Wine and the New Testament

“Jesus drank wine,” people tell us. “He even turned water into wine. How can you claim that drinking alcoholic beverages is wrong?” Whole books have been written to answer this question, but here is a brief reply.

Fact #1: To equate modern alcoholic beverages with first-century wine is a serious error. Modern beverages are fortified with alcohol, enabling the manufacturer to increase the alcoholic content to as much as 90% (such as in 180-proof vodka). First-century wine, dependent as it was on natural fermentation, never had an alcoholic content greater than 12%.

Fact #2: First-century wine was always diluted with water. The proportion varied from 1 part wine to 1 part water (1:1) to as thin as 1:20, with a common dilution being 1:6. This means that first-century wine was never stronger than 6% alcohol, and often was only 2% or less. One would have to drink large amounts to get drunk on a 2% mix.

Fact #3: In both testaments, the Bible clearly condemns drunkenness (e.g., Prov. 23:29-35; Gal. 5:21). You never risk getting drunk if you never drink. Besides, by drinking even a little, your example might encourage someone else to start drinking and eventually become an alcoholic or to kill or be killed from even a one-time intoxication.

Fact #4: First-century people rarely had access to a sanitary water supply like what is available now. The risk of getting drunk from first-century mixed wine was not as great as the risk of getting sick from drinking bad water. Paul had to urge Timothy to “stop drinking only water, but use a little wine for the benefit of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.”

Fact #5: The potential destruction of drunkenness is much greater now than it was in the first century. A drunk riding home on a donkey might just have to stay in the saddle, leaving it to the beast to avoid hazards and running into other travelers. Today, a drunk might be blindly propelling 3500 pounds of steel at 100 miles per hour.

What Jesus created was wine for a nuptial celebration to continue, not a carte blanche for drinkers to feel self-righteous. It appears that like that ancient wine, the truth itself has become diluted.

—Steve Singleton