Some Christians have claimed that the wine mentioned in Scripture was actually grape juice. Their reasoning is that the ancient fermentation process was not sophisticated enough to actually produce good wine. But, there is one big problem with this assumption.
Scripture explicitly forbids drunkenness in Ephesians 5:18 among other places. This is describes as the consumption of alcohol in excess. If it were true that true wine (which is alcohol) did not exist in these times, then why would there be so many instances of drunkenness described throughout Scripture?
Additionally, if alcohol did not exist, then there would be no reason to forbid drunkenness because drunkenness is not possible without alcohol. But, Scripture also mentions wine as something that caused drunkenness. The only logical conclusion would then be that the wine in Scripture was as alcoholic in nature as it is today.
In fact, when closer study is done on the word wine used in the Bible, you can find that the same word for wine is used by John in John 2:1-11 when Jesus turns the water into wine at the wedding as it is used in Genesis 9:24 when describing what Noah used to get drunk.
Although Scripture clearly forbids drunkenness, it does endorse the use of wine in a prudent manner. An example of this can be found in I Timothy 5:23 when Paul encourages Timothy to “drink a little wine” for a stomach ailment.
DISCUSSION: Because many Christians are uncomfortable with the consumption of alcohol, they claim that Scripture forbids all consumption of alcoholic beverages. When it is pointed out that Christ turned water into wine, they assert that the “wine” of ancient times was of such an inferior quality, due to the lack of good fermentation processes, that it was essentially grape juice which contained little or no alcohol. Scripture makes it quite clear that the people of Scripture used alcoholic wine, sometimes sinfully:
Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk (Gen. 9:20-21);
Come, let us make our father [Lot] drink wine, and we will lie with him… (Gen. 19:32-36).
A variation on the argument states that the people of the Old Testament drank alcoholic wine, but neither Christ nor the apostles did so; rather, Christ turned water into grape juice at the wedding at Cana (Jn. 2:1-11), not alcoholic wine. The problem with this argument, though, is the absence of scriptural evidence. The same word is used for “wine” in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Greek version of the Old Testament uses the same word for wine (oinou) in Genesis 9:24 that John uses in chapter 2:1-11. Surely if there were both alcoholic and non-alcoholic fruits of the grape, Scripture would make that clear to us by using two different words. After all, according to Protestant tradition, the teachings necessary to avoid sin are clear and obvious to anyone who simply reads Scripture. Why would scripture confuse us by failing to distinguish alcoholic wine from grape juice, if drinking alcohol were sinful?
“The word employed is the normal word for wine,” agrees Howard Charles, a Protestant professor of New Testament studies. “Both classical Greek and the papyri [ancient manuscripts in general] employed another word for unfermented grape juice [i.e., trux]. Even though we may wish it otherwise, honest exegesis compels the candid admission that on this occasion Jesus deliberately added to the stock of wine available for consumption at the wedding feast.”
It is true that Paul wrote: “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make others fall by what he eats; It is not right to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble” (Rom. 14:20-21). This does not mean that we are not allowed to drink wine at all. It means that we are not to value our own pleasures over the salvation of another. If someone has a problem with wine, we should avoid consuming it around them. Perhaps, for example, the person is an alcoholic and would be tempted to drink with you if you drank. In such situations, we should avoid being a stumbling block. Nevertheless, Scripture describes Christ as changing water into wine, and not specifying that this wine was non-alcoholic.
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