WINE in the New Testament

By Tim Greenwood

I haven't always been a Minister of the Gospel. At one point in my life I was a professional Chef and Food Service Director of a University and its corporate headquarters. And, as part of that job, I became an expert wholesale buyer of wine. I'm talking about truck loads of all kinds of fine vintage wines. I studied wines: where and how different wines were produced, and the chemical compositions of the various stages of the fermentation process, and even though I have no idea where it is now, I remember even receiving a somewhat prestigious certificate for completing these courses.

Now, I said all that, not to brag, but to make it clear that I'm not just some preacher parroting something I heard some other preacher say, but rather, when it comes to wine, I know what I'm talking about.

Now I could get all scientific on you, but aside from the different soils, varieties and blends of grapes, it's really quite simple. You grow grapes. You can eat them, fresh or dried or squeeze them into juice. You can drink the juice fresh or let it sit around and let the glucose, (fruit sugar), in it naturally ferment into alcohol, carbon dioxide and various other chemicals. Once the fermentation process ceases, the remainder is referred to as wine. If you drink it before the fermentation process is finished, it will usually be effervescent, (bubbly), and may taste like yeast or mold to one extent or another.

Natural (open air or accidental) fermentation is not very efficient and may produce a product containing only 3-5% alcohol. Controlled fermentation, that is to say, wine made on purpose, will usually produce a product containing 13-15% alcohol. And, if wine is allowed to sit around exposed to the open air too long, it will automatically be further chemically broken down to an acetic acid and water solution we call vinegar. This process has remained the same ever since man set foot on this planet. Fruit rots through the process of fermentation, whether still on the plant, on the ground, in a bucket, or in a barrel, be it solid or juiced. The only difference is that the fermentation of the juice can be controlled. That's it in a nut shell.

Now, before we begin, allow me to make the following disclaimer. I haven't gotten drunk on alcohol since I was a stupid teenager. I wasn't actually "stupid," but rather, out of ignorance, I just allowed the "spirit of stupid" to control me, now and then. And the last time I remember even getting tipsy or high on alcohol, was more than thirty-five years ago and I can't even remember the last time I had a glass of wine. Why? I don't drink, or even sit in the bar section of a restaurant, so as not to offend anyone who knows me or by my example, cause some new or weak Christian to give in to some underlying, known or unknown, alcohol addiction, period. It has nothing to do with what the Bible says about wine. In addition, even though I do not condone anyone ever getting drunk. This work is not about drunkenness or any other excess, addictions or moral failing. Nor is it about behavior modification concerning any of these things. This work is to detail what the Bible really says about wine.

The word "WINE" is used 183 times in the Old Testament and 29 times in the New Testament. So, rather than make this an epic, this work will concentrate on the usages of this word in the King James New Testament. The King James New Testament was translated into English from the Greek Language. Therefore, I will be stepping through and comparing these scriptures in the Greek using Strong's Greek Lexicon.

I've been in full time ministry now for more than a decade and a half, and during that time I've heard lots of sermons and read lots of works by other preachers sincerely spouting things which were unfactual, extra biblical or perhaps even apocryphal in nature. No matter how sincere they were, no matter how respected they are or how much integrity they have, no matter who they might have been parroting, what they were saying was still unfactual. I love them, I forgive them, but no matter who they are, unfactual and extra biblical are still unfactual and extra biblical.

Now, I'm not Mr. Bible Know-It-All. But I have taken the time to step through every reference to "wine" in the New Testament, breaking each down in the Greek Language to obtain the original contextual definition, inference and meaning. So if you want to know what the Bible actually has to say about wine, you can count on this as being factual.

To me, the most prominent reference to wine in the New Testament is Jesus' first miracle of transforming water into wine.

But I have read and listened to sermon after sermon about how the "wine" in the King James Bible, you know, in Jesus' day, was somehow different than "wine" today. I mean back then, all of the laws of chemistry, fermentation and the way fruit rotted was way different. Or was it? Actually I've already answered that. These processes have remained the same from the time man set foot on this planet and continue today.

Look, I realize that there are several churches out there whose primary mission is to minister to recovering alcohol and drug addicts and many others that sponsor recovery groups, which view any form of alcoholic beverage as anathema and the devil's poison, and have come to believe and teach that it is a sin to drink a glass of wine or any other alcoholic beverage. And for these individuals, I agree that behavioral modification, aversion and abstinence should indeed be the rule. But, not for everyone else and not by twisting or adding to what the Bible actually says to fit your doctrine.

It comes down to this: Did Jesus actually turn actual water in to actual wine, or was it instead Kool-Aid, grape juice or perhaps modern, highly processed and distilled, Manischewitz, Kosher, alcohol free, Passover Communion Wine? I have heard sermons and read several articles by well meaning preachers which teach that it was something other than actual wine and most often that something is some form of grape juice. (Note: To anyone who knows anything about wine, and a lot of folks do, some of these sermons and articles are so rediculous as to discredit everything else that the authors or speakers may have to say on any subject. Most of the time, I think well meaning pastors, hear someone they trust say something, and just parrot it without doing any research or fact checking.)

There are four different Greek words which are translated in the King James New Testament as "wine." These words are as follows:

  • G3631 - oy'-nos: wine, from yah-yin: meaning to effervesce (or fermented). (Used most places throughout the New Testament.)
  • G1098 - glyoo'-kos: (or glucose or a liquid fruit sugar), or a syrupy sweet fruit juice. (Used only one time.)
  • G3943 - par'-oy-nos: (From two words: 1. Para: near and 2. G3631 wine), meaning addicted to wine. (Used only twice.)
  • G3632 - oy-of-loog-ee'-ah: (From two words: 1. G3631 wine and 2. Floo'or-os: bubbly or to talk incessantly), meaning drunkenness or drunk on wine. (Used only once.)
And none of these words are interchangeable.

Let's take a look at the scriptures:
John 2:3, 9, 10 and 4:46 all refer to the wine that Jesus created from the pots of water. In each case, the Greek word used is (G3631) fermented wine. But not just any old wine.

The host was considered by the other guests to be a wine expert that knew the difference between valuable fine wines and cheap jug wine and certainly know the difference between wine and grape juice, (especially, when there was between 120 and 180 gallons of it.)

So what did he say? "Hey you cheap-skate, what's up with the grape juice?" No, that's not what he said. In John 2:10 he said, "Everybody I know, begins with their finest wines and after the guests have finished their meal, they break out the cheap stuff. But you, you've saved the finest vintage till now!" So, Jesus' first miracle was not turning water into grape juice or grape Kool-aid, but rather a fine vintage wine. (Note: Fine vintage wine is grape juce from the best years crops of a particular varity of grape, properly fermented and properly aged to mellow out the tanic acid.)

Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22, and Luke 5:38 each cautions putting new wine, (G3631), into old bottles because the old will explode, due to the building pressure of the carbon dioxide gas produced by the effervescent fermentation of the wine. Fresh grape juice sealed in a bottle won't do this. Plus in verse 39 he adds that nobody that has ever experienced a fine vintage wine, will ever prefer a half fermented new wine, because the vintage wine is so much better. (i.e Doesn't tast like yeast or mold.)

In Mark 15:23, Jesus, on the cross, refused the offer of wine, (G3631), mixed with myrrh by the Roman Guard. Why? Because during his last meal with the disciples, they all shared bread and a cup of wine to establish a fellowship, partnership or communion, and He said that that would be the last time He would partake until he came back. (Which emplies that He WILL partake of wine again when He returns.)

Luke 1:15 and 7:33 says that John the Baptist wouldn't and didn't drink wine, (G3631), or any other alcoholic beverage.

Luke 10:34 shows olive oil and wine, (G3631), (for the alcohol content), being used to doctor open wounds. If you don't believe it, and think this is takling about grape juice, the next time you gash yourself, pour some grape juice in it and see what happens in a few days. (Note: stay near a hospital.)

Romans 14:21 Admonishes us not to eat or drink anything, including wine (G3631), that we know would cause a weak brother, (Christian), to stumble, (or sin). Personally, I don't think grape juice is going to cause anyone to stumble. (Unless you spill it on a slick floor.)

Ephesians 5:18 says not to get drunk by drinking an excess of wine, (G3631). Again keep in mind that this is the same Greek word, "wine" that Jesus made from the water. (Also, this scripture says that you should not ever get drunk. So don't you dare use this work as an excuse to go out and get drunk.)

1 Timothy 3:8 and Titus 2:3 says that Deacons and Deaconesses, (female elders), should not be drinking a lot of wine, (G3631). 1 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 1:17 say that an overseer of the Church should not be a wine-o, (G3943), that is addicted to wine, (G3631). Grape juice? I don't think so.

1 Timothy 5:23 Paul encourages Timothy to drink a little wine, (G3631) for medicinal purposes.

1 Peter 4:3 says that in the past it may have been normal to be like everyone else, partying, getting drunk, (G3632): on much wine, (G3631), and carousing around. But because of what Jesus has done for us, we need to change that behavior.

Revelation 6:6, 14:8, 16:19, 17:2, 18:3, 13 all refer to the world drinking wine, (G3631), from the whore of Babylon's cup, symbolizing the world partaking of God's wrath against her.

Now Acts 2:13 is a little different, talking of the towns people's reaction to the disciples manifesting the infilling of the Holy Spirit. They used the Greek word, glyoo'-kos, (G1098), indicating that since it was still early, they speculated that perhaps the disciples had gotten into a bad batch of grape juice that had accidently fermented. This is the ONLY place in the Bible this Greek word is used. So here it IS talking about grape juice, but the people still thought they were all drunk. (i.e. The people thought the disciples' morning grape juice had "gone bad" and fermented into wine.)

So, what did Jesus turn the water into? Wine. Jesus turned the water into real, properly fermented, 13-15% alcoholic, properly aged, fine vintage wine. Not grape juice and not Kool-aid. And it was only in recent years that technology made it possible for Manischewitz to cook cheap jug wine and distill out all of the alcohol from their Kosher, Passover "Wine," which in reality is no longer even wine. (This distilling process is simular to cooking light crude oil to distill out the gasoline.)

The religious Jews of the day called Jesus a "wine-bibber" (or wine-o) because Jesus drank wine in public gatherings. Every Passover of His adult life, Jesus ate the Seder meal, which included four cups of wine.

Jesus had to know the difference between cheap jug wine and fine wine in order to have turned the water into the best fine wine. And I can't prove it, but I doubt that Jesus and His disciples left that wedding before toasting mazel-tov, (congratulations), to the bride and groom with a cup of wine.

Nowhere in the New Testament do I find any scripture that directs us to have a glass of wine nor do I find any scripture that prohibits us from having a glass of wine.

God said in the book of Genesis that we, individually, should utilize, have dominion over and control the entire plant kingdom and that the plant kingdom, including any of its derivatives, should never control us. This includes grapes, fruits, berries, corn, potatoes, beets, sugar cane, tobacco, cactus, rice, hops, rye, barley, hemp, poppies or anything else from which potentially addictive, (controlling), substances can be produced.