Recently a brother asked the question whether a strong case can be made that the most common wine in Bible days was nonalcoholic.
Some of my thoughts:
All agree they had alcoholic wine in the Bible; this is unmistakably the case where folks got drunk, like Noah and Lot. They also plainly had nonalcoholic wine in the Bible, and it was called wine. A few clear examples are Proverbs 3:10; Isaiah 16:10; 65:8; Joel 2:24. These passages are clearly nonalcoholic wine because just pressed grapes do not produce fermented, but unfermented wine or grape juice. Notice how many English translations translate this nonalcoholic grape juice as “wine.”
There are many passages in the Bible, however, that mention wine with no clear immediate evidence to demonstrate it as alcoholic or nonalcoholic. Most modern day readers immediately assume these passages must be speaking of alcoholic wine, as we know alcoholic wine today. Can we not just as easily assume, or even more easily assume, these references are speaking to common, nonalcoholic wine of their day?
A modern day myth is that they could not keep or preserve unfermented wine or grape juice until pasteurization and Welches. That myth is partially answered in the GCP artilce, Preserving Unfermented Wine in Bible Times. Not only could they prepare and preserve unfermented wine, it was easier to do than preserving fermented wine. On top of all this, unfermented wine was simpler to keep, easier to transport, was nutritious, sweet, and had no harmful side effects.
Scripture often refers to new wine and sweet wine. The most obvious and natural meaning of these terms would refer to unfermented wine. New wine and sweet wine always, or almost always, referred to nonalcoholic wine. Scripture also often refers to wine right along with grain, oil, milk, bread. In other words, wine was considered a food like these other substances, not a hard drug.
A few Scriptural considerations:
Grain shall make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women. -Zechariah 9:17
Imagine a preacher today telling young women if they want to thrive, drink alcohol. That is ludicrus. Alcoholic wine does not make young women thrive, it does just the opposite. Nonalcoholic wine, however, will make young women thrive.
The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine for those who are faint in the wilderness to drink. -2 Samuel 16:2
Sweet nonalcoholic wine is much better for the faint than intoxicating wine.
“Nevertheless, to speak generally and broadly, sweet flavours and those of that order are more nutritive than the rest and more natural.” -Theophrastus, De Causis Plantarum; c. 280 BC.
And you drank wine, the blood of the grapes. -Deuteronomy 32:14
Press a grape and it bleeds unfermented, not fermented wine.
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” As for him who lacks understanding, she says to him, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.” -Proverbs 9:4-5
The worst thing you could do to the simple is tell them to drink intoxicating wine. Wisdom, however, personified as a woman, bids the simple to drink the common, sweet, un-intoxicating wine so common in that day.
Because the children and the infants faint in the streets of the city. They say to their mothers, “Where is grain and wine?” -Lamentations 2:11-12
The ancients knew intoxicating wine was inappropriate for children. This Scripture would be comparable today to infants crying out for a juice box.
Genesis 40:11 tells of a common method of preparing wine on the spot; and fresh grapes were kept throughout the year.
In ancient times sweet wine was unfermented wine; fermentation took the sweetness away. Aristotle, Hippocrates, Athenaeus and others testified that sweet wine did not intoxicate. (I know we have sweet intoxicating wine today. We are not speaking of modern day wine, but ancient wine. There is a big difference.) Scripture often speaks of sweet, new wine. Nehemiah (8:10) even instructed his people to drink the sweet wine. Most translations just say, drink the sweet. The ESV says, “sweet wine.” Intoxicating sweet wine in ancient times, was the exception, not the rule.
At the wedding at Cana (John 2) great quantities of wine was consumed. After they ran out, Jesus made over 120 gallons more wine. Yet there is not a hint that there were any problems with drunkenness or unruly behavior. Added to this evidence is that the holy, sinless Jesus was unlikely to have made great quantities of a hard drug. Can you imagine Him creating a bale of marijuana today? If you argue but marijuana is illegal - can you imagine Jesus making a bale of marijuana in a country were it is legal today? I can’t.
But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom. -Matthew 26:29
The most natural meaning of “fruit of the vine” is unfermented wine, not that which has been manipulated and processed by man. Jesus is an abstainer now (even of grape juice), but in the future kingdom He will drink wine with us that is new and un-intoxicating.
I could keep going. There is much, much more evidence. But that is what my new book is for, due out later this year.
Ancient Wine and the Bible - the book
-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, February 5, AD 2011.
Preserving Unfermented Wine in Bible Times
2006 SBC Resolution on Alcohol Use in America
Deuteronomy 14:26 - Does it Commend Alcohol?
Common Wine in the Bible
Other articles in lower right hand margin under Gulf Coast Pastor Articles (Labels).