Olsen Park Church of Christ

Bible Wine

Introduction.  Communication is one of the greatest challenges to human relationships. When one person uses a word or phrase in one way, but another person has a different concept of that same expression it leads to confusion.

·         “Cut the Onions!” Brady McAlister told me that his father once ordered some food in a restaurant where the waitress didn’t speak English very well. When he ordered he told her “cut the onions!”—meaning don’t put any onions on the dish. She misunderstood and brought him a plate of finely chopped onions. In that example the same words produced dramatically different results.

One of the first things that is done in a formal debate is to set definitions of terms. Otherwise one side may be arguing based on a certain definition while another is using a different definition of a word.

            In Scripture, there are many examples where we must clarify (or correct) definitions that man has placed on words that were never attached to those words.

·         Baptism is never used in Scripture of sprinkling or pouring, but always of full immersion.

·         Church is never used in Scripture of a building, but always of the people in fellowship with God in Christ.

·         Fellowship is never used in Scripture to refer a common meal, but always to mutual participation in spiritual matters.

In a similar way, I’d like for us to talk this morning about a word used in Scripture which is equally subject to misunderstanding if we try to apply modern conceptions of it to each instance where we encounter it in Scripture—the word “wine.” What do you think of when you hear that word?

·         A glass of wine someone might drink with dinner?

·         Bottles of fine wine imported from exotic locations?

·         The liquor that is purchased at a liquor store?

I. Alcoholic Wines.

A. There were alcoholic wines in the Bible. There is no question that drinks which were called “wine” were consumed in Bible times which were very similar to this conception of “wine” which we have today.

1.  Noah.  He planted a vineyard and became drunk and uncovered himself (Gen. 9:20-21).

2.  Lot. After leaving Sodom and Gomorrah, his daughters made him drunk so they could conceive by him (Gen. 19:32-33).

3.  Uriah. David made Uriah drunk with wine (2 Sam. 11:13).

4.  Descriptions of drunkenness. Psa. 107:27 and Job 12:25 speaks of staggering “like a drunken man.” Jeremiah 23:9 speaks of shaking like a “drunken man.” Even the effects of sickness from drunkenness are described with sickness and “vomit” (Isa. 19:14; Jer. 25:27).

B. Even these were different from modern wines. There was, however, a difference between these types of alcoholic wines and modern wines. Most modern wines are “fortified”—i.e. they have added sugars, yeast, and in some cases distilled alcohols added to increase the alcohol content. Distillation was not known in ancient times, and most yeasts are killed when an alcohol level reaches 12%. By contrast modern distilled alcohols can contain as much as 95% alcohol. A website known as The Alcohol Content Database offers some of the following examples: (Taken from

Wine Coolers


Table Wine general


White, dry


White, sparkling


White, sweet


Cabernet, Pinot Noir


Dessert Wine






Port Wine



Taken from: http://www.alcoholcontents.com/wine/   

II. A Different Type of Wine Described in the Bible.

A. There was a different type of drink the Bible also calls “wine.” But there is also a very different way that Biblical writers will use words that refer to “wine” which is much different than that to which we are accustomed.

1. Juice in the grape is called “wine.” Isaiah 65:8 declares “the new wine (tirosh) is in the cluster.” Deuteronomy 32:14 calls “wine (chemer)” the “blood of the grape.” Numbers 6:3 forbids the Nazirite from drinking “grape juice” Judges 13:7 summarizes this restriction to say that the Nazirite was to “drink no wine (yayin).”  

2. Juice fresh from the grape is called “wine.” Genesis 40:11 records the dream of the cup-bearer as he tells Joseph about hand-squeezing grapes into Pharaoh’s cup. When the first century Jewish historian, Josephus, describes this he uses the word gleukos (the same word translated “new wine” in Acts 2:13), claiming that the cup-bearer “strained the wine” into the cup (Antiquities 2.5.2).

3. Juice in the press is called “wine.” It is called “wine (tirosh)” while it was being trod with the feet (Micah 6:15), and when it comes fresh from the “presses” (Prov. 3:10), but it is also called by the more generic term as it describes tredding out “wine (yayin) in the presses” (Isa. 16:10). Jeremiah 48:33 speaks of “wine (yayin)” failing “from the winepresses.”

B. Is this a figure of speech?  Some might argue that this is using a figure of speech. There is s figure of speech scholars call metonymy of effect by which “the effect is put for the cause producing it” (Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, 560-67).

1. A great example of this is found in Genesis 25:23. When Rebecca is pregnant with Jacob and Esau she is told “two nations are in your womb.” She didn’t literally have nations in her womb, but she had the children from which these nations would descend.

2.  Metonymy depends on a clear distinction.  The problem with this as it relates to “wine” is that biblical language doesn’t make as precise a distinction as we do between the thing produced and the things from which it is produced. In other words, words for “wine” in the Bible are applied to the juice from the grape at all stages.

C.  Familiar examples.  Compare this to some examples with which we are familiar:

·         “I’m going to get Gas” might refer to diesel or gasoline. Leaded or unleaded. Premium, high octane or no ethanol. In the past it could have meant that you were filling your tractor with propane.

·         Get me a coke, please”—or in some areas of the country “Get me pop, please.That once would have meant a Coca Cola soft drink. Now it could mean Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, 7-Up, Dr. Pepper, caffeine free, sugar free, vanilla, cherry, etc.

The point is, when a word is used to describe things that are dramatically different, we can misunderstand something if we apply a meaning to it that is not necessarily that narrow. 

III. Contrasting descriptions.

A.  Contrasting descriptions of “wine” in the Bible. Although the Bible will use words for drinks it calls “wine” there are some dramatically different ways these drinks are described. Consider a few contrasting passages:

1.      New Wine (tirosh) “cheers both God and men” (Judges 9:13), but wine (yayin) “is a mocker” (Prov. 20:1). God speaks of those who drink “the wine of the condemned in the house of their god” (Amos 2:8). 

2.      New Wine (tirosh) was considered a blessing from God (Deut. 7:13; 11:14; 33:28) and taken away as punishment (Deut. 28:51; Isa. 24:7; 62:8), but man is warned not to “look upon” the more generic type of wine (yayin)—going on to picture what likely describes the process of alcoholic fermentation—“when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright” (Prov 23:31, KJV).

3.      Wine is used as a figure of punishment. Some “eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence” (Prov. 4:17). The wicked shall “drink the wine of the wrath of God” (Rev. 14:10), and “the wine of the fierceness of His wrath” (Rev. 16:19).

4.      Paul tells Timothy to drink “a little wine (oinos) for your stomach’s sake” (1 Tim. 5:23), but the wise man warns “it is not for kings to drink wine” (Prov. 31:4).

5.      Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego petitioned to be able to drink a different wine than the type of wine the king drank (Dan. 1:5, 8). This could have been an issue of Mosaic cleanliness, but it could also have concerned the nature of the drink itself.

6.      Jesus gave the people 120-180 gallons of “water that was turned to wine” (John 2:1-10), and yet he taught that “drunkenness” can weigh down one’s heart causing the word to be choked within (Luke 21:34). His disciples taught that men must turn away from “drunkenness, revelries” and “drinking parties” (1 Pet. 4:3; cf. Rom. 13:13), and that “drunkenness” and “revelries” can prevent one from inheriting the kingdom of heaven (Gal. 5:21).

B.  Can this be talking about the exact same substance? Is this only a matter of degree, or amount—is it not rather talking about a substance of a different nature, a different preparation, and a different manner of consumption?

IV. Ancient Evidence. There is ancient evidence that non-alcoholic drinks were still called “wine.” In ancient times drinks were called “wine” that ranged anywhere from pure grape juice all the way to vinegar. There is evidence from ancient times that drinks called “wine” were prepared and consumed that were non-alcoholic.

A. The Process of Fermentation. How does fermentation work? Grapes produce sugars which ferment under the right conditions. These sugars must have contact with yeast. Grapes have natural “ambient yeast” inside and on the skin. This yeast turns sugar to alcohol. The amount of sugar and yeast varies based on climate, rainfall, and temperature. The lower the amount the lower the alcohol content. To regulate this, some winemakers add yeast (and even sugar) to affect the taste and strength of wine.

1.      Air deprivation, conld temperature, concentrated sugar, and separating the yeasts in the skins from the sugar can impede fermentation.

B. Ancient Methods.

1. Filtration: Pliny the Elder wrote that the most suitable for all men was wine, “with strength reduced by the filter,” even explaining the difference between “must” and fermented wine (Natural History, 23.24). Plutarch devotes an entire discussion to whether wine should be strained, declaring wine “cleansed” by a strainer, has its “strike and madness taken away” leaving one in a “mild and healthy state of mind” (Symposiacs, 693b 3-5). The BabylonianTalmud records debates regarding whether wine should be filtered on the Sabbath or not (Shabbat, 139b). 

2. Boiling: When freshly pressed grape juice is boiled, water evaporates leaving a thick syrup that doesn’t ferment as easily and can be diluted later.  Aristotle wrote about wines in Arcadia so thick they were scraped off the wineskins to drink (Meterologica 388b, 6). The Roman poet Virgil described housewives boiling down “sweet must (i.e. freshly squeezed grape juice)” (Georgics, 1.295). After the New Testament, the Mishnah records debates among Jews about whether boiled or unboiled wine was used in the heave-offering (Terumot 11:1). 

3. Dilution: A common practice among the ancients (even among those not concerned with drunkenness) was diluting wine with water. This was as much as 20/1 (Homer, Odyssey 9.208), 8/1 (Pliny,  Natural History 14.6), or among the Jews 2 or 3/1 (Shabbat 77a; Pesachim 108b). The apocryphal book of 2 Maccabbes claims, “It is hurtful to drink wine or water alone… wine mingled with water is pleasant” (15:39). In Plato’s Symposium a discussion is held at the beginning of a drinking party about whether they wanted to drink where they could get drunk fast, or water it down where they could drink all night (176a-c). The third century AD Roman author Athenaeus described and even quoted ancient Greek and Roman authors who valued diluting wine with water, “the sober stream” (Deipnosophists 11.13). He devotes a long discourse to explaining different proportions of water to wine used in order to prevent drunkenness, quoting authors centuries before his own time (Deipnosophists 10.21-39).

4. Storage:  Boiled or filtered wines (like other wines in ancient times) were stored in earthenware vessels or sometimes in animal skins for travel.  The University of Pennsylvania holds  a two-and-one-half gallon jar that is believed to be the oldest wine jar ever  found  (Object No. 69-12-15). It is lined with terebinth resin to seal it.  Cato the Elder (234 BC – 149 BC) claimed that “must” stored in an amphora coated with pitch and stored thirty days in a water tank could be removed and kept as “must” for the whole year (Cato, De Re Rustica 120).  Columella, who was the Roman tribune of Syria in 35 AD claimed the same thing but extended the period during which the amphora was submerged in water to forty days (De Re Rustica 12.29). Some earthenware vessels were also glazed. A multi-gallon Canaanite wine vessel found at Tel Kabri, near the Mediterranean coast in northern Israel, dated to around 1800 B.C. used to store gallons of red wine was covered with a white glaze. Earthenware vessels could be sealed with a pitch coated cork (Horace, Carminum Liber 3, 8, 9-12), but other methods of sealing were used as well.  Columella describes covering an amphora, plastering over the lid, and then covering it with leather (De Re Rustica 12.39). In August of 2012 a 1st century AD or BC Roman shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Italy with nearly 200 amphora containing wine,  oil, grain, and pickled fish with pine caps coated with pitch still sealed and in place (ABC News, Aug. 9, 2012. The ancients recognized that “must” stored in the cold does not ferment (Plutarch, Natural Questions 27). When attempting to keep “must” it was generally stored in a cool place and could be kept as sweet “must” for as much as a year (Columella, On Agriculture 12.20.1; 12.37.1; 12.29.1).

V. Testing Ancient Methods. Are these claims true?

A. Background.  In 2010, Wilson Adams, who was at the time editing a paper printed among brethren entitled Biblical Insights, asked me to write an article he entitled “Social Drinking—It’s Okay, Right?” This article ran in April of 2010,  it ran in our bulletin June 6, of the same year. In the article I cited some claims made by ancient writers about methods they used to prevent (or impede) alcoholic fermentation.  Shortly after the article ran in Biblical Insights I was contacted by a brother in Christ with a background in micro-biology who took exception to the claims of the ancients, and wrote in one of the final e-mails we had that year that the ancients were “grasping for straws.”

1. That motivated me to want to find out for myself. Some of you heard about this. From time to time brethren would tease me that I was “brewing liquor” in my office. That wasn’t quite accurate but what I did was hand squeeze 11 ½ pounds of black grapes and test two of the common methods the ancients talked about: filtering, and boiling.

2. In May of the same year I hand squeezed 11 1/2 pounds of black grapes and produced six test samples. The first was pure grape juice. The second was juice filtered through a muslin cloth. The third was juice filtered and brought to a boil. The remaining samples were juice filtered, boiled, and reduced to 1/3, 1/5, and 1/10 of their original volume.

B. Final test results.

1. These samples were stored in my office under temperatures that could easily have been reproduced in Bible lands. The first testing was done at West Texas A & M University with the help of Pat Goguen and a professor at the university.

2. The final testing was done some months later with the help of Pat Goguen, with equipment supplied by Eddie Proack (a member at Sount Georgia).

3. Final results.




Filtered & Boiled

Filtered, Boiled, & Reduced 1/3

Filtered, Boiled, & Reduced  1/5

Filtered, Boiled, & Reduced  1/10

Date Sealed







Date Opened

WT Test









Alcohol Content

12 -6%








Conclusion. Were these methods used in the Bible?

FILTERING:  Scripture directly refers to filtered “wine on the lees, well-refined” (Isa. 25:6, KJV, ASV). The word for “well refined” means, “to purify, distil, strain, refine” (Gesenius).

BOILING: “Wine mixed with water” (Isa. 1:22. The Hebrew word for “mixed”—mahol means “to cut down or reduce.” The word mezeg used in Song of Solomon 7:2—wine mixed with water.

A. There were, “all sorts of wine” in the Bible (Neh. 5:18).

·         “New wine” (Hos. 4:11)

·         “Sour wine” (Matt. 27:34)

·         “Red wine” (Is. 27:2).

·         “Sweet wine” (Is. 49:26).

·         Wine mixed with milk (So. 5:1), water (Is. 1:22), spices (So. 8:2), myrrh (Mark 15:23), and for medicinal use (1 Tim. 5:23).

B. Some of these wines would not have been alcoholic or intoxicating

1.  “New wine (gleukos)” (Acts 2:13). Plutarch  discussed why it is that “new wine (gleukos)” is not as intoxicating as other wines. He states, “few could drink enough to make them drunk” (Questiones Convivales 3.7).

2.  This is not the same thing we call “wine.”

Kyle Pope 2013

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