Wine and the Scripture
Pastor C. W. Powell, Jr.
Trinity Covenant Church
Colorado Springs, CO
(This paper is a revision of one done many years ago when Pastor Powell was the pastor of Faith
Reformed Church in Anderson, California)
The purpose for this paper is to explore the teachings of the Scripture concerning the use of wine and the implications for the Lord’s Supper. We will begin our study by a look at the words that are translated “wine” in the Scriptures.
Old Testament Words.
I. Awsees: Fresh grape juice—new trodden. This word, however, is used in Isaiah 49:26 as a substance causing drunkenness. It is not used often in the Scriptures. Grape juice did not long remain grape juice in the Mediterranean but would ferment quickly, often in the clusters on the vine itself.
II. Teeroshe: Fresh grape juice. It is used especially in connection with the harvest, tithes, and such. Strong says it is used rarely to refer to intoxicating drink, but this writer could find no such use in Scripture, with the possible exception of Hos. 4:11, which will be discussed below. The word is the second most used word for wine in the Old Testament.
III. Yayin: This word is used in the great majority of those passages translated “wine” on the Old Testament. It is derived from a root word meaning “to effervesce.” It refers to the alcoholic drink in its modern sense. The overwhelming majority of the texts discussed in this paper use this word.
IV. Shakar: Intensely alcoholic; it is translated “strong drink,” or “strong wine.” A verb form means to get drunk, or to be merry.
V. Chamar, or Chamer: This is derived from a word meaning “boil up” or “ferment.” It means fermented wine. It is translated “pure” in Deut. 32:14.
VI. Mansawk: Mixed wine. Wine, mixed with water or spices.
VII. Sobeh: This comes from a word meaning to “drink to satiety.” “To become tipsy.” It is translated drink, drunken, wine.
VIII. Enab: a grape, wine. It is rarely translated wine. It is used in Hos. 3:1
New Testament Words.
Note: Words No. 1 and No. 2 in the OT list are not included in this discussion. Our purpose is to look at those words that without question mean an alcoholic drink. No. 1 is rarely used in the Scripture. No. 2, although used often, is mostly confined to those places referring to the harvest, the tithes, or offerings made to priests. It is interesting to remember that there was no refrigeration in Bible times, and grape juice would not remain grape juice very long. In fact, as a youth, this writer remembers the vineyards near Modesto, California, where insects and animals would become drunken by eating grapes off the vine, grapes that had fermented in the hot sun.
Old Testament References
References with Warnings. There are many places in Scripture where wine is considered in a negative context. We will look at these first:
I. Warnings in General:
A. Proverbs 20:1: Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.
B. Proverbs 21:17: He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich.
C. Micah 2:11: If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie, saying, I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink; he shall even be the prophet of this people.
D. Habakkuk 2:5 “The covetous, power-hungry man is said to “transgress by wine.”
II. Wine is a symbol.
A. Of God’s wrath: Jer. 51:7; Ps. 60:3; Ps. 75:8; Jer. 25:15. This symbol is also used in the New Testament: Rev. 14:8,10; 16:9; 18:3
B. Of Violence: Prov. 4:17
C. Of Fornication: Rev. 17:2
III. There are passages that condemn drunkenness. Prov. 23:20; 29-32; Is. 5:11,12,22; Is. 28:1-7; Joel 1:5
IV. There are examples in the Bible of intemperance and drunkenness.
A. Gen. 9:21,24. Noah after the flood.
B. Gen. 19:32-35: Lot, after the destruction of Sodom
C. 1 Sam. 25: Nabal’s drunkenness and death.
D. Daniel 5: Belshazzar’s drunken and impious feast.
V. Some in the Old Testament were specifically forbidden to drink wine:
A. Lev. 10:9; Ex. 44:21. The priest, when he entered the tabernacle. He was to put a difference between the clean and the unclean. Things permitted to the priest on other occasions, or permitted to the people in general, were prohibited under the law in matters of worship.
B. Numbers 6:3-10. The Nazarite was forbidden wine, raisins, grapes, vinegar. Judges 13 records the history of the birth of Samson with a repetition of this provision; also Luke 1:15 records this as true of John the Baptist, who was a Nazarite. Amos 2:12 reproves Israel because they gave the Nazarites wine to drink.
C. Proverbs 31:4. Kings when they sat in judgment were not to drink wine. Those who rule must not have their minds clouded by alcohol.
VI. Other passages:
A. Amos 6:1-6. Great condemnation is given to Israel because they were given over to luxury and the pleasures of this world, and did not mourn for the evil things that were happening to Israel. It was a time for repentance and mourning, not for enjoying the world and living in luxury. They were “at ease in Zion,” when God’s judgments were even then coming upon them, judgments that had been announced by the prophets of God, not those which are sometimes conceived from the imaginations of depressed fanatics.
B. Ecclesiastes 2:3. Solomon, after finding that wisdom was vanity, now turns to folly and wine, and the pleasures of the flesh. He concludes that these are vanity also.
Summary: Strong warnings are given concerning wine and strong drink. But a caution is in order about these warnings. There are strong warnings concerning wealth and riches, but does that mean that these are forbidden absolutely? We are warned against trusting in our own strength, or in the weapons of war—but are these absolutely forbidden? We are warned not to be overcome by the cares of this life—to beware of loving the world; do we then go out of the world? It is the opinion of this writer that the warnings concerning wine and strong drink are to be taken in exactly the same spirit that the warnings concerning riches and the deceitfulness of the world are to be taken. We are warned concerning their abuse, not the things themselves.
Wine as a Blessing. There are many Old Testament passages that refer to wine as a good thing, filled with the favor and blessing of God.
I. Wine considered as a creaturely blessing.
A. Gen. 49:11,12. In blessing his sons, Jacob included the blessings of wine among those given to Judah, and speaks of great abundance.
B. Ps. 104:15. “Wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengthened man’s heart.” This entire Psalm is praising God for his great blessings in Creation.
C. Ecc. 9:7. “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.” The justified man (accepted of God) goes through this world with joy, rejoicing in the works of God and the gifts of God.
D. Deut. 32:14. “Butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat; and thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape.” “Pure” is word No. 5 above: it means fermented wine. It is included in the list of creaturely blessings that God gave Israel.
II. Passages where the taking away of wine is considered a curse and a punishment. In the following passages, God says that Israel will labor and work to plant vineyards, but someone else will drink the wine—they will not enjoy it: Deut. 28:39; Is. 16:9,10; Jer. 48:33; Lam. 2:12; Amos 5:11; Micah 6:15; Zeph. 1:13.
III. Times where wine was given as a gift.
A. I Sam. 1:24. Hannah to Eli when she brought Samuel to live at the Tabernacle.
B. 1 Sam. 25:18: Abigail’s gift to David.
C. 2 Sam. 16:1: Ziba’s gift to David.
D. Gen. 27:25ff. Jacob’s gift to Isaac before receiving the blessing.
IV. Wine as an offering:
A. Lev. 23:13. The drink offering to God. Also mentioned in Num. 15:5,7,10. Num.28:14.
B. Num. 28:7. “Strong wine” is the word in No. 4 above and was offered as an offering
V. Wine as a symbol of the Gospel—especially significant in terms of the Lord’s Supper.
A. Gen. 14:18. Melchizedek brings wine and bread to Abraham after the slaughter of the kings. Abraham paid him tithes. He is a figure of the Lord Jesus, according to the book of Hebrews.
B. Prov. 9:2,5. Wisdom (the Word of God) mingles her wine.
C. Is. 55:1. The Gospel calls us to buy wine and milk without money and without price.
D. Zechariah 10:6,7. When God shows mercy to Judah they will rejoice as through wine.
E. Isaiah 27:1-6. Israel compared to a vineyard: the fruit of the vineyard is “red wine,” which is word no. 5 above. Verse 6 says that Israel shall fill the world with fruit, a reference to Gospel blessings. The good red wine of the Gospel will fill the world with gladness.
VI. Other passages.
A. Deut. 14:26. “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 thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household.” All sacrifices were to be made at Jerusalem. If the way was too long, they were to turn their offerings into money, go to Jerusalem, and then buy what they needed for their sacrifices and offerings and their rejoicing before the Lord.
B. Isaiah 1:22. It was considered a curse that their wine was mixed with water.
C. Psalm 78:65. God judges Israel, as a mighty man awakens and shouts by reason of wine.
D. Prov. 31:6,7. Wine is to be given to those who are ready to perish, or those who are ready to die. In other words, it can have beneficial temporary effect for those who are in great distress, or in pain.
Important Old Testament Passages.
I. Isaiah 22:12,13. “And in that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: and behold, joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die.” Here it is not the eating and drinking or making merry that is condemned in itself, but the horrible cynicism. Instead of crying to God for mercy and seeking the mercy of God for their sins, they held drunken feasts, as if that were all they could expect.
II. Jeremiah 35. The Rechabites are commended here for several things: not drinking wine, not sowing seed, not planting vineyards. They are held before Israel as an example of what is possible. It was possible to keep covenant for many generations, for the Rechabites were an example of such a covenant. They kept the commandments of their father, but Israel would not keep the commandments of God
III. Daniel 1:5,8. Daniel and his companions refused to eat the meat and to drink the wine that Nebuchadnezzar provided. Instead they ate pulse and drank water. Why would it have been defilement for them to eat the king’s meat? Calvin, Matthew Henry, and other commentaries make the following points:
A. Daniel and his companions were at liberty to eat and drink according to the law—the meat and the wine were not in themselves evil. The flesh of certain animals and creatures were forbidden to the Israelites under the law, but fermented drinks were not.
B. This was a temptation to them: to lose themselves in the luxuries of Babylon, and to forget Israel and the promises. The world is a constant temptation to the saints, and this temptation is far more than meat and drink.
C. The meat and drink had been dedicated to idols, as was the custom in Babylon. Daniel and his friends would have no part of the idolatry.
D. They must not forget their suffering brethren in Israel—was this a time for feasting and making merry, when Jerusalem was desolate?
IV. Hos. 4:11. “Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.” “New Wine” here is word no. 2 above, which means grape juice. What is condemned is the love of the world, and the sins that go with it.
V. Isaiah 24:5-11. The curse has devoured the earth. There is no joy and gladness. Joy is gone. Wine is drunk without joy, and strong drink is bitter to them.
VI. Deut. 32:32,33. “For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter: Their wine is the poison of dragons, the cruel venom of asps.” Because of their sins, wine does not make their hearts glad, but is a curse and a judgment to them.
VII. Deut. 29: 5,6 In the wilderness, they didn’t get bread or wine, but rather God fed them with manna and water from the rock. This was for the purpose of discipline, and they endured hardship to prepare them for the conquest of Canaan. The lack of bread and wine was a hardship that they would not have to endure in the blessings of Canaan.
Important New Testament Passages.
I. Matt. 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 15:23. Jesus’ parable about the new wine in old bottles. The Gospel is compared to wine (completing the O. T. figures) that must be placed in new containers, the church. Grape juice doesn’t make sense in this passage for it is fermentation that breaks the bottles.
II. Luke 10:34. The Good Samaritan poured in oil and wine. It is absurd to think that the charitable Samaritan poured grape juice into the man’s wounds. Wine would cleanse and disinfect the wounds; oil would sooth them.
III. John 2:3-10. Jesus made the water into wine. To suppose that this was grape juice is to make the governor’s words absurd. Why would drinking good grape juice dull the taste so that bad grape juice could be served later? Grape juice is grape juice: there are many differences in wine.
IV. Rom. 14:21. Love is to be the guide of our conduct. We must be willing not to eat meat or to drink wine, if it causes our brother to stumble. But Paul didn’t ignore the subject and allow the brother to remain weak—he even wrote these words and circulated them to all the churches on the subject. Sin does not consist in the things, but in the improper or excessive use of the things. There is nothing unclean in and of itself. Sin is in the heart, not in the bottle.
V. Eph. 5:18. We are not to be drunk with wine. Being filled with the Holy Ghost is the true joy of life. “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Rom. 14:17. It is wrong to make an issue over meat and drink, for the kingdom of God does not consist either in the abstinence or in the use of them.
VI. 1 Tim. 3:3,8. Officers in the church are not to be topers, drinkers of much wine.
VII. 1 Tim. 5:23. A little wine is good for digestion and is to be commended.
VIII. Titus 1:7; 2:3. Same as I Tim. 3. Church officers are not to be drunks.
IX. 1 Pet. 4:3. Excess of wine is of the flesh. It is absurd to think that it would be wrong to drink too much grape juice. But excess of wine is to be counted as among the works of the devil. The word in I Pet. 4:3 is “the bubbling up of wine,” or the excess of wine.
X. Rev. 17:2. Wine is compared to fornication. Babylon makes the nations drunken with the wine of her fornication (idolatry).
XI. Mark 15:23. Wine was given to Christ on the cross. He didn’t drink it—He would do nothing to ease His pain: He took the full weight of our punishment.
XII. Matt. 11:19; Luke 33:34. John did not eat bread or drink wine; Jesus both ate bread and drank wine, and was accused of being a glutton and a winebibber.
XIII. Matt. 26:29. “Fruit of the vine.” Jesus used wine at the Lord’s supper. Wine was a part of the Passover feast. To use grape juice would have meant that the Lord’s Supper could only have been celebrated during the harvest season, for that was the only time that unfermented juice could be obtained.
Summary. The following things seem relevant.
I. Wine can be either a blessing or a curse. It is properly one of the things that are of this world. Money, possessions, food, pleasure, power, and many other things that can be named can be either blessings or cursings. The difference is faith. How a man uses this world is the key. Does a man use his money for the glory of God? Does he use his power and influence for God’s glory? If a man is right with God, all the things that pertain to this world fall into their proper place. The things of this world become of small concern—they are only means of rejoicing in Christ and of praise Him.
II. The drunkard is a drunkard for several reasons:
A. He is an idolater. Creation reveals God clearly. The idolater seeks to distort the reality of creation, either by lies, deception, or drugs. He does not receive the world or his place in it. The drunkard is at heart an idolater. His drunkenness is rebellion against God, and is therefore no sickness, but sinfulness. The Bible is clear: drunkards go to hell, if they do not repent. (I Cor. 5:11) But so do thieves, railers, idolaters. It is a very sad commentary on the church when backbiters and slanderers are often considered good Christians, and a harmless fellow who has wine with his dinner is read out of the kingdom.
B. He desires independence from God. Alcoholics Anonymous has discovered that the alcoholic has one thing in common with other alcoholics: he refuses to admit weakness and dependency. That is the reason that the AA insists that alcoholics confess faith in God and their dependence on Him. This is the secret for their great success.
III. The use of alcohol is a privilege to be earned. Just as the use of sex, money, or power is not given indiscriminately to children or to young people, so the use of alcohol must wait for maturity and responsibility.
IV. We must not be more righteous than Christ. He drank wine, as did His disciples. Are we more holy than He? We must not judge our brother who uses wine in moderation and for the glory of God. To say a person is not a Christian because he drinks wine is wicked and arrogant, as well as blasphemy against our Lord. It also slanders some of the greatest lights in the Church such as Calvin and Luther.
V. All things must be done in faith (Romans 14:23). The use of the things of this world must be by faith. This is true of wine. Faith, however, has its origin, not in emotions, but in Scripture. Scripture must lead us, not tradition or feelings.
VI. A man is neither a better nor a worse Christian as he abstains or as he uses wine. “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Rom. 14:17.
Implications of Denying Wine in the Lord’s Supper.
I. The sign is distorted. Jesus used wine. The early church used wine. It is disobedience, and smacks of arrogance to go beyond Christ’s commands. Are we wiser and more holy than He and the apostles?
II. We support those who are unrighteous in their condemning attitude toward other Christians who may use wine in moderation. Sometimes the real message we give to the world is far different than the one we think we are giving. To use grape juice in the Lord’s Supper is to tell the world that we value our “righteousness’ more than the command and ordinance of Christ. Our sin of adding to Christ’s righteousness is as great as drunkenness, and may have consequences far more damaging to the kingdom of God.
III. Not using wine gives credence to a very great doctrinal error: that some things of this world are evil in themselves. This is Manichaenism, or dualism. The Christian message is this: there is nothing unclean of itself, but God has promised His blessing to every creature that is used lawfully, in faith and thanksgiving. Manichaenism has had a long and firmly entrenched history in America, chiefly through the influence of Methodism and the Arminian groups. The Arminian, precisely because he denies the sovereignty of God, falls easily in Manichaenism. If God has not created and does not control all things, then the devil must control some things. The world then is divided into God’s things and the devil’s things. This idea is neither Christian nor Reformed. “All things are yours,” the apostle said. (Col. 1:16; Rom. 11:36; Rom. 8:32; I Cor. 3:21-23.) The Christian must resign nothing to the devil but must seek to see all things in terms of the glory of God, and in terms of dominion and advancement of the kingdom of Christ. There is much abuse of sex, power, money, religion, food, and even sleep. But as Reformed Christians we seek to bring all things under the rule of Christ.
P. S. Here are some scripture texts which show the absurdity of saying that “wine” in the Bible means “grape juice”:
Psalm 104:15: And grape juice that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.
Zech. 10:7: And they of Ephraim shall be like a mighty man, and their heart shall rejoice as through grape juice: yea, their children shall see it, and be glad; their heart shall rejoice in the Lord.
Deut. 14:26: And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for grape juice, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household.
Isaiah 1:22: Thy silver is become dross, thy grape juice mixed with water. [It is a curse to have the wine mixed with water, just as it is a curse to have the silver mixed with baser metals.]
Ps. 78:65: Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of grape juice.
John 2:10: And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good grape juice; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good grape juice until now.
Pastor C. W. Powell
Trinity Covenant Church (RCUS)
6050 Del Paz Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80918