The Consumption of Alcohol Today

“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit” James 5: 18

This topic demands more time for study than most posts. May it be a blessing.

Did Jesus and His disciples consume intoxicating wine in observance of Passover?

Does the Bible admonition to “take a little wine for the stomach sake” legitimize consumption of intoxicants?

Was it possible to preserve wine in a non-fermented state in the time of Jesus?

These and related questions deserve an answer based on historical facts.

Consider the last of these questions first.

Ancients had several ways of preserving unfermented wine. One was to reduce the grape juice to the constituency of a thick syrup or even a jelly known in Hebrew as debhash and in Arabic as dbs. This preserved form could be used over a long period of time. By adding water the concentrate turns the water into unfermented wine.

Sometimes a cake was made of dried grapes which later was added to water to produce unfermented wine.

In the modern era a conscientious layman responsible for preparing the table at his church for the Lord’s Supper became concerned about using fermented wine. Being a pharmacist he utilized only techniques from the time of the Bible to produce unfermented grape juice for use at the Lord’s Supper. His name was Mr. Welch of Welch’s Grape Juice fame.

Welch’s concern grew out of the fact bread with leavening was forbidden to be used at the Passover. Leavening involved using yeast. As the yeast cells die the decay produces gasses. The fermentation results in the rising of bread. Purity was desired, so unleavened bread was required.

Welch reasoned why would fermentation not be allowed in the bread while being allowed in wine?

The Bible instructs people “Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup., when it swirls around smoothly; at last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper.” (Proverbs 23: 31, 32) The movement in the wine is caused  by the bubbles rising from the fermentation.

The Greeks, seeing movement in the wine, thought it indicated there was life in the wine. When such wine was used it influenced speech, hearing, and one’s ability to walk. Because of this outside control of the body they thought it to be a god and gave the god the name Baccah.

When the Bible appeals to persons not to be filled with wine (drunk), but to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5: 18) it is teaching persons to choose the truth of the Holy Spirit, not Baccah. Let the Holy Spirit control your body, not an intoxicant.

Wine was in common use in the Bible times. It is helpful to understand how it was used in deciding how to apply Bible verses related to it.

Wine was normally stored in large pointed jugs called amphorae. When it was to be used the desired portion was poured from the amphorae into a large bowl known as a kraters. From the kraters it was poured into the cup known as a kylix. 

In the large bowl, the kraters, water was added before the mixture was used to fill the cups, kylix.

The ratio of water to wine varied. Different ancient writers noted different formulas ranging from one part wine to twenty parts of water. Others indicate a ratio of 1 -5, 1 – 4, 2 – 5.

At the wedding in Cana Jesus had the water pots filled with water and when the guests drank they referred to it as “wine,” the normal word for the mixture of water and wine.

Writers normally referred to wine mixed with water as “wine.” To indicate wine not mixed with water it is called unmixed (akratesteron), “wine.”

Drinking wine without it being mixed with water was looked upon as “Scythian” or “Barbarian.” Mnesitheus wrote: “Mix it half and half, and you get madness; unmixed, body collapse.”

Plutarch wrote, “We call a mixture ‘wine,’ although the larger of the component parts is water.”

The Jewish Encyclopedia states that during the rabbinic period “‘yayin’ (wine) was to be distinguished from ‘shekar’ (strong drink): the former is diluted with water (‘mazug’); the latter is undiluted (‘yayin hai’).”

The Jewish Talmud, which contains the oral traditions from 200 B.C. to 200 A. D. has several tractates in which the mixture of water and wine are discussed. The normal mixture is said to be 1 part wine to 3 parts water.

In the portion of that work known as Pesahim 108b it is stated that the four cups every Jews was to drink from during the Passover ritual the mixture was a radio of 3 parts of water to 1 part wine.

From this can be concluded that what Jesus and the disciples used at the Last Supper was not an intoxicant.

From around 60 B.C. the Book of Maccabees 15: 39 states: “It is harmful to drink wine alone or again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious….”

Justin Martyr around 150 A.D. described the Lord’s Supper in this way: “Bread was bought, and wine and water, and the president sends up prayers and thanksgiving” (Apology I, 67, 5).

Clement of Alexandria stated: “It is best for the wine to be mixed with as much water as possible… For both are works of God, and the mixing of the two, both the water and wine produces health….”

The mixture of water and wine was also used for medicinal purposes. Because of amoeba in water wine was added as a purifying agent. Hence, the Scripture says, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for the stomach’s sake and thine other infirmities.” (I Timothy 5: 23). Wine was medicinal.

An admirable attitude is expressed in Proverbs 20: 1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”

James 5: 18 concludes with “be filled with the Spirit.” This is in the imperative mood, a command, meaning do this. In the Greek it reads, be you being filled with the Holy Spirit, meaning to constantly let the Holy Spirit control your life.

If any form of an intoxicant controls any part of your brain the Holy Spirit is not in control and the command to be constantly filled is not being obeyed.

The same word regarding being “filled” was used to describe the sails of a ship being filled by wind that propels the ship. Let the Holy Spirit propel you.