Question: Christ’s first miracle was the turning of water into wine at the marriage feast. I was always taught that the wine was unfermented. The wine that Lot’s daughters drank was fermented, etc. I guess the bottom line is that I was taught that when it was used in a good way in the Bible it was unfermented, when used in a bad way it was fermented. I believe that Scripture does not contradict itself and that if Jesus turned the water into wine, it must be unfermented, as Jesus knew the Scripture and He would not do anything against it. Can you help? Thanks.
Answer: Thank you for the question and it is a good one. You are on the right track, you seem like you just want some proof for what you believe. I believe there is proof! Proof that is beyond a shadow of a doubt!
First, let me say that the question you have asked is covered in a brief format in two articles, and an answer I have given before, so I would encourage you to read these. Beer and Other Alcoholic Beverages in the Bible, and Wine in the Bible.
Second, I would also encourage you to read Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi’s article: JESUS AND WINE. Hopefully you will read this summary of those articles first.
These statements are taken from Dr. Bacchiocchi’s article: The popular belief that “Jesus was not a teetotaler,” but a moderate drinker of fermented wine who even “miraculously manufactured a high-quality (alcoholic) wine at Cana”.has no doubt influenced the drinking habits of millions of Christians around the world more than anything else that the Bible says about drinking. The reason is simple. The example and teachings of Christ are normative for Christian belief and practice. If Christ made, commended and used fermented wine, then there can hardly be anything intrinsically wrong with a moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages! Simply stated, “If wine was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me!”
The belief that the wine Christ provided in Cana was alcoholic rests on five major assumptions. First, it is assumed that the word oinos “wine” indicates only “fermented-quality grape drink, i.e. wine.” Second, it is assumed that since the word oinos “wine” is used in reference both to the wine which ran out and the wine that Christ made, both wines must have been alcoholic. Third, it is assumed that the Jews did not know how to prevent the fermentation of grape juice; and since, as argued by William Hendriksen, the season of the wedding was just before Spring Passover (cf. John 2:13), that is, six months after the grape harvest, the wine used at Cana had ample time to ferment. Fourth, it is assumed that the description given by the master of the banquet to the wine provided by Christ as “the good wine” means a high-quality alcoholic wine.
Fifth, it is assumed that the expression “well drunk” (John 2:10) used by the master of the banquet indicates that the guests were intoxicated because they had been drinking fermented wine. Consequently, the wine Jesus made must also have been fermented. In view of the importance these assumptions play in determining the nature of the wine provided by Christ, we shall examine each of them briefly in the order given…
…The Meaning of Oinos… (The first and the second assumption are really based on this mistaken view that oinos, Greek for wine, always is fermented.)* A better acquaintance with the use of the word ‘wine,’ not only in the Greek language, but also in old English, Latin and Hebrew, would have saved scholars from falling into the mistaken conclusion that oinos means only fermented wine.
The truth of the matter is.oinos is a generic term, including all kinds of wine, unfermented and fermented, like yayin in Hebrew and vinum in Latin. Thus the fact that the wine made by Christ at Cana is called oinos, offers no ground for concluding that it was fermented wine. Its nature must be determined by internal evidence and moral likelihood. The record of the evangelist, as we shall see, affords information for determining this question.
(The first and second assumptions are discredited by two facts.)* First as mentioned earlier, the word oinos is a generic term referring either to fermented or to unfermented wine. Second, the wine provided by Christ is differentiated from the other by being characterized as ton kalon, ‘the good’ wine. This suggests that the two wines were not identical. The nature of the difference between the two wines will be discussed below.Preservation of Grape Juice. The third assumption, that it would have been impossible to supply unfermented grape juice for a spring time wedding about six months after vintage, rests on the assumption that the technology for preserving grape juice unfermented was unknown at the time.
The latter assumption is clearly discredited by numerous testimonies from the Roman world of New Testament times describing various methods for preserving grape juice. .Preservation of grape juice was in some ways a simpler process than the preservation of fermented wine. Thus, the possibility existed at the wedding of Cana to supply unfermented grape juice near the Passover season, since such a beverage could be kept unfermented throughout the year.”High-Quality Alcoholic Wine.” The fourth assumption is that the wine Jesus provided was pronounced ‘the good wine’ (John 2:10) by the master of the banquet, because it was high in alcoholic content. Such an assumption is based on twentieth-century tastes.
Albert Barnes, a well-know New Testament scholar and commentator, warns in his comment on John 2:10 not to “be deceived by the phrase ‘good wine.'” The reason, he explains, is that “We use the phrase to denote that it is good in proportion to its strength, and its power to intoxicate. But no such sense is to be attached to the word here.”
.To the Roman world of New Testament times, the best wines were those whose alcoholic potency had been removed by boiling or filtration. Pliny, for example, says that “wines are most beneficial (utilissimum) when all their potency has been removed by the strainer.” Similarly, Plutarch points out that wine is “much more pleasant to drink” when it “neither inflames the brain nor infests the mind or passions” because its strength has been removed through frequent filtering.
The wine Christ made was of high quality, not because of its alcohol content, but because, as Henry Morris explains, it was “new wine, freshly created! It was not old, decayed wine, as it would have to be if it were intoxicating. There was no time for the fermentation process to break down the structure of its energy-giving sugars into disintegrative alcohols. It thus was a fitting representation of His glory and was appropriate to serve as the very first of His great miracles (John2:11). Rabbinical Witness.
The rabbinical witness on the nature of wine is not unanimous. Rabbi Isidore Koplowitz points out in his introduction to his collection of rabbinical statements on wine and strong drink that “it is true that some Talmudic doctors have sanctioned, aye, even recommended the moderate use of wine. But it is equally true that many Talmudic Rabbins have in vigorous words condemned the drinking of wine and strong drinks. Some Rabbins have even ascribed the downfall of Israel to wine. An example of disapproval is the statement, often repeated with minor variations by different rabbis, which says: “When wine enters into the system of a person, out goes sense, wherever there is wine there is no understanding.”
.Elsewhere the Talmud indicates that drinking was forbidden to the accompaniment of musical instruments in festive occasions such as weddings (Sotah 48a; also Mishna Sotah 9, 11). .In the light of these testimonies and considerations we would conclude that the wine provided by Christ was described as “the good wine” because it was not intoxicating. Moral implications.
Another reason leading us to reject the assumption that “the good wine” produced by Christ was high in alcoholic content is the negative reflection such an assumption casts upon the wisdom of the Son of God. .The oinos in this case was grape juice. In the light of the whole Old Testament condemnation of wine [that was fermented], it certainly would appear that the beverage was grape juice.”
It is against the principle of Scriptural and moral analogy to suppose that Christ, the Creator of good things (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25,: Col 1:16), would exert His supernatural energy to bring into existence an intoxicating wine which Scripture condemns as “a mocker” and “a brawler” (Proverbs 20:1) and which the Holy Spirit has chosen as the symbol of divine wrath.
Scriptural and moral consistency require that “the good wine” produced by Christ was fresh, unfermented grape juice. The very adjective used to describe the wine supports this conclusion. “It must be observed, “notes Leon C. Field, “that the adjective used to describe the wine made by Christ is not agathos, good, simply, but kalos, that which is morally excellent or befitting. The term is suggestive of Theophrastus’ characterization of unintoxicating wine as moral (ethikos) wine.
Referring to the nature of the wine produced by Christ, Ellen White says: “The wine which Christ provided for the feast, and that which He gave to the disciples as a symbol of His own blood, was the pure juice of the grape. To this the prophet Isaiah refers when he speaks of the new wine ‘in the cluster,’ and says, ‘Destroy it not: for a blessing is in it’. The unfermented wine which He provided for the wedding guests was a wholesome and refreshing drink. Its effect was to bring the taste into harmony with a healthful appetite.””Well Drunk.” The final assumption to be examined relates to the expression “well drunk” (John 2:10) used by the banquet master.
The full statement reads: “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” (John 2:10, KJV). The assumption is that since the Greek word methusthosin “well drunk” indicates drunkenness and since drukennness is caused, according to the statement of the banquet master, by the “good wine” customarily served first, then “the good wine” provided by Christ must also have been intoxicating, because it is compared with the good wine usually served at the beginning of a feast.
.This reasoning misinterprets and misapplies the comment of the master of the banquet, and overlooks the broader usage of the verb. The comment in question was not made in reference to that particular party, but to the general practice among those who hold feasts: “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine.” (John 2:10, RSV). This remark, as many commentators recognize, forms parts of the stock in trade of a hired banquet master, rather than an actual description of the state of intoxication at a particular party.
Another important consideration is the fact that the Greek verb methusko can mean “to drink freely” without any implication of intoxication. .The verb methusko in John 2:10 is used in the sense of satiation. It refers simply to the large quantity of wine generally consumed at a feast, without any reference to intoxicating effects.
Those who wish to insist that the wine used at the feast was alcoholic and that Jesus also provided alcoholic wine, though of a better quality, are driven to the conclusion that Jesus provided a large additional quantity of intoxicating wine so that the wedding party could continue its reckless indulgence. Such a conclusion destroys the moral integrity of Christ’s character.The Object of the Miracle. The stated object of the miracle was for Christ to manifest His glory so that His disciples might believe in Him. This objective was accomplished: “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him” (John 2:11).
Christ’s presence at a marriage feast was intended to show divine approval of the marriage institution and of the innocent enjoyments of social life. Yet all of these considerations were subservient to the manifestation of Christ’s glory in fulfillment of His Messianic mission. The glory of God is revealed especially in His act of creation (Psalm 19:1-2). Likewise, Christ’s “eternal power and deity” (Romans 1:20) through an act of creation: “He.made the water wine” (John 4:46).
The wine of the miracle must have been identical to the wine found in the grape-clusters, because this is the only wine that God produces. “There is not a hint,” writes R. A. Torrey, “that the wine He [Christ] made was intoxicating. It was fresh-made wine. New-made wine is never intoxicating. It is not intoxicating until some time after the process of fermentation has set in. Fermentation is a process of decay. There is not a hint that our Lord produced alcohol, which is a product of decay and death. He produced a living wine uncontaminated by fermentation.”
“I am satisfied,” states William Pettingill, “that there was little resemblance in it [wine made by Christ] to the thing described in the Scripture of God as biting like a serpent and stinging like an adder (Proverbs 23:29-32). Doubtless rather it was like the heavenly fruit of the vine that He will drink new with His own in His Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29). No wonder the governor of the wedding feast at Cana pronounced it the best wine kept until the last. Never before had he tasted such wine [grape juice], and never did he taste it again.”
Christ’s miracles were always directed to benevolent ends. He “came not to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:56). If it were true that Christ miraculously manufactured an intoxicating wine, then that miracle would be a notable exception among His miracles. It would be a malevolent manifestation of His power. He would have manifested shame rather than glory.
Christ was aware of the powerful influence His example would have on contemporary and future generations. If, with all this knowledge He created an intoxicating wine, He would have revealed diabolic rather than divine power and glory. His disciples could hardly have believed in Him, if they had seen Him do a miracle to encourage drunkenness.
(I agree 100 percent with these statements and would like to add to them that: The Bible says Jesus always did the will of the Father who is in heaven. So He would not disobey God the Father who said by the Holy Spirit, “Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper.” (Proverbs 23:31-32 NKJV) by causing people to sin by making an alcoholic drink which we are told not even to look at it to be tempted by it.
Also, Jesus would know about the harmful affects of alcohol such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (being God as well as man), and would not give alcohol to a wedding party, which probably included several pregnant women. No, Jesus did NOT make a fermented wine at this wedding. What He did do, was to create and give a wedding gift of at least 120 gallons of fresh grape juice. Thus proving He is Messiah-God as the theme of St. John points out!)*
Thanks for the question and God bless you!
Gary T. Panell
*Comments of my own
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