast) is killed and no airborne bacteria can reach the juice).

  2. Freezing the juice so that bacteria cannot grow and produce either alcohol or vinegar.

Since these technologies were not present at the time of Jesus, there are only three possibilities for the liquid from grapes.

  1. Fresh juice (within a week or two of having been picked)

  2. Vinegar

  3. Alcoholic wine (of various concentrations)

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All of you need to understand that the meaning of "wine" itself is very unclear.

Our modern day English Bible translations all stem from Greek translations, and the Greek word for "Wine" is basically any juice that comes from grapes. Therefore, it can be alcoholic, or not. The context of the word is important.

Ultimately, Proverbs tells us not to drink the wine once it ferments and becomes alcoholic. Go to a winery some day and ask the folks there what wine does when it ferments. It moves and changes color, just like Proverbs says.

Also, if any of you think that using an example of someone sinning means its somehow OK to do, you're way off. David had someone killed just so he could have sex with his beautiful wife. Does that mean the Bible preaches murder and adultery? No. The Bible does not promote getting drunk. All of the examples given on this page of people getting intoxicated are simply stories of sin.

Its very clear: The Bible does not want us to drink alcohol.

P.S. By the way folks, if you're having a party, and everyone is drunk from the wine the host provides (ie: not provided by Jesus), then you don't need to make more alcoholic wine. Its entirely possible that Jesus just made some high quality grape juice.

Reference: Hebrew and Greek Words Translated as 'Wine'

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    I've removed your second post script as it's completely unnecessary and does not add to the answer here. To be quite honest, I'd like to see this give a bit more, you're saying that the translation is incorrect/wrong/misguided, but you're not proving it. You're source looks ok, why not use some quotes from it. A second source (possibly an independent one?) would be good as well. – wax eagle Dec 18 '12 at 13:53
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    Why does Paul say that elders are not to be given to "much" wine, then. Does he really intend to say that elders should limit their intake of grape juice? – Narnian Dec 18 '12 at 15:12
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I have heard (but cannot at this time back up) that the wine of biblical times did have alcohol. However, the alcohol content was typically much lower than that of wine, liquor, or beer we have today. Stronger stuff was very hard to come by. This is part of what makes Jesus' first miracle so significant. This however, is not the main part of my answer: I just wanted to get that out of the way.

The important thing here is to understand what the bible does say about alcohol, and when you look there it comes down pretty hard, not against alcohol, but against drunkeness, especially in Proverbs. It should be noted, though, that the book of Proverbs is more about truisms than absolute doctrinal decrees. Still, it's more than just "don't be an alcoholic", but also, "don't ever drink to get drunk."

1

There is extremely strong Biblical evidence that the wine used during the Last Supper of Jesus was new, unfermented wine. Consider the following scriptural evidence:

  1. The Last supper was eaten on the occasion of Passover and the feast of the unleavened bread.

    “Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?” (Matthew 26:17, KJV 1900)

    Regarding the feast of unleavened bread and passover the Bible says:

    “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even. Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land.” (Exodus 12:18–19, KJV 1900)

Notice the strictness of the command that there shall be no leaven found in your houses - followed by the curse - that anyone who eats anything leavened shall be cut off from the living. Fermented wine as we all know is clearly leavened. Thus the wine at the Last supper cannot be fermented wine - as a consequence it must have been pure fresh wine of grape.

  1. Jesus Himself commented on the nature of the wine used at this occasion.

    “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29, KJV 1900)

Jesus said, I will not drink this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you...

Paul, talking about newness in reference to Passover:

“Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:” (1 Corinthians 5:7, KJV 1900)

The word new means unleavened. Jesus further commented on this:

“Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17, KJV 1900)

New wine being unfermented, will emit carbon-di-oxide during fermentation that would happen once its stored and starts becoming old. If this fresh wine is stored in old bottles (which are leather bags that have already been stretched by the previous batch of wine that was stored), they won't be able to expand further to accommodate fermentation. Thus will burst. Thus when "new wine" is mentioned it is clearly unfermented juice of the Vine.

  1. In general when Bible talks about wine - it can mean either, but the correct meaning is inferred based on the situation in which the wine is used. A good example would be the drink offering.

    “And with the one lamb a tenth deal of flour mingled with the fourth part of an hin of beaten oil; and the fourth part of an hin of wine for a drink offering.” (Exodus 29:40, KJV 1900)

Wine is the substance that is offered as drink offering which is to be offered everyday in the morning and evening.

What is done with the drink offering?

“And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon.” (Genesis 35:14, KJV 1900)

“And the other lamb thou shalt offer at even, and shalt do thereto according to the meat offering of the morning, and according to the drink offering thereof, for a sweet savour, an offering made by fire unto the LORD.” (Exodus 29:41, KJV 1900)

It is poured upon the altar of sacrifice to be offered in fire unto the Lord.

But, interestingly a super strict command was given to the Israelites regarding anything that is offered upon the altar.

“No meat offering, which ye shall bring unto the LORD, shall be made with leaven: for ye shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering of the LORD made by fire.” (Leviticus 2:11, KJV 1900)

Though at first glance one might argue that this applies only to meat offering, it is very plain "in any offering of the Lord made by fire" there shall be absolutely no leaven.

At further analysis it is extremely clear why this was so - Upon the altar, nothing sinful was accepted - only perfect lamb, without any blemish was accepted. This represented the perfect lamb of God who is described as without spot or blemish in 1 Peter 1:19.

Leaven is a symbol of sin in the Bible (1 Cor 5:7 quoted above). Thus anything touched by leaven was not to be offered upon the altar of Sacrifice to be burned.

As the drink offering was poured upon the altar and is an offering made by fire (see Exodus 29:41), it is explicit by comparing scripture with scripture, that the drink offering must be unfermented.

protected by David Stratton Nov 15 '14 at 6:51

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