A Question I Was Asked:

Surely Jesus Did Not Drink Real Wine?

The Question:

I disagree that Jesus drank fermented wine which you claim in your article which is here: http://www.ukapologetics.net/1NEW.htm.

You make a big argument and statement in suggesting that grape juice could not be kept without fermentation. This statement is simply incorrect. Ancients had many ways of preserving not only grapes, but grape juice. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D, with the help of several different sources, provides evidence that grape juice, in ancient times, was able to be preserved. From 'Wine and the Bible,'

"The keeping of grape juice from fermenting was a relatively simple process. It was accomplished simply by boiling the juice down to a syrup, or by separating the fermentable pulp from the juice of the grape by means of filtration, or by placing the grape juice in sealed jars which were immersed in a pool of cold water, or by fumigating with sulphur the wine jars before sealing them. The use of such techniques clearly indicates that the means of preserving grape juice without fermentation were known and used in the ancient world."

I believe "Wine and the Bible" by Dr. Bacchiocchi is a phenomenal account that I would suggest to anyone... The fact that the Greek word 'oinos' can mean BOTH fermented and Unfermented grape juice debunks several other arguments you make in your paper.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, your comments on my article on wine are interesting, but then you go on to claim far too much. If one is searching out rare possible scenarios, that might be of passing interest but one cannot then present this as the irrefutable truth. One of your biggest problems is that you quote Samuele Bacchiocchi, not - in the eyes of many - a very reliable source. For many years, this man went out of his way to promote the view that Christians should still keep the seventh day Sabbath (saturday), but many of us believe that he ultimately failed in his arguments, though one does not doubt his sincerity. Bacchiocchi, then, despite your contrary opinion, is usually considered an unreliable source to quote (unless one is a seventh day adventist).

After saying how wine could be unfermented (it would be rare), Bacchiocchi states [according to your own quote from him], "...The use of such techniques clearly indicates that the means of preserving grape juice without fermentation were known and used in the ancient world." But in fact he has proven nothing! It is one thing to say, 'it could have been done this way,' but quite a different matter to overturn the clear meaning of the Greek word, 'oinos'! All the oldest authorities, plus the Greek language experts (it is, after all, their language), say that where we find 'oinos' we must assume normal, fermented wine. It is Strong's Greek word number 3631 meaning simply, 'wine,' with no variation of meaning. The Hebrews knew all about turning grapes into wine by fermentation - it was in no way strange or alien to them. This is the bottom line - it is against this solid case that you are arguing!

You state, "The fact that the Greek word 'oinos' can mean BOTH fermented and unfermented grape juice debunks several other [of your] arguments."

No, it does not, you are using very poor logic and claiming too much from a very weak position. If on rare occasions (it could not be more than that), 'oinos' referred to non-fermented wine, that would still not back up your argument. That, for example, would have required the Gospels to carefully point out that communion wine should be unfermented wine, something they do not do. The only logical conclusion is that whenever the New Testament refers to 'wine' (it does not do so very much), it refers to normally fermented wine. When the New Testament warns about excess with wine (about which more later), it always uses 'oinos.' Can you drink to excess just using fruit juice?

In contrast, the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, gives us some unbiased information on this topic:

"Prior to the NT era, wine was a normal part of the Passover ritual. The Mishna mentions drinking four cups of wine during the Passover meal, of which three were mixed with water. Wine in the New Testament was a fermented beverage that was mixed with various amounts of water. It was also mixed with gall (Mt. 27:34) and myrrh (Mk. 15:23),....Evidence strongly suggests that the wine used at the Lord's Supper was a mixture of water and wine....The phrase "fruit of the vine" (Mat. 26:27-29) is often interpreted to mean fresh grape juice. However, fresh grape juice would be all but impossible to find." (Vol IV, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, Article: Wine, p2148, 1988 hardback version. Baker Books, Grand Rapids. Emphases mine).

So 'oinos' was indeed properly fermented wine (if unfermented, it is not wine!), but often taken with water.

John the Baptist did not drink wine (oinos in the Greek) or any other form of alcohol because Scripture prophesied that he wouldn't (Luke 1:15). However, Jesus Christ did drink oinos [wine] (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34), neither did Jesus preach against the use of wine; instead He - like most other Jews of his day - drank wine in moderation. It was normally diluted with water for drinking, and was one of the principal beverages in Palestine at that time - exactly as it is today. Actually, the very first miracle of Jesus was to turn water into wine (oinos). A very few people, ignoring the meaning of the Greek, claim that this miracle was to turn water into grape juice. Can one seriously imagine an elaborate Jewish wedding banquet where everyone only drinks grape juice? Let us be sensible about this!

Jesus also gave a parable involving the fermenting process of oinos in Matt. 9:17. At that time, instead of having metal or glass bottles to enclose wine, the skins of animals were used. The fermentation of the wine would break an old skin because it would lose its elasticity, but it would not break a new, stretchable skin.

While it might just be conceivable that oinos could refer to unfermented wine, most Bible scholars don't take this possibility very seriously. 'Oinos' is fermented wine. Moreover, Paul the Apostle said, "Be not drunk with wine [oinos]" (Ephesians 5:18). Can anybody get drunk on grape juice? Paul instructed Timothy, "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine [oinos] for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities." (1 Timothy 5:23). He said to use only a little wine, not a lot. The purpose of this wine was Timothy's frequent stomach ailments; small amounts of wine can help some stomach problems. Excessive alcohol would probably make them worse.

It seems that - at Corinth - some of the Christians were getting drunk at the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:21). They were using fermented wine, probably following the example that Paul had set for them. One supposes that Paul could have told them [if the no-wine argument should be correct], that they were using the wrong kind of wine! In fact, he simply told them to eat and drink at home, and to participate in the Lord's Supper in a more respectful way.

Finally, in Romans 14:21, Paul says that it is good not to drink wine nor eat meat if it offends a weak brother. He is referring to fermented wine; would the use of grape juice offend anyone? The implication is that there's nothing wrong with the wine in itself, only if it offends a weak brother.
Robin A. Brace. 7th February, 2012.