One of the more passionately debated Biblical topics is that of the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Does the Bible make some allowance for such drinking or does it forbid it altogether? This is a question to which I’d like to devote several posts. For this first one, I’ll deal with what the Bible says about drinking wine.
I should begin by pointing out that the Bible uses the word “wine” well over two hundred times, and it offers many different Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek words for wine. The Hebrew words are: yayin, tiyrosh, raaph, chamar, mamcak, cobe, aciyc, enab, and shemer. The Greek words are oinos and gleukos. The most used Hebrew word is yayin, which is used over 130 times. The most used Greek word is oinos, which is used over 30 times.
And is the “wine” of the Bible alcoholic (fermented, as opposed to being mere grape juice)? Yes, it is. Do you remember that I said that yayin is the Old Testament’s most common word for wine? Well, it was yayin that got Noah drunk (Genesis 9:21). Do you remember that I said that oinos is the New Testament’s most common? Well, Ephesians 5:18 says: “And do not be drunk with wine (oinos)…” You can’t get drunk on grape juice.
What we have to understand is that wine was as common to the Jewish way of life as milkshakes are to ours. I went with milkshakes because the Jews didn’t drink wine for their typical meals like they did water or milk. They usually saved it for special occasions such as feasts and celebrations (Genesis 14:18; 27:25; 2 Samuel 13:28; John 2:1-10). But make no mistake, wine was common to them. Let me offer three evidences of that.
First, the Jews saw wine as nothing less than a symbol of God’s blessing. When Isaac pronounced his patriarchal blessing upon Jacob, part of it was that God would give Jacob “plenty of grain and wine” (Genesis 27:28). Moses told the Jews that if they would faithfully obey the law that God had given them they would receive great blessings. Some of those blessings would be “your grain and your new wine and your oil” (Deuteronomy 7:13). Psalm 104:15 clearly lists wine as a blessing on par with oil and bread. (By the way, that verse describes wine as that which “makes glad the heart of man.” Grape juice doesn’t do that.)
Second, the God-given Old Testament law commanded the Jews to tithe their wine (Deuteronomy 12:17; 14:22-23). This makes perfect sense in light of the fact that they viewed wine as a blessing along the same lines as oil and bread. Since it was made from harvested grapes, they also saw it as a part of their harvests, which certainly qualified it for tithing.
Third, under that same body of law, the Jewish priests were to use a specific amount of wine in the daily offering up of two “drink offerings” (Exodus 29:38-45). One drink offering was to be done in conjuncture with the morning sacrificing of a lamb, and another drink offering was to be done with the evening sacrificing of a lamb. For the record, the Hebrew word that is used in that passage for “wine” is that familiar word yayin, which makes it alcoholic wine, the same kind that got Noah drunk. Yes, God really did command that alcoholic wine be used as a part of certain daily, holy sacrifices to Him.
You see, the idea that the Jews of the Bible were teetotalers is just plain wrong. They knew all about drinking wine. Furthermore, the idea that the wine was non-alcoholic grape juice is just as wrong. I’m not trying to make anybody mad or suggest that each of us should go have a glass of wine. I’m just conveying what the Bible teaches and letting it say what it says, not what some of us might like it to say.
Okay, so is this all that I have to share on this subject? Certainly not. This has simply been an opening post to cover some of the basics about the Bible and wine. Hang with me for the rest of this series and I promise that we will cover much more ground, topics such as: “strong drink,” drunkenness, Jesus drinking wine, Jesus making wine, prohibitions against drinking, Christian liberty, and causing a brother to stumble. Stay tuned.