|Did Jesus Christ use alcoholic wine to represent His redeeming blood at the Last Supper?
I. JESUS' WORDS, “THE FRUIT OF THE VINE”
Matthew 26:26 – 29 says,
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it and gave it to
the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And He took the cup, and gave
thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new
testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will
not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in
my Father's kingdom.
Is the Fruit of the Vine Alcoholic? A Major Argument for Alcohol
Jesus used the words “fruit of the vine” to describe the drink He offered at the first communion service. “Fruit of the vine,” moderate drinkers say, is just a figure of speech that stands for wine (oinos). Since they believe oinos is always intoxicating, they next claim the drink Jesus used to represent His redeeming blood was alcoholic oinos.
To the moderationists the use of wine at the Lord's Table is the clinching proof that the Lord approves of drinking alcohol. Of great importance to them also is the fact that He commanded it to be used always.
. . . this do in remembrance of Me, Luke 22:19.
In The Biblical Sanction for Wine, 1881, Horace Bumstead boldly tells us that Jesus wanted His example of using alcoholic wine to be followed permanently in all lands—to the remotest parts of the earth, throughout all the ages. For this reason He chose fermented wine for the communion table.1
The Meaning of Fruit of the Vine: Answers to the Argument
Fruit of the Vine and Oinos
Dr. Bacchiocchi agrees that “fruit of the vine” sometimes did stand for oinos but “that does not mean that the wine at the Last Supper was fermented.”2 We know that oinos can mean either grape juice or fermented wine. When the Jews translated the Old Testament into Greek, they used oinos in verses like Jeremiah 40:10 and Judges 9:13 where the only possible meaning can be grape juice.
Josephus Used the Words Fruit of the Vine
Josephus, the Jewish historian who lived in the times of the Apostles, used the words “fruit of the vine” to mean grape juice. He wrote about Genesis 40 and the dream of Pharoah's butler. In his dream, the butler saw three clusters of grapes. He squeezed the juice from them into the king's cup. Josephus called the juice squeezed from the grapes gleukos. He also said this fresh juice was the “fruit of the vine.” Beyond a shadow of a doubt, says Dr. Bacchiocchi, the words “fruit of the vine” were used to mean the sweet unfermented juice of the grape.3
The Bible's Choice of Words
It is important to know that the Bible never uses the word oinos in any verse about the Lord's Supper. The words used are “the fruit of the vine” and “the cup.” Paul in I Corinthians 11:25 – 28 says “the cup” five times. Jesus very wisely chose the words “fruit of the vine” so we would never find any reason to use alcoholic wine at the Lord's Supper.
The Greek Word for Fruit
Jesus used the word “fruit.” The Greek noun for this word “fruit” (gennema) comes from the verb gennao, to beget or produce. It means the natural fresh produce just as it is gathered.4 Grape juice is the natural produce of the grapes, the fruit of the vine. Fermented wine is not the natural produce of the vine. It is made only as the death and decay process work in the fruit.
The “fruit of the vine” we use at the communion table should be grape juice. And the “fruit of the vine” we will drink with our Lord in the Father's kingdom will be grape juice.
The word “vine” appears only two times in the Gospels. Jesus used it at the Last Supper and then again after the supper when He said in John 15 that He was the vine. If we abide in Him we bear much fruit—the natural fresh product—through His life in us.
II. THE PASSOVER FEAST AND THE LORD'S SUPPER
God instructed the children of Israel to prepare for the first Passover.
The History of Passover
The Passover Feast began when the people of Israel were still slaves in Egypt. God told Israel about His plan to send a final terrible plague on the Egyptians. After this plague, He said, the Egyptians would set their Israelite slaves free.
About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt. And all the first-born in the land of
Egypt shall die . . . .
In Exodus 12, God told the people of Israel that the month they were in, Nisan or Abib, would be the beginning of months for their religious feasts. On the tenth day they must take a male lamb without blemish and keep it until the fourteenth day. On the fourteenth day they had to kill the lamb in the evening, or really “between the two evenings.” Since the Jewish day begins at sundown one day and continues until sundown the next day, the night of the 14th came first, then morning, and then the two evenings or afternoon. Josephus says the Passover lamb was slain between the ninth and eleventh hours (between the early and late afternoons) or 3 to 5 p.m.
God warnedthe Israelites to put some of the blood of the slain lamb on the door frame of their houses. He said that night at the start of the new Jewish day at sundown, that very night, 15 Nisan, they were to eat the roasted meat of the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. He told them to be ready to travel and to eat in a hurry.
That same night the death angel of God killed all the first born in Egypt. But God passed over the houses where He saw the blood. This gave the feast its name, “Passover.” In Exodus 12:14, God commanded the people of Israel to keep this feast “throughout your generations.”
Was the Passover Wine Alcoholic? Second Major Argument for Alcohol
Matthew, Mark and Luke seem to indicate that the disciples and Jesus ate the Passover meal together and after the meal Jesus taught them the new truth of the Lord's Supper or Communion.
Moderationists who approve alcohol drinking claim that it was the custom of the Jews to drink fermented wine at Passover.5 If it is true that the Jews normally used fermented wine at Passover this is a serious point. Could Jesus have used fermented Passover wine when He instituted the Lord's Supper? Moderationists say yes; since the Passover wine was fermented, the Lord's Supper or Communion wine had to be fermented. Today this is a major argument in favor of fermented wine at the Lord's Supper.
Why are people sure the Passover “wine” was alcoholic? One reason is that Passover comes six months after the vintage or grape harvest and they think grape juice could not be kept sweet for six months. Our past Bible lessons have shown us that not only the juice, but clusters of just picked grapes could be kept fresh for at least a year.
Even if the Passover wine were fermented says Dr. Bacchiocchi, (and he does not think it was) Jesus often did things contrary to the religious customs of the day. He passed the cup only once, instead of four times like they usually did. He used only bread as a symbol of His body and left out the roasted lamb and bitter herbs. We know He looked at leaven as a picture of moral corruption because He warned His disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees and Saducees in Matthew 16:6,12.6
Was the Passover Wine Alcoholic? Answers to the Argument
The writings of both Jewish and Christian Bible scholars show us there are many who disagree with the claim that Passover wine was fermented wine.
The Talmud Allows Grape Juice
The Talmud is a very important document for the Jewish people. It is the body of Hebrew Civil and Religious laws based on the law of Moses. The Talmud has two parts, the Mishnah or text and the Gemara or commentary.
Rabbi Yehuda compiled the Mishnah, a collection of Jewish writings and customs, about A.D. 200. Maimonides, also called the Rambam, (1135 – 1204) and Bartenora, another important rabbi, added many notes to the Talmud in the Middle Ages. Dr. Lees and Dr. Burns, Bible scholars and teachers of the 1800's who taught that the Bible was against alcohol drinking, said that the references to fermented wine are not found in the text of the Mishnah itself but in the notes added to it many years later.7
Louis Ginzberg (1873 – 1941), chairman of the Department of Talmudic and Rabbinic Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America for forty years and a distinguished Talmudic scholar, analyzed what the Talmud says about wine at Jewish religious ceremonies. At the conclusion of his study he wrote, “Raba summarizes the law well in one statement: One may press the juice of grapes and immediately recite the Kiddush (the consecration of a festival by means of a cup of wine) over it. According to the views of the two most generally accepted Jewish codes . . . no precedence whatever is given to fermented over unfermented wines.”8
John Kitto in the Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature says about Passover wine, “The wine used would of course be unfermented, but it is not certain that it was always the fresh expressed juice or pure blood of the grape, Deuteronomy 32:14; for the Mishnah states that the Jews were in the habit of using boiled wine . . . .”9
The Jewish custom of using unfermented wine has survived through the centuries. In the thirteenth century Rabbi Jacob benAsher compiled the Arba Turim, a digest of Talmudic law. In it he wrote about buying yayin or raisins for Passover. The raisins were chopped and boiled in water and the juice strained off. This juice was the Passover wine.10
More Evidence for Grape Juice from Other Sources
According to these reports, it is not true that only fermented wine was used at Passover. But even more evidence leads to the conclusion that unfermented wine, not fermented, was the common wine at Passover time.
a) People of Bible times knew several ways to preserve grapes fresh from one harvest
time to another. They could have unfermented grape juice any time of the year just by
squeezing grapes into a cup. In Acts and Martyrdom of Matthew, a document people
read in the second and third centuries after Christ, the author says, “. . . having
pressed three clusters from the vine into a cup . . . as the Lord Jesus showed us how
when he rose from the dead . . . .” This writing shows us that it was the custom of the
times to make grape juice by pressing grapes, and also that unfermented grape juice
was used for the Lord's Supper.11
b) The practice of pressing preserved grapes directly into the Lord's Supper cup
probably continued for centuries. Cyprian once complained at a Church Council
(A.D. 675) that water was not mixed with the grape juice at the Lord's Table. He
opposed those who presented no other wine (vinum) but what they pressed out of a
cluster of grapes.12
c) Mixing water with wine, Leon C. Field tells us, began,"not necessarily in the
weakening of alcoholic wine, but in the thinning of boiled wines and the thick juices of
the crushed clusters."13 Pope Julius (A.D. 337) issued a decree 300 years before
Cyprian's complaint. “But if necessary let the cluster be pressed into the cup and
water mingled with it.”14
d) Rabbi Manasseh benIsrael wrote in 1656 that at this feast everything must be so pure
“as not to admit of any ferment or of anything that will readily fermentate.”15
e) The Jewish Encyclopedia of 1904 under the title “Jesus,”says, “Jesus with His
disciples entered Jerusalem in order to eat the Passover meal . . . if so, the wafer and
the wine of . . . communion would be the unleavened bread and the unfermented wine
of the Seder (Passover) service.16
f) In Modern Judaism, 1830, J. Allen reported, “They (the Jews) are forbidden to drink
any liquor made from grain, or that has passed through the process of fermentation.
Their drink is either pure water or raisin wine prepared by themselves.”17
g) Rabbi S. M. Isaac, editor of The Jewish Messenger in the 1800's, said that the Jews
did not in their feasts, including the marriage feast, ever use fermented drinks. “They
employ the fruit of the vine—that is fresh grapes—unfermented grape juice and
raisins . . . .Fermentation to them is always a symbol of corruption.”18
The Jews Disagree with Each Other
Not all Jews accept what Rabbi Isaaac says. The difference of opinion comes because some rabbis claim that the law of unfermented things at Passover, Exodus 13:6,7, includes the wine and others say it does not include the wine. Maimonides and Bartenora, the important Spanish rabbis who lived in the 1100's, argued that the prohibition of fermented drinks meant only alcoholic wine made from grain, but not the wine made from fruit. Why? Maimonides said that the liquor from fruit does not ferment; it only turns acid. But how could he believe that fruit beverages do not ferment? Was this only an excuse to allow alcoholic grape wine when the Rabbis really knew the law against fermented things included the wine?19
Today the disagreement among the Jews continues. Dr. Bacchiocchi says the Orthodox Jews use mostly unfermented wine and the Reformed Jews, who are liberal, use mostly fermented wine. It is interesting to read what Rabbi Isidore Koplowitz, an Orthodox Jew, said in 1923.
Moses, the Prophets in Israel and the Men of the Great Synod have never prescribed
(set down as a rule) or commanded the drinking of wine or any other intoxicating liquors
at any religious function whatever. This custom is but a Rabbinic institution (was started
by the Rabbis).20
Although the Jews may not agree about Passover wine, what we have studied is proof that great Jewish scholars through the ages believed it was sweet juice. No one has grounds to claim that the Passover wine was always fermented. Our main concern, however, is not what the Jews did, but what Jesus did. He would not have ignored the law forbidding the use of leaven in Exodus 13:6,7. Neither would He use corrupted grape juice in the form of alcoholic wine as a picture of His incorruptible life-giving blood.
III. JESUS IS THE PASSOVER LAMB
Did Jesus eat the Passover meal just before the Lord's Table? According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, it seems that our Lord and His apostles ate the Passover and then He instituted the Holy Communion. According to John, Christ was crucified on the 14th of Nisan, dying at the hour when the lambs were legally slain, several hours before the time of the Passover meal.21
For Christ, Our Passover, Is Sacrificed for Us, I Corinthians 5:7
Exodus 12:1-11 gives the the instructions for the Passover. The lamb was chosen on Nisan 10 and killed on Nisan 14. Jesus came to Jerusalem Nisan 10, on Palm Sunday exactly as predicted by Daniel, Daniel 9:22-27. 22 He was rejected as King and Messiah.
On the 14th of Nisan “the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel was to kill it (the Passover lamb) in the evening, (evening was between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m.).”
The 14th of Nisan began, as Jewish days did, at sunset the night before the crucifixion. That night Jesus and His disciples had the last supper in the upper room where they were preparing to eat the Passover the following night. At this meal “before the feast of the Passover,” John 13:1, Jesus told His disciples, “One of you shall betray Me.”23
Arrested by the Judas-led troop in the garden later that same night, the 14th, Christ was taken secretly to Caiaphas and then to a sham trial before the Sanhedrin and later to Pilate. John 18:28 says the Jews themselves would not enter the Roman hall of judgment on the 14th, the day the Passover lamb was to be killed in the afternoon. To enter would have defiled them and prevented them from eating the Passover after the lamb was slain.
By high noon, the One whom Jerusalem, in fulfillment of prophecy, had the previous Sunday hailed as its long-awaited Messiah, was hanging naked, in shame and agony, on the center cross between two thieves . . . .The next three hours of that afternoon the earth was darkened mysteriously, Matthew 27:45, as God “laid on Him the iniquity of us all,” Isaiah 53:6. Jesus' death, to fulfill prophecy, had to occur at the very time the Passover lambs were being slain throughout Israel.24
IV. JESUS USED GRAPE JUICE AT THE LORD'S TABLE
When Jesus taught His disciples how to remember Him in Communion He did not use fermented alcoholic drink to represent His blood.
Jesus had certainly celebrated Passover from His childhood. Because we know that God will not contradict what He has said about alcohol in the Old Testament, we understand that Jesus always used unfermented grape juice at the Passover whenever He celebrated it, and He used it at the first Lord's Supper. Dr. Bacchiocchi presents four major reasons why we can say the fruit of the vine was grape juice.25
The first reason: Christ Obeyed the Law of Moses
God gave strict instructions about the whole week of the Passover.
Exodus 12:15: Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day you shall put
away leaven out of your houses; for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day
until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.
Exodus 13:6,7: Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall
be a feast to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days; and there shall no
leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee in all thy
The King James version of the Bible says unleavened bread. The word bread is not in the Hebrew text. A better translation is unfermented things. Here is Exodus 12:19,20 from Young's Literal Translation of the Bible:
Seven days leaven is not found in your houses, for any one eating anything fermented––
that person hath been cut off from the company of Israel. Among the sojourners or
among the natives of the land; anything fermented ye do not eat in all your dwellings you
do eat unleavened things.
Jesus used unfermented grape juice at all Passovers and at the Lord's Supper because He obeyed the Mosaic law. That law said not to use anything fermented during the Passover week. Jesus came to fulfill the law; He did not disobey the law.
In the Mosaic law, God commanded people to bring sacrifices and offerings to Him. These sacrifices and offerings were a picture of Christ and reminded the people of the Messiah who would come. God said to bring perfect animals and the best of the first fruits. Nothing corrupt or damaged was allowed. In Leviticus 2:11, the law says no meal or grain offering to the Lord may be made with leaven.26
Leaven stands for sin and corruption in the Bible. Jesus warned His disciples about the leaven (corruption) of the Pharisees and Saducees. Paul said in I Corinthians 5:6,7 and 8 that a little leaven (corruption) leaveneth (spreads corruption to) the whole lump (the church). He tells us to get rid of the old leaven, and keep the Lord's Supper with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
If God did not allow anything with leaven to represent Christ in the Old Testament sacrifices and offerings, Christ would certainly not choose something with leaven to represent His blood of the New Testament.
The Second Reason: The Symbol for Jesus' Blood Must Be Pure
After speaking of leaven as a symbol of sin and corruption, could Christ, asks Dr. Bacchiocchi, offer His disciples a cup of this same symbol, fermented wine? Could the redeeming blood of Christ be represented by intoxicating wine—wine that in the Bible pictures how low man can get in his evil ways?
Acts 13:37 tells us about Jesus: “But He, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.” Since yeast or leaven is the symbol of corruption this is another verse that shows us that leaven cannot be a symbol of His blood.
Jesus took the cup and gave thanks, the Bible says. Since He knew that God warns us not to look at alcoholic wine in Proverbs 23:31, Jesus would not offer a prayer of thanks for a cup of alcoholic wine.
Paul, in I Corinthians 10:16, calls the communion cup the “cup of blessing.” In verse 21 of the same chapter, he says you cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. Alcoholic drink is the cup of demons and cannot be a symbol of Christ's blood.
Fermented wine is a good picture of decay and death. Fermentation or the working of the yeast destroys the food value of grape juice. In contrast, grape juice because it is so healthful, is a good picture of the blessings given us through the blood of Christ.
Fermented wine weakens our moral character and brings us a bad conscience. The blood of Christ, the Bible says in Hebrews 9:14, purifies our conscience from dead works. Not in any way can fermented wine stand for the blood of Christ.
The Third Reason: The Scripture ProvesJesus Used Grape Juice
Dr. Bacchiocchi lists three phrases from the Bible and shows how they prove that the fruit of the vine was juice. He also explains how several of these phrases would fit in with Passover customs.
a) Jesus “took a cup” Matthew 26:27 says. I Corinthians 10:16 calls the cup at the
Lord's Supper the “cup of blessing.” A cup of intoxicating wine would be a cup of
cursing. If this cup was from the Passover meal, we should understand that the Jews
drank four cups at the Passover. The third cup was called the “cup of benediction,”
and many Bible scholars believe this was the cup Jesus took.
b) Jesus said, “Drink ye all of it,” or “Drink of it, all of you.” Christ commanded all to
drink the cup. If it were fermented, could children drink it? Many people have a
craving for alcohol. The Lord would have been leading multitudes into temptation if
He had used alcoholic wine. This He did not do. Again, if the cup was the Passover
meal cup, it held a lot of juice. Four cups would be about three pints of wine.
c) Jesus carefully chose the words, “fruit of the vine.” This is unfermented juice.
The Fourth Reason: The Use of Grape Juice for Communion Continues
Since the time of the first Lord's Supper up to the present time, some Christian groups have continued the practice of using grape juice. Historical records how that Christians pressed preserved grapes directly into the communion cup. Others used boiled or freshly pressed juice mixed with water. Still others made a juice from raisins.
The Bible teaches that God commanded the use of unfermented juice at Passover. Jesus used unfermented juice at the Lord's Supper. Many Christians have followed the teaching of the Bible through the ages.
1. Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, Biblical Perspective, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 1989, p.155. Mr. Gentry wrote his book in 1986.
2. Ibid., p.156.
3. Ibid., p.157.
4. Ibid., The rich man in Luke 12:18 used the same word. “I will pull down my barns and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain (ta gennemata, produce) and my goods.” Other examples in the Septuagint where gennema is natural fruit or produce are Gen. 41:34,35; 47:24; and Exodus 23:10.
5. Ibid., p.158. Dr. Tilson's claim in Should Christians Drink? 1957.
6. Ibid., p.159.
7. Ibid., Maimonides and Bartenora added notes to the Mishnah in the 1100's A.D.
8. Ibid. The Jewish codes are the Tur and the Shulham 'Aruk.
9. Ibid., p.160.
10. Ibid., p.161. From Lees and Burns The Temperance Bible Commentary.
11. Ibid., p.109. This is from the Ante-Nicene Fathers.
12. Ibid., From Bingham's Antiquities of theChristian Church, 1852.
13. Ibid., Leon Field wrote Oinos, A Discussion of the Bible Wine Question in 1883.
14. Ibid., p.110. From Leon C. Field who cited Gratian, De Consecratione.
15. Ibid., p.161. From Lees and Burns.
16. Ibid., p.160.
17. Ibid., p.161.
19. Ibid., p.160. Dr. Bacchiocchi wonders if their argument was not fabricated to legitimize the use of alcoholic wine.
20. Ibid., p.162. Research from the Talmud on Wine and Strong Drink.
21. Pulpit Commentary 34, St. Matthew, Vol. II, eds. The Very Rev. H.D. M. Spence, D.D. and Rev. Joseph S. Exell, M.A., Funk and Wagnalls, New York, pp.513,514. See also Pulpit Commentary 38, St. Luke, pp.196, 197 and 40, St. John, pp.390,391. The Passover meal was eaten on the 15th. The 15th began at 6 p.m.after the afternoon when the lambs were slain ( the 14th) and lasted till6 p.m. the next day. It was the great day of the feast. Since He was the true Passover, the Lamb of God, Christ would not by His own example change the law and eat the meal early. Where would the disciples get the lamb for the Passover the night before the lambs were slain?
22. Daniel 9:24-27 tells about 70 weeks of years, (70 x 7) or 490 years that lay ahead for his people, the Jews. The 70 weeks were to start counting when the command was given to rebuild Jerusalem. That command was given in Nehemiah 2:1. At the end of 69 weeks, or 483 years, Messiah the Prince would be made known to Israel (Daniel 9:25) and then be cut off but not for Himself, (Daniel 9:26).
Counting 483 years of 360 days each (Hebrew calendar), gives a total of 173,880 days. On that very day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as the Son of David, the Messiah and King. Matt. 21:9, Luke 19:38-40.
See a discussion of dates: http://www.direct.ca/trinity/problem.html
23. The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 8, ed. Nolan B. Harmon, Pierce and Smith, United States, 1952, pp.375,376.
This day was called the day of preparation . . . when all leaven had to be put away from Jewish households. The farewell supper at which our Lord, according to tradition, initiated the Eucharist (Communion) seems to have been the simplest kind of anticipatory meal, consisting of bread, blessed and broken and wine passed around in a common cup (not the four separate cups of the Passover).
There are indications throughout the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, that this view of the matter was taken for granted. If this had been the Passover feast day itself, and the people, including Jesus, had eaten the Passover, the carrying of arms, the trial and the preparation of spices for Jesus' burial would not have been permitted.
Christ Himself was to be the true Passover lamb. It is not strange that in after years this Last Supper should have been identified with the Passover in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
24. Jesus had to be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. John explains that the “sabbath” which began at sunset the Thursday Christ was crucified “was an high day,” John 19:31. It was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread of which the first and last days were special sabbaths during which no work was done. That high sabbath ended Friday at sunset and was immediately followed by the weekly sabbath which ended at sunset on Saturday. Thus two sabbaths followed Christ's death, preventing the women from coming to the grave until the third day, Sunday morning.
25. Bacchiochi, Wine in the Bible, pp.163-169.
26. The peace offering of Leviticus 7:11 to 15 includes an animal sacrifice, unleavened cakes, and verse 13 says, “leavened bread.” The unleavened cakes stand for Christ, the sinless peace offering. The person who makes the offering, although he has peace with God through the work of Christ, still has evil in himself. The leavened bread is a picture of that fact.