The Bible & Wine

by Joseph H. Hovsepian

Igrapesn Europe and many other countries, wine is part of the daily diet and the vast majority of Christians generally use it. Can we say that they are not Bible-believing Christians? Rev. Haas says, “this belief will destroy our movement.” Mrs. Fretwell says that “some have drifted away.” Mr.
Wilkerson says that Christians who do not accept his views are “sipping saints and have divided hearts.” Their concern seems to be the
preservation of tradition and the possibility this tradition’s demise worries them. My concern is that, by their attitude, they may be causing much harm to the Church.

The first mention of wine in the Bible is in Genesis 9:20-21 and it is clear that the wine mentioned here was fermented strong wine — obviously grape juice could not have made Noah drunk. Wine was also used from the beginning as part of the people’s diet (Genesis 27:25). Wine was a part of the people’s offering to God (Exodus 29:40, Deuteronomy 18:4, II Chronicles 31:5). God gave wine to His people (Joel 2:19, Zechariah 9:16-17).

The excessive use of wine is condemned by God. Isaiah 5:11 says, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine.” See also Joel 3:3, Amos 6:6, Ephesians 5:18, Ecclesiastes 10:17, Romans 13:13, I Corinthians 6:10, Luke 21:34 and Isaiah 28:1. As well, the use of wine before going into the tabernacle was forbidden to the priests (Leviticus 10:9).

Wine was used for medicinal purposes. Luke 10:34a says, “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.” See also I Timothy 5:23 and II Samuel 16:2. The king of Salem, the priest of the Most High God, Melchizedek, offered bread and wine to Abram (Genesis 14:18).

It is false to reason that, because excessive drinking and drunkenness are sinful and evil, the references in the Bible to wine must mean grape juice. Because of tradition and personal conviction, some cannot accept the fact that men of God used wine in the past and many born-again Bible-believing Christians continue to use it today. But that does not change Biblical truth and make it wrong.

To accuse and judge those who accept that wine is wine — and not grape juice — in the Bible is to fall into the trap Satan has set with which to divide the church. Those who make such judgements are helping the devil with their spiritual pride, superiority complexes, intolerant spirits, egotism and hatred.

Let’s see what the Bible says about wine, particularly in those passages that often have been misinterpreted by those who claim that wine in the Bible is actually grape juice.

The Parable of the wine and the wine-skins (Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22, Luke 5:37-39) obviously speaks of fermented wine because grape juice would not burst the wine-skins. To understand this and other verses concerning wine, let us look at the Greek word for wine: INOS (oinoV). This is the root word for INOPNEVMA (oinopneuma) or alcohol, and INOPOTIS (oinopothV) or wine-drinker. The Greek term for grape juice is KHIMOS STAFILIOU (cumoV stafuliou) or juice of the grape… and this is not the term used in the Bible.

Jesus was accused of being a wine imbiber in Matthew 11:19. If they called Him gluttonous, is it because He was a glutton? Or is it because He was eating, unlike John the Baptist who was not eating (Matthew 11:18)? And if they called Him a wine imbiber, was it because He was getting drunk with wine? Or is it because He was drinking wine? The Greek word here is wine drinker (oinopothV). If Jesus had been drinking grape juice, why would they call Him a wine drinker and a glutton?

Of course, we know that Jesus neither ate nor drank excessively. See also Luke 5:30, 33, 37-39; 7:33-34. “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.'” (Luke 5:39) If Jesus never drank wine, why would he make this comment about old wine being better? Why would he say “no one” unless drinking wine was a common practice. See Luke 10:7.

Jesus made wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:3-10), his first miracle. Again, the Greek word used here is wine (oinon). If Jesus was against the use of wine, why did He not use this perfect opportunity to clearly tell those present that drinking wine was sinful? On the contrary, He gave them an even better grade of wine. To say that the guests at the wedding were drinking grape juice and that Jesus gave them better grape juice is to stretch the truth and reason to the extreme.

In I Timothy 3:3, one of the qualifications of a bishop is that he not be an excessive drinker of wine. If wine here means grape juice, what is wrong with drinking too much grape juice? The Greek words used here mean “not given to drunkenness” (mh oinw pollw). In verse 8, the deacons are also instructed to be worthy of respect, sincere and not indulging in “much wine.” This verse, too, is referring to fermented wine and not to grape juice.

I Timothy 5:23 says, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine…” The Greek words here are exactly “a little wine” (oinw oligw). Why only a little? What is wrong with much grape juice? Of course, Paul was warning Timothy not to indulge
himself in excessive drinking of wine.

Titus 2:3 teaches the older women “to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine…” The Greek words used here are much wine (oinw pollw). Why the warning if the reference is to grape juice? I Peter 4:3 says, “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do — living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” Peter is pointing out that in the past the excessive use of wine was their way of life, but not anymore. Their sin had been their drunkenness, not their moderate drinking.

I Corinthians 11:21 says, “For as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk.” The Greek word used here is (mequei) drunk. It is unlikely that they were getting drunk by drinking grape juice. What does Paul teach the believers here? Does he reprimand them for drinking wine? Does he say drinking is a sin? No. He asks, “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in?” (verse 22). Again, his objection is with their drinking excessively in the church and not with their drinking of wine.

While countless souls are looking to the church for help and direction to find salvation from their burden of sin, some of us are very busy condemning our fellow Christians and congratulating ourselves for our righteousness and superiority, unaware that we are weakening our testimony and becoming stumbling blocks to the lost. May God have mercy on us!

Dear reader, if you are convinced that the moderate use of wine is sinful and unscriptural, that is your opinion and choice. Please don’t use wine — you will be respected for this. “As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean” (Romans 14:14). But please don’t judge anyone else before you read the following verses: Romans 14:20-23; I Corinthians 10:25-31; I Timothy 4:3-5; and Colossians 2:16, 22-23.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you willnot be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).