Wine In The Bible And The Consumption Of Alcohol Today

Did Jesus and His disciples consume intoxicating wine in observing the Passover?
Does the Bible admonition to “take a little wine for the stomach’s sake” legitimize consumption of intoxicants?
Was it possible to preserve wine in a non-fermented state in the time of Christ?
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 way was to reduce the grape juice to the constituency of a thick syrup or even jelly known in Hebrew as debhash and in Arabic dbs. This preserved form could be used over a long period of time. By adding water the concentrate turned the water to unfermented wine.
Sometimes a cake was made of dried grapes which later had  water added to produce unfermented wine.
In 1869 physician and dentist Thomas Bramwell Welch and his son Charles were responsible for preparing the table at their church for the Lord’s Supper. They became concerned about using fermented wine. Utilizing only techniques from the time of the Bible they produced unfermented grape juice for use at the Lord Supper. Their product today is known as Welch’s Grape Juice.
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 gases. This fermentation results in the rising of bread. Purity was desired so unleavened bread was required.
Welch reasoned why would fermentation not be allowed in 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). Movement in wine is caused by bubbles resulting from fermentation.
The Greeks seeing movement in the wine thought it indicated there was life in the wine. When wine was consumed it influenced speech, hearing, and one’s 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 for persons not to be filled with wine, but be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) it is teaching persons to chose the true God, the Holy Spirit, not Baccah. It means let the Holy Spirit control your body.
Wine was in common use in the Bible time. 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 the cups, known as kylix, were filled.
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 note different formulas ranging from one part wine to twenty parts of water. Others indicate a ration of 1-5, 1-4, 2-5.
At the wedding of 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 was 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, bodily 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 is 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 Jew was to drink from during the Passover ritual the mix was a ratio of three parts water to one 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 brought, 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 often infirmities.” (I Timothy 5:23). Wine was a disinfectant.
A constructive warning is expressed in Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”