Did Jesus Drink Wine or Grape Juice? (and does it really matter?)

Did Jesus drink wine or grape juice in the Bible? Oddly enough, this question often sparks a great deal of controversy. I’ve personally heard many interpretations… from seminary professors, scholarly commentaries, pastors and teachers, as well as my Christian brothers and sisters. What I have found in my years of study is that we often answer this question based on our personal views regarding the use of alcohol. Those who abstain fully often claim that Jesus also abstained completely. Jesus would never drink a drop of alcohol… right? The water he turned into wine was actually grape juice… right? Those who believe it’s okay to drink in moderation claim that Jesus also drank in moderation. And while the Bible clearly condemns drunkenness as a sin, moderate drinking was normal in first century Judaism and was not considered sinful.

Truly, what you believe about Jesus drinking wine or grape juice affects your personal view of alcohol in general… but does it really matter what Jesus drank? Is there anything else in the Bible we should be taking into consideration?

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Drunkenness is a sin…

I have yet to meet a Christian who argues that being drunk is not a sin. But moderate drinking… that’s where things get complicated. Wine drinking is something we find often in the Bible, and it is even spoken of in a positive manner.

He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man’s heart glad, so that he may make his face glisten with oil, and food which sustains man’s heart. – Psalm 104:14-15 (emphasis added)

You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. – Deuteronomy 14:26 (emphasis added)

As we can see from the passage above in Deuteronomy, even the Law of Moses permitted the people of Israel to use their tithe to purchase both wine and strong drink. We also have history to consider. The Jewish faith not only permitted moderate drinking, but it was encouraged (and even required) in many of their religious festivals. Although, we must not forget that wine, though alcoholic, was a mixed drink. It was mixed with water to dilute its effects. Drunkenness was always seen as a sin.

 

Drinking is foolish…

While there are a few positive mentions of alcohol, wine is very obviously seen throughout the Bible as a “foolish” drink.

Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise. – Proverbs 20:1

…It is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. – Proverbs 31:4-5

There is no question in this passage whether or not the wine of their day was alcoholic. “Wine is a mocker…” If there was ever a reason to abstain, this is it. The wisdom found in Proverbs 31 is even more interesting. Kings and rulers are told not to drink wine because it impairs their judgement. But perhaps the best wisdom concerning alcohol comes from Proverbs 23:

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long over wine, those who go to taste mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things and your mind will utter perverse things. And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, or like one who lies down on the top of a mast. “They struck me, but I did not become ill; they beat me, but I did not know it. When shall I awake? I will seek another drink.” – Proverbs 23:29-35 (emphasis added)

Again, this passage if very clearly talking about alcoholic wine. It sparkles in the cup and bites like a serpent. So while wine was a part of culture in the Bible, the dangers of drinking it were readily known and acknowledged. And those with responsibilities were encouraged to stay sober.

 

Do not cause others to stumble…

It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. – Romans 14:21

Is there anybody in your life that has ever had a problem with alcohol? Is it possible that your drinking could cause them to stumble? What about your children? Mine are still young, and there is no way of knowing what the future holds for them or what struggles they might have later in life. Would it be wise of me to treat alcohol like “no big deal” in front of them? Could it possibly affect their future?

What about drinking while out at a restaurant? Is it possible that seeing a pastor or church leader drink could cause someone in the room to stumble? As a Christian, is it okay to go to bar and partake with those who aren’t saved? Aren’t we supposed to be representing Christ to the world? How can we do that if we are behaving no differently? While many of these questions are open to interpretation, they certainly give us some things to think about before taking a sip of wine in public.

 

Did Jesus drink wine or grape juice?

So now we come down to the question of the hour… did Jesus drink wine or grape juice?

While some argue that the wine of Jesus’ day was nothing more than grape juice (more on that later), let’s take a look at the little biblical evidence we have…

“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, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” – Matthew 11:18-19

Here’s the bottom line. Looking at the historical evidence, Jesus probably drank wine. I use the word “probably” because there isn’t a direct verse that tells us Jesus drank wine that was alcoholic. So technically, there is a slight possibility that Jesus only drank juice. But the above verses in Matthew clearly tell us that the Pharisees called Jesus a “gluttonous man and a drunkard.” You wouldn’t call someone a drunkard if all they ever drank was grape juice. (And it is worth noting that Jesus also didn’t correct the accusations by claiming that His grape juice wasn’t fermented.)

We also have 1 Corinthians 11. In this chapter, Paul addresses some issues concerning the taking of communion. It is obvious in verse 21 that the wine was alcoholic because those partaking (albeit incorrectly) were getting drunk! This could certainly imply that fermented wine was regularly used during communion, including the first communion at the Last Supper when Jesus’ Himself partook. Without an explicit verse, we can’t know with 100% certainty, but it is reasonable to assume based on these passages and what we know about first century Judaism.

 

A lesson from Timothy for us today…

No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. – 1 Timothy 5:23

I have heard the above verse used to justify moderate drinking today, but I’m not so easily convinced. First of all, notice the heart of Timothy… He wanted so badly to stay sober that he was willing to make himself sick drinking contaminated water. Secondly, notice Paul’s words of wisdom. He did not tell Timothy that it was “no big deal” to drink. On the contrary, he told him to use a “little wine” for medicinal purposes.

This verse is also quite telling when it comes to the availability of regular grape juice. I’ve heard many pastors and scholars claim that grape juice was not only readily available, but it was the common “wine” of Jesus’ day. But this verse implies otherwise. If non alcoholic grape juice was readily available and common, Timothy would have been drinking that instead of the contaminated water. There would have been no reason to abstain from drinking wine if it was nothing more than juice.

 

Not all things are profitable…

While it is true that the Bible does not condemn moderate drinking as a sin, it certainly doesn’t celebrate it as something we should all be doing as Christians. It is described in the Bible as a foolish drink that can cause a great deal of harm in our lives. We also have to recognize the fact that drinking is not necessary today as it was in the Bible. Wine was a necessary part of life, which is no longer the case today. Today, the only reason to drink is for the buzz. We literally have hundreds of other options for beverages that don’t involve alcohol.

Mixed with water, wine was a part of every daily meal for the first century Jew. They were not drinking to feel a buzz, but to stay alive and well. Their purpose for drinking was entirely different than our purpose today. For Timothy, it was profitable in the moment to drink a little wine to stay healthy. He would have been no good for the Kingdom if he remained sick (or even died) due to contaminated water. Therefore, Paul suggested a little wine with his water.

And remember the wisdom from Proverbs 31? Kings and rulers were told to not drink wine because it would hinder their judgment. We are called a nation of royal priests in 1 Peter 2:9. Perhaps it would be wise in our duties as ambassadors for Christ to remain sober so that we don’t make poor decisions and misrepresent our King.

So maybe instead of asking if whether or not drinking is a sin, we should be asking if drinking is profitable. Is it good for us to drink as Believers? Will drinking benefit the Kingdom? Will it benefit our Christian witness?

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. – 1 Corinthians 6:12

 

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable…

So while light to moderate drinking isn’t explicitly condemned as sin in the Bible, there are numerous places where wine is seen as unwise. If we’re being honest, it is a deeply personal heart issue… one that is between you and God.

Here are some questions to ponder before you partake:

  1. Is this profitable for me or for the Kingdom of God?
  2. Could I potentially be causing someone to stumble in their walk with the Lord?
  3. Am I using alcohol as a coping method instead of taking my worries to God?
  4. What is my true purpose in trying to include alcohol in my life?
  5. Is alcohol going to impair my judgement in some way or cause me to neglect my responsibilities?

 

Comment Policy: I would love to know your thoughts! I ask that we be polite in this comment section as this topic can be a source of controversy and even pain for some. I love research, and I am fully open to additional research if you have it. (And I fully intend to update this post as more research comes to the surface.) So please feel free to include links to credible sources regarding this issue. I have done my best to compile my research, but I know there’s always more to learn! Thank you for your willingness to have an open discussion in love.

 

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. - 1 Corinthians 6:12

 

*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

**Photo by Amos Bar-Zeev on Unsplash


 

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2 Comments

  1. I do agree on wine and..Is it profitable for me/us? as a question to ask also over many things like food, movies, soft drinks etc. I myself drink wine and after reading your article I read another article about wine with lower procentage of alcohol. Like 5 to 10% similar to the wine in the Bible.. and I will try that kind of wine next time. At the Communion Rite perhaps it is best to offer grape juice or to offer both grape juice and wine. Than you for taking up the subject Wine and the Bible. /Lars

  2. A very great read.
    I DO have a glass of wine on occasion and never more than two. I bought a bottle of nice wine over a month ago and it’s still uncorked. So, my consumption is quite minimal I would say. And wine is the only drink of alcohol I consume. I believe you are spot on in your thoughts of wine intake
    as it pertains to Christ followers.

    The Hebrew and Greek languages are fixed. One can not change them to fit
    their opinion.

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