Unfermented wine or a half-baked idea? The Truth about Alcohol in the Bible
Jesus was a pacifist. Jesus was a vegetarian. Jesus was a bold Asian dude with a pet dragon named Jet Li. It seems everyday someone makes a new claim about Jesus. Usually this is done to help support a movement or an organization and their core beliefs. One such core belief is called Teetotalism, which is the practice of complete abstinence from alcoholic beverages. While no one is saying Jesus was a wino, some people claim that Jesus did not drink alcohol at all.
There are problems with this position:
- It contradicts Paul’s statement to Timothy: “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (1 Timothy 5:23) Clearly Paul is saying to drink wine for medicinal purposes. In other words, a little NyQuil is fine if you have a cold, but there is never any reason to get drunk. A little alcohol is the key here. In another letter, Paul says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) Notice he does not say, “Don’t drink wine,” but instead “Don’t get drunk on wine.”
- Jesus and His disciples drank wine at the Last Supper, which was also a Passover meal. Four cups of wine were served at every Passover representing Sanctification, Remembrance, Redemption, and Praise. Jesus and the disciples drank the first two cups and ate the meal just as they would any other year in celebration of Passover. Then Jesus introduced something new with the third cup. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:25) The third cup, the Cup of Redemption, would no longer serve as simply a remembrance ofIsrael’s redemption from slavery inEgypt through blood of the Passover lamb; it now serves as a remembrance of humankind’s redemption from the slavery of sin through the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus told us to remember this every time we participate in Communion. In other words, The Last Supper was the first Communion.
- It essentially denies the divinity of Jesus. John says that turning the water into wine was the “first of his miraculous signs Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” (2:11) If Jesus only turned the water into unfermented wine (grape juice) as the teetotalers would have you believe, then what caused the disciples to put their faith in Him?
Every so often I go to a restaurant and order water with a slice of lemon. With the sugar packets already on the table, it’s like getting free lemonade! Mmmmmm, ghetto lemonade. I tried ordering water with grapes once, but a bunch of teetotalers started following me when I turned my water into grape juice.
Jesus did not turn water into grape juice. In those days, wine was required at all feasts. It was common to mix the wine with water to dilute it so that it lasted longer – usually “one part wine to three parts water” (Soncino Talmud, Pes. p.561, n. 7) to start with and becoming more watered down as the party went on and the guests’ palettes became less sensitive. But when Jesus turned the water into wine, the master of the feast exclaimed, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:10)
Choosing to abstain from alcohol is a noble cause, but it should not be based on half-truths and coercion. I grew up in a denomination that specialized in that. They railed against alcohol, condemning all who even tasted it because they knew the dangers of drinking and they wanted everyone to avoid them. While I believe it was all done with good intentions, twisting the truth in order to protect someone is even more dangerous. I call it the Forbidden Fruit principle because Adam did exactly that and it backfired.
In Genesis 2:16-17) God commanded Adam. “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Later in Chapter Three, the serpent asks Eve what God said. She replies, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” (3:2-3) Look closely. Did she quote the command word-for-word? Actually she added “neither shall you touch it.” Where did she get that? Most likely from Adam. God had not yet created Eve when He issued His command. Adam must have told it to her later – well, his version of it anyway.
We do that often, don’t we? Instead of telling a child, “Don’t touch the stove when it is hot.” We say, “Don’t go in the kitchen.” Every child will push the boundaries. Once he enters the kitchen and nothing bad happens, he will walk towards the stove, put his hand near the stove, put his hand over the burner and slowly move it closer and closer until he touches it and get burned. This is what happened to Eve. What was she doing near that tree in the first place?! Every tree was permissible to eat from, but she wanted to get close to it and check it out. When the serpent questioned the command of God, she got more curious. She walked up to the tree to get a closer look. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (3:6) What convinced her that maybe God was wrong? Adam had her believe that if she even touched the fruit that something bad would happen to her. When nothing immediate happened to her after just touching it, it was easy to take the next step and eat the fruit. Adam, though he did so to protect her, actually made her more vulnerable to temptation because he lied to her by adding to the command of God.
It is easy to tell someone not to drink alcohol. It causes all kinds of disease, kills many innocent people from drunk driving, and destroys lives with alcoholism. But when we cloak our warnings about drinking alcohol as divine commands, we are hurting the very people we are trying to protect. Satan will challenge these “commands,” asking, “Did God actually say…?” and when they discover that Jesus Himself drank wine and Paul advised Timothy to drink it, they will not be able to resist the Forbidden Fruit.
Don’t dangle forbidden fruit in front of people. They will look at it, examine it, touch it, and taste it even moreso because it is forbidden. Give them the truth and trust in God to protect them.
Thanks Jon. This continues to be a great blog.