Bible Questions and Answers

 
     
 

Bible Question:Are there any Bible verses that allow consumption of fermented red wine?

Bible Answer: There are 262 references in 56 books of the Bible to wine. The book of Isaiah has twenty-seven references alone. The drinking of alcoholic beverages was allowed in the Old and New Testament eras. However, it is important to notice that they drank different types of alcoholic beverages. In the following verses please note that they drank wine and something called "strong drink."

Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.  Proverbs 20:1 (NAS95S)

Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter. Proverbs 31:6 (NAS95S)

Ancient Wine. The wine in ancient days was diluted with water. The ratio of water to wine was as high as ten parts of water to one part of wine. There are many historical references which support this statement.

The ratio of water to wine varied. Homer (Odyssey IX, 208f) mentions a ratio of 20 to 1, twenty parts to one part wine. Pliny (Natural History XIV, vi, 54) mentions a ratio of eight parts water to one part wine. In one ancient work, Athenaeus' The Learned Banquet, written around A.D. 200, we find in Book Ten a collection of statements from earlier writers about drinking practices. A quotation from a play by Aristophanes reads, "Here, drink this also, mingled three and two." Demus, "Zeus! But it's sweet and bears the three parts well!" The poet Euneos, who lived in the fifth century B.C., is quoted: "The best measure of wine is neither much nor very little; for 'tis the cause of either grief or madness. It pleases the wine to be fourth, mixed with three nymphs."[1]

The following is a quote from Clement of Alexandria

And it is best to mix the wine with as much water as possible, and not to have recourse to it as to water, and so get enervated to drunkenness, and not pour it in as water from love of wine. For both are works of God; and so the mixture of both, of water and of wine, produces together to health, because life consists of what is necessary and of what is useful. With water, then, which is the necessary of life, and to be used in abundance, there is also to be mixed the useful.[2]

Plutarch stated,

For so they speak and sing, “drink five or three, but not four.” For five have the sesquialter proportion, three cups of water being mixed in two of wine; three, the double proportion, two being mixed with one; four, the sesquiterce, three cups of water to one of wine, which is the epitrite proportion for those exercising their minds in the council-chamber or frowning over dialectics, when changes of speeches are expected, - a sober and mild mixture. But in regard to those proportions of two to one, that mixture gives the strength by which we are confused and made half drunk, “Exciting the chords of the soul never moved before.” For it does not admit of sobriety, nor does it induce the senselessness of pure wine. The most harmonious is the proportion of two to three. [3]

In Maccabees 15:39 we read,

For as it is hurtful to drink wine or water alone . . . Maccabees 15:39

It is very clear that the wine was diluted with water and not drunk straight. Other references indicate that the water-to-wine ratio was as low as two-to-one.[1]  Thus the ratio varied from a high ratio of ten-to-one to a low ratio of two-to-one. The wine that the ancients drank was very different from the wine we drink today. The wine that Jesus and the disciples drank was not the wine of today.
When the wine was mixed one-to-one it was called strong drink and not wine.[4] On occasions the wine was not diluted. Only barbarians drank their "wine" one-to-one or undiluted. When scripture refers to strong drink it is referring to wine with a ratio of one-to-one or wine that was undiluted. Scripture condemned strong drink.

Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, Who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them! Isaiah 5:11 (NAS95S)

What type of wine did Jesus drink? According to the Talmud, the ratio was normally two parts water to one part wine. But during the Passover, the ratio was three parts water to one part wine.[5] That answers your question. Jesus and the disciples drank wine mixed with water, and Jesus would have made wine diluted with water.

Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. John 4:46 (NAS95S)

Drinking Wine Was Acceptable. Throughout the Bible the drinking of diluted wine or wine mixed with water was assumed to be okay. The apostle Paul on one occasion encouraged Timothy to drink wine - diluted wine.

No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. 1 Tim 5:23 (NAS95S)

But drunkeness and addiction to wine were always rebuked.

And do not get drunk with wine . . . Eph 5:18 (NAS95S)

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good . . . Titus 2:3 (NAS95S)

For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain . . . Titus 1:7 (NAS95S)

Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain . . . 1 Tim 3:8 (NAS95S)

The Exception. Even though it was acceptable to drink wine in moderation, God told the priests they could not drink wine before performing acts of worship to Him in the temple. In the following passage of scripture, God tells Aaron that neither he or his sons could enter the tabernacle if they had drunk any wine.

Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, Leviticus 10:9 (NAS95S)

God also required anyone taking a Nazirite vow to abstain from wine and any of its related products. The first passage is the command in Numbers, and the second is the illustration of the command in the life of John the Baptist.

. . . he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. Numbers 6:3 (NAS95S)

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, "He has a demon!" Luke 7:33 (NAS95S)

Conclusion:Scripture never condemns the drinking of wine diluted with water. However, it does condemn the drinking of wine diluted one-to-one with water, undiluted wine, drunkeness, and addictions to wine. God has left the choice to each person as to whether one drinks or does not drink. But those who desired to serve God as priests and those who wanted to make a special commitment of themselves to God, were asked to abstain from wine during times of worship and for certain periods of time.

 

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References:

1.Stein, Robert. Wine Drinking in New Testament Times. Christianity Today. June 20, 1975. pp. 9-11.

2.Clement Of Alexandria: Instructor Book II, ii.

3.Plutarch, Smposiacs III, ix.

4.Stein, Robert, Ibid.

4.Talmud Pesahim 108b

 

 
     
 
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