Friday, October 9, 2009

Did Jesus Drink Alcohol? Wine? Or was it non-alcoholic?

For some reason after 2000 years there's still question as to if Jesus actually drank wine or not, so I've actually waited a while to answer this question because I wanted to get it right. Now I think I've got enough evidence so I'm going to go about this a few different ways. I've talked to pastors, professors, home brew beer makers, and made wine and mead myself. I've heard a bunch of arguments, and I've even heard if from the pulpit of several churches including First Baptist of Bentonville. I've actually even heard that the wine Jesus drank was nonalcoholic. So let's explore this.

First of all, let's talk about grape juice. It may surprise you to know that there really was no such thing as grape juice before about 150 years ago. This guy named Welch (that's right) came along and figured out that you could Pasteurize grape juice and refrigerate it and it wouldn't ferment. In fact, he even advertised and sold it as alcohol free communion wine. Until that point, virtually all communion wine was in fact wine.

I've also taken time to get a scientific perspective on this question. I've spoken to University of Arkansas microbiology Professor Dr. Timothy Kral about this subject and he has had quite a bit to say and in no uncertain terms. It goes like this. There are wild yeasts (single celled organisms of the fungi kingdom which produce alcohol as a waste product) which naturally grow on grapes. When the grapes are pressed, the yeasts begin to reproduce and rapidly consume sugar and oxygen in the juice until the whole mix becomes anaerobic. At this point, the yeasts cease respiration as a means of energy production and expand to fermentation as a sole means of survival. They feed off the glucose (sugar) and other nutrients in the mash until one of two things happens. First, they either run out of food, or second, alcohol (waste product) kills them off. Some yeasts can stand a higher alcohol content that others, but just about all yeasts can stand above 10% which is well higher than beer. The yeast completely spread throughout the liquid fermenting the sugar into alcohol. Since alcohol is a toxic waste product, it then preserves the entire batch and it can be stored indefinitely. I asked Dr. Kral if it were possible to keep the juice aerobic to keep the fermentation from happening and possibly make non-alcoholic wine. He said absolutely not. Firstly, if the juice were kept completely aerobic, it would spoil and no one would drink it because it would be nasty and disgustingly acidic. Secondly there will always be some yeasts in the mix making at least some alcohol.

Let's look at the Bible. One of the best known cases is the wedding at Cana when Jesus turns water into wine. There are several arguments here. Some say that the bad wine was wine wine while the "wine" Jesus makes and everyone likes so much is actually grape juice. There are a few problems with this. First, logically, which wine is good wine? The rule of thumb is generally the older the better. Any grape juice more than 6 hours old is wine. Better wine is older wine. Jesus made the better wine. Secondly, this even took place around the time of Passover, in the spring. Grape harvest is in the fall. Without pasteurization, refrigeration and hermetically sealed containers, all grape juice is completely fermented into wine by this time. There would have been some mighty suspicious people if Jesus showed up with grape juice. No, Jesus made the good wine, the aged high alcohol content good wine.

Jesus also tells a parable about wine skins. He says that if you put new wine in old wine skins it will burst the skins. He is right. "New wine" or freshly squeezed grape juice will begin to ferment immediately releasing carbon dioxide. A sealed container not able to stretch (an old wine skin for example) will burst within hours. A new wine skin will be fresh and able to stretch and so won't break. But there's another clue in here. Only a sealed container will have the possibility of bursting. Why would it be sealed? Because if it wasn't, it would not ferment and it would rot and ruin the wine and the skin. Jesus knew you had to seal the container to make wine, wine that has alcohol. There wasn't any uncertainty at all, Jesus was talking about real wine.

Finally, think about the cultural perspective. Ancient cultures, the Jewish culture especially, used wine ubiquitously. It was the only way to purify water. Paul told Timothy to mix some wine with his water because of his stomach. Paul knew well as did everyone of the time that the alcohol in wine stopped stomach ailments which as we know now is due to the the killing of the microorganisms by the toxic alcohol. Think about what the main ingredient in hand sanitizer is. Wine or beer was the only way store or purify water. Many sources of water were polluted, especially near cities and the alcohol in wine was the only thing beside boiling that the ancients could use to kill the stomach bug.

The Jews were very much into wine. One of their official prayers basically says "Dear God, we like grapes, amen." Jesus was a Jew. Though there were some Jews, the Nazarites, who never consumed any wine or alcohol or grapes or anything, Jesus was not one, he was a Nazarene, they're different. The Nazarites eschewed even grapes because they as well as modern day scientists know that if you have grape juice, you have wine, it happens automatically. The yeast grows on the grapes, you can't escape it. In fact, it is general practice to boil wine after mixing it because you want to kill all the wild yeasts so you can add special breeds or blends to get just the right taste. You can't have unrefrigerated juice without having wine. Jesus most certainly drank real wine. He drank real wine with alcohol in it. Science says it, history says it, culture says it, the Bible tells it, logic dictates it.

Before 150 years ago, there was no big argument about whether Jesus drank grape juice or wine because everyone understood the reality that there was no such thing as grape juice. How ignorant some of us have become.



Anonymous said...

Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. Proverbs 20:1

Even if the word of God did not speak so strongly against overuse of alcohol. I would still be against it. Alcohol ruins lives, families, marriages, children, and careers. If you don't start drinking you will not become addicted to it.

WiredForStereo said...

Absolutely. God forbid the overuse. But the point I am making here is that he did not forbid the use.

Anonymous said...

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Anonymous said...

First of all we must realise that when the term “wine” is used in our English version of the Bible it is a broad term including two specific and separate things. Firstly, grape juice which is non-alcoholic and is called wine in the Bible and secondly, alcoholic drink which can intoxicate or make a person drunk, is also called wine in the Bible.
Those who say that the word wine in the Bible always means non-alcoholic grape juice are wrong but so too are those who say that the term wine in the Bible always means an alcoholic drink. In fact 13 different Hebrew and Greek words are used for our English word wine in the Bible. These various Hebrew and Greek words can mean, i) Only a fermented drink, like shekhar, ii) Only an unfermented drink, like tirosh, iii) And those words which can be used for both, like yayin. (A comprehensive word study is beyond this present article but please bear in mind that this article is written in the light of all these facts).
Processing the Grape:
When grape juice is initially squeezed out, it has a high content of sugar and is not naturally alcoholic. It is only under the right conditions that yeast cells which are held on the surface of the grape skin begin to act on the sugar content that the process of fermentation begins which will eventually turn the grape juice into an alcoholic drink. When this action has produced about a 12% alcoholic content it ceases.
As is well known the production of alcoholic wine is a manufacturing business of great skill. It always has been. Good alcoholic wine does not develop of itself; it must be carefully watched, monitored and engineered.
This process of fermentation can fail to begin or can be greatly hindered by too much heat, cold or a number of other conditions. The yeast that ferments the wine is nothing more than a mould or fungus. Not all moulds will produce wine. Some bacteria if allowed to work upon the freshly squeezed grape juice will produce vinegar.
The temperature of wine must be maintained between 65 and 75 degrees in order to produce alcoholic wine. If this procedure is not carried out correctly it can destroy the production of alcoholic wine or stop it in its tracks at a very low level.
With hard work wine producers can produce a 14% alcoholic content in the wine but more normally the end result is 10-12%.
If during the fermentation process the temperature of the wine is kept at 100 degrees F for about one hour it will kill the yeasts that produce alcohol. If this was increased to 140 degrees F it would kill the whole process in ten minutes.
In the ancient world during the Old and New Testament period the production of non-alcoholic wine was widespread across the whole Mediterranean world. It was well known and practised. The use of heat, cold, thickening and filtering ensured this process.
Boiling ensured there was no fermentation as it killed the yeasts but concentrated the sugar content as the water evaporated. Fermentation was also prevented by storing it in a cool atmosphere in earthen, airtight vessels. Such grape fruit juice could be stored for up to two years without fermenting.
Many ancient writers like Virgil, Pliny, Aristotle, Homer and others wrote concerning the production of wine, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. They were very clear in explaining that non-alcoholic wine was widely used all the year round just as they were clear that there was also the means to produce good alcoholic wine for intoxication.

Anonymous said...

Why are we looking at these details and what do they have to do with the issue of alcohol in the Bible? These details go to prove that man had to work hard at producing good alcoholic wine. It proves that non-alcoholic wine was readily available during Bible days and was even a common drink in society. It also shows why the word for wine in the Bible was given to both alcoholic and non-alcoholic wine. These are important points in the biblical discussion.
Those who have been at the forefront of contending that Christians can drink socially have constantly stated that non-alcoholic wine was not widely available in Bible days and that when the Bible uses the term wine it always means fermented grape juice. Of course what we have just stated in this section factually undermines this myth.

This was taken from the following website

Heinz Tobler said...

Thank you bud! Jesus drank...its true. I'm sipping on wine now. The mind is the problem, not the wine.

John Pieper said...
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