Did Jesus drink fermented (alcoholic) wine? Needless to say, that’s a hot-button question. To answer it, all I know to do is go to the Bible.
I’ll begin by saying that the gospels do not use oinos, the Greek word for alcoholic wine, in regards to Christ’s instituting of The Lord’s Supper. We see this in Matthew 26:27-29, Mark 14:22-25, and Luke 22:14-22. I’ll quote the Matthew passage here:
Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 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.” (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)
You’ll notice that the phrase “fruit of the vine” is used in this passage rather than the word “wine.” This leads some Christians to contend that the cup that got passed around at The Lord’s Supper contained unfermented grape juice rather than fermented wine. As the argument goes, if that cup had contained fermented wine, the New Testament’s original Greek would use the word oinos. For the record, in my previous days, that is the interpretation that I applied to the passage.
In more recent days, however, I have been struck by the fact that the phrase “fruit of the vine” could describe fermented wine just as easily as it could unfermented grape juice. After all, the grapes themselves are the fruit, and grape juice and wine are both made from them. Furthermore, Jesus had served fermented wine as part of another meal earlier in His ministry (John 2:1-12). (I’ll talk about that story in my next post.) Therefore, my thinking now has changed in regards to the question of whether or not Jesus served real wine at The Lord’s Supper. While I’ll quickly concede that the contents of the cup at The Lord’s Supper could have been unfermented grape juice, my own thinking on the topic now aligns with the majority opinion among Bible scholars and commentators, that being that the cup contained actual wine.
Of course, even if the wine was fermented, the Jews typically diluted their wine with enough water (two-thirds water/one-third wine) to render the drink essentially non-intoxicating. As a matter of fact, this is how most commentators interpret the beverage used at The Lord’s Supper. The common assumption is that the “last supper” that Jesus enjoyed with His disciples on the night of His arrest was a typical Jewish Passover meal (complete with a Passover lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and watered-down wine), and Jesus instituted The Lord’s Supper at the close of that meal, using the same type of drink that had been used during the meal. If this interpretation is correct, it means that Jesus drank watered-down alcoholic wine as part of His “last supper” with His apostles and The Lord’s Supper that followed.
Okay, so are there any other passages that might have some relevancy to the question of whether or not Jesus ever drank alcoholic wine? Yes, there are. One is Mark 15:23, which in the context of describing Christ’s crucifixion, says this:
Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. (N.K.J.V.)
This verse’s Greek word for “wine” is the familiar oinos, which means alcoholic wine. The Romans offered such a drink as a painkiller to men being crucified. Jesus, however, refused it, and His refusal allows some Christians — those who contend that Jesus never drank any type of fermented wine — to say that He refused it because He was thoroughly opposed to anyone drinking alcoholic beverages under any circumstances.
Again, however, there is another possible interpretation that many, including myself, think rings closer to the truth. According to this interpretation, Jesus refused the oinos those Romans offered Him because He wanted to experience the fullness of the cross without having His senses dulled in any way. In other words, if He was going to die to pay the world’s sin debt, He wanted to do so without any aid from anything that would dull the pain and thus lessen the suffering.
Now let’s move on to a couple of other passages that we need to consider. The passages are Matthew 11:18-19 and Luke 7:33-34, and they both tell the same story. I’ll quote the one from Luke. It records Jesus saying to the Jewish religious leaders:
“For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'” (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)
Basically, those Jewish religious leaders couldn’t be appeased. On the one hand, they criticized John the Baptist for his isolationist lifestyle and minimalistic diet (Luke 1:13-15; Matthew 2:4). On the other hand, they criticized Jesus for the fact that, socially speaking, He was the polar opposite of John the Baptist (Luke 5:27-32). But what we want to focus upon is the fact that those leaders called Jesus a “winebibber,” which means “a person who drinks excessive amounts of wine.”
Admittedly, we need to be careful here because we can’t assume that Jesus drank alcoholic wine simply because those Jews said that He did. With that noted, however, I don’t feel totally comfortable believing that they just pulled that accusation out of thin air. I mean, they didn’t call John the Baptist a “winebibber,” did they?
I suppose the accusation could have simply grown out of Jesus attending feasts like the one in the home of Matthew (Levi) (Luke 5:29-32). Surely alcoholic wine was served at that feast. Again, this doesn’t automatically mean that Jesus drank such wine there, but those Jewish did complain that He ate and drank with tax collectors and other so-called “sinners” (Luke 5:30).
There are some who contend that Jesus would never have drunk wine because that would have violated Old Testament law concerning the priesthood. Certainly Jesus did live His earthly life as a Jew who kept that body of law that God had given to Moses and the Israelites. He even made a point of saying, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17) And what did that law command concerning priests as they ministered in the tabernacle (temple)? Leviticus 10:8-11 tells us:
Then the Lord spoke to Aaron (Israel’s first high priest), saying: “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statue forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.” (N.K.J.V.)
You say, “Ah, at last, that settles it! Jesus would never have drunk alcoholic wine because He was a priest, like Aaron.” Well, unfortunately, things aren’t so cut and dried as that. Consider the following facts:
#1: That law specifically dealt with ministering in the Jewish tabernacle or (later on) the Jewish temple. But Jesus never ministered as a priest at the temple of His day. He visited there, but He never performed any priestly duties there. Israel had its own priests.
#2: The New Testament book of Hebrews expressly teaches that even though Jesus is a High Priest, He isn’t of the priestly order of Aaron. He is, instead, of the priestly order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:1-6; 7:1-27) Interestingly, Melchizedek ministered in a time before the building of the Jewish tabernacle or the temple.
#3: In Genesis 14:18-20, the only Old Testament passage that speaks of Melchizedek, he brings two particular items to Abraham. Those items are bread and (you got it) wine.
So, in conclusion, what answer are we left with at the end of this post? Did Jesus drink alcoholic wine or not? The truth is, there is simply no way to take the Bible and build a 100% case for either a “yes” or a “no” answer. With that understood, though, if you pin me up against a wall and force me to state my opinion, I’ll say that I believe that, on occasion, He did. For one thing, fermented, watered-down wine was a very common part of the Jewish way of life. And for another, I just don’t think those Jewish religious leaders completely fabricated that charge about Him being a “winebibber.” Obviously, He never drank wine to excess because that would have been a sin, but I do lean toward thinking that those guys had at least seen him drink some wine. And as for the argument that Old Testament law concerning the priesthood kept Him from drinking, as I’ve shown you, that argument can be pretty easily refuted.
(3 years 3 months later)
“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking” he said … as long as the third person ‘Son of Man’ still means him, then it seems he is being very clear that he consumed, just not to the excess of which they accused him. Great series!