Was Jesus a Drinker of Alcoholic Wine?
(Should a Christian Drink Alcohol #3)
Introduction: This is a crucial question to answer when considering should a Christian drink or not. If Jesus turned water into alcoholic wine then it would seem that drinking would not only be permitted, it would almost become recommended especially at wedding celebrations! If Jesus used alcoholic wine to instituted the Lord’s Supper shouldn’t we. If it was His general practice to drink wine socially then we can too! Tonight I want us to take a look at several instances where it might appear that Jesus was for making and drinking wine and see what the Scriptures really say.
1. Jesus eating and drinking, and the crowd's reaction
"For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! But wisdom is justified of all her children" (Luke 7:33-35).
Jesus contrasts Himself to John the Baptist, who was a Nazarite. Jesus was a Nazarene because He came from Nazareth, but He was not a Nazarite. Nazarites were people who had been called to live under a special vow, a totally different lifestyle, in order to show their total devotian to God. Among other things, they were to eat nothing made from grapes, including grape juice.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord: He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk" (Num. 6:1-4).
Jesus was not restricted by a Nazarite's vow. Therefore, He came eating grapes and drinking the fruit of the vine, all of which was called wine. This brought a reaction from His enemies. They called Him a gluttonous man and a winebibber.
But it is a mistake to accept the word of Jesus' enemies as truth. On two other occasions they said He had a devil (John 7:20 and John 8:48). Crowd reaction is certainly not safe ground for building sound doctrine. Jesus answered their charge by saying that God's wisdom is shown to be true by all who accept it. His righteous life would prove their accusations false.
2. Jesus making wine at the marriage feast in Cana
"And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him"(John 2:1-11).
Is there enough evidence to prove that Jesus made fermented wine to save the wedding celebration?
Two things to keep in mind:
1. Because it says “wine” it does not automatically mean fermented wine. The majority of the time that the word “wine” is translated, it means grape juice.
2. Whatever Jesus made that day it was consistent with His character.
What are some reasons that would cause us to doubt that the wine described in John 2:1-11 is alcoholic?
We have already seen that in the Old Testament, fermented wine symbolized wrath and judgment. Its use was prohibited. It is inconceivable, then, that Jesus would have violated this biblical principle by making more than 120 gallons of intoxicating wine to be served to the wedding guests.
Dr. R. A. Torrey wrote:
"The wine provided for the marriage festivities at Cana failed. A cloud was about to fall over the joy of what is properly a festive occasion. Jesus came to the rescue. He provided wine, but there is not a hint that the wine He made was intoxicating. It was fresh-made wine. New-made wine is never intoxicating. It is not intoxicating until sometime after the process of fermentation has set in. Fermentation is a process of decay. There is not a hint that our Lord produced alcohol, which is a product of decay or death. He produced a living wine uncontaminated by fermentation."
Dr. William Pettingill, wrote:
"I do not pretend to know the nature of the wine furnished by our Lord at the wedding of Cana, but I am satisfied that there was little resemblance in it to the thing described in the Scriptures of God as biting like a serpent and stinging like an adder (Prov. 23:29-32). Doubtless rather it was like the heavenly fruit of the vine that He will drink new with His own in His Father's kingdom (Matt. 26:29). No wonder the governor of the wedding feast at Cana pronounced it the best wine kept until the last. Never before had he tasted such wine, and never did he taste it again."
Those who base their use of beverage alcohol on the miracle at Cana are on shaky ground. The excellent commentary Barnes On the New Testament places the burden where it belongs.
"No man should adduce this instance in favour of drinking wine unless he can prove that the wine made in the 'water pots' of Cana was just like the wine which he proposes to drink".
What statements are made that might cause us to wonder if it was alcoholic wine?
The reaction of the governor of the feast might cause us to think that it was alcoholic only because we presuppose that the good stuff must be alcoholic. There is no proof that it was it is only that it was amazingly good. What else would you expect from the Lord?
3. The Lord's Supper
"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom"(Matt. 26:26-29).
Those who conclude that fermented wine was used in the first Communion service do so without biblical support. Jesus spoke only of "the cup" and "the fruit of the vine."
Is fermented wine the fruit of the vine? Charles Wesley Ewing argues:
"Fermented wine is not a product of the vine. Chemically it is entirely different from the sweet and unfermented grape juice. Fermented wine is 14% alcohol, and it has other constituents that are not found in the fresh grape juice. Alcohol does not grow on the vine. It is not a vine product. Alcohol is the product of decay, the product of fermentation. It is produced by the process of spoiling."7
The fruit of the vine used in the first Communion service speaks of the blood of Christ. Moses called unfermented grape juice the "pure blood of the grape" (Deut. 32:14). Decay has not taken place in fresh grape juice, and that fact is vital in the symbol of the blood of Christ. David prophesied that the body of Christ would be totally preserved from decay or corruption.
"For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption"(Ps. 16:10).
Peter says this is a reference to the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:31). So we are given the assurance both prophetically and by the New Testament Scriptures that the body of Christ experienced no corruption or decay. It would be improper, then, for a product of decay (fermented wine) to be used to symbolize His blood. Commenting on this text in his book The King of the Jews, Dr. John R. Rice says:
"The cup the disciples drank at the Lord's supper is nowhere called wine, but "the fruit of the vine." We believe it was simply grape juice. Even if the word wine had been used, wine in the Bible means grape juice, whether fermented or unfermented. Fermented wine, with microbes of decay, would not picture the perfect blood of a sinless Christ."8
William Patton concurs, stating:
"Leaven, because it was corruption, was forbidden as an offering to God... If leaven was not allowed with the sacrifices, which were the types of the atoning blood of Christ, how much more would it be a violation of the commandment to allow leaven, or that which was fermented, to be the symbol of the blood of atonement? We cannot imagine that our Lord, in disregard of so positive a command, would admit leaven into the element which was to perpetuate the memory of the sacrifice of himself, of which all the other sacrifices were but types."9
Fermented wine would have been out of place at the Lord's Supper for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most important has to do with the holy character of this experience. Remember that in the Old Testament, the priests were forbidden to use wine. Jesus is our great High Priest, the fulfiller of the Scriptures. We can be sure that He remained consistent when establishing the Communion service and therefore did not use intoxicating wine as the symbol of His blood.
The final statement of our Lord on the Communion service settles the issue. All Christians who take Communion are to do so in anticipation of the coming kingdom. We have already seen that the wine of the kingdom is unfermented. If we are to look forward to the wine of Eden and Cana during the kingdom, it would be inconsistent to use intoxicating wine when remembering the death of our Savior and King.
4. Wine offered to Jesus on the cross
"And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not" (Mark 15:23).
The wine offered to Jesus at the time of His crucifixion was, without doubt, intoxicating wine. Its purpose was to make the pain more bearable.
In His most trying hour, Jesus refused intoxicating wine.
And so should we.