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
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
Fellowship is never used in
Scripture to refer a common meal, but always to mutual participation in
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?
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.
Noah. He planted a vineyard and became drunk and uncovered
himself (Gen. 9:20-21).
Lot. After leaving Sodom and Gomorrah, his daughters made
him drunk so they could conceive by him (Gen. 19:32-33).
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
Table Wine general
Cabernet, Pinot Noir
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.
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).”
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
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).
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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:
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
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).
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).
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).
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.
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
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
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.
deprivation, conld temperature, concentrated sugar, and separating the yeasts
in the skins from the sugar can impede fermentation.
B. Ancient Methods.
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
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).
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
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.”
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,
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.
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
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).
Filtered & Boiled
Filtered, Boiled, & Reduced 1/3
Filtered, Boiled, & Reduced 1/5
Filtered, Boiled, & Reduced 1/10
these methods used in the Bible?
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,
“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
A. There were, “all sorts of wine” in
the Bible (Neh. 5:18).
wine” (Hos. 4:11)
wine” (Matt. 27:34)
wine” (Is. 27:2).
wine” (Is. 49:26).
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
“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).
This is not the same thing we call “wine.”