Question: I believe the Bible universally condemns the use of fermented wine, but I am struggling to make sense of the use of the word for strong drink in Deuteronomy 14:26. [The verse in the King James Version of the Bible says: “And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever they soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household,”]
Answer: I know that this verse in the KJV translation of the Bible has given a lot of people doubts about the Bible’s teaching against the use of alcohol. I’m just sure that many people, including some Christians, have decided to take up drinking alcohol after reading this verse. That is too bad, because there is a logical explanation for the apparent misunderstanding.
I would also caution that you can look at many websites that will encourage you to go out and drink, because, they say, this is exactly what the verse is teaching. What a foolish conclusion, when so many verses in the Bible teach just the opposite, such as Proverbs 23: 30, 31 “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.”
Also, look at just one more from Proverbs. “Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1) For many more verses of Scripture against the use of alcohol in any form, go to our articles on Wine in the Bible, Beer and Other Alcoholic Beverages in the Bible; Is It Alright for Christians Drink Alcohol? Also, you might want to read Myths about Alcohol in the Bible, Part One, and Part Two.
The following conclusion on Deuteronomy is written by Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, and is taken from his book Wine in the Bible (unabridged). If you are interested in the whole article, you can see it on line under the chapter on Deuteronomy 14:26. This section is taken from A Look At Some Misunderstood Passages (Pages 193-201). The references are also included. Due to the length of the article I would rather just give his conclusion here:
“Conclusion on Deuteronomy 14:26. The preceding considerations have suggested five major reasons why the phrase “wine and strong drink” in Deuteronomy 14:26 refers to an unfermented beverage. First, the larger context of the passage, which calls the people to be “holy to the Lord” by abstaining from anything unclean (Deut 14:3-21), precludes the free consumption of intoxicating beverages at a solemn harvest festival “before the Lord” (vv. 23, 26).
“Second, the immediate context (v.23) specifies that the tithe was to be paid with fresh harvest products (grain, grape juice [tirosh], oil and newborn lambs and calves by those living close to the sanctuary. When consumed, the grain would be known as bread and grape juice (tirosh) as unfermented wine (yayin). It is absurd to imagine that while the worshipers who lived in proximity to the sanctuary celebrated the harvest festival by eating fresh produce, those who had come from distant places would be drinking fermented beverages.
“Third, the participation of the priestly Levites in the harvest festival (v.27) would preclude the consumption of alcoholic beverages (Lev. 10:9-11) “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.”
“Fourth, the word shekar, like yayin, is a generic term which could denote either a fermented or an unfermented beverage. For the text in question the context presupposes the latter.
“Fifth, the derivation of shekar as well as its usage in Isaiah 24:9 and in cognate words of Semitic and Indo-European languages, indicate that the word originally denoted a sweet beverage, which could become bitter when allowed to ferment.” (Wine in the Bible ‘unabridged ‘ by Samuele Bacchiocchi)
The word shekar or ‘strong drink’ here can be a reference to how fermentation could be prevented by boiling the must until the sugar concentration exceeds the maximum, thus preventing fermentation. This concentration can be thought of as a ‘strong drink.’ That this method of preserving grape juice was known to the ancients is attested by Pliny, Columella, Virgil, and others. Must reduced to a fraction (perhaps a half or a third) of its original volume was commonly known as defrutum.
Grape juice with enough sweetness to remain unfermented can be made just by pressing dried grapes. Pliny refers to a wine, called raisin-wine, that was made from grapes dried to half their weight. Polybius states that passum, a raisin-wine, was the staple drink of Roman women, who, at least in the early days of the Republic, were forbidden to drink ordinary wine.
Residents in the Middle East have reported that boiling down fresh grape juice to the consistency of molasses is a common practice among the native peoples. The syrupy juice so produced, called dibbs, lasts unfermented for a period of years. Dibbs is highly prized as a drink both in concentrated form and when mixed with water. This concentrated drink could be considered a ‘strong drink.’
Now I would like to share with you two answers that I have given on the website in the past on this verse. The questions are from the same person, and I was not aware at first that she was speaking of the KJV translation. After I understood this, I gave to her the reasons I believe the NKJV has a better translation of this verse.
“Please explain Deuteronomy 14:26 to me. I have been doing an internet search regarding alcoholic beverage consumption and what the Bible has to say. This one verse has really perplexed me because this is the only time I have seen a possible endorsement of intoxicating liquors in the Bible.”
Thanks for asking the question about alcohol and the Bible. The Bible is very clear on this subject; I will give you the “short” answer. The word “wine” in our English Bible does not always mean a fermented drink. The main Hebrew word for “wine” (since the Old Testament was written in Hebrew) is “yayin” (what is pressed out).
The verse you are asking about (Deuteronomy 14:26) is very straight forward. It uses this Hebrew word “yayin” which means “grape juice.” Remember that this word is almost always translated as “wine” whether the grape juice is fermented or not.
When we think “wine,” we always think “fermented,” but this is not the case. The word “wine” in the Bible is a generic term. The context (words before and after the word wine) indicates whether it was fermented or not. For some examples of this, look at Isaiah 65:8. Grape juice is called “wine” when it is still in the grapes on the vine, where it is impossible to be fermented.
So to assume that every time the Bible uses the word “wine” it is talking about a “fermented drink” is not looking at the facts! Another example of this is found in Isaiah 16:10b where it says “…no treaders will tread out wine in their presses…” As soon as the juice was taken out it was called “wine.”
Now I would like to finish answering your question on this specific reference, Deuteronomy 14:26. God wanted these believers to tithe on everything, including their fresh grape juice (look at verses 23b and 26). Here God is saying if it is too far to travel from your house to the place of worship with these things, you could sell them right away and take the money instead.
Then when you get there, you can buy the same type of things, fresh grape juice, etc. Then you can rejoice before the Lord. That doesn’t mean to get drunk, but to enjoy the food and grape juice you have bought for your family. The New King James Version of the Bible is the best to read when discussing this area of alcohol, it is the most accurate on this subject.
I guess I didn’t isolate the part that bothered me. It is the other drink mentioned. The New King James says “wine or similar drink.” The Old King James says “wine or strong drink.” The Complete Jewish Bible says “wine, other intoxicating liquor.” One source I read says the noun in Hebrew means an intoxicating drink. Where did the New King James get “similar?” I was raised in a Baptist church and never ever heard a word about this verse. Do you disagree with the meaning of the Hebrew word for the other drink mentioned with wine?
Yes, I do stand by the New King James Version translation “wine or other similar drink.” I do this for two reasons: first, having been raised in a Baptist church (I myself was an M.K. & P.K.) you will know that one does not make a doctrine out of one verse. The rest of Scripture is very clear on this subject.
I hope you had a chance to look at my articles and the other websites listed there. Second, the NKJV used the 1967/1977 Stuttgart edition of the Biblia Hebraica, based on the Ben Asher text, while frequent comparisons were made with the Bomberg edition of 1524-25. The Septuagint (Greek) Version of the Old Testament and the Latin Vulgate also were consulted.
In addition to referring to a variety of ancient versions of the Hebrew Scriptures, the New King James Version draws on the resources of relevant manuscripts from the Dead Sea Caves. You can read more of these quotes from the front of a good NKJV Bible.
I hope these answers help you as well,
For more information email me.