Question: This is a translation of a letter we received about our tract on Wine in the Bible.
Answer: “Many people think that the Bible is in agreement with drinking alcohol.” this is how you start your tract. This is not really true that the Bible is not talking about alcohol when the word “wine” is used. Look, you say that the term “wine” is unique in the Bible and is what is referred to in all the Scriptures (that it can be fermented or unfermented depending on the context). Here are my arguments against this view:
My example in Genesis is when the daughters of Lot gave their father wine so they could have children by him. If this was only grape juice what effect would this have on him?
Fermented wine is good for stomach problems; this is what Paul told Timothy. And Solomon wrote about wine and how it makes the heart happy. You also speak about the prevention of spoilage by various methods, but this has to be fermented wine in order to be preserved.
The Bible condemns drunkenness because this is in excess. This causes negative changes in a person, and this is what Solomon teaches. It is wrong for kings to drink wine, but in all the cases it is the same wine. The fermentation is a chemical process that begins the moment it leaves the vine. The wine is obtained from the “must” of the juice. Already in this same grape you find the enzymes capable of transforming the sugars to form the wine.
Then I would like to say that to drink a cup of wine after a good lunch is not bad, nor anything people should condemn. The problem comes when one drinks wine with other motives. As I have already said it is wrong to drink to get drunk, this is very bad.
Where you talk about the context, it is very ambiguous. It seems that you are saying that in every place that something good is happening it has to be grape juice, but when it is bad. it is speaking of fermented wine. The Bible is precise and clear, and I can not be in agreement with this kind of interpretation.
Thanks, write back to me.
Thank you for your comments. Many Christians have the same view as you, but very few of them will actually write. I understand that your position is that all the wine in the Bible, every time it is mentioned, it is speaking of a fermented drink. Then too, you feel it is not wrong to have a glass of wine after your meal.
I don’t want to answer this question only on an academic level, because I believe it goes beyond that to the spiritual. After some discussion on a personal level let me get down to some specifics from the Bible.
First, the reason I began to search this subject out is because as a Christian growing up, we were at that time told it was wrong to drink alcohol, but we were given very few Biblical reasons. So when I got into the military I began to experiment with beer. I found out it didn’t take long for it to get the upper hand. I don’t believe anyone starts out to become a drunk, but it doesn’t take long for most people to start to have problems with alcohol. Many young people go out to get drunk, they are not thinking about drinking only a little. But I believe those who drink only a little are, first setting a bad example that may lead others astray. That one person who drinks only a glass after a meal influences their children or others who many not be able to drink only one glass. Then, too, even a glass once in a while can start to build a narcotic addition in our bodies. I believe that even the little my Dad gave me, before he became a Christian, could have caused my body to have a longing for more.
The following are the arguments people come up with most often when asked why they think it is ok to drink as Christians. If they have any knowledge of the Bible at all they will usually say things like, “Didn’t Jesus drink wine? Didn’t Jesus make wine for a wedding? Didn’t Paul tell Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake? And then and interesting argument that is not related to the Bible, they say, “All Christians in Europe drink alcohol.” I have heard these arguments from alcoholics, and from those just starting out on the road to drinking. They feel these arguments justify their drinking.
So this is the reason I wanted to know for myself what the Bible had to say on the subject. Let’s start with the last argument first. All Christians in Europe drink alcohol. First, I do not believe this is true, but even if the majority of them do drink, is what people do in Europe our standard? I believe the Bible is our standard. Martin Luther said, “Solo la Biblia!” This means that the Bible is our only standard. So we need to see what it has to say.
The other arguments have been discussed in my tracts on the subject of alcohol, but I do want to go over some things here. Like the argument that says all wine in the Bible is fermented. However, if this were the case why would we be told in Proverbs 23: 31, 32 not to look at the wine when it is fermented, (“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.”) In, Isaiah 16:10b it says, “.no treaders will tread out wine in their presses.” As soon as the juice was pressed out of the grapes it was called wine. 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.
Many people assume that word “wine” in the Bible always means a fermented drink because in English most people think fermented when they hear the word “wine.” The same thing is true in Spanish for the word “vino.” If you go to the dictionary for the meaning of wine it will say something like, “The fermented juice of any of various kinds of grapes, usually containing from 10 to 15 per cent alcohol by volume.” This is where the problem arises for people reading the Bible only in their language but not in the original languages of the Bible. The word in Greek in the Bible texts is oinos, and in Hebrew it is yayin. These words have historically been used to refer to the juice of the grape, whether fermented or unfermented.
In Genesis, where Lot and Noah got drunk on it, it is obviously fermented. I might add, note how it got them both into trouble for drinking wine, and they knew it was fermented. Yes, after a time, depending on the temperature and the conditions grape juice will sometimes ferment or spoil. It is clear from reading the book, Bible Wines, by William Patton, that most people tried to preserve their grape juice as long as they could, and did not want it fermented. The fermented wine was considered inferior to the fresh grape juice (wine). This observation can help us understand the nature of the “good wine” produced by Christ at the wedding of Cana (John 2:10). He produced fresh grape juice, which would have been a very welcome gift at a wedding in Israel, during that time.
In the book Bible Wines, Patton goes into detail how they could keep their juice fresh longer. Also, I have shown in my other article, Beer and Other Alcoholic Beverages in the Bible, that people in Bible times did know how to preserve their grape juice so it would not spoil or ferment right away. Then, Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi has gone into a study called Wine In The Bible: A Biblical Study On The Use Of Alcoholic Beverages. In his article he also talks about the way people preserved their grape juice (I might say he goes into great historical detail, and it is an excellent study). He explains there that it is a myth to think that in Bible times it was easier to store fermented wine than it was to store unfermented wine (because they did not understand the causes of fermentation, this was not clearly understood until the 1860’s, when Louis Pasteur undertook his study of fermentation). In reality it was far more difficult for them to store fermented drinks.
But let us not assume it is speaking about an alcoholic drink when the word “wine” is used in the English Bible. One must go to the context (verses before and after the word) to see if fresh grape juice is in question or fermented grape juice. Sometimes wine is fermented, and we can see the difference, depending on the context. We need to do our homework; this is the way it is in a lot of Bible study. For example, the religious leaders said that the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem, and concluded Jesus was not born there because he grew up in Nazareth. They did not even bother to check it out for themselves. We need to check things out for ourselves; Paul commended the Bereans because they checked with Scripture to see if what he was saying was so, Acts 17: 11.
I know that what I am teaching flies in the face of what a lot of churches teach. But my question to you is, “Are you willing to check it out for yourself, or are you going to assume that the churches are always right?” You might be interested to know that these same churches did not always teach that it was alright to drink alcohol in moderation. Look at how much heartache it has caused in homes since they did start teaching it was ok to drink in “moderation.” I believe this is the reason that even some translations of the Bible have been translated the way they were, and that is because of the prevailing views of alcohol in the society when a translation was made. Reading in the Greek and Hebrew you see a view of fermented or “strong drink” as harmful, not helpful, with the exception of using it to pore on a wound i.e. (Luke 10:34) or using it for a dying person to kill the pain (Proverbs 31: 6). Even as they offered it to Jesus on the cross, but when He had tasted it he would not drink it, Matthew 27:34.
Hannah when she was at the tabernacle was praying for a baby, it says, “And it happened, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli watched her mouth. Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, ‘How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!’ But Hannah answered and said, ‘No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit.
I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD. ‘Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complain and grief I have spoken until now.'” (1 Samuel 1:12-16) She was not drinking a fermented drink or getting drunk, because she did not want to be considered a “wicked woman.”
You also mentioned Timothy was told by Paul, to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake and not to just drink water. We know Paul was speaking here of grape juice which is good for your stomach, your heart, and the rest of your body. He was not telling him to drink a fermented wine because this would have been bad on his stomach and digestive system. Alcohol also causes bad effects on the muscular, skeletal, nervous, and circulatory systems as well. Deuteronomy 32:33 says, “Their wine is the poison of serpents, and the cruel venom of cobras.” So the Hebrew word (chemah) is translated as “poison” when speaking of fermented wine.
You mentioned that Solomon said it makes the heart “merry,” I believe you could be referring to, Ecclesiastes 8:15, “So I commended enjoyment, because a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry; for this will remain with him in his labor all the days of his life which God gives him under the sun.” This is really speaking of living life as Solomon did for a time without the thought of the here after, just as today is all we have (many people think this way today also). That is where we get the saying, eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. This is not really a Christian philosophy!
This is not the Christians view of life, but the world’s view of life, under the sun, so to speak. At the end of Solomon’s life he realized his error, and says at the end of the book, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth.Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” There is nothing wrong with enjoyment or merriment, but you can get this from grape juice, we do not need to have a “high” from fermented wine. We need to have the high of the Holy Spirit.
You mentioned Lot, and said his daughters gave him wine. It was fermented wine, of course, but he was sinning when he did this. If you look at all the places in Scripture where people drank ferment wine it caused problems for them, you may be able to drink a glass after supper and stop there, but this is not the case for the vast majority of people. Solomon says in Proverbs, “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?
Those who linger long at the wine, those who go in search of mixed wine. 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. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart will utter perverse things. Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying; ‘They have struck me, but I was not hurt; they have beaten me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?'”
Dr. Bacchiocchi shows in his study that. “the drinking problem in America (U.S.A.) today.claims at least 100,000.lives per year, 25 times as many as all illegal drugs combined. Since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, most churches have abandoned their stand for total abstinence, encouraging “moderation” instead.
Unfortunately, moderation has led over 18 million Americans (U.S.A.) to become immoderate drinkers, because alcohol is a habit-forming narcotic which weakens one’s capacity for self-control.” When ever I go to a party here in the U.S. or in Mexico I am asked many times to take a drink. I have to be persistent, and tell them that a soda is fine. You know if all our parties only offered soda we would have a lot fewer deaths on the highways.
We would have a lot fewer murders. We would have a lot fewer sexual abuse cases, and a lot less home violence! The Bible says, “Wine is a mocker (obviously fermented here), Strong drink is a brawler (causes violence), and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” A 1987 Gallup Poll indicates that 1 in 4 families are troubled by alcohol. This means that more than 61 million Americans are affected by some alcohol-related problems such as retarded children (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome), divorce, and violence in the home, crime, sickness and death.
I personally know from first hand experience what it can do to you through my use of alcohol in Vietnam. It was not until I got back to the States, married and started attending church again regularly, that I got my life straightened out with the Lord. Even now I have to be very careful. A few years ago I drank one Margarita and I almost went back into drinking again.
You may not think I understand what a financial giant we are up against, but we live in what is called now, “Wine Country.” We also grow the most hops of any place in the world, as you may know it is the main ingredient for beer. My suggestion to the farmers is why not sell your grapes to Welche’s Grape Company which produces no fermented drinks and God has prospered them. Because of its healthy nourishing properties, grape juice (unfermented) was fittingly used to represent the divine blessing of material prosperity in places in the Bible i.e. (Genesis 27:28; 49: 10-11; Deuteronomy 33:28) and many more references.
Some people might ask why I don’t explain the differences between different drinks and their percentages of alcohol; also why don’t we go into the fact that Bible drinks were not distilled. The reason I don’t talk about these differences is because if you realize that a typical 12 ounce can of beer is just as “strong” as a glass of wine or a cocktail with liquor. The fact is that 12 ounces of beer, a 5 ounce glass of wine, or 1 ¼ ounces of liquor contain the same amount of pure alcohol.
Television tells our kids that our beer is part of sports. Wine is the key to sophisticated entertaining. The most powerful medium in the world brings beer and wine into our living room and makes us comfortable with them.
Also Christian churches bear a lot of the responsibility for the inestimable human tragedy. Through their beliefs, teachings and preaching they are able to influence the moral values and practices of our society, probably more so than any other institution. However, most churches teach that Scripture approves of the moderate use of alcohol, but prohibits immoderate use of it. This could not be further from the truth! I would comment, “With this kind of teaching no wonder we have so many problems with alcohol in our Christian homes today!” The Bible teaches total abstinence from alcoholic liquors, or temperance as it used to be taught.
You mentioned in your letter that kings were not supposed to drink at all because it would cloud their judgment. In Revelation 1:6, we are called kings and priests, according to Scripture kings or princes were not to drink fermented wine or intoxicating drink (Proverbs 31:4,5). We are also told that priests were not to drink any wine or intoxicating drink when they went into the tabernacle (or temple) (Leviticus 10:9-10). Then in the Church Age we are told, in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Let us keep this temple, our bodies, holy for the Lord!
Thank you for your letter,
Gary T. Panell
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