Wine - What Saith the Scripture?
All Scripture is from the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible
Table of Contents:
Verses used to support the drinking of alcoholic beverages
Verses used to support abstinence from alcoholic beverages
Appendix A: Bible passages referring to alcoholic wine
Appendix B: Bible passages referring to nonalcoholic wine
Appendix C: Other Bible passages referring to wine
Since we all have a sin nature and not every Biblical issue is easily understood, we can expect that there will be some disagreement among sincere, born-again brethren on various subjects. One issue about which there can be disagreement concerns the drinking of alcoholic beverages. While I believe that drunkenness will be easily understood to be sin by all mature believers (since there are many places within the scripture where God makes this clear), the issue of whether some drinking is allowed is not as straightforward. Nevertheless, I believe that a careful and objective study of this subject in God’s word will lead to a settled conclusion.
For the purpose of this study, I have defined three key words as follows:
The state in which a person is overwhelmed with alcoholic drink, rendering
them physically and/or mentally impaired to a significant degree.
Restrained or limited indulgence. When applied to the drinking of alcoholic
beverages, I will use the following definition:
“Up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men”.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S.
Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for
Americans. 8th Edition, page xiii.
Per this same source, page 101, one drink of alcoholic wine, at 12% alcohol
content, is considered to be five fluid ounces.
Total avoidance. The state of keeping oneself completely away from something.
Some Bible passages appear to support the moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages while others appear to support abstinence. Where does the truth lie? What saith the scripture?
God instructs us to prove all things:
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
I Thessalonians 5:2
To prove something is to verify it by sound reasoning based upon facts. This is what I have endeavored to do within this study.
I wish to begin by asking two simple questions and providing answers based upon my research:
How is alcohol produced from grapes?
Alcohol is produced by a process known as “fermentation”. There are different kinds of fermentation and different kinds of alcohol. Within this study, I will use the word “fermentation” to refer to that kind which produces the type of alcohol present in alcoholic beverages. Two substances are required for fermentation to take place - sugar and yeast. Sugar is produced within grapes as they ripen. Yeast is present within the surrounding environment, and it occurs naturally to some extent on the skin of grapes. Typically (and perhaps exclusively) fermentation will not take place unless the skin of the grape is broken. Aside from that which the wine industry calls “wild wines”, commercial wine makers add their own yeast to grape juice to produce alcoholic drinks that are called “wine” in our culture. The following website explains this process in more detail: https://www.infoplease.com/features/chemistry-wine-fermentation
Information on this topic is available from many sources.
What does the word “wine” mean?
The answer to this question will seem obvious to many because in our present culture we have become accustomed to the word “wine” meaning an alcoholic drink, typically made from grapes. But this is not its only meaning. Throughout history, the English word “wine” has referred to alcoholic drinks as well as nonalcoholic drinks. 1 “Wine” can refer to a drink (or even a non-liquid product) made from grapes or other fruits in an alcoholic or nonalcoholic state. The word “cider” is currently used in a way that is similar to that in which the word “wine” has been used throughout English history. “Cider” is generic in that it can refer to an alcoholic or nonalcoholic drink.
There is ample evidence to prove that the word “wine” has been used generically in the past but a more important question is: “Is the word ‘wine’ used to refer to alcoholic as well as nonalcoholic products in the word of God?”.
If it was evident that each Hebrew and Greek word translated as “wine” referred exclusively to either alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverages, we could lean upon the original languages for clarity, but I do not see that there is much (if any) assistance to be found here. Therefore, I believe that we must rely upon context, sound reasoning, sound principles of Biblical interpretation and, above all, simple faith in that which God plainly says in his word.
Although the scope of this study could be very broad, I have chosen to focus almost exclusively upon alcoholic and nonalcoholic wine in liquid form made from grapes. At times, I will also refer to “strong drink” which can be made from various fruits.
There are many obvious examples in the Bible in which the context demonstrates that the word “wine” refers to an alcoholic beverage. Perhaps the most obvious of these are ones that associate the drinking of wine with drunkenness. It is evident that pure grape juice will not result in drunkenness but that alcoholic wine can.
The following is one example of the word “wine” being associated with drunkenness:
And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
I present the passage above as proof that, in the Bible, the word “wine” can refer to an alcoholic drink. Please see Appendix A for further examples.
But are there passages in the Bible which prove that “wine” can refer to a nonalcoholic drink? Please consider the following:
Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.
These verses are sometimes cited to support abstinence from alcoholic wine but at this point, I present it to the reader for a different purpose. The command to abstain from looking upon wine is conditional (it applies when wine exhibits certain properties). If wine always exhibited these properties, this command would not be stated in a conditional manner. “Wine” could be divided into different categories in a variety of ways but, in this passage, God is dividing it into two categories based upon the presence or absence of specific properties. What are these two kinds of wine? God makes the following statement about the wine that has these properties: “at the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder”. We know that nonalcoholic wine does not bite or sting like a snake, and that alcoholic beverages certainly can (when enough alcohol is consumed to produce drunkenness or addiction). I present this as proof that God recognizes two kinds of wines, one that is alcoholic and another that is not, and that he has provided sufficient evidence in this passage to settle this question.
I consider acceptance of this two-wine principle to be essential to a correct understanding of this subject. I will therefore build upon this principle throughout this study
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