Wine in the New Testament

 Luke 7:33-34 "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."


The following is an examination of the midst of common Biblical word for wine. The Greek word for "wine" in Luke 7:33 is oinos. Oinos can refer to two distinctly different types of juice of the grape:

(1)     unfermented juice, and
(2)     fermented or intoxicating wine.  

This interpretation is supported by the following data. 

(1) The Greek word oinos was used by secular and religious authors in pre-Christian and early church times to refer to fresh grape juice (see Aristotle, "Metereologica", 387.b 9-13) a. Anacreon (c. 500 B.C.) writes, "Squeeze the grape, let out the wine (oinos)" (Ode 5) b. Nicander (2nd century B.C.) writes of squeezing grapes and refers to the produced juice as oinos (Gerogica, fragment 86). c. Papias (A.D. 60-130), an early church father, mentions that when grapes are crushed they yield "jars of wine (oinos)" (cited by Irenaeus, "Against Herecies", 5.33.3-4) d. A Greek Papyrus letter (P. Oxy. 729; A.D. 137) speaks of fresh wine(oinos) from the treading vat" (see Moulton and Miligan, "The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament,p.10) e. Athenaeus (AD. 200) speaks o a "sweet wine(oinos)" that "does not make the head heavy" (Athanaeus, "Banquet",1.54). In another place, he writes of a man gathering grapes who "went about, and took wine (onios) from the field" (1.54). For more detailed discussions on use of oinos by ancient writers, see Robert P. Teachout, "The Use of 'Wine' in the Old Testament" (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979) 

(2) The Jewish scholars who translated the O.T. into Greek about 200 BC used oinos when translating several Hebrews words for wine. In other words, the writers of the NT knew that oinos could either be fermented or unfermented juice from the grape. 

(3) As in secular Greek and the OT, an examination of NT passages reveals that oinos may mean either fermented or unfermented wine. In Ephesians 5:18 the command "be not drunk with wine (oinos)," refers to alcoholic wine. On the other hand, in Revelation 19:15 Christ is described as treading out the winepress. The Greek text reads: "He treads the winepress with wine (oinos)"; the oinos that comes forth from the winepress would be grape juice (Isaiah 66:10; Jer. 48:32-37). In Revelation 6:6 oinos refers to grapes on the vine as a crop not to be destroyed. Thus, for believers in NT times, "wine"(oinos) was a general word that could be used for two distinctly different grape beverages, fermented and unfermented wine. 

(4) Finally, ancient Roman writers have explained in detail various processes used in dealing with freshly squeezed grape juice, especially ways to preserve it from fermenting a. Columella (on Agriculture, 12.29), knowing that grape juice would not ferment if kept cool (under 50 degrees) and oxygen free, writes as follows: "That your grape juice may be always as sweet as when it is new, thus proceed. After you apply the press to the grapes, take the newest must (i.e. fresh juice), put it in a new container (amphora), bung it up , and cover it up very carefully with pitch lest any water should enter, then sink it in a cistern or pond of cold water and allow no part on the amphora to remain above the surface. After forty days take it out. It will remain sweet for a year" (see also Columella, "Agriculture and Trees"; Cato, "On Agriculture"). The Roman writer Pliny (1st century AD) writes: "as soon as the must (grape juice) is taken from the vat and put into casks, they plunge the casks in water till midwinter passes and regular cold weather sets in" (Pliny, "Natural History", 14.11.83). Israel would have had no problem in applying the above method (Deut. 8:7;11:11-12; Ps. 65:9-13). b. Another method to keep grapes from fermenting was to boil them into a syrup Ancient historians actually referred to this product as wine (oinos). Canon Farrar (Smith's Bible Dictionary, p.747) states that "the wines of antiquity were more like syrups; many of them were not intoxicant" Also, The New Bible Dictionary (p. 1332) notes that "there were means of keeping wine sweet all year round." 


Did Jesus use fermented or unfermented grape drink when He instituted the Lord's Supper (Mat. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26)? The following data support the conclusion that what Jesus and His disciples drank was unfermented grape juice. 

(1) Neither Luke nor any other Biblical writer uses the word "wine"(oinos) in regard to the Lord's Supper. The first three Gospel writers use "fruit of the vine" (Mat. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18-KJV). Unfermented wine is the only true natural "fruit of the vine," containing approximately 20% sugar and NO alcohol. Fermentation destroys much of sugar and alters what the vine produced. Fermented wine is not the product of the vine. 

(2) The Lord's Supper was instituted when Jesus and His disciples were eating the Passover. The Passover law in Ex. 12:14-20 prohibited, during Passover week, the presence and use of seor (Ex. 12:15), a word referring to leaven, yeast, or any agent of fermentation. Seor in the ancient world was often obtained from the thick scum in top of unfermenting wine. Furthermore, all hametz (i.e. anything containing any fermentation) was forbidden (Ex. 12:19; 13:7) God had given these laws because fermentation symbolized corruption and sin (Mat. 16:6,12:1 Cor. 5:7-8). Jesus, the Son of God, fulfilled the law in every requirement (Mat.5:17). This, He would have followed God's law for the Passover and not used fermented wine. 

(3) A rather lively debate has taken place over the centuries among Jewish rabbis and scholars in NT times. as to whether fermented products of the vine were allowed in the Passover. Those who held to a stricter and more literal interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, especially Exodus 13:7, insisted that no fermented wine was to be used on this occasion. 

(4) Some Jewish sources affirm that the use of the unfermented wine at the Passover was common in NT times. For example, "According to the synoptic Gospels, it would appear that on the Thursday evening of the last week of His life Jesus with His disciples entered Jerusalem in order to eat the Passover meal with them in the sacred city; if so, the wafer and the wine of ...them communion service then instituted by Him as a memorial would be the unleavened bread and the unfermented wine of the Seder Service" (see "Jesus," The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1904 edition, V.165). 

(5) In the OT fermented drink was never to be used in the house of God, nor were the priests allowed to draw near to God in worship while drinking intoxicating beverages (see Lev. 10:9). Jesus Christ was God's High Priest of the new covenant for the sake of His people (Heb. 3:1;5:1-10) 

(6) The value of a symbol is determined by its capacity to conceptualize the spiritual reality. Therefore, just as the bread represented the pure body of Christ and had to be unleavened (i.e. uncorrupted with fermentation), the fruit of the vine, representing the incorruptible blood of Christ, would have been best represented by juice that was unfermented (1 Pet. 1:18-19) 

(7) Paul instructed the Corinthians to put away spiritual yeast, i.e. the fermenting agent of "malice and wickedness", because Christ is our Passover (1 Cor.5:6-8). It would be inconsistent with the goal and spiritual requirement of the Lord's Supper to use something which was a symbol of evil. i.e. something with leaven or yeast. 


Historical data concerning the making and use of wine by the Jews and other nations in the Biblical world indicate that it was a. often unfermented b. normally mixed with water. 

The previous articles discussed one of the processes used in keeping freshly squeezed grape juice in a sweet and unfermented state. This article discusses two other processes of dealing with grapes, preparatory to mixing them with water. 

(1) One method was to dehydrate the grapes to a proper point, sprinkle them with olive oil to keep them moist, and store them in earthenware jars (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, V.882; see also Columella, "On Agriculture", 12.33.1-8). A very sweet grape beverage could made from these stored grapes at any time by later adding water and steeping of boiling them. Polybius indicated that the Roman women were allowed to drink this kind of grape beverage, but were forbidden to drink fermented wine (see Polybius, "Fragments, 6.4; cf. Pliny, 14.11.81). 

(2) Another method was to boil freshly squeezed grape juice until it became a thick paste or syrup (grape honey); this process made it storable, removed any intoxicating quality because of the high concentration of sugarm and preserved its sweetness (see Columella, "On Agriculture", 12.19.1-6 and 20.1-8; Pliny, "Natural History", 14.11.80). This was then stored in large jars or skins. The paste could be used as a jam for their bread or dissolved in water to make grape juice once again (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, V.882-884). "It is probable that the grape wwas largely cultivated as a source of sugar: the juice expressed in the 'wine press' was reduced by boiling to a liquid ...known as 'grape honey'" (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia of the Bible, V.3050). References to honey in the Bible frequently refer to grape honey (called "debash" by the Jews) rather than to the honey of the bee. 

(3) Water, then, could be mixed with dehydrated grapes and with grape syrup, as well as with fermented wine. Greek and Roman authors gave various ratios that were used. Homer (Odyssey. IX.208f) mentions a ratio of twenty parts water to one part wine. Plutarch (Sumposiacs, III.ix) states, "We call a mixture 'wine,' although the larger of the component parts is water." Pliny (Natural History,XIV.6.54) mentions a ratio of eight parts water to one part wine. 

(4) Among Jewish people in Bible times, social and religious customs mandated never serving unmixed wine, especially if it was fermented. The Talmud (a Jewish work that describes the traditions of Judaism from about 200 BC to AD 200) discusses in several tractates the mixture of water and wine (e.g. Shabbath 77a; Pesahim 1086). Some Jewish rabbis insisted that unless fermented wine was mixed with three parts of water, it could not be blessed and would defile the drinker. Others demanded that ten parts of water must be mixed with one part of fermented wine before it could be acceptable. 

(5) An interesting passage emerges in the book of Revelation: when speaking of "the wine of the wrath of God," an angel declares that it will be "without mixture," i.e., full strength (Rev. 14:10); see Jer. 25:15). It was stated in this way because the readers normally would expect all grape beverages to be mixed with water (John 2:3) 

In summary, then, the normal uses of wine by Jews in Biblical days were not the same as today, It was:

a.        grape juice freshly squeezed
b.       grape juice preserved
c.        juice from dried grapes
d.       grape wine made from grape syrup and water
e.        unfermented or fermented stored wine diluted with water at a ratio as high as 20 to 1.  

If the wine was fermented and served unmixed, it was considered barbaric, defiling, and incapable of being blessed by the rabbis. In the light of these facts, it is impossible to defend the modern-day practice of drinking alcoholic beverages on the basis of the Jews' use of wine in Biblical times. They are clearly not the same. Furthermore, Christians of Biblical days exercised a more careful attitude towards various kinds of wines than did the Jews (Rom 14:21; 1 Thes.5:6; 1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 2:2--> historical/documental notes can/will be provided as requested) 


In his second chapter, John records that Jesus made "wine" out of water at Cana. The question is, "What kind of wine?" As we have seen, it could be fermented or unfermented, full strength or diluted. We must determine our answer to this question by contextual implication and moral likelihood. The position of this study Bible is that Jesus made wine (oinos) that was pure unfermented grape juice. The following data support this conclusion and give strong reasons for rejecting the opinion that Jesus made intoxicating wine. 

(1) The primary object of this miracle was to "manifest forth His glory" (John 2:11) in such a way as to induce personal faith and confidence in Him as the holy and righteous Son of God who came to save people from their sin (2:11; Mat. 1:21). To suggest that Christ showed forth His deity as the One and Only Son of the Father (John 1:14) by miraculously creating gallons of intoxicating wine for a drunken party (note 2:10, which implies that the people had already drunk freely), and that this was immensely important to His Messianic mission, requires an irreverence few are willing to display. it would testify more to the honor of God, and the honor and glory of Christ, to believe that He supernaturally created the same juices of the grape that God makes annually through the process of His natural created order. (see John 2:3, note). This miracle, therefore, points to Christ's sovereignty over the natural world and becomes a symbol of His power to transform sinful people spiritually into children of God (John 3:1-15). Because of this miracle "we beheld His glory, the glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14; 2:11). 

(2) It is contrary to Scriptural revelation concerning the perfect obedience of Christ to his heavenly Father (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22) to suppose that He disobeyed the Father's moral command, "look not thou upon the wine when it is red... when it moveth itself aright," i.e. when it is fermented (Prov. 23:31, note). Indeed, Christ came to fulfill the law (Mat. 5:17) and would have supported the Biblical passage which condemns intoxicating wine as "a mocker" and "raging" (see Prov. 20:1, note) and the words of Hab. 2:15 "Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink... and makest him drunken" (Lev. 10:8-11; Num. 6:1-5; Deut. 21:20; Prov. 31:4-7; Is. 28:7; Amos 2:8,12; 4:1; 6:6; Rom. 14:13,21). Check these verses out, these show us about: different kinds of wine, and what the Lord God said about wine. 

(3) Furthermore, note the following modern medical evidence. a. Current leading medical experts on human birth defects have found unmistakable evidence that moderate alcoholic consumption is damaging to the reproductive systems of women of children bearing age, causing miscarriages and births of babies with incurable mental and physical defects, World authorities on early embryology maintain that women who drink even moderate amounts of alcohol around the time of conception (a 48-hour time period) risk damaging the chromosomes of an egg preparing to leave the ovary and hence, causing disastrous results to the mental and physical development of the infant. b. It would be theologically absurd to maintain that Jesus served and encouraged the use of alcoholic beverages at a wedding which included many women as well as the young bride with the possibilities of her immediate conception. To maintain that He did not know of the potential terrible effects of intoxicating drink on unborn children is to call into question His deity, wisdom, and discernment of good and evil. To maintain that He knew of the potential harm and disfiguring results of alcohol, and yet promoted and encouraged its use, is to call into question His goodness, compassion, and love. 

The only sound conclusion rationally, Biblically, and theologically is that the wine which Christ made at the wedding in order to manifest His glory was pure, sweet, unfermented fruit of the vine -- just as the one that He used in the last supper. 

SOURCE: Full Life Study Bible, King James Version (p. 1538 and p. 1594)