I. GREEK OINOS HAS TWO MEANINGS
The New Testament uses two Greek words for wine, gleukos and oinos. Gleukos is found only once; everywhere else in the New Testament the word for wine is oinos. Gleukos is unfermented grape juice. Oinos, like yayin, means either fresh juice or fermented alcoholic wine.
In his book, Wine in the Bible, Dr. Bacchiocchi tells us that most people today believe that oinos and two words that come from it, Latin vinum and English wine, are always intoxicating. For example, Kenneth L. Gentry who wrote The Christian and Alcoholic Beverages says that in the classical Greek, (the Greek that was used just before the koine Greek of the New Testament), oinos is always alcoholic. He also states that the major New Testament Greek lexicons all claim oinos is intoxicating. Mr. Gentry ends by saying, "The case is clear: oinos is an alcoholic beverage . . . nowhere forbidden."1
Can Mr. Gentry prove that oinos is always intoxicating wine? No, he cannot. Is it important for us to see what classical Greek literature says about oinos? Yes, because it will teach us that pagan classical Greek authors do write about unfermented as well as fermented oinos. We would then expect the writers of the New Testament to use oinos in the same way.
Classical Writers Call Unfermented Grape Juice Oinos
Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.) wrote that grape juice or must (gleukos) was one kind of wine. He called a sweet grape drink "oinos" and said, "though called oinos . . . it does not taste like wine and does not intoxicate like ordinary wine."2
Athenaeus (about A.D. 200) told about a sweet wine (grape juice) called protropos. He said this grape juice wine was sweet Lesbian glukus, very good for the stomach, "for sweet oinos does not make the head heavy." The grape juice was "lesbian - feminine" because the yeast or fermenting power had been removed.3
Athenaeus also wrote about a festival or great celebration where the General in charge "took oinos from the field and such animals for victims as were in good condition." The oinos was fresh juice for the General would not have gone to the field to get fermented and bottled wine.4
Oinos is a Name for Freshly Squeezed Grape Juice
In the days of the Apostles, Papias, a Christian Bishop, explained his unusual thoughts about the millennium. He described a wonderful grape harvest with "ten thousand grapes in each cluster . . . when crushed, will yield . . . oinos." Papias called the juice from freshly squeezed grapes oinos.5
Proclus, who lived in the fifth century, said that grapes were put in the sun ten days, and then in the shade ten days. Next they were treaded and the wine (oinon) squeezed out. Here again the freshly squeezed juice is called oinos.6
Dr. Teachout found oinos named on ancient papyrus documents from 105 B.C. and 600 A.D. Oinos was called fresh grape juice and pure fresh grape juice. On one papyrus from 137 A.D., the writer said "They paid to the one who had earned his wages pure, fresh juice (oinos) from the vat."7
The name oinos, Nicander of Colophon and Melanippides of Melos write, came from the name of a man. Oineus first squeezed grapes into hollow cups and called it oinos.8
The Septuagint Calls the Hebrew Word Tirosh, Oinos
Septuagint means seventy. The Greek Old Testament was called the Septuagint because it was translated from Hebrew to Greek in about 70 days by 72 Jews. This work was done several hundred years before Christ was born. When the translators came to the word tirosh, the Hebrew word that always means fresh juice, they had to decide what to call tirosh in Greek. Thirty-three times they called it oinos.9 These 72 scholars understood well that oinos meant fresh juice.
II. OLD TESTAMENT AND NEW TESTAMENT: GOD IS THE SAME
New Testament teaching about alcohol does not contradict what the Old Testament teaches. Even more than that, New Testament teaching builds upon Old Testament truth.
The Bible tells us in Hebrews 13:8 that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. It is impossible for God's character and His moral law to change. They are the basis for His stand against alcoholic wine in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Gospels, Jesus' example and words teach us the same truths about wine we learned in the Old Testament. Peter's and Paul's letters warn Christians to abstain from alcohol just as did King Solomon in Proverbs.
Moderate Drinkers Fight for Alcohol
The key word for almost everyone who encourages—or even discourages—the drinking of alcoholic beverages is moderation. Church people often desire to teach us that moderate drinking is God's plan. Most of the arguments we study in the New Testament, like the arguments from the Old Testament, come from people who believe God promotes the moderate drinking of alcohol. First they have to show that He approves of alcohol, and second, they must convince us that He wants it drunk in moderation.
The moderationists, Dr. Bacchiocchi's name for those who favor moderate alcohol drinking, make strong claims:10
a) Jesus made alcoholic wine at Cana, John 2.
b) Jesus approved the use of alcohol in the parable of the new wine in old wineskins
Matthew 9, Luke 5 and Mark 2.
c) Jesus admitted He used alcoholic wine when He said He came eating and drinking,
Matthew 11, Luke 22.
d) Jesus commanded the use of alcoholic wine by everyone at the Lord's Supper,
Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22.
Even if these claims were true, and they are not, what about moderate drinking? What is moderate drinking? God doesn't say. How can we know when God doesn't set an amount? The reason He doesn't set an amount is that He is against using any alcohol at all.
Hebrew Words and Greek Words for Wine
In our study of the Old Testament we found that the Hebrew language has many words for wine. We studied each word in its context. The New Testament has only one main Greek word for wine, so we will study the word, in general, in the order we find it in the New Testament. The first reference to wine in the New Testament is Matthew 9:17, oinos in new wineskins. This teaching of Jesus is repeated in Mark and Luke. Because Luke adds another saying of Jesus not found in Matthew, we will wait until we get to Luke to study it.
III. MATTHEW 11: CHRIST CALLED A DRUNKARD
In Matthew 11:16 and 17, Jesus talks about the people of His day.
Whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets
and calling unto their fellows, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not
danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.
In simple words Jesus is saying, "You are just playing religion." These are the people who called Him a drinking man. He goes on in verses 18 and 19 to expose their foolish reasoning.
John came neither eating (bread, Luke 7:33) nor drinking (wine, Luke 7:33), and
they say, He hath a devil. The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say,
Behold a man gluttonous, and a wine-bibber (oinopotes), a friend of publicans and
sinners. But wisdom is justified by her children.
The Claim of the Moderate Drinkers
The people who stand for moderate use of alcohol claim that in these verses Jesus openly admits that He uses alcoholic wine. In The Christian and Alcoholic Beverages, 1986, page 48, Kenneth Gentry says, "Jesus himself drank wine. As a matter of fact, in Luke 7:33 – 35 he makes reference to his practice of drinking wine as a vivid illustration of a distinctive difference between himself and his forerunner, John the Baptist." Horace Bumstead in The Biblical Sanction for Wine, 1881, page 86, writes, "The Bible sanctions the use of wine by the example of Christ. This sanction is undeniable and emphatic. Undeniable because we have . . . Christ's own words; emphatic because his example... is contrasted by himself with the example . . .of John the Baptist, who, being a Nazirite, was an abstainer from wine. Irving Raymond in The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink, 1927, page 81, adds, "For proof . . . there is direct evidence both from what others said of Him and from what He Himself actually did."11
These moderationists believe that Jesus makes it clear that His habit of drinking wine is one important difference between Himself and John the Baptist who abstained from wine. Not only did Jesus use wine, they say, but He saw nothing evil in the wine itself.
Careful Study Leads to a Different Conclusion
The moderationist claim, "John did not drink wine . . . Christ did . . . we only follow His example when we drink alcoholic wine . . ." misses some important points.
Jesus and John: Different Lifestyles Due to Different Ministries
The Lord was not talking about drinking alcoholic wine. He used the words "eating and drinking" purposely as a way to describe how different His social life was from John's. John lived alone in the wilderness; his diet was strict. Jesus mingled socially with people and ate ordinary food. Dr. Bacchiocchi says the two phrases, "John came neither eating (bread) nor drinking (wine)," and "the Son of Man came eating and drinking," show the difference between John's lifestyle of full social isolation and Jesus' lifestyle of free social association.12
Jesus and John both lived lives of self-denial and obedience to God. Jesus did it without a flaw. Each one's lifestyle fit his ministry. John was called to preach repentance. He exposed the sins and excesses of the day, and God led him to live apart from those he warned. Jesus preached the Good News of God's Kingdom and He visited the people in their homes and towns.
Jesus says He and John lived and taught each in his own way. But the critics found ways to complain about each of them. John was called insane; Jesus was labeled a drunk and a glutton.
John Was a Nazarite
John was a Nazarite from birth, Luke 1:15. 13 Nazarites drank no grape juice. Unlike John, Jesus was not a Nazarite and did drink grape juice. He drank the fruit of the vine at the Lord's Supper. Just because He said He "came drinking" does not give anyone the right to claim He drank all kinds of wine, fermented and unfermented. Neither do His words "came eating" mean that He ate all kinds of food. What is true for drinking should be true for eating, but no one argues that Jesus ate all kinds of food, good and bad, clean and unclean.
Whatever the Lord ate and drank was healthful. He did not eat or drink to satisfy the cravings of His body. He kept His mind clear and His affection fixed on God.
Jesus Did Not Use the Word Wine
It is important, Dr. Bacchiocchi tells us, to notice that Jesus did not use the word "wine" when He talked about Himself. Even so, some argue, the word wine has to be understood since He used it for John and He is comparing Himself to John. The argument sounds good, "but the fact remains that if Jesus had wanted it known that, contrary to John the Baptist, He was a wine-drinker, then He could have repeated the word wine for the sake of emphasis and clarity."14
Jesus did not repeat the word "bread" either when He talked about Himself. He did this for a reason too. Those who were against Him could find nothing in His words to back their accusation of gluttony and drunkenness. Although they could blame Him for eating with people they did not approve of socially, they did not really know what He ate.
Jesus and John: The Accusing Lies of Their Enemies
But those who favor alcoholic drink continue to argue, "We know Jesus did drink intoxicating wine because the people said He was a winebibber." Who said it? The claim that Jesus drank intoxicating wine is weak because it is based on a lie told by those who hated Him.
Lies were spread about both John and Jesus. Since the insane and demon possessed were often driven into the wilderness, and John preached in the wilderness, many who did not like John accused him by saying, "He hath a devil." But they weren't happy with Jesus either and said He was a glutton and a wine-bibber (oinopotes), a friend of publicans and sinners.
If we go by what the enemies of Jesus said about Him, we would have to believe that Jesus grossly overate at meals, drank Himself drunk and also had a demon. In John 7:20 and 8:48, the people said He had a demon. In John 8:52, they said, "Now we know that thou hast a demon." In John 10:20, they added even more abuse, "He hath a demon and is mad (crazy)."
Why was Jesus accused like this? Think about what His enemies were like. They were liars, as we see in His trial before He was crucified, and they would murder. Their purpose was to destroy His testimony and His influence.
Unfermented wine was common in Israel and Judah and the Lord undoubtedly drank it. He did not fight His accusers but said, "Wisdom is justified of her children." In other words, you can judge if something or someone is wise by the results. The results of Jesus' life of self-denial are only good. They show what His enemies said was a lie. His food was to do the Father's will, John 4:34, and He did it. Intoxicating drink would have hindered His judgment and gluttony would have turned Him from His perfect love to His Father.
In the claim made by the moderate drinkers, they said that Jesus saw nothing evil in the alcoholic wine itself. He did see evil in it. In Proverbs 20:1 He said, "Wine is a mocker . . . ." He plainly condemned the drink itself. He still saw evil in it in Matthew 11.
IV. THREE PARABLES ABOUT VINEYARDS OR DRUNKENNESS
The New Testament, like the Old Testament, tells us how important the grape vine and the vineyard were to Israel. Matthew 20:1– 15 and Matthew 21:33 – 44 are two parables Jesus gave about the vineyard.
In Matthew 20:1– 15, the Lord relates a story about men hired to work in a vineyard. He does not mention the harvest, but what He says shows us the great amount of work that went into the vineyards.
Verse 33 in Matthew 21, the introduction to the second parable, explains the steps necessary to get a vineyard ready for production. It had to be planted and fenced. A wine press had to be dug, and a tower built. The parable does mention a winepress, but this does not show that intoxicating wine was made. Neither does it prove that Jesus favored alcoholic wine instead of grape juice.
The third parable, Matthew 24:45 – 51, tells about drunkenness. Jesus says the wicked servant, " shall smite his fellow servants and . . . eat and drink with the drunken." He goes on to say that the servant's master "shall cut him asunder." The Lord certainly is not approving of intoxicating drink in this parable.
1. Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, Biblical Perspective, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 1989, p.59,60. Mr. Gentry's book was published in 1986.
2. Ibid., p.60. Aristotle's Metereologica.
3. Ibid., Dr. Bacchiocchi cites Athanaeus' Banquet.
4. Ibid., p.61.
5. Ibid., Irenaeus in Against Heresies tells this incident.
6. Ibid., Lees and Burns cite this incident in The Temperance Bible Commentary.
7. Dr. Robert Teachout, The Use of Wine in the Old Testament, Doctoral Dissertion for Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979, p.369.
8. Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, p.61.
10. Ibid., p.152.
11. Ibid., p.153.
14. Ibid., p.154.