If bible translations are to be believed, then yes, Christ and his followers drank wine and not grape juice. Yet some Christians want to believe otherwise and insist that all Christians should never drink any amount of alcohol. Is there any merit to their reasoning?
Not according to Walter C. Kaiser Jr.: “All who have read the Bible carefully are quite aware that it makes the case for [drinking in] moderation, not total abstinence. . . . for those who are able to be moderate in their alcoholic intake: wine can make the heart happy (Psalm 104:15) . . .” (p 291). Indeed, biblically speaking, wine is not only often associated with joy, but also with salvation.
Practically speaking, ancient Israel did not have refrigeration and thus could not store grape juice unfermented. And in context, there are numerous passages that speak of wine and/or drunkenness that cannot be rationally thought of as referring to a nonalcoholic juice. Let’s look at some.
Passages that Advocate Wine or relate it to Israel
Deuteronomy 14:22-26 – In instructing the Israelites about tithing, God told them that when they needed to travel far with a tithe and it was overly large or heavy, they could sell it. Then, “use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or . . . . Then you . . . shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.”
Isaiah 5:1-7 – “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress” (verse 7). In Mark 12:1-11, Jesus speaks of the history and the future of God’s vineyard.
Isaiah 55:1 – “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”
Luke 5:39 – “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better’.”
Timothy 5:23 – “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.”
Passages referring to drunkenness
Genesis 9:20-21 – “Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.” Unfortunately, this is the first recorded incident after the ark landed and God gave humanity a new covenant, and it led to the cursing of Canaan. See also the sad and distressing incidents between Lot and his daughters in Genesis 19:30-38. Grape juice was not the cause of Noah’s and Lot’s troubles.
Proverbs 20:1 – “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”
Isaiah 5:22 – “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks . . .”
Passages relating wine with Melchizedek, Jesus
In Abraham’s time, he–then called Abram–met a High Priest of God called Melchizedek; he was also King of Salem (meaning “Peace”). Melchizedek in fact wasn’t human, having no mother, father, or beginning or ending of days (Hebrews 7:1-3), and this Melchizedek gave Abram bread, wine, and a blessing. Abram, significantly, then gave Melchizedek a tenth of all he had just gained in a large-scale rescue mission (Genesis 14:18-20).
John 2:9-10 – ” . . . the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘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’.” Here, Jesus turned water into wine, and He made it the best wine at the wedding. Knowing that Jesus is the church’s bridegroom, we look forward to the best that is still to come.
The wedding passage in John also refers to people getting tipsy or even drunk (“too much to drink”), indicating that grape juice was not what people were drinking. It might be worth considering that, despite the guests’ state, Jesus still made more wine for them.
Lastly, Jesus and his disciples drank wine at the Last Supper, which was a Passover meal (Mark 14:23-25 and others). Wine, and quite a bit of it, was an important part of the Passover meal. In Palestine grapes were harvested in late summer to early fall. At this springtime meal, then, Jesus and his disciples would have been drinking fermented grape juice–wine–from a previous year’s harvest. At this Passover, just before His crucifixion, Jesus prophesied: “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Since Jesus had been drinking wine, he was referring to the same in that unique biblical passage. Author Michael Card (pp 103-104) happily surmises:
Parties are almost as important as prayer for a Christian because, if you think about it, the climax of the history of this world takes place at a party. It’s called the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb” and . . . it will quite literally be the party of all time. As far back as Isaiah (25:6) the prophets were catching glimpses of it.”
Isaiah (25:6) tells us:
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine–the best of meats and the finest of wines.
Hard Sayings of the Bible – Walter C. Kaiser Jr., et al. (1996)
Holy Bible, New International Version (2011)
Immanuel: Reflections on the Life of Christ – Michael Card (1990)