Two Types of Wine Biblically Speaking

The word "wine" in the Bible sometimes refers to the new—or fresh juice of the grape; other times it is used to describe the aged or fermented product containing the drug alcohol. The translators never used the term "grape juice." In the Hebrew text, the writers use different words to distinguish between the two. The word tiyrosh is used for new unfermented wine, and yayin is generally used for fermented wine, but there were some exceptions (Isaiah 16:10). However, in the New Testament, only one Greek word is used to describe both fermented and fresh grape juice: oinis. But this shouldn't be a problem. By simply understanding the context of the word in a passage, the appropriate meaning will usually surface. So unless the passage says old or new wine (as in Luke 5:37-39), the context will often tell us what kind of grape juice is being described.

One simple example occurs in Mark 2:22: "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins" (NKJV). Obviously the new wine would be the fresh unferment-ed kind.

Additionally, from the Old Testament, in Isaiah 65:8, we read, "As the new wine is found in the cluster, And one says, 'Do not destroy it, For a blessing is in it..."' It is clear in both these passages that the new wine is simply grape juice.

Confusing Verses Clarified

The whole of Scripture is clearly and adamantly against the consumption of alcohol, but human nature will look upon any textual ambiguity as a "loophole" to justify drinking alcohol.

An example of this reasoning is the wedding in Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine. "When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, 'Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!'" (John 2:9,10). Those who support the intake of alcohol suggest this must have been alcoholic wine—after all, it was a wedding, and every wedding has wine—right? But let's pause to consider the implications. There were six pots for Jesus to fill, and each of those would hold 20 to 30 gallons. That's up to 180 gallons of beverage!

Are we to believe that Jesus made 180 gallons of a destructive drug—enough to get every guest drunk and launch this new marriage with slurring lips and staggering feet? Indeed, He would have been acting against His own Word! (Habakkuk 2:15; Luke 12:46; Ephesians 5:18). If we approach this passage relying on the whole of Scripture, we must surely come to the conclusion that lesus made unfermented wine—and the governor of the feast complimented the groom on its pure quality. (John 2:4, 6, 10. See also Mark 1:24, 2 Samuel 16:10).

Whatever the Soul Longs For

There are additional passages of Scripture that at first glance might lead a person to think drinking a little fermented wine in moderation might be biblically condoned. In the next few sections, we will address some of the verses that are sometimes construed to condone fermented wine, when in fact they do nothing of the sort.

"And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household" (Deuteronomy 14:26). The phrase "strong drink" is translated from the word shekar. A Shekar is condemned by Solomon as a "brawler" (Proverbs 20:1). And Isaiah pronounces a woe upon those who "run after strong drink (shekar)" (Isaiah 5:11). Strong drink was also prohibited from the priests (Leviticus 10:9-11) andNazarites (Numbers 6:2-4; Judges 13:3-5). So how could God so clearly condemn the use of "strong drink" in one place in the Bible, and yet approve of it in another place? Like the word yayin ("wine"), shekar is a generic term that could refer to either an alcoholic beverage, as noted above, or to a sweet, unfermented drink as is indicated in Isaiah 24:9. Shekar is also defined by the The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopedia as: "Sweet Wine or Syrup. Shechar, luscious, saccharin drink or sweet syrup, especially sugar or honey of dates or of the palm-tree" or "Date or Palm Wine in its fresh and unfermented state." In fact, "sugar" and "cider" are derivatives from shekar. Therefore, since shekar could mean either a sweet unfermented drink or an intoxicating drink, we must interpret the word according to the context of the verse. Would God encourage the use of tithe money to purchase a beverage that causes intoxication, health problems and diminishing of moral capacities? The only reasonable conclusion is that this verse is referring to the sweet palm-wine beverage in its fresh and unfermented state.

Even if one refuses to accept this translation of the word, keep in mind, the verse in Deuteronomy 14:26 never tells them it is okay to drink this beverage. Rather, it is addressing how they were to transport offerings to present to the Lord when traveling long distances. Moses was recommending they carry money with them rather than to haul the offerings of beasts, grain, and wine long distances. When they arrived they were to purchase whatever they needed for offerings. The animal sacrifices could be eaten but they were commanded to pour the drink offerings on the ground. "And the drink offering thereof shall be the fourth part of an hin for the one lamb: in the holy place shalt thou cause the strong wine to be poured unto the LORD for a drink offering" (Numbers 28:7).

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