Wine in the New Testament: Is Any Drinking Wrong?

Here is the cartoon that accompanies this post.

“Jesus drank wine,” people tell us. “He even turned water into wine. How can you claim that drinking alcoholic beverages is wrong?” Lengthy books have attempted 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. To drink it unmixed was regarded as barbaric. The proportion varied from 1 part wine to 1 part water (1:1) to as thin as 1:20, with a common dilution being 1:4. This means that first-century wine was never stronger than 6% alcohol, and often was only 3% or less. One would have to drink large amounts to get drunk on a 3% 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 from 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. The hazard goes up exponentially if the drunk is an airline pilot, a train engineer, or a traffic cop.

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, DeeperStudy.com

Want to dive deeper?

The Greek noun usually translated “wine” is oinos. This word occurs 34 times in the New Testament. Sometimes it occurs with modifiers. For example, “new wine” (e.g., Matt. 9:17) refers to unfermented grape juice, and “sweet (wine)”(gleukos, only in Acts 2:13) appears to be a special variety. Also, “unmixed” (akratos) wine occurs in Rev. 14:10.

The implication is that we should understand the word oinos without modifiers to be the opposite of what the modifiers make it: wine that is not new, but is fermented grape juice; wine that is not the special variety called “sweet”; and also wine that is not mixed with water.

Recommended for purchase:

From the publisher: Should Christians today be drinking alcoholic beverages even in moderation? Didn’t Jesus and the disciples drink wine? Luther and Calvin didn’t have an issue with drinking wine. Through a systematic examination of the clear biblical evidence from both the Old Testament and the New Testament, as well as medical, historical, and spiritual factors, Randy Jaeggli confidently affirms that total abstinence from alcohol is the scriptural choice for believers.

Recommended for online reading:

Steve has been a Bible teacher for over 30 years. He has written many articles, more than 20 e-books, and several study guides, most recently, Overcoming: Guide to Understanding the Book of Revelation. His website, DeeperStudy.com, encourages all people to go deeper in their understanding of the Word of God, the Bible, and to become authentic, New Testament Christians who serve a risen Lord.

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