Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Bible and Alcohol: What Would Jesus Drink?

Photo by DesignbyNur 9/28/2004

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
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Frank E. Blasi said...

Dear Laurie,
That is a thoroughly scientific-based article which explains many things that had puzzled me for many years. Why did Jesus transform water into wine if in the Old Testament, Proverbs in particular, drunkeness had always been reserved for fools? Unfermented grape juice looks to be a good explanation, and has given me food for thought about what to drink in the future.
As for the Edenic Curse, I have also pondered whether many non-fruit bearing trees actually did yield edible fruit before the Fall, including branches lower to the ground so mankind could have plucked the fruit easily.
I'm referring to trees such as Oak, Ash, Silver Birch, Elm, Cypress, Pine, Sycamore, and many other species which grows tall and does not yield human-consumable fruit.
If all these trees did bear such fruit before the fall, such for example, the Oak, which afterward produced acorns after the Edenic Curse, this may explain why so many kinds and species of the fauna had turned carniverous - simply due that the Curse had left a shortage of a variety of vegetation to meet the needs of all species. This is just a thought on my part, but I would like to read of your version on this.
God bless.

Laurie Collett said...

Dear Frank,
I am blessed to hear that you found this post helpful and food for thought. That is a very interesting point you bring up about trees bearing non-edible fruit. I hadn't thought about that before, but is certainly a viable explanation that such trees did bear edible fruit before the fall. On the other hand, perhaps trees such as the oak were always intended to provide food for animals such as squirrels. One of the great blessings of Heaven will be the opportunity to have Him explain the answers to these and other questions.
God bless,

Nonnie said...

Your research about this is very good. I believe you make very good points about the wine and drinking. I simply thought in the Bible, the wine mentioned for the Israelites had more to do with success of their crops and blessings from God for a good year and good harvest. That would always bring joy to gladden their hearts when they had a bountiful year.

From Psalm 104:14-15 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart.

And in a bad year, there would be no fruit, no grain, and no oil.

I believe the wine Jesus made from water was His first miracle attesting to who He was and it was probably the best anyone had ever tasted.

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks so much, Naomi, for your thoughtful comment! Psalm 104 reminds me of pictures of the cornucopia we see at Thanksgiving, filled with God's blessings of the bountiful harvest: wheat, grapes, bread, etc.
I agree -- the new wine Jesus made from water was beyond compare, just like the fish He prepared for the disciples on the beach!
May you have a blessed week in Him,

Brenda said...

Hi Laurie,
yes,many can argue the case for alcohol. When I worked as a carer in a residential home for the elderly there were two ladies there who were 103. I asked them both what was the secret of their long life. Both told me that they had had a tot of whisky every night for as long as they could remember. When I worked out in the community with people with altzeimers, the tutor for training us said that a person should never give a person with hypothermia brandy (as suggested with the St Bernard dog carrying the barrel of brandy around his neck) as brandy lowers the body temperature. He said that a tot of whisky would help keep the arteries open. One day when I was out evangelizing in the street I came across an alcoholic who started to cry as he told me he had killed a person when he had been a soldier in one of the wars and had turned to drinking alcohol because he could not forgive himself for this. I told him that Jesus has forgiven him.
When I think of the two ladies that were 103 I think of Psalm 103 which tells us to bless the Lord and forget not all His benefits, and that He is the One who is able to do all these things and more..
Regarding the length of life:-
verse 5 says 'Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.'
Regarding healing and health:-
verse 3b says 'Who heals all your diseases'
Regarding forgiveness:-
verse 3a says 'Who forgives all your iniquities,'
What is the benefit of long life or good health without eternal life, which only believing in Jesus can give us. Jesus has already proved His word in my life regarding healing and forgiveness and I know I can trust Him in proving His word regarding everlasting life, provided my confidence and trust remain in Him.
God bless you Laurie as you put your trust in Him.

Laurie Collett said...

Dear Brenda, Genetics and environment work together, so that some people are blessed with a very long life even though they don't take care of themselves, and some people who do take good care of themselves die way too soon. I have an old-time photo of an ancestor smoking a pipe, and she lived to be 102, and yet our pastor, who never smoked, died of lung cancer at age 40, Praise God that He knows what we need better than we do ourselves, and that He takes great pleasure in providing for His children. May all trust in Him as Lord and Savior. Many blessings to you,

Donald Fishgrab said...

Certain varieties of several of the trees Frank mentioned do produce edible fruits or nuts including oaks and pines, indicating that at one time they all may have been edible. After the flood it appears God changed the digestive tracts of some animals, including humans, to digest meat better, Genesis 9:3 authorizes man to eat meat..

Donald Fishgrab said...

Great Post, Laurie.

Even if I thought it was okay to drink, I would choose not to because I am responsiblle as a Christian to see that my behavior does not encourage others to sin, As you point out, however, there are far more reasons than that to avoid it..

Laurie Collett said...

True, Donald -- all were vvegetarians in the Garden of Eden, as there was no death. With curse of sin, man had to work to cultivate grain and make bread. After the flood, God allowed man to eat meat. Thanks as always for your insightful comments, and God bless!

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, Donald! I agree that not being a stumbling block is one of the strongest arguments for a Christian not to sin.
God bless,