Wining And Dining At The Lord’s Table
by Aaron Binion
Ever since Noah got drunk and cursed Ham, ever since Thomas Welch’s new way of making it, ever since the prohibition movement in America, many churches have struggled with the Wine vs. Fruit of the Vine issue.
A Matter of Interpretation
The only way to teach that intoxicating wine best symbolizes the blood of Christ is to be so blinded by what is perceived as tradition (Mark 7:1-13) that a person incorrectly interprets the Bible. Several rules are needed to correctly interpret the Bible. Context is always key, and to understand what the verse means today one must understand what the verse meant at the original time. The Bible is always perfectly consistent; if two verses seem to contradict one another then an error has been made in the interpretation. For example, the Bible clearly teaches that both Christ’s body and His blood were perfectly sinless (1 Peter 1:19). It also clearly teaches that “wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). How can “a mocker” be used to represent the purity of Christ’s blood?
A Doctrine of Hypocrisy
Jesus said it best in Luke 12:1-3: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known.” While a saved person cannot be a hypocrite or a Pharisee, through ignorance one can hold to ideologies with a bent toward hypocrisy. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology explains hypocrisy as manifesting itself in an inconsistency between religious activity and religious profession. Hypocrisy may involve a failure to discern spiritual truth or even a willful blindness to spiritual matters. Hypocrisy is implied as one of the evidences of earthly wisdom. To support the intoxicating wine principle, many invalid arguments are made, thus, perfectly illustrating the fallacy of earthly wisdom. In this verse, Jesus is warning His disciples against false and sinful ideologies by using a comparison of yeast. The disciples were to totally avoid it. In Christ and the truth there is no margin of error. Can that be said of the way churches practice the Lord’s Supper? Only a very small amount of fermented dough is needed to make new dough rise (Galatians 5:9). For a recovering alcoholic to partake of any intoxicating wine is a bad choice. Sure God can keep him from relapsing, but is this not a form of putting the Lord to the test (Deuteronomy 6:16)? A church member who had been a recovering alcoholic and member of Alcoholics Anonymous unknowingly joined a new church in favor of intoxicating wine. When the man drank the cup representing Jesus’ blood, he spit it out after tasting the alcohol. Is it not hypocrisy for modern day Hams (Genesis 9:24-25) along with the daughters of Lot (Genesis 19:32) to strictly enforce intoxicating wine at the table of the Lord? How many times must the cup turn red and the serpent bite before Christ’s churches realize intoxicating wine symbolizing Christ’s blood is preposterous? The Lord’s churches need to wake up and like heathen King Balshazzar see the writing on the wall that the things of God do not mix with drinking intoxicating wine (Daniel 5). Intoxicating wine is symbolic of the King of Babylon who was betrayed by wine, greedy as the grave, and like death was never satisfied (Habakkuk 2:5). I realize no one is probably going to get drunk from the small amount at the Lord’s Supper, but what is the end result of allowing a small amount of wrong?
Most churches hang a plaque of the Church Covenant which reads to “abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drink as a beverage.” Yet they force the deacons to break that part of the covenant so they can have something to represent Jesus’ blood. Is that not hypocrisy?
Most of these churches will teach their children to abstain from alcohol yet they supply it during communion because after all, it’s Jesus’ blood. Sadly, Tennessee does make an exception for underage drinking for religious purposes but Indiana and Kentucky do not. A young lady was teaching a youth group on the evils of alcohol to which a kid sincerely asked, “Why can we drink wine at church but not outside of church?”
The Bible teaches that the blood of the spotless Lamb of God is the only hope for sinful man. Shouldn’t the pure blood of Christ be represented by the pure blood of the grape (Gen. 49:11, Deut. 32:15)? Instead of wine being seen as something pure and without blemish, social analysts regard alcohol as America’s number one public enemy. Alcohol consumption is the cause of 80,000 deaths per year in the Americas (see article here) – 25 times more deaths than all illegal drugs combined. The Bible teaches that Christ’s blood was shed freely to save the entire world if men would repent of their sins and trust in Him. But the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates the economic cost to the American society of the use of alcohol at $117 billion a year.
Most churches would exclude any man from being a pastor who has an alcohol problem (1 Timothy 3:3), yet the pastor is to supply his sheep with intoxicating wine (Habakkuk 2:15)? History does repeat itself. The priests in Isaiah’s day were guilty of wine consumption: Isaiah 28:7 says, “The priests and the prophet reel with strong drink, they are confused with wine, they stagger with strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in giving judgment.” Tragically, pastors are guilty of being confused and stumble in giving council when teaching that Christ’s blood has to be intoxicating wine. The error of their vision (the end result of the hypocrisy) renders their youth unable to withstand the temptation of alcohol, leads to the breakdown of many families, and hinders the witness their church members are supposed to have in a lost and dying world. Believers in these churches may not see their hypocrisy. But fellow co-workers, friends, and lost family members do. Church members are to be a peculiar people cut off and separate in the world. That’s not true when church members socially drink like the heathen do. Even a lost and dying world can see through the hypocrisy that divides the unity of the faith. In social settings when one church member abstains and another member of a “sister” church embraces alcohol, the lost person wonders why the two say they go to the same kind of church
Pastors no doubt stumble in giving their judgment when forcing someone to go against what they know is the truth at the communion table. To make someone go against the truth and the believer’s conscience is to sin against the blood of Christ Himself (I Corinthians 8:12). Is it not inconsistent to use unleavened bread but serve wine (leavened drink)?
What’s wrong with the wine containing added yeast? Any Old Testament sacrifice that didn’t contain the proper elements was unacceptable to God. The only sacrifice acceptable for New Testament believers is that of a living sacrifice. Whenever leaven or yeast is mentioned in the Bible (22 times in the Old Testament and 17 times in the New Testament) it nearly always represents sin or evil. That’s why in Exodus 12:15 God gave the Israelites a strict command to remove all yeast from their houses. Jesus referred to Himself as the bread of life and He was without sin (1 John 3:5, John 6:22-59). Because leaven is symbolic of sin, Jesus’ blood and body must be represented with elements that don’t represent sin. Jesus used 4 symbolic examples of leaven in the New Testament. The first (Matthew 13:33), if the interpreter believes in the harmony of the scriptures, is negatively speaking of evil doctrine working its way into the kingdom/church. Several scriptures command the church to teach sound doctrine indicating the church is to stay away from bad doctrine. Jesus also uses yeast to represent false teaching or sin in Matthew 16:6-12 and 4:1-12, Mark 6:14-29 and 8:15, and Luke 3:18-21 and 23:7-12. In 1 Corinthians 5:8, Paul contrasts between leavened (sin) and unleavened (sin-free) bread, comparing leaven with “malice and wickedness” and unleavened bread with “sincerity and truth.” A “wino” (someone who supports intoxicating wine being used at communion) will object, saying that grape juice naturally contains yeast or that the alcoholic content kills the yeast cells. To rid the grape juice of yeast and other decaying elements ancient Jews would separate the albumen (which contains the yeast) by pressing, filtering, and boiling it out. By boiling, the water of the grape juice evaporates, yeasts and molds are destroyed, and the sugar content increases, thereby inhibiting yeast growth. To state that the alcohol (the element that leads to sin) is killed by the yeast (the element that represents sin) sounds like hypocrisy. Some winos will suggest that by adding the sugar and yeast there is a chemical reaction that causes the term pure leaven. That’s an oxymoron. Add the sin, sugar it up a little bit, and the end result is pure sin. When considering all of the analogies the scripture uses to represent leaven with sin is the blood of our Lord supposed to be represented with leavened wine?
Let’s think through the arguments:
- “There is nothing wrong with intoxicating wine in moderation.” Arguing for moderation goes against Proverbs 20:1 which reads, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, whoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” To interpret the verse by inserting a drunk instead of wine itself being a mocker and brawler is an eisegesis (inserting something into the text because of a presupposition). Wine itself is a mocker because a person thinks they can handle the intoxication without ramifications. Proverbs 23:31-32 says, “Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.” The point is don’t even look at it because you think you can handle it, but you can’t. Proverbs 23 also explains the addictive nature of alcohol by stating the consequences for those who linger over wine (vs. 30). The instruction given is do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly. IN THE END it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper (vs.31). After the woe, sorrow, bruises, confusion of the mind, and loss of physical feeling, the person wakes up longing for another drink. Instead of moderation the instruction is to not be so ignorant as to think that a little bit won’t hurt.
- “Nothing in the Bible says thou shall not drink alcohol.” The Bible also doesn’t say thou shall not smoke marijuana, look at pornography, or beat your wife. Biblical principles teach these things are wrong.
- “God created the wine (Psalms 104:15).” God doesn’t create intoxicating wine – the intoxication is manmade and chemically produced.
- “My church has always used intoxicating wine for the Lord’s Supper.” It’s time we examine some of our Baptist practices to see if they align with the truth. Or do we expose the truth that Matthew 15:3 applies to Baptist tradition just as much as that of the Jews? Unfortunately, most people will not examine the scripture and pray about the issue for the risk of having to be like Daniel and repent of the things our Baptist forefathers did wrong (Daniel 9:6,16).
- “Grape juice ferments on its own. Fermentation is a natural process.” “There was no way for the Jews to preserve grape juice. It would have been too hot in Palestine during Passover for the grape juice to be preserved.” “Until Thomas Welch used the process of pasteurization wine would ferment and become intoxicating.” The truth is grape juice does not become intoxicating until yeast and sugar are added to it. Natural fermentation, putrefaction, and decay are processes of decomposition. Jesus’ body and surely his blood never saw decay or corruption (Acts 2:22-36). Intoxicating fermentation requires oxygen, sugar/yeast, temperature between 50 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and the juice must have a certain consistency. Thick syrup, the end result of the boiling process, will not undergo fermentation (Wines and Laws of Fermentation, page 15). Three of the component parts of the fruit of the vine are destroyed by intoxicating fermentation (Gluten, Gum, and Aroma). Fermentation replaces these destroyed parts with alcohol and glycerine. Death did not destroy any part of the blood of Christ. Grape juice without a controlled environment (what some consider natural fermentation) becomes vinegar, which no one would drink. Ancient Jews were very well aware of how to preserve natural grape juice. Jews would boil the juice into a syrup, fumate the jars with sulphur before storing, straining, and putting the jars into pools of cold water. Cato (234-149 B.C.) states, “If you wish to keep grape juice through the whole year, put the grape juice in an amphora, seal the stopper with pitch, and sink in the pond. Take it out after thirty days; it will remain sweet the whole year.” Columella, a renowned agriculturist who lived in first century AD, in his treatise on Agriculture and Trees discusses at great length various methods to produce and preserve unfermented grape juice. Pliny, a Roman scholar and naturalist who lived at the same time as Columella, described methods to preserve grapes in his book Natural History. Plutarch, the first-century Greek biographer wrote: “Wine is rendered old, or feeble in strength, when it is frequently filtered. The strength being thus excluded, the wine neither inflames the brain nor infests the mind and passions, and is much more pleasant to drink.” The scientific facts and historical proof of the preservation of grape juice isn’t hidden if the interpreter looks for it.
- “The Biblical words for wine show no difference between fermented and unfermented wine. Therefore, they must have only had intoxicating wine.” Or “The KJV translates the Biblical words for wine. It must have been intoxicating.” The truth is the word “grape juice” first appeared in Webster’s dictionary in 1896. In ancient literature the word “wine” had a dual meaning of either fermented or unfermented grape juice. The four commonly used related Biblical words wine (English) vinum (Latin), oinos (Greek), and yayin (Hebrew) are generic and have been used interchangeably between fermented and unfermented wine leaving the interpreter to use context to determine which is being used. According to Abbott’s Dictionary of Religious Knowledge, “It is tolerably clear that the word wine does not necessarily imply fermented liquor. It signifies only a production of the vine.” The Bible disapproves of fermented wine (Isaiah 28:7, Leviticus 10:9-11, Isaiah 5:11-12, Proverbs 23:20-21, Ezekiel 44:23) and approves of unfermented wine (Genesis 27:28, Joel 2:18-19, Isaiah 55:1, Leviticus 23:13). Notice in the four accounts of the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26: 26-29, Mark 14:23-25, Luke 22:17-18, I Cor. 11:25) the word wine is not used. Rather it is the FRUIT OF THE VINE. The vine never produces intoxicating drink. Josephus explicitly calls the freshly squeezed grape juice “the fruit of the vine” (gennema tes ampelou). This establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that the phrase “fruit of the vine” was used to designate the sweet, unfermented juice of the grape.
- “Intoxicating wine represents the bitterness of Christ’s death.” Christ commanded the “fruit of the vine” to be used as a memorial of His redeeming blood (Matt. 26:28-29, Mark 14:24-25). Intoxicating wine in the scriptures represents human depravity and divine indignation (Revelation 14:10,16:19). Pure unfermented grape juice is a fitting emblem of Christ’s untainted blood shed for the remission of sins. Jesus is referred to as the first fruit of the dead and the true vine (1 Corinthians 15:23, John 15:1). A first fruit can only be equated with the freshly squeezed grape juice, not with a byproduct or wine that is adulterated through chemical change. Grape juice represents the sweetness of the remission of sins not the bitterness of sin. His life that He was about to give as a ransom for our sins was not intoxicating, but “a sweet-smelling savor” symbolized by the sweet fruit of the vine (grape juice). Jesus said the wine represents the remission of sins. What’s bitter about the remission of sins?
- “Christ’s followers and the Old Testament patriarchs were allowed to drink it.” “Do not drink wine (fermented, same Hebrew word as “wine” in Proverbs 20:1) nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations” “And that ye may put a difference between holy (sweet grape juice) and unholy (fermented wine), and between unclean and clean.”(Leviticus 10:9-10). Don’t drink anything that is alcoholic when you come here or you may die because this is a holy place. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two holy ordinances Christ demanded we observe. The Levitical priesthood was typical of the ministry under the new covenant (1 Corinthians 9:13-14). The tabernacle was a type of the church (Hebrews 8:2). First Peter 2:9 teaches the priesthood of the believer. If the Levitical priests were forbidden to drink intoxicating wine especially at the tabernacle, then believers today should not drink – let alone at church. If that statue remains forever then believers today should abstain from it. Proverbs 31:4-5 says that kings, princes, and rulers, basically anyone in a position where they are making significant decisions affecting people, are to stay away from it. Numbers 6:2-4 lists the Nazarite vow and it’s associated with people like Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. Luke 15 tells us John the Baptist stayed away from strong drink and wine all together so he could live at a level fully consecrated to the Lord.
- “If wine is something Christians should abstain from then why did Christ change the water into wine (John 2:1-11)?” The Bible says Christ turned the water into the “best wine”. The wino automatically thinks the best wine had the highest alcohol content. The problem is to interpret the text one must understand what “the best wine” meant at the time Christ preformed the miracle. Barnes says: “Pliny, Plutarch, and Horace describe wine as good or mention that as the best wine which was harmless or innocent—poculis vini innocentis. The most useful wine—utilissimum vinum—was that which had little strength; and the most wholesome wine—saluberrimum vinum—was that which had not been adulterated by ‘the addition of anything to the must or juice.’ Pliny expressly says that a ‘good wine’ was one that was destitute of spirit.” Lib iv. c.13. It should not be assumed, therefore, that the ‘good wine’ was stronger than the other. It is rather to be presumed that it was milder. Platoney, an ancient Jewish historian, wrote “The best wine had the sweetest taste, the best wine was that which had no spirits because it was more wholesome.” Platoney’s description is Biblically accurate. The word used to describe the wine “kalos” denotes that which is morally excellent instead of “agathos” which simply meant good. The text says that everyone was well drunken. That doesn’t mean they were falling down drunk. Well drunk meant that Jesus had met everyone’s needs or they had plenty. Christ made between 120-160 gallons of wine. If this were alcohol then it must have been one huge keg party. If Christ supplied this much wine for the men, women, and children at the wedding feast, He was morally responsible for prolonging their intoxication. Christ’s first miracle in the book of John would not be an example of social embarrassment. Ancient Jewish customs mandated that no intoxicating beverage be served during wedding feasts where music was played. Jesus’ miracles were for the glory of God – can someone actually suggest that Christ turned people drunk for God’s glory? Christ didn’t come to deceive or mock anyone (Proverbs 20:1).
- “The Pharisees accused Jesus of being a winebibber (Matthew 11:18-19).” So what? The Pharisees also accused Christ of working on the Sabbath and having a devil, all while they refusing his deity. The text does not imply that He drank alcoholic wine, but rather that He freely associated with people at their meals. The text before doesn’t prove that John the Baptist possessed a devil, so their accusations don’t prove that Jesus drank wine.
- “There is nothing inherently wrong about intoxicating wine. It has medicinal purposes, and Paul told Timothy to drink it for his stomach’s sake.” Ancient writers such as Aristotle, Athaneous, and Pliny indicate that unfermented wine was known and preferred to alcoholic wine for medical purposes because it did not have the side effects of the latter. Have you ever heard of a hangover? Intoxicating wine would have hurt Timothy’s stomach rather than helped it. No one knows what Timothy’s ailment was. But he probably wasn’t about to die because there is a second Timothy (Proverbs 31:6). Perhaps the water was making him sick. But we know that the last thing you want when you have a stomach ache is alcohol. But you would drink plenty of juices. Then there is the good Samaritan who poured wine into the wounds of the poor guy. Try pouring intoxicating wine into your fresh wounds and then see if you think the good Samaritan used it. Purple grape juice contains the same powerful disease-fighting antioxidants, called flavonoids, that are believed to give wine many of its heart-friendly benefits. The flavonoids in grape juice, like those in wine, have been shown to prevent the oxidation of so-called bad cholesterol (LDLs, or low-density lipoproteins) that leads to formation of plaque in artery walls. “Wine only prevents blood from clotting (when it’s consumed) at levels high enough to declare someone legally drunk,” says University of Wisconsin researcher John Folts, Ph.D. With grape juice, you can drink enough to get the benefit without worrying about becoming intoxicated.
Earthly wisdom, circular reasoning, and tradition can be used to argue for the use of fermented wine. A pastor may instruct his flock to use wine, but he would error in judgment through hypocrisy. Biblical truth, historical facts, and scientific examinations clearly argue in favor of grape juice. Churches in doubt should seek out the truth, and in the meantime use the pure blood of the grape (Deut. 32:14, Genesis 49:11) to represent the pure blood of Christ If social drinking is a matter of Christian liberty, then I will use my liberty like Paul and not cause my fellow brothers and sisters or any lost person to stumble. No one ever became an alcoholic who didn’t take the first drink, whether at communion or somewhere else. Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “He who yields a point or two to the word is in fearful peril, he who eats the grapes of Sodom will soon drink the wine of Gomorrah. Things doubtful we need not doubt about, they are wrong to us.”