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DRINKING WHAT JESUS DRANK

By Curtis Pugh

Poteau, Oklahoma

 

            Rather than write a small book with footnotes and extensive quotes, our purpose is to be as brief as possible and yet harrow the ground well.  With today's easy access to books and other sources of information online, the reader can do his or her further research if they so desire.  I am as firmly convinced as ever that wine is the proper element to be used in the Lord's supper.  At the same time I am an opponent of the social use of liquor, wine and beer. If you profess to be a follower of the Lamb and have the modern beverages we call beer, wine and liquor in your home and imbibe these things privately or  socially, I am convinced you are wrong in doing so. There is a danger that I see among people who believe that wine is the proper element in the Lord's supper. That danger is this, men will reason that if it is right to use wine in the Lord's supper and since Jesus drank wine, it must be alright to drink wine and beer at home and out in public. So it is very important to learn what Jesus drank and with what liquid element He instituted His supper.

            Many years ago a dear brother in the Lord – a good Baptist pastor now with the Lord – and a man whom I greatly respected because of his work's sake spoke to me on this matter.  He believed that grape juice was the proper element for the supper. His words to me were these: “I'll drink anything that Jesus drank.” I have never forgotten those words. I agree with him! And so we have given the title to this article: “Drinking What Jesus Drank.” Surely every Bible believing saint of God will agree that Jesus did no wrong. Unless misinformed they will also agree that the Son of Man, the Lord from glory, not only turned water into wine, but drank it Himself. Surely if we as followers of the Lamb drink what Jesus drank, we shall not go wrong. The purpose of this brief examination of the subject is to show that the wine Jesus drank was quite different from those commercial wines produced and sold in the United States today. Drinking them is not drinking what Jesus drank!

            It would take a book to introduce all the quotes from experts in agriculture, Bible commentators, Jewish historians, archaeologists, and others who support the view that the word “wine” in the Bible refers to an alcoholic beverage made from grapes. But our guide is the Bible and we shall look to it for guidance. I would urge all my brothers and sisters to determine to believe and follow the Bible on this matter. In this article we shall – from the Bible - hope to satisfy all honest minds – as to what the word “wine” signified among the Jews in the days when our Lord walked among men. We aim to establish facts – indisputable facts. First of all, when the Bible speaks of wine it refers to an alcoholic beverage usually made from grapes or other fruit unless it refers to wine metaphorically. One such metaphoric use of the word wine is in Revelation 18:3. There it is prophesied that an angel will come down from heaven and cry out against the Harlot saying, among other things “For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication...” The usual use of the word wine however, is the natural product of the grape. I use the term “natural product” because wine in Bible days was just that. It was not something brewed or distilled or concocted in a laboratory or brewery.    

            The facts are plain and clear. Sugar occurs naturally in the juice of the grape. Yeast or what the Bible calls leaven forms naturally on the skin of the grape. God made grapes that way. When the yeast comes in contact with the sugar in the juice at normally occurring seasonal temperatures, fermentation begins. This can occur when the skin of the grapes split open even while the grapes are still on the vine. Wild birds and even deer have been observed to be “tipsy” from eating such grapes in which fermentation has begun while the grapes are yet hanging in a cluster. The Bible speaks of this “new wine” being found while the grapes are still in the cluster in Isaiah 65:8. There it is written: “Thus saith the LORD, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants’ sakes, that I may not destroy them all.” Did you notice that God said there is a blessing in a cluster of grapes already begun to ferment – that is to turn into wine. Reader, if you believe the Bible, you too must say that there is a blessing there! That too much “new wine” or sweet wine would make people drunk is proven by Acts 2:13 where those who spoke in tongues were mocked as being drunk with these words: “...These men are full of new wine.” The conclusion must be this: new wine is intoxicating wine and new wine can be found in the grapes while still in the cluster. In other words, as far as the Bible is concerned, there is no such thing as unfermented wine or non-alcoholic wine. It was recognized by the Jews that fermentation often started even before the grapes were crushed and certainly began when the grapes were dumped into the wine press. 

            In Bible times this crushing of grapes was done by putting them into a vat called a “winepress.”  Then people would tread on the grapes. The juice, leaven, sugar and all – mixed together - would flow out a hole in or near the bottom designed for that purpose. This crushing of the grapes results in more yeast (leaven) coming in contact with the sugar in the juice and so the fermentation process speeds up. Welch's brand grape juice and others like it are made by utilizing the pasteurization process which kills the yeast and thus stops fermentation. However, pasteurization does not remove the leaven from the juice: it just kills it. And of course pasteurization was unknown to the people of Jesus' days on earth. These are the facts. (There is an idea floating around that you can take Welch's or a similar product and leave it uncovered at room temperature and that it will ferment and turn to wine. It will not. The leaven is in the juice, but it is dead. It is bacteria that acts upon the grape juice thus left at room temperature. It is not fermentation that takes place, but spoilage, and the result should not be used for human consumption.)

            At least one grape juice advocate wrote that the Jews boiled their grape juice down to something like grape jelly and hermetically sealed it in great stone jars. He claimed that it was in this way that Jews kept their grape juice. When they wanted a drink, they just added water and stirred the grape jelly-like stuff until it was drinkable. This preacher hardly knows what to say about someone who would write such inaccurate things. Let's ask a few questions. First of all where in God's Word do you ever read about these great stone jars? And where do you read about Jews toiling away at the task of boiling down their grape juice in order to preserve it? And how did the Jews hermetically seal those jars? And can you really imagine the Jews carrying great stone jars of grape jelly with them on their forty years wandering in the wilderness? And why have not archaeologists found stashes of such great stone jars? And where are the great kettles necessary for such an imagined process?

            What does the Bible say? What did the Lord Jesus Himself say about wine making? Let us stick with the facts: Bible facts! Why the Lord Himself used the Jewish wine making process, or at least part of it, as an illustration. He said, “Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17). W. E. Vine in his Greek dictionary (a book every Baptist family ought to have) says the Greek word means a wine skin and goes on to say this: “A whole goatskin, for example, would be used with the apertures bound up, and when filled, tied at the neck. They were tanned with acacia bark and left hairy on the outside. New wines, by fermenting, would rend old skins (cp. Josh. 9:13; Job 32:19). Hung in the smoke to dry, the skin-bottles become shriveled (see Ps. 119:83).”  In fact, if you look up “bottle” in his dictionary, you will be referred to “skin” for that is the meaning of the word in the original language. Now the Lord Jesus, in the above-quoted illustration, spoke of that which was common knowledge among the Jews. It was common knowledge because it was common practice. “New wine” or freshly crushed sweet grape juice, the Lord said, was not put into old (naturally brittle) wine skins. Rather new wine was put into fresh, sweet new skins sewed up into pliable, “stretchy” containers. Why? Because while the fermentation process is going on, the new wine moves itself and makes gasses. An old brittle bottle made from skin would not be pliable and would crack open at its weakest point and thus the wine would spill out and both the bottle and the wine be wasted. The Bible speaks of this moving action of wine in Proverbs 23:31 as follows: “Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.” This new wine was in the process of fermentation, thus requiring a container capable of stretching to accommodate the fermentation process. By the way, Merriam Webster gives one meaning of bottle as “a usually bottle-shaped container made of skin for storing a liquid.”  

            We will get to modern wines later, but at this juncture we want to note this. Wine made and kept in the Jewish manner eventually turned sour into a kind of vinegar. Historians tell us that this sour wine was the drink of the common Roman soldier as well as ordinary Jewish field workers.  We read of this vinegar in John 19:28-29 where it is written: “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.  Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.” Why else would there be “vinegar” at the crucifixion of Christ? A comparison of these two verses with related passages in the other gospels is sufficient to indicate that the vessel of vinegar was the usual drink of the ordinary Roman soldiers who stood 'round the tree upon which our Lord was crucified.   That this vinegar or sour wine or old cheap wine was the usual drink of farm workers is seen in Ruth 2:14 where we read: “And Boaz said unto her, At mealtime come thou hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar. And she sat beside the reapers: and he reached her parched corn, and she did eat, and was sufficed, and left.” I know you have heard that older wines are better wines.  It is a fact that modern wines – fortified wines – are aged, but they are kept in sealed or airtight  bottles. The Jews did not have this option. The older their wines got the more sour they became.  Some older commercially produced fortified wines are valuable today because of their age. Not so in Bible times. Then the best wines were the new wines – sweet and fresh. So it was that the wine Jesus made in Cana must have been fresh or new sweet wine for the governor of that feast said to the bridegroom, “...Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now” (John 2:10). The wine Jesus miraculously made certainly was not cheap sour wine. The LORD always does the best!  What He does is good! He made sweet freshly fermented wine!

            While it is true that neither in the Old Testament or the New is the liquid element used in the Passover and in the Lord's Supper specified, we know what Jesus used. Why any follower of the Lamb wishes to change the elements which the Lord Himself used in establishing His supper is beyond comprehension. Here are some facts about the institution of the Lord's supper. First of all we know that the Lord established His memorial supper at the time of the Passover. The Jewish Passover feast had to be carried out according to instructions given by the LORD. One of those instructions was that no leaven (yeast) was to be allowed in Jewish households during that week. Leaven is a type of sin. God said in Exodus 12:19-20, “Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land.  Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread.” Ordinarily the Jews might eat leavened bread, but not during the Passover observance.  However, they could drink wine since it was common practice for the Jews to separate the wine from the dead leaven which settled to the bottom of the wine skins upon the completion of the fermentation process. Again, this part of wine making in Israel was common knowledge because it too was common practice. In fact, the prophet used this separating process in a metaphorical sense in  Jeremiah 48:11 where he wrote: “Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed.”  Lees are the dregs including the remains of the leaven which died after it devoured all the sugar from the grape during the fermentation process. Another way that we know what was used in the Lord's supper is from the calendar. Some would have us believe that the Lord instituted His supper with unfermented grape juice – as if such a thing existed in Israel. This was an impossibility unless they want to tell us that Jesus performed another miracle in which He turned water into grape juice somehow extracted from the grapes without mixing with the leaven on the grape skins. Why do we say that this was an impossibility? Because we know that Passover takes place in the springtime. Grapes are harvested in the fall. The Jews had no other way of preserving their grapes from fall until spring other than by fermentation – unless they dried them. (Drying grapes produces raisins, not wine.) And so we know what the Lord Jesus used in instituting His supper. He used wine. Do we need to say “fermented wine?” There was no  other kind in Israel. Why change from that? Ought we not to observe the ordinance as the Lord instituted it – i.e. with the elements He used? Without leaven?

            Now some have tried to make the matter of the element something of indifference. Some have said that the liquid element pictures the sufferings of Christ in the crushing of the grapes. However, the Lord did no say that. The Lord never alluded to the crushing of the grapes as picturing His sufferings and agony. Here is Matthew's account: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.  And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28).  Jesus said the wine represented His blood. Nothing is said of the crushing of grapes representing the sufferings of Christ. Nor is the roiling action of the fermenting wine said to be representative of Christ's inner turmoil or mental sufferings nor His thrashing about on the tree – if He did that. Nor is the pouring of wine from vessel to vessel to remove the lees said to picture something about Christ. Why go beyond the Scriptures and speak of things involved in wine making about which the Scriptures are silent in this matter? We think it quite dangerous to say more than the Bible says!

            Another thing to consider in determining what Jesus drank is this: wines made in the old Jewish manner as we have indicated above were necessarily of low alcohol content. Probably they contained about three to five percent alcohol. Modern wines, however, and not natural wines. They are fortified wines. The European Union regulates what goes into wines produced in the EU countries, including France, which I suppose could be considered the wine capital of the world. There are some fifty ingredients that are allowed in wine making in order to increase the alcohol content of EU wines.  Sugar and yeast are often added to make modern wines more alcoholic. Even Bentonite (an impure clay containing absorbent aluminum phyllosilicate) can be used to clarify the wine along with egg whites, casein from milk, gelatin, isinglass from the bladders of fish, sulfur dioxide, activated carbon from charcoal, potassium ferrocyanide, silica and kaolin. A similar long list of ingredients is allowed in wines produced in the United States, Canada, etc. The result: modern wine making methods produce wine with an artificially increased alcohol content of ten percent or more with a lot of added ingredients used in the process. It may be said with absolute certainty that modern, fortified wines are not what Jesus drank! 

            There is one more thing that bears on our subject. It is this: the Jews customarily mixed their low-alcohol-content wines with water. The Bible proves this. In the Proverbs wisdom is personified – that is, spoken of as a person. She invites the simple ones – those needing wisdom to come to her table in terms familiar to the ancient Jews. It is written: “Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars: She hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table.  Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled.” (Proverbs 9:1-2 & 5). Twice in these verses the common and usual practice of mingling or mixing wine with water is mentioned. She is inviting the simple to her feast which included “wine” that she had “mingled.”  The Psalmist says, “For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping,” (Psalm 102:9). Here is means he has wept tears in such a volume as to mingle water with his wine. Remember that wine was included in those things offered to Jehovah and that the priests received at least a part of it for their own use. The only way the “fruit of the vine” could be had year 'round in those days and in that place was this: the fruit of the vine had to allowed to take its natural course. The grape juice had to be allowed to ferment. In this way wine was available for offerings, for meals, for tithes, for treating wounds, etc. all year long. Royalty and wealthy persons did at times mingle spices (and water?) with their wine. This is alluded to in Song of Solomon 8:2.

            Old John Gill can be expected to tell us something of the customs of the Jews of those Bible times – and he does.  We quote: “Now the "mingling" of this wine is in allusion to the mixture of wine, either with something richer, as spice, Song of Solomon 8:2; or rather with water, as Jarchi observes, which was usual in those hot countries, to make it fit and suitable drink for the bodies of men: the mixture was no doubt according to the strength of the wine; the wine of Sharon, being strong wine, was mixed two parts water and one wine; which, with the ancients, before three parts water and two wine; though, according to Plutarch, they had three ways of mixing, which they called by three different names; the one was three parts water and two wine, the other three parts water and one wine, the third was one wine and two water; the first of them was reckoned the best mixture...”             

            The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia (Vol. 12, p. 533) states that in the rabbinic period at least “‘yayin’ [or wine] ‘is to be distinguished from ‘shekar’ [or strong drink]: the former is diluted with water (mazug’); the latter is undiluted (‘yayin hal’)” [Brackets added]. ln the Talmud, which contains the oral traditions of Judaism from about 200 B.C. to A.D. 200, there are several tractates [treatises or articles] in which the mixture of water and wine is discussed. One tractate (Shabbath 77a) states that wine that does not carry three parts of water well is not wine. The normal mixture is said to consist of two parts water to one part wine. In a most important reference (Pesahim 108b) it is stated that the four cups every Jew was to drink during the Passover ritual were to be mixed in a ratio of three parts water to one part wine. From this we can conclude with a fair degree of certainty that the fruit of the vine used at the institution of the Lord’s Supper was a mixture of three parts water to one part wine. In another Jewish reference from around 60 B.C. we read, “It is harmful to drink wine alone, or again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious and enhances one’s enjoyment. (II Maccabees 15:39).”

            From the foregoing, what must we conclude? First of all, if we drink modern, commercial, fortified wines we are not drinking what Jesus drank. He instituted His supper with the “fruit of the vine” - no doubt the fourth cup of wine drunk at the Passover meal. It was wine and there is no reason to believe that it was not mixed or dilluted with water – one part wine with three parts water – as was taught by the rabbis. It was a low alcohol wine to begin with, made by simple methods and allowed to ferment naturally without additives. Mixed with water it was still called wine by the Jews and was their usual or common drink. This fourth cup was called “the cup of blessing” by the Jews and by Paul in speaking of the wine used in the Lord's supper. In 1 Corinthians 10:16 Paul wrote, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” Having been a prominent Jew in his earlier life, Paul needed no  one to teach him about the Passover observances. In 1 Corinthians 11:23-24 Paul informs us that the Lord revealed to him the manner in which Christ instituted His supper. He wrote: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.” The question is, shall we not bless “the cup of blessing” at Christ's supper?  Shall we drink what Jesus drank?

            There is absolutely no ground for followers of the Lamb to reason thus: “Jesus drank wine and turned wine into water, so it is permissible for us today to drink modern high alcohol fortified commercialy produced wine.” Let us drink what Jesus drank: simple low alcohol wine mingled with much water so as not to bring drunkenness. Let us resolve to use that drink in our observances of the Lord's supper. Let us follow the Lamb! We shall not go wrong drinking what Jesus drank!

 


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