Did Jesus drink alcoholic wine? Needless to say, it’s a touchy subject. To answer the question, all I know to do is go to the Bible.
I’ll begin by saying that the gospels make a point of not using oinos, the Greek word for alcoholic wine, in regards to the famous “last supper” that Jesus had with His apostles. 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.)
You see, the original Greek of the New Testament is perfectly capable of differentiating between alcoholic wine and mere grape juice when the facts of the case call for it. And that’s exactly what Matthew, Mark, and Luke did concerning what Jesus served His apostles at the “last supper,” which was of course His formal instituting of what we now call the “Lord’s supper.” (By the way, whenever we come to the word “wine” in the New Testament we should remember that if the beverage in question had been grape juice, the writer of the passage could easily have gone with the Greek for “the fruit of the vine.”)
Okay, so the Bible teaches that Jesus didn’t serve alcoholic wine at His “last supper,” which might imply that He didn’t drink it at that meal, either. But are there any other passages relevant to our question? Yes, there are. Mark 15:23 is one. In the context of describing Christ’s crucifixion, that verse says:
Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. (N.K.J.V.)
The 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. Some will say that He refused it because He was thoroughly opposed to anyone drinking alcoholic beverages under any circumstances. As for me, I line up with those who believe that He refused it because He wanted to experience the fullness of the cross. In other words, He didn’t want His senses dulled in any way. If He was going to die to pay the world’s sin debt, He would do so without any aid from anything that would dull the pain and thus lessen the suffering.
And so we’ve seen that Jesus didn’t serve alcoholic wine at the “last supper” and He refused the same as He hung on the cross. So does that finish out the answer to our question? No, it doesn’t. We also need to consider the teaching of Matthew 11:18-19 and Luke 7:33-34, two passages which 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.)
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 on is the fact that those leaders called Jesus a “winebibber,” which means “a person who drinks excessive amounts of wine.”
Now, we need to be careful here because we can’t assume that Jesus drank alcoholic wine just because those Jews said that He did. With that noted, however, I don’t feel totally comfortable believing that they just pulled the accusation out of thin air. After all, 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. But, admittedly, Jesus being at such a feast doesn’t necessarily mean that He drank wine there.
Let’s understand, though, that some of those Jewish leaders were either in attendance at Matthew’s feast or had direct knowledge about it (Luke 5:30). So was it a boldfaced lie when they called Jesus a “winebibber” or did they know for certain that He drank wine and simply exaggerated His drinking? That’s a good question. I wish we could nail down the answer with a high degree of certainty.
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 tell 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 certainly never performed any priestly duties there. Israel had its own priests.
#2: The New Testament book of Hebrews emphatically 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. Guess what they are: bread and (you got it) wine.
And 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. But 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. 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 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 refuted pretty easily.