Sunday, December 17, 2006


Does the word wine, in the Bible, refer to alcoholic wine or grape juice?

Did Jesus drink alcoholic wine?

Grapevines have been cultivated from the earliest times. The first mention of the plant occurs in Genesis 9:20, 21 where Noah is said to have gotten drunk on wine (Strong’s number 3196). As the grapes (6025) grow the skin develops a waxy film, called the bloom, which traps and holds yeast spores as the grapes ripen. The time when grapes mature is known as the vintage (wine-age), in Israel this is in September each year. The grapes are harvested by picking the grapes in bunches rather than the individual grapes. In the making of ordinary wine the grape bunches are placed in a vat called a winepress. In Old Testament times the grapes were squeezed by trampling with the feet of men, whose legs and clothing would thus become colored by the process (Isa. 63:2). The resulting mix of crushed grapes, including the skins and stems is called the “must” (8492), this is retained in the winepress for fermentation. It was common to tap off a portion of the freshly squeezed liquid from the winepress into a lower vat, free from skins and stems, and this would be referred to as unfermented wine (6071 and/or 8492), to be drunk over the next few days. If not consumed within only a few days this unfermented wine would start to ferment or perhaps spoil.. This relatively clear squeezed grape liquid is not grape juice as we know it today.

The must is then placed into a moderately warm place, covered and left alone. Depending on the temperature and amount of yeast present, after about a month the must will begin to ferment. The fermentation, which is indicated by a good deal of heaving and gurgling (2561) (Ps. 23:31), continues for several days. When this begins to abate, the liquid containing alcohol is pressed free from the solid matter, and placed into a container having a vented stopper. The liquid continues to ferment for a few days or sometimes for several months, depending on the amount of temperature, yeast, and sugar content which is present. When it has finished gassing the fermentation is complete and the clear liquid is separated from the sediment, and bottled.

It was not until 1857, when Louis Pasteur discovered and isolated the living organism called wine yeast, and positively linked it with the process of fermentation. The active agent in fermentation is not the yeast itself but a secretion from the yeast cell. Today refined yeast is added to the must to speed up the fermentation process, but in Jesus’ day the must started to ferment naturally by itself whether you wanted it to or not and the time required varied widely, depending on the temperature and how much yeast had been trapped in the bloom.

Grapes contain 12 to 30 percent sugar. Half of the sugar is converted to carbon dioxide gas (thus yeast is also used as leavening) and half is converted to alcohol. Grapes containing 30 percent sugar would produce wine with a high alcohol content (Greek 1098) (Acts 2:13). In biblical times, as is done today, grain alcohol is sometimes added to the fermented wine to increase the alcohol content. Grain alcohol (7941) and wine mixed with grain alcohol (5435) in the bible are referred to as “strong drink.” The stems contribute to the dry puckery character of the wine. The stems of some varieties are more puckery than others and more stems means more pucker. The skin contributes to the color, red grapes make red wine, white grapes make white wine. The coloring compound is dissolved by the alcohol (Ps.23:3 1) during fermentation. It may also be dissolved by heating to at least 120 degrees F., this is the way grape juice today gets its coloring.

Today we make grape juice by boiling the fresh must, then the boiled must is strained though a filtering device and bottled. Boiling the grape juice kills the yeast spores so it will not ferment, however it will then spoil if not vacuum sealed or frozen, so boiling the grape juice in biblical times would have prevented its preservation. The alcohol actually functioned as a preservative.

The expression “new wine” refers to the wine from the current, or most recent, vintage. It is called new wine until the next harvest. Only during the thirty days following the harvest would it be non-alcoholic. In Acts 2:13 the apostles are referred to as being full of “new wine,” perhaps more appropriately translated “sweet wine” (gleukos from which we get the word glucose), indeed some translations have this rendering. This is a reference to alcoholic wine by the context and since it would have been eight months since the last vintage it would have completed its fermentation, so the expression “sweet wine” would mean wine made from sweet grapes, thus having a high alcohol content.

Hebrew words for wine:
2561 Chemer - Fermenting wine, boiling up. Occurs 1 time. Isa. 27:2.
2562 Chemar - Chaldean for wine, from 2561. Occurs 6 times.
3196 Yayin - Alcoholic, fermented wine, generic term for wine. Occurs 134 times.
4469 Mamcak - Wine mixed with grain alcohol. Occurs 1 time. Pr. 23:30.
5435 Colic - Grain alcohol mixed with water, mixed drink, polluted drink. Occurs 1 time. Isa. 1:22.
6025 Enab - Grape, a ripe grape. Occurs 1 time. Ho. 3:1.
6071 Aciyc - Must or fresh grape juice (as just trodden out), new unfermented wine. Occurs 3 times.
7941 Shekar - Liquor, grain alcohol, strong drink. Occurs 1 time. Nu. 28:7.
8492 Tiyrosh - Must, or freshly squeezed grape juice, new unfermented wine. Occurs 40 times.

Greek words for wine:
1098 Gleukos - Sweet wine, fresh sweet grape juice; also, wine made from sweet grapes thus having a high alcohol content. Occurs 1 time Acts 2:43.
3631 Oinos - Wine literally or figuratively. Generic term for wine. Occurs 32 times in N.T.

Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Is Jesus wise? Yes, of course. Therefore, Jesus never drank alcoholic wine. We should not drink alcoholic wine either if we would be wise and follow Jesus’ example. Proverbs 31:4 says, “It is not for kings, 0 Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine...” Is Jesus your king?

Did Jesus create alcoholic wine when He performed the miracle at the marriage in Cana? Jesus would not push people to be unwise. Also it was new wine less than thirty days old, so it was non-alcoholic. The word used for wine in the New Testament is simply generic for all types of grape products literal and figurative, alcoholic or non-alcoholic.

In Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25, and in Luke 22:18, while partaking the Passover meal, Jesus says He will no more drink the “fruit of the vine” until He drinks it “new” in the kingdom of God. These three times are the only places in the Bible, where the phrase “fruit of the vine” is used, and each of these three times it is in reference to this Passover meal. Since He used this unusual expression, and since He used the term “new, “ it would appear to indicate that He is referring to fresh, unfermented, grape juice. At the time of the last supper, they were celebrating the Passover meal, thus it was the spring of the year. Therefore, the “new wine” would have been at least six months old. Did they drink alcoholic wine at this time? I can’t explain it, but I personally don’t believe they did. I can’t explain a lot of things Jesus did.

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