A Feast of Wines
“Go eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already accepted your works” (Eccl. 9: 7-8).
Many American Protestant Christians believe the Scriptures forbid the use of alcohol. This perception came out of the Prohibition Era in America from 1920 to 1933, and still lingers with us today. But, is this perception what the Scriptures teach concerning the consumption of alcohol by believers in Jesus Christ? I would like to challenge these assumptions and call for a renewed perspective of what the Bible actually teaches.
According to lexical scholars as well as various Hebrew lexicons, Old Testament dictionaries, and encyclopedias, the term “yayin” refers to a fermented beverage or a fermented beverage from grapes. The word “yayin” first appears in Genesis 9:21, and by its context refers to fermented grape juice.1 Despite modern prohibitionist claims that the Scriptures include “fermented yayin” and “unfermented yayin,” scholars refute this as simply flawed exegesis.
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In Genesis 14: 18-20, Melchizadek gave “yayin” as a gift to Abraham, the faithful friend of God. As the righteous priest of God, Melchizadek presented wine to Abraham in the context of divine blessing. God also commanded “yayin” as an offering in Old Testament worship (Ex. 29: 38,40; Lev 23: 13; Num. 15: 5, 7, 10; Num. 28: 14). Not only did God command the use of wine for worship, He also instructed the Levites to take a portion for their own personal use (Num. 18: 12, 27, 30). So, if wine is so evil, why did God require its use in worship? Why did He also encourage a portion for personal use?
Other Biblical references to wine further reveal that the Israelites intentionally prepared grape juice in a way that enhanced and intensified the fermentation process. (Is. 25: 6, Jer. 48: 11, Zeph. 1: 12). In context, this was a blessing from God to His people. God also instructed the Israelites that if they; faithfully differentiate between clean and unclean animals (Deut. 14: 3-21), tithe to the Lord (v. 22), and live obediently before Him (v. 23), then God promises that they “may spend the money for whatever your heart desires; for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires… (v. 26). Wine is clearly listed among the blessings for an obedient people, and God counts wine as a blessing. Would His people then, shun such a blessing, or even worse, count such a blessing as evil?
Psalm 104 also points to God’s grace and provisions as He; “causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man’s heart glad…” Also, see: Judges 9: 13; Isaiah 55: 1; Amos 9: 14.
Since the Old Testament is foundational to the New Testament, and the fundamental unity of the two testaments is binding and ethically relevant, they are completely harmonious regarding the issue of wine.
The New Testament Greek term “oinos” is equivalent to the Old Testament Hebrew term, “yayin,” which is fermented wine. Further, “oinos” can also be used to refer to beer, palm wine, or lotus wine, all of which are distinguished from grape wine (oinos apelinos). The term for unfermented grape juice is “trux.”
Nowhere does the New Testament forbid the use of alcoholic beverages, however, it does strongly warn against the misuse of alcohol, as does the Old Testament. Even with church office holders or candidates, alcohol is not prohibited. The New Testament adheres to a moderate position on the believer’s use of alcohol, while strongly warning against its misuse, drunkenness, or being a drunkard. But, nowhere does the New Testament recommend abstaining from drinking wine.
One major obstacle to the prohibitionist position against alcohol is that our Lord and Savior, Jesus, drank wine! In fact, His enemies called Him a winebibber and a drunkard. So, if Jesus and his disciples drank wine, does it somehow make us more righteous and holy to abstain from drinking wine? Not only did Jesus drink wine, His first miracle was turning the water into wine at a wedding party that had run out of wine!
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, with bread and wine – not with grape juice. Any honest study of the issue finds that, “the cup” or “fruit of the vine” definitely refers to fermented wine. The designation of the “fruit of the vine” used by Jesus is an expression used by the Hebrews from time immemorial for the wine partaken on sacred occasions.
So, if abstinence from wine was not required or recommended of the apostolic church, why should it be required or adhered to today? And, if Jesus Instituted Communion, the Lord’s Supper, with bread and wine – then who are we to change and alter His command? By what authority does His church act offended by Christ’s command? Did Christ make a mistake in using wine? Is this not the same sort of thing the Pharisees were guilty of – changing the commandments of God to accommodate the customs or commandments of men?
I believe it is time to reform Communion practices in American Protestant churches, to conform with Jesus command. There is nothing holy or righteous about using grape-juice as a substitute for wine in Communion – we are not made more holy or righteous than our Lord and Savior by doing so. I propose reforming the modern Protestant practice of using grape-juice in Communion, to using wine — just as Jesus commanded.
- God Gave Wine: What the Bible says about Alcohol, by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
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