A number of Christian denominations believe that Jesus never consumed alcohol. Despite the fact that the NT never claimed that Jesus refrained from drinking alcohol, many believe that it would be wrong for Him to drink because He was supposed to be sinless. However, responsible alcohol drinking was never called a sin in the Bible, Old or New Testaments. Below is a brief examination of why most Christians believe Jesus drank alcohol and why it’s the preferred position on this topic.
The most useful approach to this topic is to read the original Greek texts. Just like many languages they have words that differentiate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. The “two types” argument is heavily leaned on for the justification of a dry Jesus view and fiercely defended at John Hamel Ministries. John Hamel says the following regarding this issue:
“There are two kinds of ‘wine’ referred to in the Bible. Fermented and unfermented.”
I explained that Jesus neither drank nor created fermented, alcoholic wine. That would have been disobedience to His Father’s Word. Disobedience is sin and Jesus never sinned.
John states that the Bible shows two different kinds of wines. Those 2 types are regular wine and “new” wine. Any reader of the New Testament would recognize these two wines. But here is the problem with the argument: their are actually more than 2 types of “wine” in the Bible. In fact, their are at least 6 different words in the Bible that can be translated to mean wine (either fermented or unfermented). The OT Hebrew is helpful in this area because Jewish translators had to translate the various Hebrew words into Greek during the creation of the Greek OT, in the 3rd century BCE.
Multiple Wine Types In The Hebrew Old Testament
The first difficulty John Hamel’s study of wine is that the Hebrew text is very very clear about what wine is fermented and what is not. The Hebrew language had a whole slew of different words for different wines. Here we will just look at two of them since this primarily a New Testament issue.
The Hebrew word for grape juice, or freshly pressed grapes, is Tirosh (תִּירוֹשׁ). We see tirosh getting used in Genesis 27:28, Numbers 18:12, Deuteronomy 7:13, Proverbs 3:10, and many other places in the Old Testament. The various translations acceptable for Tirosh are: new wine, first fruits, grape clusters, sweet wine, freshly pressed grapes, and sometimes just generically used as wine. So, in many cases it refers to non-alcoholic wine. However, it should be noted that this unfermented wine had gray area because smashed grapes can start fermenting in just a few hours based on how much natural yeast is present on the skins before being pressed.
The Hebrew word for alcoholic or fermented wine is Yayin (יָ֫יִן). Some of the Old Testament usages can be found in Genesis 9:21, Genesis 19:34, Exodus 29:40, 1 Samuel 1:14, and many other locations. In almost all occasions it is referring to an intoxication by wine or a description of an alcoholic wine. There is another word in Hebrew that is used to refer generically to a strong fermented drink (sometimes wine) which is sheker (שֵׁכָר). This word is carried over into the Greek (Sikera/σίκερα) and is seen in the NT also.
4 Wine Types In The Greek New Testament
The New Testament uses 7 different words to call out or describe wine. Below we will examine the 4 most important words and most frequently used words.
The Greek New Testament does use a word for new wine or the equivalent of freshly pressed grapes. This would match the Hebrew word Tirosh (תִּירוֹשׁ). The Greek word is Gleukos (γλεῦκος). Aristotle and all of his Greek speaking contemporaries used this word to refer to what we would call “must” which is grapes freshly pressed and not fermented. This is where everyone should be asking: is this what Jesus drank? Unfortunately it is only used once in the entire New Testament. And the single time it is used (Acts 2:13) is referring to the apostles possibly being drunk on the day of Pentecost. Naturally this is a problem because Gleukos is not fermented. How are the disciples drunk on unfermented wine? Many would suggest that even freshly pressed wine has a low level of alcohol.
Another word in Greek for wine, which is the most common form, is; Oinos (οἶνος). This word is used nearly every time wine is mentioned in the New Testament. In fact, it’s used 33 times out of the nearly 50 occurrences in the NT. It is used when speaking of new wine (unfermented) as mentioned in Mark 2:22, Matthew 11:19, and others which is strange because Greek actually has a word for New Wine. The real problem with this word is that at this point in history the Greek speakers used this word to speak about both wine and new wine. This the Greek texts in the Bible do not really differentiate between fermented wine and freshly pressed grapes.
This use of Oinos as a generic word is further seen in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament into Greek. The Hebrew scriptures were finalized into Greek about 132 BCE. This was the primary Old Testament text that was used when the New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament. When the translators did their work they translated both Tirosh (תִּירוֹשׁ) and Yayin (יָ֫יִן) as Oinos (οἶνος), rather than translating Tirosh (תִּירוֹשׁ) as Gleukos (γλεῦκος), which would have carried over the true meaning in the Hebrew. Thus, only the context of the Greek passage can help the reader decide if it’s fermented or unfermented wine.
The third type of wine in the New Testament Greek is Sikera (σίκερα). This word is a loanword from Hebrew which means strong drink. It would have been considered a liquor. It appears in the New Testament just once, in Luke 1:15, when the Angel of The Lord is informing Zechariah about the son that his wife would bear (John the Baptist). It is said that he will consume no Sikera (σίκερα) which would have been somewhat normal for someone with a nazarite lifestyle (Numbers 6).
The last word in Greek for wine or a drink is oxos (όξος). Oxos is a sour wine usually used as a cheap pain killer. It was commonly given to people in the military or people who were ill and in a lot of pain. Virtually the only time in the New Testament where this wine is mentioned is in the ending of the gospels when Jesus is offered wine on a sponge.
Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. (Matthew 27:48 NIV)
Thus, the Greek of the New Testament really gives us no linguistic reason to believe that there is any difference between fermented and unfermented wines. As far as I am concerned, this is neither an admission that he drank alcoholic nor is it a way to prove that he didn’t drink fermented wine. It basically completely muddies the water. We will have to look for other indicators to decide what kind of wine Jesus drank.
For contextual arguments I believe that there is solid evidence showing that Jesus had alcoholic wine. But before we get into the evidence let us take a look at the claim that Jesus never drank alcohol, specifically because it was a sin (as stated in the quote above). To engage in some dialogue here is another quote from an advocate that Jesus never had alcohol.
I explained that Jesus neither drank nor created fermented, alcoholic wine. That would have been disobedience to His Father’s Word. Disobedience is sin and Jesus never sinned.
“… but (He) was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
I then took him to the following passage of Scripture that Jesus, the fulfillment of the Levitical Priesthood and our High Priest, would have obeyed. Had He not done so, He would neither be the fulfillment of the Levitical Priesthood nor would He be our High Priest. He would have been just another sinner man, like everyone else.
“Do not drink wine nor strong drink … when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations: And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;” (Leviticus 10:9,10 KJV)
The first folly of this block of reasoning is that somehow drinking alcohol would have been disobedience to God and Jesus never sinned so obviously he did not drink alcohol. There is absolutely no evidence in the Bible, whatsoever, that states drinking alcohol is sinful. The only reference that can be used is from Leviticus 9 when God reprimanded the Israelites because Aaron’s sons (Nadab and Abihu) got killed by God because they are getting drunk and trying to make mock offerings in the tabernacle. Nowhere do the scriptures state that the Levites could not consume alcohol. This sentiment is echoed again in Ezekiel 44:21.
“Neither shall any priest drink wine, when they enter into the inner court.“
The rebuke in Leviticus only says that when entering the tabernacle you must not be intoxicated. Additionally, we must recall that even the priests drank fermented wine.
Lastly, when people engage in these types of debates they always have to misrepresent the Word in order to make their argument. Take a quick look at the verse in Leviticus quoted above……..what is missing? What is the “…” there for? The answer will reveal to you the tricks that have to be played to make this verse apply to their advantage.
The text that was left out of the passage was “neither you nor your sons.” Who is “you” and who are “your sons”? This is why context is king when interpreting the Bible. This command from God was not a blanket command to all people to all times. Verse 8 says “The Lord then spoke to Aaron, saying,” so we know that this command from God was specifically for Aaron, the Levites, and more importantly, his sons. Why only Aaron and his sons? Because they were the only ones dumb enough to get drunk and mock God in his own dwelling place. They were also the only ones who could access the Holiest place in the tabernacle.
Jesus And John Drinking Contrasted
So now that we have correctly addressed the argument made by the wine skeptics, let us look at the whole New Testament (not cherry picked and misused verse) and see what it has to say about alcohol.
Jesus said, “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:33-34)
In verse 33 Jesus is making a contrast between John “drinking no wine” and Jesus’ own practice of consuming wine. Jesus goes on to say the religious leaders accused Him of being a drunkard because He drank wine. Thus this verse in Luke 7 strongly suggests that Jesus did indeed partake of alcoholic wine. Why else would he make the comparison between He and John? And why would he not explain that he only drinks non-alcoholic wine? If he only drank unfermented wine then why would they be accusing him? They already had enough to be mad at him about.
Jesus Turns Water Into Alcoholic Wine
Jesus said to them, “Fill the water-pots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.”So they took it to him. 9 When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine (οἶνος), and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:10 NASB)
A few things to note here is that the Greek word here does not help us interpreting the passage, but the context does. The fact of the matter is that alcoholic wine was served at weddings. This could be argued historically but even that is not needed. One look at this passage and anyone can see why this wine was alcoholic. The head waiter said that most serve the good wine first, and then serves the poorer wine after the participants have already consumed wine for a while. Why would anyone serve wine in this way?
This is done because when one first starts consuming a good wine they are completely un-intoxicated and the taste and the quality of the wine is easily noticed. Therefore, if you want to maintain your family reputation you wanted people to taste and enjoy a quality wine. Once the guests have drunk freely they bring out the cheap wine because now the guests are slightly intoxicated and will not notice the quality difference in the wine. This was also done because weddings in that culture were huge. Absolutely everyone came that could possibly come. So, the families providing wine HAD to be smart and serve some good wine and some poor wine so they did not have to take a second mortgage to pay for the wedding. That “good wine” was what Jesus produced. The head waiter recognized it as the alcoholic kind.
Wine At The Communion
So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? (1 Corinthians 11:20-22 NIV)
Here we can see 2 things clearly. The first is that wine seemed perfectly fine to be consumed at the communion meals at church (just like it was at the last supper). The second thing is that the wine was clearly alcoholic. We know this because by the time the poorer attendees made it there some of the others were already so full of wine that they were drunk. Of course this is the same word for wine as the rest of the wine in the NT. No distinction between wines is given in the NT as it is in the OT.
Wine At The Last Supper
This is a more difficult thing to determine but it seems to me that the wine from the last supper and also passover was fermented. (We just saw above that Paul and the churches practices communion with fermented wine). The other reason I believe this to be true is that Jesus makes a very clear reference to the Drink Offering in Exodus 29:38-40. This offering of flour, oil, animal, and wine Oinos (οἶνος), were to be poured out upon the altar.
Likewise Jesus states that the wine at the supper was symbolic of the His blood which would be poured out (on the altar) as a sacrifice for all sins. So perhaps fermented wine would have been the right wine for the illustration.
In addition, the passover was months after the harvesting of grapes. In order to have the wine preserved it would have certainly fermented some in storage. Prior to the invention of pasteurization, fermentation was something which happened in all grape juices whether a fermenting agent was consciously introduced or not and it happened with a quickness. The last supper, then, would have had wine and not grape juice or sweet wine.
Wine as an offering to God
What is striking about the OT is how many times fermented drinks are used in offerings or described as a gift to the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 14:26 the Israelites are instructed to offer fermented wine or another fermented drink to the Lord as a tithe.
Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. 24 But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), 25 then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. 26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented/strong drink(וּבַשֵּׁכָ֔ר), or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.
If the Israelites are expected to tithe strong fermented drinks then one has to conclude that they were also allowed to drink it and that it was a blessing from the Lord. In fact, when the allowance for money changing is described in Deuteronomy 14, the reasoning is that some people live too far away from the future temple and that they might be too blessed to commute with a 10th of their blessing from the Lord (14:24).
I really see no reason to believe that Jesus nor anyone else from His culture had a practice of drinking unfermented wine. We do know from some historians of the time that it was possible to preserve grapes and fruit but it would be incredibly impractical as it would have taken more resources to preserve the grapes than if they had just turned it into wine via fermentation. It certainly would not have been a common practice.
I would also point out the New Testament really only condemns drunkenness. No clear prohibition is given in drinking alcohol entirely. Let us end with a few quotes from the New Testament that I will let the readers digest on their own.
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18 NIV)
Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. (1 Timothy 5:23 NIV)
He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. [Story referring to the good Samaritan] (Luke 10:34 NIV)
Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. (John 4:46 NASB)
It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. (Romans 14:21-22 NASB)
Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain. (1 Timothy 3:8 NASB)
Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good (Titus 2:3 NASB)