A Wisdom Case for Total Abstinence from Alcohol in Modern Times

In my view, the Bible is just ambiguous enough on the topic of beverage alcohol to put the question in the category of matters of conscience. But matters of conscience are not matters to “leave alone;” they’re not excluded from the call to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works” (Heb. 10:24).

These issues call for respectful challenging of one another’s assumptions — and for pondering the path of our feet (Prov. 4:26).

So, I offer here a few thoughts, mainly with two groups of people in mind: those who are trying to decide what sort of stand they ought to make in their own lives, and those who are looking for ways to communicate a no-drinking position to others they care about.

I’m aware that most of the moderate-consumption advocates I know won’t find this at all persuasive, so in that sense, it’s not an entry in “the debate.” But in another sense, it is: some of the undecided and open minded may find something here that bears fruit later on.

Some framing

A strong wisdom case begins by pointing out a few facts and dismissing some distractions. For brevity’s sake here, just the facts.

  • Relative to today, people in Bible times had fewer beverage options; it was harder (maybe impossible) to avoid fermented beverages entirely, even if you wanted to.
  • In ancient times, wine was not normally fortified with alcohol as it often is today (more on this practice at winespectator.om, and winecoolerdirect.com, eater.com and of course Wikipedia).
  • If not before, certainly after the rise of Greek culture, wine was routinely diluted with water (NY Times, Wikipedia), often to the point that the mix was more water than wine (winespectator.com, “Wine and Rome.”)

Along with these background facts, a few logically obvious points are often lost in the fray in discussions on this topic.

  • Not everyone who ever got drunk started out with the intention of getting drunk.
  • Nobody ever got drunk without a first drink.
  • Nobody ever got chemically addicted to alcohol with the intention of getting addicted to alcohol.
  • More than 10,000 people were killed in drunk driving crashes in the U.S. in 2016 (“It’s Not an ‘Accident,’ It’s a Crime.” Sheriff & Deputy, March/April 2018). Nobody who ever drove drunk and killed someone had their first drink that night with a DUI crash fatality as their goal.

I could go on like this for some time, talking about cheating lovers, domestic violence, and all sorts of other alcohol induced or aggravated crimes. To many of us, these facts alone point to some obvious conclusions. But they’re just background lighting for a biblical wisdom case against beverage alcohol.

The argument from wisdom

For various reasons, a “wisdom case” against beverage alcohol consumption tries to avoid the argument that Scripture directly forbids beverage alcohol or that Jesus and the apostles drank only non-alcoholic wine.

The wisdom case I’ve taught in various venues goes like this:

1 Believers must be wise stewards.

A few passages help bring well-known principle into fresh focus.

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (ESV, Matthew 10:16)

Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. (1 Cor. 4:2)

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. (Prov. 4:7)

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Rom. 14:12)

The “so what” of this principle is that if a course of action is dumb, we shouldn’t do it. If there’s a smarter option, we should do that instead. It’s good stewardship.

2 We are called to keep our minds sharp.

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, (Titus 2:1-2)

For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober … (1 Thess. 5:5–8)

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Pet. 5:8)

These passages add up to strong direction to avoid anything that is likely to compromise our ability to stay sharp in tempting times.

3 Beverage alcohol poses dangers to both wise stewardship and sharp-mindedness.

The Bible’s warning passages in reference to “wine” and “strong drink” are well known, and it’s commonly claimed that they refer only to drunkenness and not to having the occasional drink. But as noted above, it’s really not rational to propose a complete non-relationship between drunkenness and “one drink.” You can’t have the former without the latter. They’re connected.

Since many get drunk without starting out with that goal, it’s absurd to claim that a single drink poses no risk at all of leading to drunkenness.

The likelihood may be low, but the stakes are high.

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? 30 Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. 31 Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. 32 In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. 33 Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. 34 You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. 35 “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.” (Prov. 23:29–35)

To this and similar passages, we should add the humiliation of Noah (Gen. 9:20-26) and the degradation of Lot (Gen. 19:30-38). It’s significant that the first occurrence of “wine” in the Bible is a story of tragic family consequences. Did either of these men sit down with a mug that day thinking, “I believe I’ll get drunk now and do something ruinous”?

4 Avoiding pointless hazards is wise.

There is no risk-free living. Driving to work every day is a risky activity — but so is farming the back forty. We take these risks because they’re unavoidable and because the potential gain is worth the degree of risk involved. But acts with a high risk and low potential are just stupid, and recklessness is not a fruit of the Spirit!

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. (Prov. 22:3)

Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense, but a man of understanding walks straight ahead. (Prov. 15:21)

When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord. (Prov. 19:3)

In our culture, we’d say the fool “gets it.” You have to enjoy life. Cut loose and have a good time … and it’s God’s fault when things go horribly wrong.

5 We should seek every advantage for successful competition.

Olympic athletes have a distinctive way of arranging their lives in pursuit of success. Their personal discipline amazes. They take advantage of every tiny detail of posture, clothing, or gear that might gain them a performance edge. Mostly, we respect that. They’re competing at the highest level.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:24–27)

Every Christian is called to Olympic-level godliness –- elite uprightness of character. Few can claim to have achieved that, but the pursuit is supposed to be where we live every day.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (Heb. 12:1)

If there is spiritual advantage in total abstinence, shouldn’t we be eager to seize that advantage?

Avoiding fermented beverages wasn’t easy in ancient times. There is little evidence that most bothered to even try. But in our times, tee-totaling is easy. Alcohol is a much-to-risk and almost nothing to gain scenario, and abstaining is a negligible sacrifice with a significant benefit. Wasting that opportunity is simply not wise.

28289 reads

There are 211 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

Kudos to Aaron for this helpful and honest article.  Christians need to understand that, when it comes to beverage alcohol, the Bible says, "I may," but it does not say, "I should."  

We ought to stop distorting Scripture to support personal opinions.  Telling people the Bible forbids beverage alcohol will backfire when careful students of Scripture discover we were mistaken, or even worse, deceitful.  But opponents of Biblical abstinance should stop telling people that the Bible (almost) commands us to consume alcohol.  Its a Christian liberty issue, and wisdom suggests many reasons why voluntary abstinance is better than moderate consumption.  Aaron has done a good job articulating those reasons.

G. N. Barkman

Ron Bean's picture

I'd like to add by kudo to Greg's. It is a wisdom issue and both sides sometimes discredit themselves with their exegetical gymnastics in defense of their position.

Personally, I can't afford it. It's the same reason I don't go to Starbucks.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

This has been my personal position on the matter for many years. Thanks, Aaron.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Let's remember that the "Standard American diet and lifestyle" kills nearly eight times more people than does alcohol--it's about six hundred thousand deaths versus eighty thousand.  I look forward to the day when the # of sermons spent on the issues of gluttony and sloth reflect their impact on society at large.  (#notholdingmybreath)  Note also that the typical crowd at a wine tasting looks a lot healthier than a typical fundamental congregation.  Just sayin'. 

Regarding the notion that people can and do get drunk without intending to, sure, that happens, though not nearly as often as people going to the party with the full intention of getting drunk. Usually it's distilled spirits--generally much stronger than fortified wines, at least before they're mixed--and people get "caught" generally because they don't recognize the signs that the party is going to be fairly hard-drinking.  For my part, my parents taught me a fair amount about how to recognize those situations, especially my dad, and he also made sure I knew what hard liquor smelled and tasted like, and that knowledge seemed to serve me a lot better at Michigan State than did the abstentionism a lot of my fellow students had learned at home.

That noted, the reality that you can get in trouble in a hurry by drinking hard liquor does not mean that it's "unwise" to drink at all.  That's just silliness--you may as well argue that because a kid with a sports car or motorcycle might wrap himself around a tree, you shouldn't drive at all.  Reality is that while Scripture does not mandate drinking, it does consistently speak of "full wine-vats" as a blessing, and Jesus did indeed create a blessing at Cana.  It does the Gospel no favors to pretend otherwise, because it implicitly teaches people to doubt what Scripture clearly says.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Andrew K's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Let's remember that the "Standard American diet and lifestyle" kills nearly eight times more people than does alcohol--it's about six hundred thousand deaths versus eighty thousand.  I look forward to the day when the # of sermons spent on the issues of gluttony and sloth reflect their impact on society at large.  (#notholdingmybreath)  Note also that the typical crowd at a wine tasting looks a lot healthier than a typical fundamental congregation.  Just sayin'. 

On a related note, I was reading a book on aging the other day by one of our nation's top medical doctors. He dropped in passing that virtually every American who has consumed a typical American diet for much of their lives will have clogged arteries as they age. Just threw it out there as a "by-the-way" factoid. Huh? Why is this not talked about more?

Ron Bean's picture

I suppose I could start a thread on the way a lot of us have assaulted the temple of the Lord with a knife and fork but I suspect the silence would be deafening.

I had a massive heart attack a little more than a year ago and have benefited, if a little late, from learning how we are eating ourselves to death. Consider that up to 80% of disease is diet related. Consider that obesity in men is described simply as a waist measurement at the belly button (NOT your pant size) is 40 inches or more. Consider the calories we consume that have little or no nutritional value (donuts,anyone?) just because they taste good. 

I'm going to go eat a big salad!

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Jim's picture

Kudos but same argumentation could be used to avoid almost anything ...

A Wisdom Case For Total Abstinence From Rollerblading:

  1. Believers must be wise stewards. (Yup!)
  2. We are called to keep our minds sharp (yup!)
  3. Rollerblading poses dangers to both wise stewardship and sharp-mindedness.
  4. Avoiding pointless hazards is wise. (Yup)
  5. We should seek every advantage for successful competition (Yup). And that's why --- [successful QB in the NFL] --- eschews rollerblading
TylerR's picture

Editor

Jim, this is why I avoid rollerblading.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Andrew K's picture

First time I strapped rollerblades to my feet, I knew it was a mistake. That's why it was also my last time...

Jim's picture

  • I would start with Aaron's argumentation (which is good (I've preached that sermon more than once!)
  • Most people should not drink and many who do cross the line 
  • 56% of adults consume beverage alcohol (source)
  • Christians are called to either drink in moderation in a non-offensive way OR eschew completely
  • Some Christians will drink in moderation / others will eschew completely
Bert Perry's picture

Well, the silence could be deafening, or maybe we should raise the roof a touch, eh?  Here's an interesting article about sugar consumption from UCSF that notes that excess sugar, perhaps especially fructose, interacts in a very interesting way with the brain to become habit-forming.   Added sugar is about 15% of daily calories, and added fats are about the same.

And to be fair, when one argues against SAD and general laziness, it tends to be a very direct confrontation because it's part and parcel of our whole lifestyle.   You tell people to ease up on the candy and fried chicken at church events, and you've left off preaching and gone to meddling.  But we need to meddle if we're getting tired of reciting heart disease, stroke, cancer, and the like at our prayer meeting "organ recitals", I think.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

OK, we encourage our young men to join the infantry, and we're worried about rollerblading?  Seriously? 

 I'm having trouble reconciling the life of David with this one....  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

When an argument is solid and you don't have a good counter, try the ol' "Hey, look over there!"

Whether or not the American diet is killing more people, and whether or not that topic is neglected from pulpits has no relevance for the question of the wisdom of total abstinence vs. moderate drinking.

As for other high risk behaviors, the article addresses that. Some basic risk-benefit or risk-need analysis is required  

Bert Perry's picture

Aaron, the great counter-argument to what you state is simply the example of the 2nd Chapter of John.  OK, so we are to suppose that Christians are wiser if they do not do what Jesus clearly did, to the point where His opponents called Him a winebibber?

Seriously?  

Another point where I'd reject your argument is Colossians 2:16-23.  Some of these rules that we love so well in fundamentalism have an appearance of spirituality, but lack any power of restraining sensual indulgence.  As the old joke goes, "Catholics don't recognize Westminster, Prostestants don't recognize the Pope, and Baptists don't recognize each other at the liquor store." 

And really, we see just this statistic around the Bible Belt, where DUI deaths are actually higher than average despite far more churches preaching heavily against all alcohol.  The only exception to this pattern in the states of the old Confederacy is Georgia.  You have plenty of anti-alcohol preachers, plenty of dry cities and counties, and plenty of drunks.  

And plenty of fat people who need to hear about what Scripture says about gluttony and sloth.  And really, this is the Pareto Principle, that the majority of your problems come from a minority of causes, and it is in fact valid to point out that solving problem #14 before addressing #1 is indeed a waste of time. 

Now to be sure, the great effectiveness of southern preachers in curtailing drinking and its effects might suggest that they could be equally effective in fighting gluttony and sloth, to be sure, but they would at least have the advantage of preaching something that the Scriptures actually say.  It's worth a try.

 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JD Miller's picture

Although I agree with Aaron on this one rather than Bert (on most subjects I agree with both of them), Bert makes a point that has concerned me for a long time.  He writes:

Regarding the notion that people can and do get drunk without intending to, sure, that happens, though not nearly as often as people going to the party with the full intention of getting drunk. Usually it's distilled spirits--generally much stronger than fortified wines, at least before they're mixed--and people get "caught" generally because they don't recognize the signs that the party is going to be fairly hard-drinking.  For my part, my parents taught me a fair amount about how to recognize those situations, especially my dad, and he also made sure I knew what hard liquor smelled and tasted like, and that knowledge seemed to serve me a lot better at Michigan State than did the abstentionism a lot of my fellow students had learned at home.

I hope my children chose the abstinence path, but I am not too naive to realize that as they grow older they will not always do exactly what I desire.  As they make their own decisions I want them to know what they are getting into.  My fear is that a person who has only been taught abstinence, will decide to take a risk and drink a couple of wine coolers with a meal and start to think that the warnings were way overblown.  Then they take a much smaller shot of whiskey on an empty stomach and are shocked at the results.

TylerR's picture

Editor

With all this talk about unintentional drunkenness, perhaps the "wisest" thing to do would be to ... not drink? Some Christians are very intent on carving out a place for alcohol in their lives. That's strange, to me.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jim's picture

Must fundamentalists presume a priori that the wine of John 2 is grape juice. I observe that the handful of messages I've attended to from John make this argument. 

But, humor me, if the John 2 wine is the very best fermented wine: what is the message and significance?

Calvin states: "Christ wished that the flavor of the wine should be tried by the master of the feast, before it had been tasted by himself, or by any other of the guests; and the readiness with which the servants obey him in all things shows us the great reverence and respect in which he was held by them. The Evangelist gives the name of the master of the feast to him who had the charge of preparing the banquet and arranging the tables; not that the banquet was costly and magnificent, but because the honorable appellations borrowed from the luxury and splendor of the rich are applied even to the marriages of the poor. But it is wonderful that a large quantity of wine, and of the very best wine, is supplied by Christ, who is a teacher of sobriety. I reply, when God daily gives us a large supply of wine, it is our own fault if his kindness is an excitement to luxury; but, on the other hand, it is an undoubted trial of our sobriety, if we are sparing and moderate in the midst of abundance; as Paul boasts that he had learned to know both how to be full and to be hungry, (Philippians 4:12.)"

John E.'s picture

In my experience as a bartender and now a Christian who enjoys alcohol, the concept of unintentional drunkenness doesn't compute. Under normal circumstances, you can't get drunk unintentionally. You choose to continue drinking even though you know exactly how much you've already had. And if you're not paying attention, then I assert that you don't care anyway.

And, frankly, unless you're in a party atmosphere (whatever that means to you), the danger of getting close is not an actual danger unless you deliberately choose to make it so (even in a party atmosphere, it's still your choice to make something that's not dangerous into something that is dangerous). I mean, when a group of Christian guys are sitting around, talking, and drinking beer, how many beers do you think they're drinking? Drinking beer, I'd have to be intentionally trying to get drunk to get drunk. I can't imagine any scenario where I would unintentionally become drunk.

For the record, almost no table wines are fortified wines. Setting aside fortified desert wines (which I'm convinced no one actually likes), most people mistakenly assume that fortified wines are liquor; that's because they're frequently and incorrectly categorized as liqueurs. For those who don't know, an example of a fortified wine is Sherry. Of course, Sherry is not what people think of when they think of wine.

As far as table wines, vintners actually retard the fermentation process in order to control the taste. The lower the abv, the sweeter the wine. The top abv table wines are generally in the 14.5 to 15% range, that adds a depth to the taste. My wife prefers sweeter wine, so we check the abv - between 9-10.5% is her sweet spot, pun intended. For me, I like robust reds. If I were to come across a bottle of Pinot Noir under 13%, I'm going to assume that I won't like the flavor. Regardless of what some people assert, the alcohol is an essential component to the flavor profile. This is why vintners ride strict herd over the process and stop the fermentation.

If left unrestricted, the typical yeast strain found inside the grape skin (not the weaker yeast strain found on the outside of the grape skin that is usually referenced to point to lower abv in ancient wines) will die out at around 18% abv (the weaker strain brought by bees, etc tops out at 8%, but vintners don't want that yeast present anyway because it messes with the flavor). Good luck finding a modern table wine at 18%. The other important variable is the amount of sugar in the grapes for the yeast to eat. Interesting note - grapes in Israel are known for having a high sugar content. In fact, ancient Romans weren't big fans of the region's wines because the Romans found the wine to be too strong.   

Modern wine is generally not as strong as ancient wine. We have the modern understanding of the fermentation process to thank for that. You'd have a better chance of finding a table wine with 18% abv at the Wedding at Cana than you would in any grocery store, restaurant, or house today. 

All of that being said, I do appreciate Aaron's article and think that Christians who do drink should be willing to interact with his arguments. 

And I promised myself that I wasn't going to comment.

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding JD's comment about a child of his finding that the warnings were overblown, the surest way to avoid that is to simply not give overblown warnings.  Just go with what the Scripture says; wine is a blessing, but drunkenness is a sin.  Consult tables for estimated blood alcohol vs. # of drinks if you want to drink, and you will know your limits.   

(side note; my guess is that JD grew up in the eighties, since wine coolers died quickly after the wine tax was increased 6x in 1991....and he just might have daughters--guys generally didn't go for 'em)

And getting surprised?  Unlikely, and let me explain why.  To get legally drunk (.08%) on beer for a 210 lb man like myself is about half a gallon, and to do the same with wine is about a full bottle.  Your bladder will have something to say before you get drunk.  Proverbs 23 describes symptoms at about twice that level, for what it's worth. 

On the other hand, hard liquor has a characteristic "burn" that warns the drinker.  So to get drunk without realizing something is going on, you're really talking a punch made with something like vodka or "Everclear" at about 20% alcohol.  Even then, as John notes, you've got "mouthfeel" still.  It's hard to explain, but it's real.  Once you outgrow college bacchanals (it took me about 15 minutes), you don't have a lot of options for getting surprised.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Just go with what the Scripture says; wine is a blessing, but drunkenness is a sin.

Is wine a blessing, or is wine a mocker?

Just checking my Bible, and I'm pretty sure Proverbs 20:1 has few translations other than the latter....

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Bert Perry's picture

JNoël wrote:

 

Bert Perry wrote:

 

Just go with what the Scripture says; wine is a blessing, but drunkenness is a sin.

 

 

Is wine a blessing, or is wine a mocker?

Just checking my Bible, and I'm pretty sure Proverbs 20:1 has few translations other than the latter....

Well, God both promises full wine-vats for His people if they worship and serve Him, and also warns against being "led astray" by it.  That sounds like a good picture of drunkenness to me, brother.  So like I said, God consistently refers to wine as a blessing, which becomes a curse in its abuse.  In that way, it's much like authority, manhood, femininity,food, and a lot of other things.  

We go astray when we posit a one-dimensional view of wine (or these other things) based on isolated verses, no?  Put another way, if "wine is a mocker" is the only view of wine we can have, what does that say about the One who made six jars of it at a party?  Would He then be implicitly mocking us?  There are some huge, nasty problems with our Christology when we admit a one dimensional view of wine like this.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

We go astray when we posit a one-dimensional view of wine (or these other things) based on isolated verses, no?  Put another way, if "wine is a mocker" is the only view of wine we can have, what does that say about the One who made six jars of it at a party?  Would He then be implicitly mocking us?  There are some huge, nasty problems with our Christology when we admit a one dimensional view of wine like this.

So I guess we're back to the question of what Oinos is, then, are we not? In other words, prove to me that all oinos was alcoholic, or, at least, alcoholic enough to become intoxicated. We must all make assumptions - i.e. read into the text - if we are to come to hard, fast, conclusions about what we want the Bible to teach us where the Bible is clearly ambiguous. "Wine is a mocker" is anything but ambiguous. And, in context, it seems clear to me that the wine to which it refers is such that one could become intoxicated by it - i.e., it had sufficient alcoholic content (more than a dose of NyQuil) to render someone drunk. Whereas the NT passages referring to oinos do not clearly tell us that the wine is alcoholic or that it's alcoholic content was sufficient enough for someone to consume enough to become intoxicated.

I'm neither agreeing with nor disagreeing with anyone here - I am a listener. I am as settled on the question of Christians and Alcohol as I am on the question of limited atonement, post-divorce remarriage, Hebrews 6:4-6, or James' Prayer of Faith. I am a firm believer in lifelong listening and consideration of reasonable arguments.

No reasonably argued answer should be ignored.

 

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Bert Perry's picture

....John 2:10 notes that the inferior wine is brought forth after the guests have had a fair amount of the good, no?  Now there are many things about grape juice, but an unfermented beverage does not interact with the taste buds like alcohol will.  You don't drink a quart of Welch's and then suddenly decide that grape Kool-Aid is sufficient.

In the same way, when Luke 5:refers to breaking wineskins and the old wine being better, you can't explain that with Welch's pasteurized grape juice.  It simply doesn't do either one, while alcoholic wine does indeed get better for a time.  And why would the Pharisees call Him a "winebibber", or accuse the Disciples (Acts 2) of "having too much new wine", if fermentation wasn't occurring?   They're obviously trying to call Jesus and His disciples "drunks", after all.

Or, for that matter, the very verses you're referring to.  If we're going to talk about wine in such a way that a drinker will automatically recognize it as signs of drunkenness, it becomes hard to argue (without a lot of "two wines" hairsplitting) that the general meaning of the words has nothing to do with alcohol.  

And along those same lines, the root word for "yayin" is to bubble or froth--exactly what happens in a wine-skin or fermentation vat.  Combine that with the Greek literature--you can track Greek culture with amphorae (wine jugs) better than with temples, really--and it becomes really hard to argue that any native speaker at the time would have thought of anything besides ordinary, alcoholic wine.

Which is a long way of saying that, sad to say, for many fundamental writers, the first fundamental effectively stops at the gate to the vineyard.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Point taken. What we don't know and will never know is just how much alcohol content was in it. And the quantity of warnings against consuming alcohol in the Bible are sufficient that combined with the cultural problems America has with it make abstinence a seemingly wiser choice, looking at Aaron's analysis.

By the way, have you ever noticed the frothing effect of grape juice? I don't think that's a good argument.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Bert Perry's picture

If your grape juice is effervescing, it's either shaken, carbonated or fermenting, brother.  Keep in mind that yeast lands on everything from the air--that's how sourdough gets going.  Grape juice I've had just kinda sits there in the glass unless I leave it on the counter for a few days.

Regarding the strength of wine, we actually know quite a bit.  For its disease stopping qualities at a dilution of 3:1 or so, it's got to start out at 10% or so.  The yeast dies when the alcohol gets to about 18%.  So what we've got is a fairly narrow range of alcohol contents, attested by both historical sources and modern science.

If it were outside this range, you'd end up with a beverage that wouldn't get a person drunk, and if you tried, it would end up leaching so many electrolytes from your body that you'd die.  About 2002, a girl in Boulder literally drank herself to death with water that way. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

If your grape juice is effervescing, it's either shaken, carbonated or fermenting, brother.  Keep in mind that yeast lands on everything from the air--that's how sourdough gets going.  Grape juice I've had just kinda sits there in the glass unless I leave it on the counter for a few days.

If "froth" is one of the translations, then, yes, you can get Welch's to froth. All depends on how it's poured. Also, ever make grape juice from concentrate? That froths a lot when you pour the water in ("mixing" it with water....and, no, I'm not saying the disciples were making grape juice from frozen concentrate ;)).

 

Bert Perry wrote:

If it were outside this range, you'd end up with a beverage that wouldn't get a person drunk, and if you tried, it would end up leaching so many electrolytes from your body that you'd die.  About 2002, a girl in Boulder literally drank herself to death with water that way. 

My point exactly. Who said "wine" needs to make someone drunk? In other words, if the "wine" were relatively freshly made, yes - it begins fermenting right away, but it doesn't go from 0% to 18% in one jump.

 

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Bert Perry's picture

JNoël wrote:

<snip>

If "froth" is one of the translations, then, yes, you can get Welch's to froth. All depends on how it's poured. Also, ever make grape juice from concentrate? That froths a lot when you pour the water in ("mixing" it with water....and, no, I'm not saying the disciples were making grape juice from frozen concentrate ;)).

 

 

<snip>

My point exactly. Who said "wine" needs to make someone drunk? In other words, if the "wine" were relatively freshly made, yes - it begins fermenting right away, but it doesn't go from 0% to 18% in one jump.

Well, yes, I can make milk froth if I shake it, too, so is a milkshake then wine?  The reality here is that we've got, between the Scriptures themselves, Hebrew writings like Midrash, Mishnah, the Talmuds, and 16 centuries of translation of the Tanach/Hebrew Scriptures into the vernacular, an agreement that Strong's 3196 generally refers to ordinary, alcoholic wine.  35 centuries of scholarship, really.  You've got a few metaphorical uses in Scripture that aren't obviously alcoholic, but the context makes clear what is really going on.    And again, you cannot say "wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler" without the agreement that what's being talked about has a certain amount of alcohol in it.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I considered devoting a few paragraphs in the post to explaining why several things are not at all relevant, but wanted to keep it around 1500 words, so...  

But I know some will not be persuaded by any amount of clear reasoning. So this is for the rest:

What Jesus and the disciples drank under first century conditions has nothing to do with what's wise for us to do under our present conditions. To put it another way, in the first century you can only drink what exists to drink. We have better options.

As for the miracle of Cana, it doesn't argue one way or the other, for one simple reason: nobody knows what the chemical properties of Jesus' miracle-wine were. Nobody knows. There is no way to prove it. Anything drinkable from a grape would have been called oinos, gleukos, palaios, or oxos. There was no word in Greek with the specific meaning of "grape juice that isn't fermented yet," so even if Jesus made a non-alcoholic beverage (I'm not saying one way or the other), they would have called it oinos, gleukos, palaios, or oxos. (Actually two of those are pretty unlikely, but not impossible.)

So here's a parallel:

  • Cats normally have sharp claws.
  • We have no word in English for "cat with its claws removed." Best we can do is "declawed cat," but nobody would deny that a clawless cat is still a cat.
  • Suppose several people observe that an unusually beautiful "cat" was strolling down main street. Without checking, we would not know whether the cat had claws or not. The term "cat" is simply not that precise.
  • Of course context could help: If observers also reported that they saw said cat snatch a bird from the air and slowly play it to death, we would correctly infer that "cat" in that context is the clawed variety. Without context to give us that information, the word itself doesn't tell us the state of its claws.

There is nothing in John 2 that must be understood to indicate the oinos Jesus made had alcohol in it or didn't have alcohol in it. It's just not there. It was good and they liked it and He made it from water. That's all we know.

The wisdom case cannot possibly be defeated by the miracle at Cana.

As for the apostles et al., I'm quite willing to grant for the sake of argument that they drank what was available, like everyone else. This also cannot defeat the wisdom argument, which has to do with the options we have today.

JBL's picture

The primary textual support for the nature of the wine in John 2 comes from the words of the master of the feast.  His statement to the bridegroom is

“Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 

There are several ideas expressed here.  The most obvious is that the order of service of the good and poor wine in this particular wedding is opposite what is customary.  The second is that the poor wine is customarily served only after the wedding participants are "well drunk."

What does "well drunk" mean?  Even in the absence of any other contextual support, it is not a stretch to assume that this either means intoxicated or satiated in terms of thirst.  Perhaps both have merit and should be considered.

However, the word well drunk is a congnate of methuo - μεθύω.  This particular word always is used in NT writings to describe some form of intoxication.  I am not aware of any use that prescribes a general sense of satiation of thirst.

If then, the master of the feast is describing the serving of the wine in terms of intoxication, would it not then lend support to the wine in John 2 being alcoholic?

 

 

 

John B. Lee

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Though inferences can be made, with various levels of probability, regarding what was drunk at the feast prior to the miracle, they are (1) only probabilities and (2) don't tell us anything about what Jesus created in His miracle. We know what He made was qualitatively superior. That's clear in the text. We are not told what the limits of that qualitative superiority were.

(It should be obvious that a beverage with all the taste and feel-good properties of alcohol but with zero potential for intoxication and folly would be superior, indeed. I can't claim Jesus did this. Nobody can prove He did not.)

 

Pages

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.