Was the wine that Jesus drank the same as wine today?

Q: I have what you may see as an easy question. What was the difference in the wine JESUS and the disciples drank in comparison to what we have today? Was there any difference at all? I am having a tough time witnessing to people about drinking and how GOD doesn’t like it when JESUS is turning water to wine at “gatherings” and drinking with his disciples.
“Gimme” some help on this Pastor.A: There isn’t really much difference between the wine made in Jesus’ day and the wine made today. The process of fermentation FOR WINE is similar. However, after the time of the New Testament the invention of distillation rather than fermentation greatly increased the alcoholic content and made liquor possible. This type of strong drink was not available in Bible times. I’ve attached a PDF file on “wine” from the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia which has some very good information.

Concerning Jesus turning water to wine at the marriage feast, I believe that God DID approve of Jesus’ action. There are a number of references to Jesus drinking wine (examples: Luke 7:34; John 19:29). We know from the writings of the Jewish rabbis and the writings of the early church that the wine used in Passover/communion was one part alcoholic wine to 4 parts water. My understanding of the Bible is that the drinking of wine is acceptable. It is the abuse of alcoholic beverages that is sin. What the Bible speaks against is drunkenness, not drinking.

Q: But how can you drink wine and not feel its affect? People always say “there ain’t nothing wrong w/ drinking as long as you don’t get drunk”, but the truth is even if you only have one glass of wine (not communion wine) you may not be so drunk where you’ll fall over, but it will have some affect on you….right? And won’t that be bad so to speak in GOD’s eyes?

A: Apparently this mild affect of wine isn’t bad in God’s eyes: “God makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.” (Psalm 104:14-15). Note that in this passage “God makes… wine that gladdens the heart.” Wine is viewed as a gift from God.

This discussion of drinking brings up a broader issue that you might want to think about. I think that many Christians have a Greek view rather than a Jewish view of God’s creation. By the time of the New Testament, the Greeks had become very anti-materialistic. The Greeks divided reality into two parts: spirit, which they thought of as good, and matter which they thought of as evil (or at the very least inferior to the spirit). This is why the Greeks sought to free their spirit from the body. The goal of this life was to purify the spirit and free it from matter. As a result, the Greeks (and Romans) burned the person’s body upon death. The material was evil and something to be left behind. And if you really wanted to free your soul, you would avoid bodily pleasures and material things. The ascetic (the person who did without things) was viewed as the most likely to gain happiness in the next life.

The Jews, on the other hand, followed the Old Testament view of seeing the creation as good. God looked at all He had created and said that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Even after the fall, no “thing” is evil in and of itself (1 Timothy 4:4). The Jews had a very upbeat view of material things. The physical body was viewed as something to take with you into the next life – hence, bodies were not burned, but buried to await resurrection (Genesis 15:15; 23:19-20; 25:9; 35:8,19,29; 47:30; John 19:38-42). The Jewish view of sex (in marriage) is very positive (Proverbs 5:18-19; Song of Songs; 1 Corinthians 7:3-5,33-34; Hebrews 13:4). Likewise food, wine, dancing, money, etc. are all viewed as good things that we can take pleasure in as long as they are used according to God’s commandments (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-9; Psalm 16:11; Romans 14:14). At the risk of being misunderstood, I believe the Bible teaches a view of “Christian hedonism” – not living for pleasure, but living for God and enjoying all that He has created for our benefit and enjoyment (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

But sometimes Christian views on drinking, sex, or money come more from a Greek perspective than a Biblical perspective. In order to protect ourselves and others or in an attempt to become more holy or pure, we add rules or commandments that aren’t in the Bible. But when we do that (even if we do it for a good motive), we have become legalists, rather than grace-oriented children of God. The Bible is clear that drinking alcoholic beverages (without becoming drunk) is an acceptable activity. In fact, Jesus even chose wine as an element for the Lord’s supper. ONLY drunkenness is viewed as a sin (Proverbs 23:29-35; Ephesians 5:18). We can be tempted to add to God’s commandments, because of the dreadfulness of alcoholism, drunk drivers, or simply observing the stupidity of drunk people. Believe me, I understand the temptation. My college roommate was an alcoholic and I cleaned up his alcoholic vomit on more than one occasion. AND my brother was killed at age 19 by a drunk driver. But we CAN’T try to be more righteous than God! If it isn’t prohibited in the Bible or cannot be reasonably deduced from Biblical principles, then it’s best that we not add to God’s Word.

Other pages you may wish to view:

Worshiping with Body

Sexual Allusions and Symbols in the Song of Songs

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