Are wine references in the Bible really just references to grape juice?
The Bible uses Hebrew and Greek words that represent grape juice and wine, which is ambiguous when interpreted as a single word. However it is clear when read in context of the chapter, that Jesus made and drank wine.
The Bible makes many references to wine, including direct references by Jesus, so the opponents to alcohol are left to produce an argument that reconciles this fact with their belief. They typically argue that Biblical references to wine is actually a reference to grape juice. Let’s take a closer look at this argument:
It is clear that Jesus made wine as documented in John 2:1-11.
John 2:7-9a Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.
Some argue that He made grape juice. They base the argument on the Greek word used here Oinos (οἶνος), which is used to represent both fermented and unfermented grape juice. This is an accurate translation, as ambiguity exists in the original Greek word. However when understood within the context of the passage, it becomes clear that Jesus made wine, not grape juice. This is a wedding party where wine would have been drank, not grape juice. Verse 10 supports the case that Oinos represents wine:
John 2:10 “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
A person’s judgment is not affected by drinking too much grape juice. Jesus clearly supported the practice of drinking wine. In fact, according to this scripture, he brewed a lot of it: 120-160 gallons!
Additionally, Jesus stated himself that he drank alcohol. In Matt 11:18-19 and Luke 7:33-35 Jesus says “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” Surely this quote of Jesus is not grape juice. Jesus was not a drunkard, but his mockers (Pharisees) called him a drunkard due to his consumption of alcohol (probably wine primarily).
Finally, at the Pentecost, the Apostles were accused of drinking too much wine when they were filled with the Holy Spirit and were speaking in tongues.
Acts 2:13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
The Greek Word for wine here is Gleukos (γλεῦκος), which is translated as “New Sweet Wine”. People claim that “New Wine” is a reference to grape juice, but again, when read in context the Apostles strange behavior (filled with the Spirit) would not be attributed to grape juice. It would be attributed to drinking too much wine.
In conclusion, it is difficult to accept the argument that Biblical references to wine are really references to grape juice. It is true that there are Biblical references to different forms of fermented and unfermented grape juice (and spoiled vinegar), and some of those references are ambiguous when read without context. Christian Assemblies International provide a great summary of all Hebrew and Greek words translated in English as “Wine” . When read in context it is clear in the Bible that Jesus himself both made and consumed wine.
- Christian Assemblies International. Hebrew and Greek Words Translated as ‘Wine’ . http://www.cai.org/files/theme-sheets/en/b/sb0074au.pdf