The issue of alcohol and the Christian is an incredibly volatile subject causing great division and stern judgments on both sides. I have been deeply affected by this issue myself, as I have many friends and family members who are controlled by alcohol. I am not a teetotaler, but I rarely drink. I don’t like wine. Some beers are pretty good. I like tequila. But if the consumption of alcohol were made illegal, I would not even really notice.

There are so many different positions out there with regard to this issue. Let me try to name a few:

  1. Those who abstain from alcohol and believe that this is the biblical position for everyone.
  2. Those who abstain from alcohol but don’t believe this is a biblical mandate to enforce on others.
  3. Those who drink alcohol only for “celebratory” purposes (i.e., Lord’s table), but don’t get drunk.
  4. Those who casually drink wine or beer, but abstain from “hard liquor” and don’t get drunk.
  5. Those who casually drink alcohol in order to feel “merry” or “tipsy” but don’t get drunk.
  6. Those who drink alcohol and get drunk occasionally but are not “drunkards” (i.e. addicted).

Outside of this, all Christians would (or should) agree that being addicted to alcohol is expressly forbidden in Scripture, as it relinquishes control of our faculties to alcohol rather than to the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Paul warns Timothy about such abuses with regard to the qualifications of a deacon (1 Tim. 3:8) and elders (1 Tim. 3:3).

I am not going to discuss here which of the above positions is correct. However, I do want to discuss one passage of Scripture that infuses the debate over alcohol with great passion. It is the subject of Christ and his relation to alcohol while here on earth. Most specifically, I want to ask the question of whether Christ, during the miracle at the Wedding of Cana in John 2, turned the water into wine, unfermented grape juice, or something else. Here is the text:

John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

This question raised by this passage does indeed contribute a great deal to the overall debate. For if Christ turned the water into an alcoholic beverage, then his participation in the issue certainly does not bode well for those who preach that the biblical position requires Christians to abstain from alcohol altogether. He would have been serving as a bartender, if you will, at a celebration where abuse of alcohol certainly may have taken place. More than that, there is no reason to doubt that he himself would have drunk this wine.

Yet some maintain that the wine Jesus produced was a non-fermented type of wine called “new wine” (kainos neos). In this case, it would be like grape juice. Others believe that the wine Jesus created was watered down so much that one would have to suffer a severe bladder problem in order to get drunk. However, neither of these interpretations are supported by the best textual scholarship, and seem to be driven by a desire to maintain a rigid teetotaler position.

New Wine is Unfermented Wine?

R. A. Torrey does a good job of representing the position that the wine Christ provided was unfermented “new wine.”

“[Jesus] provided wine, but there is not a hint that the wine He made was intoxicating. It was fresh-made wine. New-made wine is never intoxicating. It is not intoxicating until some time after the process of fermentation has set in. Fermentation is a process of decay. There is not a hint that our Lord produced alcohol, which is a product of decay or death. He produced a living wine uncontaminated by fermentation. It is true it was better wine than they had been drinking, but that does not show for a moment that it was more fermented than that which they had before been drinking” (Difficulties in the Bible).

However, there are significant problems with this argument. New wine was fermented. Its ability to cause intoxication is well represented in the Scriptures (Is 49:26; Hos 4:11; cf. Judg 9:13; see “Wine” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 1992 [J. B. Green, S. McKnight & I. H. Marshall, Ed.], 870, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press).

The happenings in Acts 2 represent this well. Having received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the Apostles are speaking in tongues and sharing the Gospel with the people. Some people are amazed, but others accuse the Apostles of being intoxicated.

Acts 2:13: “But others, mocking, said, ‘They are filled with new wine’.”

How could the Apostles be accused of being intoxicated from a drink that is not fermented? There is no indication, either in the culture of the day or in the Bible, that there was such a thing as unfermented wine. Wine is wine because it is fermented.

Some scholars have attempted to contrast the two Hebrew terms for wine in the Old Testament to make a case that one was unfermented grape juice. However, the evidence does not support such a conclusion. Leaning heavily on C. Seltman, Wine in the Ancient World, the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible draws this conclusion about the term that is purported to refer to grape juice:

(1) The Hebrew word is found in primarily neutral contexts; (2) often that particular word is found in contexts definitely including a fermented beverage (e.g., Gn 27:28; Hos 4:11; Mi 6:15); (3) the Ugaritic parallel to the term in question refers with certainty to a fermented wine (4) the Septuagint equivalents refer to fermented wine; (5) fermentation in the ancient Near East, unlike Greece, took only about three days, and (6) the Mishna provides no such evidence of the practice of having unfermented wine. There seems to have been no attempts to preserve wine in an unfermented state; it may have been a near impossible task.

It would seem that, for the Hebrews, there is no way to use the term “grape juice” as a substitute for wine. The article concludes: “A careful examination of all the Hebrew words (as well as their Semitic cognates) and the Greek words for wine demonstrates that the ancients knew little, if anything, about unfermented wine.

Watered Down Wine?

Some make the case that the wine used in the New Testament was so watered down that it was nearly impossible to cause one to get drunk. Norman Geisler make such a case:

Wine today has a much higher level of alcohol than wine in the New Testament. In fact in New Testament times one would need to drink twenty-two glasses of wine in order to consume the large amount of alcohol in two martinis today. (“A Christian Perspective on Wine-Drinking” Bibliotheca Sacra, Issue 553, 1982).

However, this does not seem to be the case. Geisler is assuming a mixture evidenced by some ancient Greeks. Homer writes about a water to wine ratio of 20 to 1 (Homer, Odyssey 10. 208f). However, this may be because the wine was so strong! The Mishna, which represents a better accounting of the Hebrew usage of wine, assumes a ratio of two parts of water to one part wine. The Talmudic sources speak of three to one. Wine often would contain 15% alcohol. Even if it were mixed with three parts of water, this would put it at 5% alcohol. This is a higher percentage than much beer today! Pliny, the Roman Senator writing in the first century, spoke about wine that could hold a flame. For this to happen, it would had to have been in excess of 30% alcohol! No wonder some speak of adding twenty parts water.

Not only this, but wine diluted with water was symbolic of spiritual adulteration. Isaiah 1:22, speaking to the infidelity of the nation of Israel, says, “Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water.” Just before this, God gives this rebuke: “How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers.” The nation had gone astray. It is not seen as a good thing to have diluted wine.

Further (and most importantly) the story of Jesus at the wedding does not support a conclusion that the wine Jesus made was either excessively watered down or grape juice. After the head waiter had tasted the wine Jesus made, he went to the bridegroom and said this: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” What Jesus created was “good wine.” According to the waiter, the custom was to serve the “good wine” first; then, when the people had “drunk” much of the wine, they served the cheaper wine. This word for “drunk” is methusko, which means “to become intoxicated.” It is the same word used in Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk [methusko] with wine…” (see also Luke 12:45; 1 Thes 5:7; Rev. 17:12). The only testimony we have about the state of the wine Christ created is the headwaiter’s review of it, and he suggests that it is the type that can intoxicate (i.e., it was fermented). It is very difficult to draw any other conclusion.

There’s No Reason to Think that Jesus Christ Didn’t Drink Wine

Added to this, there is no reason to believe that Christ himself did not drink this fermented wine. It is evident that He drank wine at the passover (Mark 14:23). In fact, Christ seemed to have made a habit of drinking wine. According to his own testimony, he drank wine that others abstained from.

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 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).

John the Baptist took a Nazirite vow and abstained from alcohol. But Christ did not. He explicitly says that he came “eating and drinking.” Because of this, others accused him of being a drunkard.

The implications for all of this are important in the discussion about alcohol and the Christian. Christ, in celebration of the Kingdom, produced an alcoholic beverage that could intoxicate. Christ was a bartender! This certainly does not solve any of the problems associated with alcohol. The problems are tremendous. But to be controlled by alcohol is not a modern problem. This problem has been around since ancient times. However, this does not mean that God forbids things that have the potential to be destructive. We must be careful that we don’t legislate God. It is not unlike issues of gun control, sugar consumption, or tobacco. All of these have potential to hurt people, all of these have a history of hurting people, all of these have people who attempt to force moderation or abstinence, but none of them are forbidden by God. We must be careful in what we attempt to forbid, even if the legislation is for a good purpose. The solution for problems associated with alcohol is not a mandate for abstinence, but education concerning its dangers.

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C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    16 replies to "Did Jesus Turn Water into Wine or Grape Juice?"

    • John

      It was wine, “When you arrive, you may use the money to buy any kind of food you want—cattle, sheep, goats, wine, or other alcoholic drink. Then feast there in the presence of the LORD your God and celebrate with your household.” Deuteronomy 14:26

    • Pastor Henry Sun

      This is exactly right. I came from a tradition that tried to claim that the wine of the NT was grape juice, but when I asked about the texts in Acts and John that you mentioned, they became strangely silent. When I further asked how can you require Christians to abstain from alcohol with Jesus didn’t (and when Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach ailment), they politely showed me the door. Being right socially and morally was more important to them than being textually accurate and honest with what the NT said. I thought then and I think now, that’s a sad sad state of affairs…..

    • John Roden

      There is no doubt that the wine used in Biblical days was alcoholic in content. However, ROMANS 14 is a good commentary on whether Christians should judge one another, observe days, eat flesh, or drink wine, especially verse 21. How would you apply the principles set forth in this chapter to the practice of drinking wine? Would it not be considerate of your brother in Christ to abstain from alcoholic beverages if it should cause him to stumble (verse 13)? As a case in point, I know of a pastor who strongly advocated the use of wine. and drank it himself. However, this pastor in later years became an alcoholic–addicted to his wine–and was admitted to an institution to cure his addiction. His end was sad. He fell while intoxicated and died from a blow to his head incurred from the fall.

      • Pastor Henry Sun

        John, I think you are quite correct to bring Romans 14-15 into the discussion. If I were in a situation where drinking a glad of wine might be a stumbling block to another sibling in the church, I wouldn’t do it. The issue from my youth was, “If you drink alcohol then by definition you aren’t a good Christian.”. My denomination back then supported the Loyal Temperance Legion long, long ago.

    • John Roden

      Pastor Sun, it seems that Scripture permits the use of alcoholic beverages in moderation, but the principle of love for the brethren should govern our choice. I choose not to do it, but I do not judge my brethren who drink alcoholic beverages in moderation. If they can do it in good conscience and not cause anyone else to stumble, it is their right and privilege to enjoy it.

      • Pastor Henry Sun

        I think we have agreement!!

        • John

          Sometimes people extend scripture too far. I had a woman in church who told me….what if you’re in a restaurant and someone from church, who has a drinking problem, sees you in the restaurant having a beer and you cause them to stumble? As one friend said, than that person shouldn’t leave their house.

    • Linton Park

      I would say that Christ was a winemaker, rather than a bartender.

      • J Mathew

        Whole article is a very poor representation of the event. Why did Jesus turned water to wine? What was his intention? To intoxicate people or to save the household from shame?

    • Brian

      I hear people assert that the bible never mentions Jesus drinking wine. You cite a few good verses to the contrary, as well as the cultural context in which wine played a major role in meals and God’s blessings (ie., Ps 104:15). One passage I never hear mentioned is when Jesus broke bread with His disciples during the last supper. Jesus tells his disciples that He will not drink AGAIN of the fruit of the vine until He drinks it new in His Father’s kingdom. (Matt 26:29 and Mark 14:25). That would make no sense if he hadn’t drank it before.

      Regarding the alcohol content of wine, I would also suggest that they drank wine differently in the ancient world than we do today. It was likely more of a thirst quenching drink like beer. Today we tend to sip wine in relatively small portions. So we imbibe less that they would (in general).

      My goal is not to encourage Christian’s to drink alcohol here. Rather my goal is the accurate handling of scripture despite what our predispositions are. To do our best to “present ourselves to God as one approved a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15

    • Caleb Ebling

      You have to look at all the evidence. Each and every miracle Jesus did was perfect and complete and they all aligned up with his perfect and good creation before sin entered the world. All of his miracles were sinless. I’ve heard people say well if you eat too much McDonald’s you will commit the sin of gluttony and that’s what happens when you drink too much alcoholic wine you sin. Yeah that’s the truth with alcoholic wine but not Jesus’ perfect and good wine because it had no sin nature to it. Our food and everything is tainted by sin but God’s miracles are not. The article clearly points out that “Some scholars have attempted to contrast the
      two Hebrew terms for wine in the Old Testament
      to make a case that one was unfermented grape
      juice. However, the evidence does not support
      such a conclusion.” I disagree and scripture does too. When you study the original Greek you will see that the word wine in the NT comes from the word Greek word “oinos.” According to the Thayer’s Greek Lexicon this word has a dual meaning and refers to several types of wine. It refers to (from Homer down), the Sept. for יַיִן, also for תִּירושׁ (must, new wine), חֶמֶר, etc.; wine;.” Oinos was translated from two Hebrew words and they are yayin and tirosh. Yayin refers to wine in general while tirosh refers to must, fresh or new wine. Two different meanings in one word oinos. How do we tell which wine the Bible especially the NT refers to?! It’s by judging the context. Let’s judge the context on John 2. Read verse 3. That verse clearly says they ran out or have none. Now the water pots used for purification were not little pots they were “HUGE.” We’re talking about pools not just pots. We’re talking about enough to provide for a month if not two or several weeks. Weddings back then were for several weeks if not months. Also Jews were forbidden to partake of yeast especially especially during a wedding. Yeast is one of the main ingredients for alcoholic wine. Weddings were very important and worshipful to the Jews. Now there is no doubt the Jews at the wedding were very intoxicated already due to running out of the wine. So what happens?! Jesus Christ the purest and most beautiful person in the world comes to the wedding and makes the purest wine not from heaven but from himself the ultimate Pure Savior of the world. This wine was so pure that it sobered them all up. In John ch 2:10 even the Governor of the feast calls attention and says to paraphrase “look the wine we have been drinking through the past week or so has made us all drowsy, drunk and tired, but now has come a wine so pure that it completely transforms us to be right in God’s sight and be sober. It has helped pull us out of death and pointed us to God. “and saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now”
      ‭(‭John‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭KJV‬‬). The wine Jesus made symbolized his wonderful gift of eternal life he gives to all who trust in him and have a relationship with him. Why would a good God create something that would lead into sin. He wouldn’t! Did he not know people at the wedding might be drunkards?! The Pharisees were right to call him a drunkard and a gluttonous if he did drink alcohol and eat gluttonous but that’s not what he did. Jesus wasn’t wise If he drank or even looked at wine Solomon warned in proverbs. But he is wise. Solomon said wine is a mocked, strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise (Prov 20:1). That’s referring to yayin alcoholic wine which is evil and worldly. When Paul said to Timothy take a little wine for thy stomach that’s referring to “must wine” unfermented wine. And let me clearly point out must unfermented new wine isn’t just “welches grape juice” and that’s a very ignorant statement to make because must wine has the stems, seeds and pomace in it to be 10 times healthier than just grape juice. Do your study and most importantly stop loving alcohol and trying to be like the world. Must wine is part of the fermentation process but is not fermented. Its like the orange juice my dad squeezed for me rather than the orange juice you buy from the store. In my dad’s orange juice I get the fruit and other tasty stuff in it. In orange juice from Walmart I just get juice or juice with pomp which is not the same as juice coming directly from the orange. There are things we must stay away from. Do you eat grass?! Of course not! Do you drink gasoline?! Of course not but wait you do when you drink alcohol. Come on wake up people be led by the Holy Spirit and look at all facts! The Greeks use to burn their alcoholic wine to get the the Alcohol out of it for a reason!

    • Steve

      1Co 10:31  says “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God”.
      Drinking wine in moderation is acceptable as we can give glory to Jesus as the “winemaker” or Jesus as the “True Vine” and the Father as the “Vinedresser”. Getting drunk as Noah did in Genesis 9, though, is most certainly not to the glory of God.
      You also fail to mention that being addicted to alcohol gives Satan a direct inroad to your life – I have come across many Christians who have needed deliverance from demons due to their past escapades with alcohol!

    • Siseho

      I love your article well researched and written. Your unstated position is my position.

      Siseho
      Lusaka, Zambia 🇿🇲

    • Dan O

      The alcoholic content comes from fermentation. Fermentation takes time. The author Mr. Patton even makes this claim “about 3 days”.

      So why would Jesus first miracle be making something that is fermented when His whole ministry is about making things NEW?

    • Dave Z

      Whenever I hear the “stumbling block” argument I have to wonder if those same people would refrain from serving pie at a social so as not to be a “stumbling block” to diabetics. Are they careful to have only gluten free communion wafers so as not to be a stumbling block to people with celiac disease?

      Or is it a case of eisegesis grabbing at anything that might support the no-alcohol position?

    • Don Wobig

      May I submit these 3 references to documents to help (I believe) understand the topic of wine in the scripture. I think you will enjoy “Wine in the New Testament” by Tim Greenwood. It’s been a long time since I found this, however I believe if you Google it you will find it. Then there is “Grace Communion International” discussion of Wine in the bible. You should be able to find that also. Then, for an in depth discussion of the original words that have been translated as “wine” , check out E.W. Bullinger’s Appendix 27 in “The Companion Bible”. You might also look into the Companion Bible Appendixes for added insight into, I believe it’s 198 Greek and Hebrew words in the Bible. I say a long time because some of the documents I have on this subject date back to 2007 when I first began my intense Bible Studies.

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