“Gather wine and summer fruit and oil.” -Jeremiah 40:10
Does “wine” always mean fermented or intoxicating wine? Do the Bible words for wine always mean intoxicating wine? Of course not, although many say they do.
Some drinkers attempt to prove their case first by asserting all wine is fermented (One Wine Theory). Then, every time the Bible or other literature says “wine” they insist that can only mean the alcoholic stuff. Their theory sounds good until you do some research.
The most common words in the Bible for wine are the Hebrew words “yayin” and “tirosh,” and the Greek word “oinos.” Tirosh usually, some say always, meant unfermented wine. Yayin and oinos were both used to refer to fermented and unfermented wine (Two Wine Theory); and all three words were used interchangeably. For example:
1. Proverbs 3:9-10 refers to fresh, unfermented wine just harvested. The Hebrew word is tirosh. There are several significant points.
First, this is a clear case of un-intoxicating wine in the Bible.
Second, about 200 BC Jewish scholars translated this word “tirosh” into the Greek word “oinos.” They did not even translate it as “new oinos,” just “oinos.” Their translation, the Septuagint (LXX), was used by Jesus and His disciples. The LXX treated the words, yayin, tirosh, and oinos synonymously. Here they used oinos for unfermented wine.
Third, this verse is translated into English with the word “wine,” or “new wine,” even though it is a definite reference to unfermented wine. Why is this significant? It shows that even the modern day English versions use the word “wine” to refer to non-alcoholic wine. So much for those who say there is no such thing as “unfermented wine.”
2. Isaiah 16:10 says, “No treaders will tread out wine (yayin) in the presses.” You tread out unfermented wine, not fermented wine, in the presses. Jewish translators of the LXX translated yayin here, into the Greek word oinos. The modern English versions of the Bible translate yayin in this verse into our word, “wine,” even though it refers to unfermented wine. (See also: Deuteronomy 11:14; Isaiah 65:8; Jeremiah 40:10, 12; 48:33; Joel 2:24)
3. Mark 15:36 refers to vinegar as sour wine (oinos). Wine has three basic stages, non-alcoholic, alcoholic, then it turns to vinegar. So oinos is not just used of alcoholic wine, not just of non-alcoholic wine, but also used of vinegar. Once again, oinos is shown to be a broad word.
By the way, with a little effort, wine can be preserved in any of these three stages.
4. Ancient non-biblical quotations:
A Greek Poet and physician of the 2nd century BC wrote: “Says Nicander: And Cenus having squeezed the juice of the grapes, into hollow cups, called it wine (oinos).”
Aristotle wrote, “that sweet wine (oinos) would not intoxicate.”
“At the time of festivals, he went about, and took wine (oinos) from the fields.” -Athenaeus, Book VI, sect. 89, Voyage of Nymphodorus, the Syracusan; 320 BC. You don’t gather “fermented” wine from the fields.
Many more ancient examples could be given.
5. “The Hebrew, Greek, and Latin words which are rendered ‘wine,’ mean simply the expressed juice of the grape.” -Dr. Adam Clark, quoted in Communion Wine and Bible Temperance by William M. Thayer, 1869; p. 13.
6. Yayin - “what is pressed out, grape juice.” -Dr. Robert Young, Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, Eerdmans, 1970; p. 1058.
Oinos - “wine, grape juice.” -Dr. Robert Young, ibid; p. 1058.
7. “A host of strong evidence points to the fact that yayin can mean not only [fermented] wine but also grape juice, and that God’s purpose for the vine was for the latter.” -Robert P. Teachout, The Use of “Wine” in the Old Testament, Doctoral Dissertation for Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979; p. 312.
8. “The word yayin was used to indicate fermented or unfermented wine.” -Yael Zisling, Winemaking in Israel. Published by gemsinisrael.com; August / September, 2001.
This is a modern, pro fermented wine site. Notice the quote recognizes both yayin and wine as generic words.
Today many scholars (but not all) just repeat what other scholars have said about wine always being intoxicating, without considering the evidence. Many mistakenly believe the ancients had no way of preserving unfermented wine, so they assume it must have all been fermented. But the experts can be wrong. Consider the evidence.
Therefore when the Bible says Jesus made wine (oinos; John 2), don’t just assume it means 14% alcohol content wine. If you assume that, that is not just taking the Bible for what it says; that is your biased opinion.
-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, July 27, 2009.
PS - Several have asked me to write about the issue of the Bible and alcohol and I have now done so for several posts. It is one of the hot topics of our day, when we have some pastors militantly promoting the idea of social drinking. In the future I will be posting more articles about this subject, but will also be posting on other topics.
If you have any questions, feel free to comment here, or write to: nsbc77562 [at] LWOL [dot] com; or P.O. Box 300, Lake Jackson, TX 77566.
Biblical Principles Condemn Alcohol
Preserving Unfermented Wine in Bible Times
2006 SBC Resolution on Alcohol Use in America
Deuteronomy 14:26 - Does it Commend Alcohol?
Other articles in lower right hand margin under Gulf Coast Pastor Articles (Labels).
Ancient Wine and the Bible by David R. Brumbelow due to be published October 1, 2011. It will cover these areas much more extensively.