Alcohol And The Bible
by Glen Tattersall
Attempting to justify the social drinking of alcohol, many have turned for support, to the account of Jesus at the wedding feast in John 2. They argue that as Jesus turned the water into wine then He gave divine approval for the social use of alcohol. The same people would also say that as long as a person does not get drunk, then teaching that Christians should totally abstain from alcohol is not Biblically justifiable.
However does the account of Jesus at this feast provide any support for those who wish to drink socially? Let us examine the text and make some observations.
“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”
In reading this passage (among others) many tend to interpret the word ‘wine’ in the same sense that it is almost invariably used today - that is alcoholic wine. However in the Bible the word ‘wine’ is generic in nature, which means that in Bible times the word did not, in and of itself imply whether the wine was alcoholic or non-alcoholic. It was left up to the context in which it was used to show whether it was one or the other.
A similar parallel today is the use of the term ‘cider’. This word basically means a drink made from apple juice, without implying whether it is alcoholic or not. If in a couple of hundred years the word carried the connotation of an alcoholic drink, then future historians would need to keep in mind that in the late 20th century, this was not so.
Concerning this generic nature of the word ‘wine’, a few of Biblical examples will prove the point. In Genesis 9:21, it is said that Noah “drank the wine, and was drunk”. In Genesis 19:33-35, Lot’s daughters “made their father drunk with wine” and that he was completely oblivious of the sin that he committed with them. In Ephesians 5:18, Christians are told “not to be drunk with wine, wherein is riot”. Obviously these passages are referring to alcoholic wine.
On the other hand in Isaiah 16:10 in a prophecy against Moab, Isaiah prophecies that “. . .no treader shall tread out the wine in the presses.” Again in Isaiah 65:8, we read “As the new wine is found in the cluster . . .” The point is, that as we read the Bible let us examine the context and not use our present day usage to define every mention of wine as being “obviously alcoholic”.
Some have continued to argue that the wine was alcoholic because of what the master of the feast said about the inferior wine being served when the guests are “well drunk.”
However ‘well drunk’ stands opposite of being very thirsty. It simply means in this context to have thirst satisfied. In 1 Cor. 11:20-22 we can see this type of contrast being made: “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.” (emph. added GT).
Paul here is not talking about being drunken as being intoxicated (otherwise he is saying its okay for Christians to become drunk at home!) but rather he is just contrasting being filled with beverage as opposed to being thirsty.
Yet others will say that the wine at the wedding feast was alcoholic because in the Bible times they had no way of keeping wine for any long period without it fermenting. Such reasoning however does not square with the facts. There were several methods that the ancients had developed in order to keep fresh wine from fermenting.
Firstly, the grape juice (i.e. the wine), could be poured into containers which were then corked and sealed with pitch. They would then be immersed in cold fresh water or buried in wet sand and allowed to remain there for six weeks to two months. Afterwards the contents would keep for around a year or so.
Secondly, the fresh wine whilst in the vats had a sulphur laden rag run through it to kill off the yeasts. The contents were then sealed.
The third method was to boil the fresh wine and reduce its water content. This raised the sugar content, inhibiting the activities of any yeasts. The reduced wine would be later mixed with water to return it to its original state.
It is also documented that some of the ancients considered fresh wine as being superior to that of the fermented wine. Its taste was sweeter and to be preferred over the intoxicating effects of the fermented.
That the inferior wine was normally served second is just a reflection on the basic fact that after a few drinks of whatever, the taste buds become dulled. Try having several drinks of any beverage and consider whether the ones at the beginning taste better than the ones at the last.
Now let us consider some reasons why the wine which Jesus miraculously produced was non-alcoholic.
In Proverbs 20:1 we read: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Proverbs 23:29-35 also echoes a similar warning as to the use of alcohol.
In the New Testament we have passages like Galatians 5:21 which warn against drunkenness “Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
The quantity of wine Jesus made was between 491 and 737 litres. If the wine was alcoholic then Jesus would have been making sure they were well and truly ‘plastered’ and was a participant in their sin! A serious charge particularly in light of Habakkuk 2:16 where we read: “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!”
For Jesus to have made alcoholic wine, He would have sinned, and hence He could not have been the Saviour of the world. The Pharisees, who were desperate to bring some charge against Jesus would surely have made mention of this wrong if it had been committed.
Jesus’ appearance at the wedding feast was to show divine approval for the union of a man and woman in marriage. The wine He made was non-alcoholic; made so that the guests could continue to enjoy the wedding celebrations, and not to have it disintegrate into a drunken orgy.
For those who want to ignore the warnings of God on the use of alcohol, the miracle of the water into wine provides no scriptural justification for their cause. Let us be content to remain sober, that we may best serve God and be a good example to our fellow man.