Thursday, May 30, 2013

On the fruit of the vine

The other day I read an article on Christian Post about drinking, and whether Jesus really turned water into wine. It was such a pitch-perfect example of bad exegesis that I simply had to post about it...even though this will likely fall on deaf ears to most who remain teetotallers.

(Full disclosure:  I am not much of a drinker. Never have been, even before I was a Christian. I don't much care for the taste of it, and I have never once been drunk. I'd say that in the course of an entire year, I probably have 2-3 beers and 8-10 glasses of wine. So I don't really have a "dog in the fight", in other words.)

The columnist's argument that Jesus never drank intoxicating wine comes down to this:

1.  The Greek word for wine in John 2, oinos, does not always refer to wine but sometimes to fruit juice.
2.  Fermentation is a decomposition rather than fruit at its ripest, so this would not give Christ glory. To give Christ glory, a miracle should make something at its peak perfection.
3.  The Bible says that "woe" will be on the man who gives wine to his neighbors (Hab 2:15-16).
4.  Proverbs 31:4-5 says that kings should avoid wine and beer, and Jesus is the King of Kings.
5.  The word "ferment" means "agitation, unrest," etc...not peace and joy like Jesus' new covenant promises.
6.  Proverbs 20:1 says wine is a mocker. Jesus wouldn't have made a mocker for people.
7.  Alcohol when abused is dangerous.


Let me start by saying something: Rev 22:18, Deut 4:2, Prov 30:5-6, Deut 12:32, etc., all indicate the danger of adding to, or taking from, the Bible.

There is no more important principle in Bible study than this:  all that matters is what the Bible actually said (exegesis) and how to properly apply it today (hermeneutics). The worst thing you can do is decide, "I believe such-and-such," or "My church teaches such-and-such," or "My denomination teaches such-and-such," and then go looking through the Bible to try and convince yourself that it could be true.

If you are truly concerned with studying the Scriptures, then you are required to be open-minded about changing yourself to match what they teach. If you have never changed your theology to match what you find in the Scriptures, then your theology isn't Scriptural.

That said, let's take his seven arguments apart one at a time.

1. The Greek word oinos often means fruit juice.

This one is just not true. On rare occasions it means fruit juice, sure. But the vast majority of the times, it means intoxicating wine.

Let me ask you a question...if oinos refers to fruit juice in the Bible, then:

  • Why does Luke 1:15 use oinos to refer to the intoxicating drink that John the Baptist abstains from as part of his Nazarite vow?
  • Why did the Good Samaritan treat the wounds with oinos? Pouring alcohol into a wound is a good practice as an antiseptic; pouring grape juice is just weird and unhelpful.
  • Why does Paul say that drinking oinos is okay but some brothers might be offended, in Romans 14:21? Do you really think people sometimes get offended if they see someone drinking non-alcoholic grape juice?
  • Why did Paul warn the Ephesians not to get drunk on oinos in Ephesians 5:18? How much grape juice do you think they were drinking, if it was making them drunk?
  • Why are deacons supposed to be careful to not drink too much oinos in 1Ti 3:8 and Tts 2:3? Was abusing grape juice a big deal at the time?
  • Why does Paul recommend oinos for stomach pain? Only alcoholic wine is helpful there. (1Ti 5:23)
A good portion of the Bible makes absolutely no sense if oinos means, "grape juice."

2.  Only if Christ made it into pure grape juice would He get glory; it's inglorious to make something fermented, because fermentation is decay.

I'm sorry, but that's just silly and incorrect. Fermentation is a process where yeast and bacteria convert sugars into alcohol. If you say "fermentation" is decay, then you must also think that the following are "decay" since each uses yeast to convert sugars into the new type of food:

  • Bread (in fact, almost anything baked)
  • Root beer and several types of soda
  • Probiotic medicines
  • Cakes
  • Pickles (which are fermented cucumbers)

So when Jesus fed the 5,000 was it only a miracle if He made the fish fresh instead of dead/imperfect? If Jesus miraculously made pickles appear from nowhere, this wouldn't be a miracle--only if He made a cucumber? I wonder if the author eats only unleavened bread? Does he keep his kids from drinking root beer?

There is nothing in the Scripture or the definition of 'miracle' which defines that Jesus must produce something ripe in order for it to be glorifying.

3.  The Bible says that "woe" will be on the man who gives wine to his neighbors (Hab 2:15-16).

You're right, it does. This Scripture says that if a person gives wine to his neighbors in order to get them drunk and see them naked, then God is displeased. I think we can all agree that if you get your neighbor drunk so that you can sexually assault them, you've done something wrong.

To say that this is a referendum on wine is like saying that the phrase, "Don't hit your neighbor with a hammer," is about the evil of hammers.

4. Proverbs 31:4-5 says that kings should avoid wine and beer, and Jesus is the King of Kings.

Again, you're right. And as long as you don't read for context that's a fine argument (I guess). But what Proverbs 31:1-9 says is that kings should be careful about getting obsessed with women, or getting drunk and making unfair laws.

Again, this is not a prohibition against wine, but against drunkenness. If you say that v.4-5 means that kings cannot drink wine, then v.3 means that they cannot have sex with women! Either this is a passage about moderation (as I claim) or abstinence (as the author claims); if about abstinence then you must apply it equally!

Plus, this interpretation is clearly wrong in v.6-7, where it actually encourages beer and wine for those who are in tough situations.

5. The word "ferment" means "agitation, unrest," etc...not peace and joy like Jesus' new covenant promises.

Yep. In English, that's exactly what that word means.

Of course that word isn't in the Bible.
And the Bible isn't written in English.
And the word "covenant" can also mean "lawsuit." Doesn't mean Jesus is suing us.

In other words, this is the most irrelevant and ridiculous of his arguments.

6.  Proverbs 20:1 says wine is a mocker. Jesus wouldn't have made a mocker for people.

One of my favorite verses. Of course you have to read the whole thing: "Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise."

I agree. If you get led astray by wine or beer, you are not wise.

Like every other drinking verse in the Bible, this is about abuse not use.

7.  Alcohol when abused is dangerous.

So are cars. That doesn't mean Jesus hates Toyota.


This is a typical and perfect example of a guy who was raised Baptist, is a teetotaller, and attends a teetotalling church--and therefore he is willing to manipulate the Bible if necessary to prove that his decisions are right.

Look--there is nothing wrong with being a teetotaller. It's probably the wise thing to do. There is NO risk of being drunk if you don't drink--and being drunk is a sin. So I applaud those who wish to take the abstinent role of self-denial in order to avoid the risk of sin.

But that doesn't mean that ALL drinking is wrong. And I (for one) think the Bible should be read as it was written, not for whatever makes our local church congregation happy.

Oh, and one last Scripture to grow/meditate on, just in case someone still believes the Bible doesn't refer to alcoholic wine: in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul gets onto the Corinthians for getting drunk on the communion wine. He tells them they should not be using the communion wine to get drunk. How exactly were they getting drunk if this wasn't alcoholic? Hmmm....


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  2. great post! This verse came to mind "The Word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar" Proverbs 30:5-6

    As a wise man once said to me "never, ever, ever, ever,ever,ever,ever,ever,ever,ever,ever,ever, never take scripture out of context!!!"

  3. This is a good inspirational info. I must share the post on our church website today.