Or did He create wine – that is what we understand by wine?
Some ask, “Why do Seventh-day Adventists teach total abstinence from alcohol when Jesus Himself made wine in His first miracle?” (John 2:1-12)
It helps to know that “wine” in the Bible doesn’t mean quite the same thing as it means now. The Bible makes no distinction between fermented and unfermented wine. And, no, our church didn’t just conveniently make this up. It is documented in many sources going back to ancient times. 1
In the Bible, the word “wine” is used much the way that we use “cider” today. “Cider” may be “hard” or “fresh.” Hard cider is fermented apple juice. Fresh cider is freshly-pressed apple juice. In the same way, biblical “wine” [oinos] may be “new” or “fermented,” and we can only tell from the context. Even today, if I told you I just had a glass of cider, you would only know from context (or from knowing me) whether I was referring to hard cider or fresh apple juice.
If you share this with your wine-drinking friends, they may go on to say that it couldn’t possibly have been grape juice that Jesus miraculously created because the master of the banquet chided the bridegroom for keeping the best wine till the last. (John 2:9-10) They assume that the banquet master was referring to different qualities of alcoholic wine because that’s what they believe Christ made at the wedding feast at Cana.2
It’s easy to fall into the trap of super-imposing current ideas of what makes a “good” wine on the ancient Hebrews. For a view closer to the time of Christ, we may look to an essay by Plutarch. In his Symposiacs, he records an argument between the “odious” Niger and Aristio, his host. Niger claims that filtering wine to prevent fermentation takes strength and good qualities away from it. Aristio replies that, instead, the process “makes it mild and pleasant to those that drink it,” that “purging of wine takes from it all the strength that inflames and enrages the mind, and gives it instead thereof a mild and wholesome temper” and “a better taste.” He compares the process to a woman washing her face, anointing herself and “plaiting her hair.” He says that “those that only take from it what is nasty and no way profitable do only purge it and improve it by their labor. “3 Thus Aristio argues that the milder, less alcoholic or non-alcoholic wine is superior to a wine with more alcohol.
Since Plutarch was born in AD 46, his judgment is likely much more in line with the master of the feast in Cana than that of the 21st Century wine connoisseur. Thus the argument in favor of fermented wine due to the master of the banquet’s words fails. (John 2:9-10) In fact, the best wine would likely to have been wine freshly expressed from just-picked grapes. (That reminds me of how I used to love to hold my cup under the spout of the cider press to enjoy the exquisite taste of freshly pressed cider from fresh apples.)4
Ellen White says it well:
The wine which Christ provided for the feast, and that which He gave to the disciples as a symbol of His own blood, was the pure juice of the grape. To this the prophet Isaiah refers when he speaks of the new wine “in the cluster,” and says, “Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it.” Isaiah 65:8.It was Christ who in the Old Testament gave the warning to Israel, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Proverbs 20:1. And He Himself provided no such beverage. Satan tempts men to indulgence that will becloud reason and benumb the spiritual perceptions, but Christ teaches us to bring the lower nature into subjection. His whole life was an example of self-denial. In order to break the power of appetite, He suffered in our behalf the severest test that humanity could endure. … Christ did not contradict His own teaching. The unfermented wine which He provided for the wedding guests was a wholesome and refreshing drink. (Desire of Ages, page 149)
Wine preservation in biblical times
Others point to Christ drinking “wine” at the Lord’s supper, arguing that unfermented wine could not have been kept to the time of Passover, usually in April. However, the assumption that it was impossible to have unfermented grape juice in spring is not true. There are several simple methods for preserving grape juice that were widely available to ancient people, and in fact, it is considered more difficult to keep fermented wine from spoiling than it is to preserve unfermented wine.
Unfermented wine aka grape juice may be preserved in any of these ways:
- It was and is still possible to boil grape juice and reduce it to a concentrated syrup that will not ferment.
- Grape juice may be heated to boiling and covered with a film of olive oil and stored in a cool place to prevent fermentation. (Grape juice gently pressed from clean grapes and thoroughly filtered may also be preserved thus without boiling..)
- It is possible to store fresh grape juice in jars from in which air has been displaced by sulfur dioxide fumes. This method was well known in ancient times, and it is how our family kept fresh cider in Germany.
- It also was and is possible to boil grape juice, pour it hot into jars and seal them with beeswax and store them in a cool place to prevent fermentation.
- Richard Teachout relates this experience from France in relatively modern times which demonstrates how fresh grape juice may be preserved in a manner available in ancient times:
“Then one day my neighbor, who was not a Christian but who knew me well, offered me a drink of grape juice in his cellar. It was August and well before the harvest time for his grapes. I knew he had grapevines in his garden and that he always made his own juice. I looked at him. He said, “I know you do not drink wine. This is grape juice from my garden.”I said (stupidly), “You kept it from last fall?”He said,“Bien sur”(of course).I asked, “How?”He said, “I bring it to a boil, put it in a jug, put a cork in it and leave it in my unheated cellar.”I let him know that I was surprised. Then, wanting to know specifically if grape juice could be conserved an entire year, from harvest to harvest, I asked him if I could have a drink from the same jug of last year’s juice after his new grape juice was made; he promised to call me at that time, and did. Wow! What ashock! That which I had been told, taught, and believed, simply was not true! Grape juice COULD be kept fresh all year long with very minimum effort! From this point in my life I began to study the subject in earnest. It would take a few years, but my “problem” of not understanding what God has to say about grape juice would finally disappear.
It was and is possible to dry grapes and reconstitute them and make a drink from the reconstituted grapes.” (From Grape Juice in the Bible: TRUE or False” accessed Mar. 22, 2015)]
Thus we are free to consider other evidence that suggests that the “wine” at the last supper was unfermented grape juice.
Wine as a symbol
At the Last Supper, which was a Jewish Passover feast, Jesus said that the wine represented His blood. And in the Bible, blood always represents life. (Lev 17:11, Deut 12:23) Pure grape juice is a good symbol of life, because of its life-giving powers. It would sustain life for a considerable time. But this is not true for alcohol. Whatever life-sustaining qualities there are in fermented wine are those of the grape juice that was partly spoiled to make fermented wine. Alcoholic wine is a product of decay; fresh grape juice is a product of life.
Since alcoholic wine is a product of decay, can it possibly represent the blood of our sinless and holy Savior? Furthermore, do you believe that such a product of arrested decay will be served in heaven?5 Jesus did say, “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:18)
While it cannot be conclusively demonstrated that all positive references to wine in the Bible referred only to unfermented grape juice, it is reasonable to assume that the negative references to “wine” were to the fermented sort and the positive references to “wine” were to the fresh, unfermented grape juice. That people in biblical times were familiar with and drank both can easily be discerned from the biblical record.
Medicinal uses of wine
The Samaritan poured wine on the wounds of the man attacked on the way to Jericho. (Luke 10:34) This sounds like fermented wine used as an antiseptic.
Paul recommended “a little wine” to Timothy for relief from a digestive ailment. (1 Timothy 5:23) Some Bible students believe that Paul was recommending the temperate use of fermented wine for medicinal purposes. Others believe that Paul recommended the use of unfermented grape juice, because he would not give advice contrary to Scripture which warns against the use of intoxicating beverages (see Prov 20:1; Prov 23:29-32). Either way, Paul was not recommending wine as a usual social beverage, but a little wine as a medicine, not as a substitute for water.
While no one has bothered to do a scientific study on the benefits of grape juice for stomach ailments, many personal report attest to the efficacy of grape juice in a variety of stomach ailments, including stomach flu, ulcers and gastritis. 6 And we do know that pure grape juice has many health benefits. However, friends have also shared with me that when they were in countries with questionable food sanitation, a tablespoon of brandy after a meal was helpful. Just last Sabbath someone in my Sabbath School class shared that when they were in such a situation she was so sick that she would not have been able to go out were it not for the brandy medication. She said it settled her heaving stomach long enough to at least find a rest room.
Anyone who takes medication of any kind should be slow to condemn others who take a spoonful of brandy as medication for specific purposes. However, can you imagine getting together on a social occasion to all take your medicines together? That would seem to indicate that drinking wine, beer or stronger drinks on social occasions is not the same as taking alcohol (a genuine drug) for medicinal purposes.
Ellen White suggests that Paul recommended pure grape juice to Timothy as medicine for his stomach ailment:
Fermented liquor confuses the senses and perverts the powers of the being. God is dishonoured when men have not sufficient respect for themselves to practice strict temperance. Fermented wine is not a natural production. The Lord never made it, and with its production He has nothing to do. Paul advised Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake and oft infirmities, but he meant the unfermented juice of the grape. He did not advise Timothy to take what the Lord had prohibited.(Bible Echo, September 4, 1899, par. 2}
“So whether you eat or drink
or whatever you do,
do it all for the glory of God.”
(1 Cor. 10:31)
- John McClintock and James Strong, Cyclopaedia of biblical theological and ecclesiastical literature, Volume 10, p. 1016 ↩
- Also see “Jesus and Wine,” by Samuele Baccchiocchi from the book, Wine in the Bible. ↩
- Plutarch, Symposiacs, Book VI: 7. Whether Wine Ought to Be Strained or Not. Accessed Mar 22, 2015 ↩
- From my young days in Germany, I remember the storing of unfermented apple juice in large glass flasks in a cool place until nearly the time of the next apply harvest. If I remember correctly the air in the bottles was displaced by sulfur fumes, the juice poured into the bottle, and the bottle immediately sealed with rubber caps. It tasted like freshly pressed cider for the better part of a year. But we drank it up before it got a year old. 😉 ↩
- The trick in wine making is to arrest the process of fermentation before the wine sours and turn s into vinegar. Ancient manuscripts reveal many ways people had to take away or disguise the objectionable flavor of wine that had fermented past its best stage. ↩
- See “How to Prevent Stomach Flu Grape Juice Is The Trick!”
“How to Stop the Stomach Flu Dead in Its Tracks”
Stomach Flu Remedies on Pinterest ↩