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Should a Christian Drink Alcohol? (2)

9/10/06 CC/PM

Introduction: Two weeks ago we began this series and I thought it would be good to do a review before we continue. 

"Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright." (Prov. 23:31).

"Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise) (Prov. 20:1)

"Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine" (Prov. 23:29,30).

"Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine" (Gen. 27:28).

(1) The Hebrew words translated "wine" in the Bible do not always mean fermented or intoxicating wine.

(2) The Hebrew word yayin, most often translated "wine" in the Old Testament, means grape juice in any form -- fermented or unfermented. The true meaning can only be determined by the text.

(3) The Hebrew word tirosh, also translated "wine," in all but one possible case means "new wine," "unfermented wine." This word was used repeatedly in the original text in the places where wine has a good textual connotation.

Charles Wesley Ewing explains:

"...if a reader will just consider the context surrounding the word he can easily understand whether the fermented or unfermented grape juice was intended. Wherever the use of wine is prohibited or discouraged it means the fermented wine. Where its use is encouraged and is spoken of as something for our good it means the unfermented."

Questions on the position of the Old Testament?

Wine in the New Testament/ Jesus and wine

Jesus is associated with wine in the following New Testament settings.

(1) The parable of the wine and the wineskins (Matt. 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37 -- 39).

(2) Jesus' statement that He had come eating and drinking, and the public reaction to that statement (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:33,34).

(3) Jesus making wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:3 -- 10).

(4) The Lord's Supper instituted (Matt. 26:27-29; Mark 14:23-25; Luke 22:17-20).

(5) Wine offered to Jesus on the cross (Mark 15:23). We will consider each of these biblical settings, in each case using the text that gives the greatest detail.

The wine and the wineskins

"And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better (Luke 5:37-39).

The primary message of this parable does not concern wine, but salvation. The law was to be fulfilled, and the age of grace was to begin. John the Baptist had announced, "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).

Jesus was telling his hearers that law and grace were not to be mixed, and that salvation by grace would not be enhanced by adding legalism. One would be born again and receive eternal life entirely on the basis of faith. This wonderful message must not be considered simply an addition to the law; that would be like putting new wine into old bottles. G. H. Lang writes:

"If the Christian who has known this heavenly liberty and gladness returns to legality and externalism, even though it be copied from that of the Mosaic economy, he will presently give a display of the Lord's prediction in this passage. The worn-out system will break to pieces and he himself will lose his joy and strength."1

In the case of wine, putting new wine into old bottles would hurry the fermentation and thus burst the bottles or wineskins. The aim was evidently to keep the new, unfermented wines sweet and nonalcoholic as long as possible. Old bottles would contain residues of yeast and would cause the wine to ferment quickly. William Patton comments:

"The new bottles or skins being clean and perfectly free from all ferment, were essential for preserving the fresh unfermented juice, not that their strength might resist the force of fermentation, but, being clean and free from fermenting matter, and closely tied and sealed, so as to exclude the air, the wine would be preserved in the same state in which it was put into those skins.

Columella, who lived in the days of the Apostles, in his recipe for keeping the wine "always sweet," expressly directs that the newest must be put in a "new amphora," or jar.2

So then, the gospel must be kept pure, not mixed with legalism. But what about Luke 5:39? Does not Jesus say that the old wine is better?

Not at all. He simply says that one who has been drinking old wine says it is better. This shows the Lord's understanding of the habit-forming effect of beverage alcohol. His statement stands true today. Try to sell grape juice on skid row and you will probably have no takers. Those who drink old wine (intoxicating wine) prefer it. They are hooked on it.

The point of this parable is that the new wine (salvation) is better than the old wine (legalism). Jesus accurately predicted the reaction of his hearers. The Pharisees chose their legalism rather than the new life Christ offered them. Dr. H. A. Ironside explains:

"And so these Pharisees would go away saying, "we are satisfied with the old wine," and legalists and worldlings are like that today. They are apparently content with what they are trying to enjoy down here and do not care what God offers them in Christ Jesus."3

The secondary message of this parable, then, actually argues for the superiority of new (unfermented) wine, using it as a picture of salvation.

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