Keith Hunt - Christians and Wine? #2 - Page Two   Restitution of All Things

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Christians and Wine? #2

What God teaches

                                 Part Two



Among a considerable number of synonyms used in the OT the most
common are 'yayin' (usually translated 'wine') and 'sekar'
(usually translated 'strong drink'). These terms are frequently
used together, and they are employed irrespective of whether the
writer is commending wine and strong drink as desirable or
warning against its dangers. A third word, 'tiros', sometimes
translated 'new' or 'sweet wine' has often been regarded as
unfermented and therefore unintoxicating wine, but an example
such as Ho.4:11, together with the usage of the Talmud, makes
clear that it is capable of being used in a bad sense equally
with the others.
Furthermore, while there are examples of the grapes being pressed
into a cup and presumably used at once (Gn. 40:11), it is
significant that the term 'wine' is never applied to the
resultant juice.
The term 'new wine' does not indicate wine which has not
fermented, for in fact the process of fermentation sets in very
rapidly, and unfermented wine could not be available many months
after the harvest (Acts 2:13). It represents rather wine made
from the first drippings of the juice before the winepress was
trodden. As such it would be particularly potent and would come
immediately to mind us a probable explanation of what seemed to
be a drunken state. Modern custom in Palestine, among a people
who are traditionly conservative as far as religious
feasts are concerned, also suggests the wine used was fermented.
It may be said, therefore, that the Bible in employing various
synonyms makes no consistent distinction between them.

Naturally in a land and climate particularly suited to the
cultivation of the vine, we find that wine often associated with
grain, and together they stand for a full and adequate supply of
food and of the good gifts of life. They can be promised
therefore as the tokens of the blessing of God (Gn.27:28), and
they are acceptable to him when offered back upon the altar (Ex.
As a discipline, however, they are on occasion to be dispensed
with, as when a man engages in priestly service (Lv. 10:9), or in
the case of a Nazirite during the course of his vow (Nu. 6:3).
The abstinence of the Rechabites falls within a different
category, for it was in an attempt to preserve the nomadic life
that they dwelt in tents, and their refusal of wine was not on
account of the dangers of its abuse, but because they were
associated with the planting of vineyards, the sowing of seed and
the building of houses (Jer.35:7). Evidence is by no means
lacking, however, that  even to those who accepted the agricul-
rural way of life the dangers of strong drink were apparent. The
warnings of the book of Proverbs are clear, and in the time of
Isaiah even the priests fell into the snare.

These two aspects of wine, its use and its abuse, its benefits
and its curse its acceptance in God's sight and its abhorrence,
are interwoven into the fabric of the OT so that it may gladden
the heart of man (Ps.104:15) or cause his mind to err (Is.28:7),
it can be associated with merriment (Ec.10:19) or with anger
(Is.5:11), it can be used to uncover the shame of Noah (Gn. ):21)
or in the hands of Melchizedek to honour Abraham (Gn. 14:18).

In metaphorical usage the same characteristics are to be
observed. Wine may represent that which God himself has prepared
(Pr.9:5), and which he offers to as many as will receive it from
his hand (Is.55:1); yet, on the other hard, it may equally well
represent the intoxicating influence of Babylonian supremacy
which brings ruin (Je.51:7).


In the NT the common word is Gk. 'oinos' (c/ Heb. yayin). Once we
find 'sikera' - 'strong drink' (Lk. 1:15), a loan-word from
Semitic (cf. Heb. sekar), and once 'gleukos' - 'new wine' (Acts
2:13). This last word means literally 'sweet wine'; the vintage
of the current year had not yet come, but there were means of
keeping wine sweet all year round. The references in the NT are
very much fewer in number, but once more the good and the bad
aspects are equally apparent, and many of the points which we
noticed in the OT have their counterpart in the NT. John the
Baptist is to abstain from wine in view of his special commission
(Lk. 1:15), but this does not imply that of itself wine is evil,
for Jesus is not only present at the wedding in Cana of Galilee,
but when the wine fails he replenishes the supple in
extraordinarily ample measure, and later his readiness to eat and
drink with publicans and sinners draws forth the accusation that
he is gluttonous and a winebibber. The refusal of Jesus to
drink the wine offered to him in accordance with Jewish custom at
his crucifixion (Mk. 15:23) was not based upon an objection to
wine as such, but was due to a determination to die with an
unclouded mind. Later he accepted the wine(vinegar) which was the
ordinary drink of labourers in the field and of the lower class
of soldiers.

On more than one occasion Jesus used wine to illustrate his
Mark 2:22 points to the current practice of putting new wine into
new skins and emphasizes the impracticality of doing otherwise.
Commentators differ regarding the interpretation of this parable.
For, while the new wine clearly points to the lively and powerful
working of Christ's new teaching, the skins which are broken may
equally well refer to certain conventional forms or to the whole
Judaistic system or to the human heart, all of which need to be
recast in accordance with the challenge of the new age which has
arrived. Unfortunately the Pharisees were unwilling to face the
changes which would have been involved, and obstinately clung to
the system upon which their livelihood depended (Lk. 5:39).

Metaphorically in the NT the word 'wine' is again used in both a
good and a bad sense. The latter is found several times in
Revelation, where the inhabitants of the earth are depicted as
having been made drunk by the fornication of Babylon (Rev. 17:2)
while she herself is drunk with their blood (Rev. 17:6). On the
other hand, Paul exhorts his readers to he filled with the Spirit
(Eph. 5:18) in contrast with their being intoxicated with wine.
There are, of course, certain similarities between the two
conditions, a consideration which may well have led Paul to
express himself in this way.

Certainly on the Day of Pentecost there were many who took the
evidences of the Spirit to be nothing else than the result of
strong drink. This same interpretation had been placed long
before upon the movement of the lips of Hannah as she prayed in
the presence of Eli, a supposed fault which Eli was quicker to
rebuke in her than in his own sons (1 Sam. 1:14).

Timothy is exhorted by Paul to take a little wine because of its
medicinal properties (1 Tim. 5:23; cf. its application in a
different form in the story of the good Samaritan), but in the
Pastoral Epistles there is a recognition of the grave dangers of
excess, and those who bear office or in any way give leadership
within the Christian community, both men and women, are
specifically warned against this fault, which would unfit them
for their task their task (I Tim. 3:8; Tit. 2:3). This abuse is
particularly unfitting within the church, for if it is true that
drunkenness is in general a sign of heedlessness in spiritual
matters, and a disregard of the imminent return of Christ (Rom.
13:13), how, much more is it to be deplored at the Lord's table,
where it reveals not only a spirit of complete indifference
towards God but a spirit of utter thoughtlessness in regard to
those who stand together within the Christian fellowship
(1 Cor. 11:21).....

BIBLIOGRAPHY. C. Seltman, Wine in the Ancient World, 1957; J. P.
Free, Archaeology and Bible History, 1950, Appendix 11, pp. 351
ff.; 'Wine' in TWBR; 'Food' in HDB, 2, p. 32; C. Brown, NIDNTT 3,
pp. 914--923.  F.S.F.

End quote


From ancient times Palestine-Syria has been famous for the
quality and quantity of its wine; Sinuhe reports that "it had
more wine than water" (see bibliography). It is not surprising
that the spies sent by Moses from the wilderness were impressed
by the marvellous fruitfulness of the land; they were able to
bring back a cluster of grapes so large that it had to be carried
on a pole (Num. 13:21-27). Wine was one of the chief products of
Israel throughout its history, and is naturally cited by Ben
Sirach as one of the "good things ... created for good people"
(Ecclus. 39:2526). Nor was it of less importance in NT times;
wine and oil alone are to be protected from the apocalyptic
famine (Rev. 6:6).....


Although wine made from dates and pomegranates was widely
produced in the ancient world generally, Palestinian wine was
almost exclusively fermented grape juice     (cf  Song of S.8:2, 
where "juice of....pomegranates" stands in parallel to "spiced
wine"). Various methods were used for producing the wine,
however, and the varieties are increased by adding spices.


Some of the following terms for "wine" are synonyms or poetic
expressions; in general, however, distinctions can be made
between the various words.     a) ... This Hebrew term. almost
always rendered "wine" in both the KJV and the RSV, denotes wine
in general. Statistically it is used far more often in the Hebrew
Bible than any of his counterparts and has cognates in ether
Semitic languages. The word may not be Semitic in origin, however
it is probable that it was imported from the Caucasus; (see
bibliography). The corresponding Greek term is 'oinos.'

Occasionally the KJV and the RSV translate "new wine," but the
usual rendering is again simply "wine"; the LXX always uses
'oinos.' The term can refer to freshly expressed grape juice (cf.
Mic.6:15: "You shall tread....but not drink [the resulting]
wine"; Isa.65:8: "The new wine is found in the cluster" [KJV]).
Thus the word is usually derived from the Hebrew root  "to drive
out." Nevertheless, the drink was intoxicating: it "takes away   
the understanding" (Hos.4:11). In actual usage, the word came to
be an archaic term for "wine."
It often appears with similar archaisms for "grain" and "oil"  in
summaries of the products of agriculture (Gen. 27:28; Deut. 7:13;
11:14; 18:4; 2 Kings 18:32; Jer. 31:12; etc.). In later times it
was used as a poetic expression for ritual wine; the Qumran texts
thus use to the exclusion of (see bibliography). In the NT the
term  refers to "new wine"; some of those who heard the speaking
in tongues at Pentecost thought that the disciples were "filled
with new wine" (Acts 2:13).   

... Derived from the root ... "to press, crush," this term
literally means "juice" (cf. Song of S.8:2), and is apparently a
poetic synonym of ... Like the latter, it was intoxicating;
Deutero-Isaiah says that Israel's oppressors "shall be drunk with
their own blood as with vine" (Isa. 49:26).

... This is the usual word in Aramaic (Ezra; 6:9; 7:22; Dan.
5:1-2, 4, 23), a poetic term in Hebrew. It is probably derived
from ... "to foam, ferment."
Because of its color wine could also be called the "blood of the
grape" (Gen. 49:11; Deut.32:14; Ecclus.39:26; 50:15;.cf. Isa.
63:3; Rev.14:20). A similar phrase is found in Ugaritic epics
(see bibliography). It is possible that this terminology was in
Jesus' mind when he "took a cup, and....gave it to them, saying,
'Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant' "
(Matt. 26:27-28; cf. Mark 14:23-24; I Cor. 11:25).


In the Roman period it was quite common to mix wine with water;
the author of 2 Maccabees says that such a mixture "is sweet and
delicious and enhances one's enjoyment" (2 Mace. 15:39). For the
most part, however, the addition of water to wine was considered
to be an adulteration. Isaiah says to Jerusalem: "Your silver has
become dross, your wine mixed with water" (Isa. I:22).
On the other hand, wine was often mixed with spices, following
the general usage of the ancient Near East. Such a drink was of
course, especially intoxicating. A cup of "foaming wine, well
mixed," is prepared by Yahweh for the wicked of the earth (Ps.
75:8 H 75:9); conversely, mixed wine is appropriate at a banquet
(Prov. 9:2, 5; cf. Song of S.8:2). In general, however, "those
who go to try mixed wine" have woe, sorrow, strife, and
complaining (Prov. 23:29-30).
Wine mixed with MYRRH or gall was used as a drug; as an act of
mercy the soldiers offered Jesus such a potion when he was
hanging on the cross (Matt. 27:34; Mark 15:23).


In Egypt wines were often named after the districts in which they
were produced, and although the Bible does not contain such names
for Palestinian wines, certain areas were famous for their
products. In Judah the district surrounding Hebron was especially
noted; several of the place names have to do with viticulture
was also a fruitful district; Isaiah speaks of the vine of
Sibmah, which reached to Jazer and strayed to the desert (Isa.
But the wines of Syria were world-famous. Among the merchandise
sent by Damascus to Tyre were "wine of Helbon...and wine from
Uzal" (Ezek. 27:18-19). The former is mentioned as one of the ten
best brands of wine in a list found in the library of
Ashurbanipal, and was preferred above all others by the Persian


The grapes were harvested in August and September (see VINE 3e
and were spread out in the sun for a time before they were made
into wine. The vintage took place in September; it is mentioned
in connection with the Feast of Booths, which occurs at that
general time (Dent. 16:13).


Even after the invention of mechanical wine presses the produce
of grapes trodden in wine vats was preferred because of its
quality and consistency. Such vats, used both in OT and NT
consisted of a pair of square pits, usually hewn out or rocky
ground. The vats in which the grapes were trodden was higher than
its counterpart and was connected to it by a channel; a naturally
the expressed juice flowed from one to the other. In area the
upper vat was usually about twice large as the lower; the latter
however, was deeper. The whole vat could be described by any one
of the terms mentioned above or by the term ....There (Isa.63:3).
There were individual variations in construction of course; in
Roman times three or four vats were connected by channels. 


Although heavy stones were sometimes used to hasten the
production of juice, the chief method of pressing grapes was
simply to tread them by foot. The Hebrew term used is the
ordinary word for "walk" (...Neh. 13:15; Job 4:11; Isa. 16:10:
etc.). It was customary for several men to tread out the grapes
together; this is the of Trito-Isaiah's reference to treading the
wine press alone (Isa. 63:3). Naturally the vintage season was a
joyous time. The men shouted as they worked (Isa.16:10; Jer.
25:30; 48:33), and songs were sung. Three of the psalms (8; 81;
84) have the superscription a "according to The Gittith" the root
is the same as that of one of the terms for "wine vat." and it is
possible that these particular psalms were vintage songs. See
Since the harvest of olives is later than that of grapes, it is
probable that wine vats were also used - making olive Oil.
Furthermore - Gideon used his wine vat to beat out wheat (Judg.


The first stage of fermentation, which began as soon as six hours
after pressing, took place in the lower vat itself. Then the wine
was transferred to jars (Jer. 13:12; 48:11) or skins for further
fermentation and storage. These skins were usually made from
whole goat hides, the neck and the feet being tied. Naturally an
opening was left to allow for the escape of gases formed by
fermentation. Elihu, "full of words" says:
"Behold, my heart is like wine that has no vent; like new
wineskins, it is ready to burst" (Job 32: 18-191.
Of course, freshly made wine was put into new wineskins; old
skins would burst under the pressure (Matt. 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke


Because Water was relatively scarce and often polluted in
biblical times, wine was used much more extensively than it is


In addition to its use in everyday Meals, wine was liberally
provided at banquets, indeed, the Hebrew word for "banquet" or
"feast" is  "drinking." Naturally wine was included in gifts to a
superior: both Abigail and Ziba brought skins of wine to David (1
Sam.25:18: 2 Sam.16:1). Correspondingly wine was an article of
trade; Solomon gave the servants of Hiram, king of Tyre, twenty
thousand baths of wine (among other things) in return for the
timber required in the building of the temple (2 Chr. 2:8-10,
At the meal itself wine was strained through a cloth before it
was drunk. This purified it from the LEES and foreign matter.
such as insects (Matt. 23: 24). Naturally, old wine was preferred
to new (Ecclus.9:10. Luke 5:39) because it was both sweeter and
Wine was used as a medicine as well as a drink. It revives those
who are fainting (2 Sam.16:2), and is generally prescribed "for
the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (1 Tim.
5:23). Furthermore, it was commonly used in dressing wounds; the
Samaritan bound up the travellers wounds and poured in wine and
OIL (Luke 10:34).


Wherever wine is produced, it is used in sacrifices and
offerings. Libations were made to false gods (Deut.32:37-38, Isa.
57:6: 65:11; Jer.7:18: 19:13: etc.), but this did not prevent the
use of wine in the orthodox cult. The worshipper naturally
brought a skin of wine whenever he made a pilgrimage to the
temple (1 Sam.1:24; 10:3). It is possible, however, that the use
of wine replaced an earlier custom of offering blood: however
this may be, wine was often treated as if it were blood, and was
thus poured out at the base of the altar (Ecclus.50:15; cf. Jos.
Antiq.3.ix.4). But wine was never offered by itself; it was
always accompanied by a lamb, fine flour, oil, or a combination
of these (Exod.29:40; Lev.23:13: Num.15:7; 10:28:14; etc.). Wine
was not used in the celebration of Passover until Hellenistic
times; it is first mentioned in Jub.49:6. 


Wine is praised and condemned in both the OT and the NT; in this
respect a sharp distinction cannot be made between the two
In the OT. 
The earliest narratives contained in the OT seem to have a
negative attitude toward wine. The J document (see PENTATEUCH -
A3) presents Noah as the father of viticulture; he proceeds to
become drunk and lies naked in his tent. The ultimate result is
the curse of Canaan (Gen.9:20-27; cf. 19:32-35). The prophets
carry on this tradition. Isaiah condemns those who "tarry late
into the evening till wine inflames them (Isa.5:11; cf. vs.22).
Habakkuk contends that "wine is treacherous" (Hab.2:5; cf. Hos.
4:11); and Micah complains that the people want a preacher who
will speak of wine and strong drink (Mic.2:11). Of course.
excessive use of wine by the leaders of the people was especially
blameworthy, Trito-Isaiah mocks the "shepherds" (kings) who are
merely interested in procuring wine and filling themselves with
strong drink (Isa.56:11-12; cf. Hos.7:5), and Isaiah condemns the
priests and the prophets who "reel" and "stagger" because of wine
The book of Proverbs is most explicit in its condemnation. Wine
is a "mocker" and strong drink a "brawler" (Prov.20:1); those who
inordernately love wine will not be rich (21:17; cf. 23:20-21).
the author warns : "Do not look at wine when it is red, when it
sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly (23:31). A humorous
description of drunkenness follows (vss.32-35).

As a protest against the orgiastic luxury of Canaanite
civilization the Nazirites took vows never to drink wine, strong
drink, or any product of the grapevine (Num. 6:3).....

In later times, however, the opposition to wine decreased. The
psalmist praises Yahweh for giving "wine to gladden the heart of
men" (Ps. 104:15; cf. Judg. 9:13; Eccl. 10:19)...


Whereas John the Baptist, perhaps following a Nazirite vow, drank
no wine (Luke 1:15), Jesus did not refuse the charge that he was
a "glutton and a drunkard" (Matt. 11:18-19; Luke 7:33-34; cf.
Thus there is no absolute condemnation of wine in the NT; the
recommendation to timothy has already been noted. Of course, the
drinking of wine to excess is disapproved; such immoderation will
not prepare one for the coming kingdom (Luke 21:34). Furthermore
those in positions of authority are to be especially careful;
bishops and deacons are not to be drunkards (1 Tim. 3:3,8). Yet
no Christian should become drunk with wine; rather, he should be
filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Drunkenness is characteristic
of Gentile culture (1 Pet. 4:3); therefore, the thoughtful
Christian should not drink any wine at all it is will cause his
weaker brother to slip back into Gentile ways (Rom. 14:21).


Since wine was one of the necessities of life, expressions
derived from its production and consumption are commonly used in
biblical imagery. See Vine - 5.


God's judgment upon his own people or upon foreign nations is
often expressed in terms of a cup of wine; he will force the
wicked to drain the cup, and they will reel and stagger (Pss.
60:3-H 60:5; 75:8-H 75:9; Jer.25:15; 51:7; etc.). Similarly this
judgment is compared to the treading out of grapes. As the agents
of Yahweh's wrath the nations are commanded: 

"Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for
the wine press is full. The vats overflow, for their wickedness
is great" (Joel 3:13-11 4:13).

Elsewhere Yahweh is pictured as treading the wine press in his
wrath, on a day of vengeance; the peoples of the earth are his
victims (Isa. 63:2-6).

Abundance of wine is an expression of God's blessing, however.
Isaac asks that God give Jacob "plenty of grain and wine" (Gen.
27:28), and Joel looks forward to the time when "the vats shall
overflow with wine and oil" (Joel 2:24; cf. 3:18-H 4:18; Amos
9:13; Zech. 10:7).


Jesus' comparison of his blood to the cup of wine at the Last
Supper is, of course, the most important use of wine in NT
imagery. Elsewhere, however, Jesus compares his new teaching to
new wine; it cannot be contained by the old wineskins (Matt. 9:17
and parallels). This is paralleled by the miracle of the changing
of water into wine (John 2:1-11); the water probably represents
Judaism and the wine Christianity. Finally, the book of
Revelation contains several descriptions of God's final judgment
in terms of the treading of a wine press (14:19-20; 19:15) and
the drinking of a cup of wrath (14:10; 16:19).

End quotes



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