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Book 2, Lesson 1
Old Testament Hebrew Yayin


All through history the word wine has had two meanings – grape juice and intoxicating wine. To us today the word wine means intoxicating wine. Because this modern understanding of wine is so firmly planted in our minds, we become confused when we read “wine” in the Bible. We err by thinking only “intoxicating.” The problem with the word wine, however, may go beyond our lack of knowledge of the two meanings of the word. Sometimes the version of the Bible we are reading creates confusion. Bible translators, and especially the authors of paraphrases, although honest, may carry into the text shades of meaning not in the original Hebrew or Greek. Only the original text is inspired by God.   

The problem with the word wine, however, may go beyond our lack of knowledge of the two meanings of the word. Sometimes the version of the Bible we are reading creates confusion. Bible translators, and especially the authors of paraphrases, although honest, may carry into the text shades of meaning not in the original Hebrew or Greek. Only the original text is inspired by God. 

The Bible Must Be Our Authority

Dr. Robert Teachout, Semitic language scholar and seminary professor, has taken each Hebrew word for wine and studied it in the verses where it is found. He says it is not the customs of the times, although they are important to know, but the Bible itself that must be our authority on the question about wine. We have to learn how the words for wine are used in the Scripture.

The Old Testament Foundation

A Bible study about wine should start in the Old Testament. In his book Wine, The Biblical Imperative: Total Abstinence, Dr. Teachout mentions three important points about the study of the Old Testament.

     a) The answer to God's approval or disapproval of wine must be found mainly in the Old Testament. 
It was written before the New and it has the first teaching God gives about wine. If we want to understand
     what God says later on in the New Testament we must lay the foundation from the Old Testament and 
     build on it.

     b) The Old Testament has several times more information on wine than the New Testament. 

     c) The reason why many Christians today know so little about wine and alcohol is that they don't study the 
     Old Testament. It is a “neglected book by many fundamentalists and conservatives.” 1


The most important Hebrew word for wine is yayin. It is used 141 times in the Old Testament. Kitto (1845) states that yayin in the Bible is a very general term including every kind of wine made from grapes. Rev. Dr. Murphy, Professor of Hebrew in Belfast, Ireland in the 1800's, says, “Yayin denotes all stages of the juice of the grape.”

The context, (the words and verses around the word yayin), enables us to understand its exact meaning in different Bible passages. Sometimes the context shows that yayin is intoxicating and a great evil. At other times, yayin is unfermented and is called a blessing of God.

The Old Testament has 39 books in it. Only eight do not use the word yayin. Ruth, I and II Kings, Ezra, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum and Malachi may use other words for wine, but they do not mention yayin.

Jeremiah mentions yayin most often – fifteen times. By a ratio of two to one, the beverage in Jeremiah is grape juice rather than intoxicating wine. Isaiah uses the word fourteen times but the beverage is overwhelmingly intoxicating wine by a ratio of six to one.

Genesis and Proverbs both use yayin ten times. It means intoxicating wine more often than it means grape juice.

Numbers uses yayin eight times. Half of the verses using the word  yayin are talking about the juice offered in sacrifice to God. Two other verses also refer to juice and the remaining two to intoxicating wine. This makes a ratio of six juice to two intoxicating wine.

Song of Solomon mentions yayin seven times and it is always juice. I Samuel also names yayin seven times with juice as the correct meaning four times. The book of Esther tells about yayin six times and since the story takes place in a pagan country it may always be intoxicating yayin.3

The rest of the Old Testament books speak of grape juice more often than intoxicating  yayin (with a ratio of thirty-five to twenty-nine). 4

Dr. Teachout concludes that of the 141 references to yayin in the Old Testament, yayin means grape juice 71 times and intoxicating wine 70 times.

This is important to know because, as we studied earlier in Book One, some say that since Noah got drunk on yayin, yayin always means intoxicating liquor.


The first time the word yayin is used in the Bible it is intoxicating wine. Genesis 9:20 – 24 says that, after the flood, Noah became drunk on yayin. When we think of Noah's faithfulness to God and how he had just seen God’s judgment on the world because of sin, we do not understand his getting drunk. 

What was the drinking situation before the worldwide Genesis Flood? All we know is that Noah preached righteousness for 120 years to people Jesus described in Matthew 24:37-39, as "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, and knew not until the flood came . . . ." Life before the flood was filled with immorality, violence and rebellion against God, just as God said in Genesis 6:5, “every imagination of the thoughts of his (man’s) heart was only evil continually.”

After the flood, Noah faced life on a greatly altered planet earth.  The climate and growing conditions in the post-flood world were very different from the pre-flood world.

According to Genesis 1:7, the pre-flood world had water above the firmament or heaven. Many creation scientists believe that originally this water above the firmament formed a vapor canopy around the earth that kept the climate warm and mild and filtered out radiation from the sun and space. The water above the firmament came down, they believe, “when the windows of heaven were opened,” Genesis 7:11.

When “Noah began to be a farmer, and . . . planted a vineyard,” Genesis 9:20, the stability of the pre-flood world was gone. In contrast to the past, the weather after the flood was chaotic. The Bible does not emphasize the changes that affected food production; it only says Noah’s yayin made him drunk. It also reports the serious consequences of the drunkenness. 

The second time the word yayin is used in the Bible is in Genesis 19:31 – 36, the story of Lot and his daughters. These verses refer to intoxicating yayin four times. Lot was drunk on yayin.

The book of Esther describes a week long banquet where the royal wine flowed freely. Esther 1:7 – 10 says that each guest drank what he chose to drink so probably the king served both fermented and unfermented yayin. But by the seventh day, the king was “merry”. The Hebrew phrase with the words merry and yayin used in verse 10 indicates drunkenness. It is identical to the phrase used in II Samuel 13:28 to describe Amnon. 
Absalom said, “...when Amnon's heart is merry with wine (drunk)... kill him.” It is 
     similar to the phrase used to picture Nabal who was drinking yayin, I Samuel 25:36,37: 
     “...and Nabal's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk.”

The banquets of wine in Esther 5:6 and 7:1 may have been banquets of intoxicating wine but since the context does not mention drunkenness, they could equally as well have been banquets of grape juice.

The “merry” heart from intoxicating wine is contrasted in the Bible to the rejoicing heart from grape juice. Psalm 104:15 says that when God gives wine (grape juice), it makes man's heart glad.

In the time of Isaiah, both the leaders and the people of Israel had wine drinking problems. In chapter 28:1– 3, 7,8, Isaiah writes about drinkers reeling and staggering from strong drink, being confused by intoxicating yayin and with tables full of filthy vomit. He says God's judgment is upon them. “Woe to... the drunkards... The Lord shall cast down to earth the drunkards...  They shall be trampled under feet....”


Proverbs 23;20,21

In some Bible passages, yayin could be interpreted as either wine or grape juice.

Proverbs 23:20,21 talks about winebibbers and gluttons. Dr. Teachout's translation of these verses changes the word winebibbers in verse 20 and the word drunkard in verse 21, King James Version, to “heavy drinker.” 
     “Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, or with gluttonous (riotous) eaters of meat; 
     for the heavy drinker and the glutton will (both) come to poverty, and drowsiness will 
     clothe a man with rags.”

Eating meat is not sinful in itself, and neither is drinking grape juice.  The sin is in the excess.  Both the eater and the drinker think first of their own pleasure. They will be poor. Drowsy or half conscious, they find it hard to concentrate on any work. 

Since people used to go to great feasts where they drank unlimited amounts of grape juice, the wine in verse 20 could be grape juice. Dr. Teachout believes, however, that the wine is probably intoxicating. This means that gluttony, although not so serious as real drunkenness, is paired with drunkenness from alcohol in the Bible.

Why would we think the  yayin in verse 20 is alcoholic? One reason is the context of verse 20. Verses 29 to 35 in the same chapter of Proverbs are definitely talking about alcoholic yayin. It brings woe, sorrow, fighting, foolishness, wounds without cause and poisons the body.

The other reason is Deuteronomy 21:20,21, another set of verses where gluttony is paired with being a heavy drinker. Moses, in giving the law, states the case of  parents who are to accuse their own son if he is stubborn, rebellious, a glutton and a drunkard. The son is to be stoned to death. The seriousness of the punishment indicates the son is a heavy drinker of alcohol; “All the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die. 5

Isaiah 22:12,13

The yayin in Isaiah 22:12,13 is probably intoxicating too. Isaiah often calls drinkers of  yayin drunkards. In these verses God asks Israel to repent, but instead the people have fun, eat meat and drink yayin. They will not change their ways.
     And in that day did the Lord God of Hosts call to weeping, and to mourning... 
     And, behold, joy and gladness, slaying oxen... and drinking wine; let us eat and 
     drink for tomorrow we die.

 Verse 14 predicts their punishment. “Surely this iniquity (sin) shall not be purged (cleaned away) from you till you die.” They will pay with their lives.

Isaiah 22:12,13 can be compared to other verses in Isaiah where yayin, rebellion against God, and punishment go together. 
     Isaiah 5:11,12,22: ...continue until night, till yayin  inflames them. Woe to them... 
     mighty to drink yayin.
Isaiah 28:1,7: Woe... to the drunkards. They... erred through  yayin. 
     Isaiah 56:12: I will fetch yayin, and tomorrow shall be as this day.

In these verses the  yayin is alcoholic. God tells the drinkers what punishment lies ahead of them and how their reasoning is wrong.

Nehemiah 2:1, And Joshua 9:4,13
Nehemiah was the cupbearer to a pagan king, Nehemiah 2:1. We do not know if the king drank intoxicating or nonintoxicating yayin, but it probably was intoxicating. In Joshua 9:4 and 13, the Gibeonites fooled the Israelites by showing them old and torn wineskins. They probably had fermented wine with them. 


It is clear from the Bible that some of the Israelites drank intoxicating yayin. But the question is, “Did a holy God approve of it?” The answer is “No, God did not approve of it then and He does not now.” He disapproves of the drink itself and of everything it does to the drinker and the people around him.
Ethyl Alcohol: What It Is

God teaches us that yayin, if its sugar is turned to ethyl alcohol, is evil. No matter what amount you take, little, moderate or much, intoxicating wine is evil in itself.

     Proverbs 20:1: Wine is a mocker (taunts, makes fun of us), strong drink (shekar
also alcoholic) is raging (a brawler, a life upsetting power): whoever is deceived 
     (led to accept, fooled) by it is not wise.

     Habakkuk 2:5 in Young's Literal Translation of the Holy Bible says, “And also,
     because the yayin is treacherous...” Alcoholic wine betrays us; it will look good 
     but cause our downfall. Because of it, the next part of the verse says, “ a man is 
     haughty and remaineth not at home.”

 Proverbs 23:31 is a serious warning. “Look not thou upon the yayin when it is red, when it giveth his color in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.” God commands us not to look at fermented wine and its attractive “sparkling” action.

Ethyl Alcohol: What It Does
Drinks with alcohol in them confuse the mind, cause errors in judgment, make people sick, corrupt (break down and destroy) morals and take away the ability to be a leader in government or the church. God shows us in Proverbs 23, and Isaiah 28:7; 29:9, that alcohol makes drinkers stagger (totter or sway), and that it gives them blood-shot eyes. He says it leads them to quarrel and complain, makes them feel generally miserable, and distorts their vision and speech. He also declares that alcohol makes those who drink it insensitive to pain; it perverts their judgment and causes them to abandon their morals.
An Example of Sickness
Hosea 7:5,6 says, “The princes have made him sick with bottles of  yayin. ...They made ready their heart like an oven.” Another translation reads, "...the princes became sick with the heat of yayin.” The Hebrew word for heat is poison in Deuteronomy 32:33. “Their yayin is the poison of dragons (serpents).”
Examples of Moral Corruption

Lot's sin with his daughters is recorded in Genesis 19:33 to 35. He was so drunk he didn't know what he was doing.

I Kings 16:8 – 10 relates the story of Elah, the king of Israel. While he was drinking himself drunk in the house of his steward, Zimri came in and assassinated him.

The king of Syria, Ben-hadad, I Kings 20:12 – 21, with thirty-two kings who were his allies beseiged Samaria. As these kings waited for battle, they began drinking themselves drunk in their tents. Ben-hadad was giving bragging commands only minutes before Israel totally defeated his army.

God's Standard for Leaders
In Proverbs 31:4 the Bible warns, “It is not for kings to drink yayin; nor for princes (rulers) strong drink, Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert... judgment.” In the New Testament, Paul writes in I Timothy 3:3 that elders in the church are not to be near or by wine.
The Bible Warns All of Us
Read again the sad picture God gives us as a warning against intoxicating drink in Proverbs 23:29 – 35. Dr. Teachout translates verses 34 and 35 like this:
Yea, you will be like a ship tossing in the middle of a turbulent sea,
Even like the mariner who clings to the top of a mast over restless waves.

Nevertheless you will boastfully proclaim:
They struck me but I was unaffected;
They beat me, but I hardly noticed;
As soon as I awake, I will seek yet another drink!


Because they want to justify their drinking, some people claim that drunkenness and gluttony are sins of the same kind. “Before God, gluttony is just as serious as drunkenness,” they say.

God puts gluttony and drunkenness together in Proverbs 23:20,21 and Deuteronomy 21:20,21. Gluttony and drunkenness are named together, writes Dr. Teachout, because both are sins of excess. But he adds, “It is not true that they are both sins of the same kind of excess.”6

Drunkenness is far more serious than gluttony because of the way it affects the sinner himself and the innocent people around him. “...Alcohol is one of the few chemicals able to pass through the normally selective barrier of the brain – the blood brain barrier – in its original and potent form. Current research on alcohol and thinking indicates that alcohol disrupts the delicate business of communication between brain cells.”7

Scientists who examine the bodies of dead drinkers find widespread shrinking of the brain. The cells of the brain tissue die and disappear during the years of drinking. If the drinker also suffers from alcohol related liver disease, his loss of brain cells will be even greater.8

Why does alcohol affect the whole body? Cell membranes (walls around the body cells) are alike everywhere in the body. In their experiments with alcohol, scientists have watched ethyl alcohol force its way through the cell walls. The cells then begin to malfunction.9

Dr. Teachout has made a chart showing the differences between the sins of gluttony and drunkenness.10  




1. Everybody needs food to live.

Nobody needs alcoholic drink to live.

2. Food as it is grown is not harmful. It is not sinful in itself. Only if you eat an excess of food will it harm you.

Alcohol is harmful in itself. It is a poison. Our bodies react against even the smallest amount of ethyl alcohol. Any amount you drink is excess.

3. Overeating is a sin against yourself. It causes physical damage if you continue to eat too much over a period of time.

Drunkenness is a sin against yourself and everyone around you. It causes physical problems for you and stress for others immediately.

4. Gluttony or overeating is a sin of rebellion, Deut. 21:18.

Drunkenness is a sin of immorality. Gal. 5:20,21 calls it a work of the flesh. Those who practice such things will not go to heaven, I Cor. 6:10.

5. Short term overeating does not cause noticeable problems for the mind, alertness or motor skills.

Drunkenness causes immediate serious effects to the mind, alertness and motor skills.

6. Gluttony is not a root cause of crime against others.

Drunkenness is a leading cause of crime against others.

No one can say gluttony is not sin, and all sin is serious. But the sin of gluttony is not the same as the sin of drunkenness. In the New Testament God gives us the liberty in Christ to eat almost any kind of food we choose. He does not give us, says Dr. Teachout, the liberty in Christ to drink any kind of alcoholic drink.

Why not? Because alcohol is innately harmful. Innately harmful means that harm is a part of the nature of alcohol. II Corinthians 6:16 informs us that believers in Christ are the temples of the living God and verse 17 adds, “...touch not the unclean thing.”God does not tell us how much food would make a person a glutton. It is impossible to say that an exact amount of food is excess.

Growing children may eat more than an adult; some people eat little and still gain weight. Also, gluttony has to be repeated often to really affect the body. God does not say how much alcoholic drink makes a person drunk. But drunkenness is an immoral act that affects the drinker immediately. Young or old, in good or poor health, even less than one glass of alcoholic drink affects the judgment and the inhibitions. Inhibitions are the normal holding back due to good judgment.

One drink, then, is excess, more than is necessary, because of the kind of drink that it is. Why doesn't God make clear just how much food makes a glutton? Because it is not possible to say what exact amount of food would be excess for everybody. Why does He not set amounts on alcoholic beverages so we know how much is drunkenness? Because none is good for us. Any amount of alcoholic drink is harmful and sinful. God does not say how much is safe because He never considers any amount to be safe. The drink He approves is grape juice.


1. Dr. Robert Teachout, Wine, The Biblical Imperative: Total Abstinence, 1986, p.4.
2. Dr. William Patton, Bible Wines, Sane Press, Oklahoma City, p.56.
3. Although Dr. Teachout says yayin in Esther probably always was intoxicating, he does add that we do not know what Esther served at the banquets of wine. Drunkenness is not mentioned.
4. Dr. Robert Teachout, The Use of Wine in the Old Testament, Doctoral Dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979, p.252.
5. Ibid., p.257. See footnotes.
6. Teachout, Wine, pp.77,78.
7. Allan Luks and Joseph Barbato, You Are What You Drink, Villard Books, New York, 1989, p.47.
8. “Sixth Special Report to the U.S. Congress on Alcohol and Health,” from the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Rockville, Md., National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, January, 1987, p.49.
9. Ibid., p.72.
10. Teachout, Wine, pp.77,78.


Copyright 2005
Woman's Christian Temperance Union
of South Dakota