|Photo by DesignbyNur 9/28/2004|
Saturday, October 4, 2014
The Bible and Alcohol: What Would Jesus Drink?
Many of those who argue that Christians can drink alcohol point out that Jesus Himself not only drank wine (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34), but even changed water into wine as His first miracle, at the wedding of Cana (John 2: 1-11). He even promised to drink “the fruit of the vine” with His disciples again in His new Kingdom (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18). However, that argument evaporates if the “wine” Jesus created and will drink again was and will be new wine, or unfermented grape juice.
The Hebrew word for "juice" was not widely used in Bible times, and in fact it only appears once in the entire Bible (Song of Solomon 8:2), in reference to pomegranate juice. There are nine Hebrew words and four Greek words translated "wine" in the King James Bible. The word “wine” as used in the Bible is a general term for any grape juice product in various states of fermentation, including new wine, which was unfermented, freshly pressed grape juice.
“Wine” may even refer to grape juice so fresh that it is still in the grape clusters, which God describes as containing a great blessing (Isaiah 65:8). Modern science confirms the health benefits of grape juice, which is a rich source of natural antioxidants and polyphenols combating free radical damage involved in aging, cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses.
And clearly Jesus Himself saw grapes as a symbol of goodness and sustenance, as He described Himself as the True Vine and us as the branches. He promised that if we abide in Him and He in us, we will bear much spiritual fruit, but that apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:1-8).
In other words, if we are saved by placing our faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15: 1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), His Holy Spirit enters our hearts (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13). If we yield to His Spirit by dying daily to self (1 Corinthians 15:31), we can be fruitful in our works for Him. But if we quench or grieve the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30) and feed our flesh, we cannot be fruitful any more than branches separated from the vine can bear grapes.
Paul contrasts the life dedicated to fulfilling fleshly desires with the Spirit-filled life by saying: “[B]e not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), referring in this verse to fermented wine containing alcohol rather than to unfermented grape juice. Clearly, new wine cannot cause drunkenness, but alcoholic wine can.
Some Christians justify alcohol drinking by claiming that wine and spirits derive from naturally occurring plants that God created to bless us. By that argument, smoking marijuana and using hallucinogenic mushrooms would be acceptable, even though both can deprive us of the opportunity to be Spirit-filled, can impair judgment and can cause health problems or even death. Certain species of hallucinogenic mushrooms are highly toxic and often lethal.
Were marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and other harmful or poisonous plants present in the Garden of Eden for man’s “enjoyment,” or did they enter the world as part of the curse of sin and death following Adam and Eve’s fall? I suspect the latter, because thorns and thistles then entered the world to hinder man’s cultivation of the ground (Genesis 3:18), and along with these presumably came other noxious species used by Satan to trouble mankind and to tempt him to sin.
Let’s assume that grapes were present in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:12.29), because not only are they beautiful, but also delicious, healthful, and endorsed by Jesus, as discussed above. Did the grapes in Eden ferment into wine, via “natural” processes God allowed in this perfect Paradise?
I think not. Fermentation of sugar into alcohol requires yeast, now found on the skin of grapes. But was yeast present in Eden? Yeast is a form of fungus, with biological similarities to mushrooms (many of which are toxic, as noted above) and to mold, associated with spoiled bread (Joshua 9:5,12).
Yeast, or leaven, is also used to make bread rise, but it was only after the fall that man had to eat bread, made through his own grueling labor (Genesis 3:19), Leaven in the Bible is used as a symbol for sin (Matthew 16:6; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1), and only unleavened bread was allowed for offerings and religious feasts (Exodus 12:15,19,20,39, etc.). Various species of yeast, such as Candida, can infect humans and cause disease.
Biochemically speaking, enzymes present in yeast catalyze, or promote the formation of, ethanol, or pure alcohol, and carbon dioxide from glucose, or sugar, present in the grape or other fruit used to make wine or spirits, and oxygen. The human body metabolizes, or breaks down, ethanol, to acetaldehyde, which is chemically similar to the highly toxic compound formaldehyde (used to preserve corpses), and then to acetic acid (the acid found in vinegar). Not only is alcohol directly toxic to nerve and other cells, but acetaldehyde can damage DNA, trigger chromosomal abnormalities, and promote development of certain cancers.
These reactions involved in human metabolism of alcohoi are known as oxidation reactions, meaning that they use up oxygen and generate free radicals, or extra electrons. Free radicals are the culprit implicated in aging, inflammation, and most diseases – essentially the biochemical mediator of the curse of death following Adam and Eve’s fall. An easily observed oxidation reaction is rust, referred to in the Bible as a destructive force depriving us of our earthly treasures (Matthew 6:19,20; James 5:3). And, as discussed above, grapes in their unfermented form are a rich source of antioxidants fighting free radical damage, helping to explain their many health benefits.
Some recent studies suggest that moderate wine drinking may be beneficial to health, but in these studies, it is difficult to separate the effects of the alcohol content of the wine from the known benefits of the healthful antioxidants and polyphenols in the grapes themselves. In contrast, the harms of alcohol to the brain, nerves, muscle, liver, heart, and other organs are well documented, highly prevalent, severe and often fatal.
In light of Paul’s admonition that the body of the born-again believer is the temple of the indwelling Holy Spirit, why would we want to pollute the temple? Paul urges us to present our bodies as a holy, living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1) and warns that if any man defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him, because our body is the holy temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Using alcohol or other harmful substances will not jeopardize our salvation, but it has consequences, which may include untimely death or unnecessary illness and suffering, any of which may disrupt or terminate God-given ministries.
So what would Jesus drink? For all the above reasons, I believe that what He created at the wedding of Cana, and what He will drink with us in His Kingdom, is new wine, or unfermented grape juice. In Bible times, new wine was more highly prized than alcoholic wine, because they had no way to preserve it. Through the fermentation process, grape juice turned to alcohol and ultimately to vinegar.
(Today, cool temperatures, corking and bottling technology, and addition of sulfites or other preservatives help to arrest the fermentation process at the desired stage, but ultimately even these cannot indefinitely prevent a bottle of aged wine from turning to acetaldehyde and vinegar).
The governor of the feast at the Cana wedding praised the bridegroom for keeping the best wine, i.e. the new wine, for last, not knowing that it was Jesus Who transformed water into the new wine. The custom in those days was to serve the best, new wine first, while the guests could still appreciate it, and then to shift to older, more alcoholic wines when they would be too drunk to notice the progressively worse quality (John 2:9-10).
As I consider “What would Jesus drink?” I therefore conclude that grape juice is a blessing, but that alcohol results from the curse of sin and should not pollute the temple of the Holy Spirit that is my body.
© 2014 Laurie Collett