When Wine is Really "Wine"Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Apocrypha, Bible, Contemporary Ethics, Culture, Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Jesus
In the comments of my last blog, Dare We Be ‘Godly,’ the issue of “wine” came up. Did Jesus really make alcoholic wine in John 2? Did he ever drink it? Is “wine” really “wine”? in the Scripture. I don’t want to devote a lot of time to this subject because in my view the answer is obvious. But here are a few things I have thought about tonight.
As our discussion has gone on about wine in the comments, I have come to some conclusions. The first conclusion that I have reached is that the position that alcoholic wine was allowed by God to his People is an unassailable position. The Second conclusion that I have come to is that we will resort to some extreme and desperate arguments that in the end simply reinforce the conclusion reached in #1. Third, I am surprised at how easy a long held belief is allowed to unwittingly subvert basic rules of exegesis.
An example of the disregard for the rules of linguistics and exegesis is the disregard for the “basic” meaning of a word. According to both the standard lexicon of the Greek language (Danker-Baur-Arndt-Gingerich) and The Dictionary of New Testament Theology (a standard 4 volume encyclopedia of Greek words) on pages 918-922 of vol 3 the word “oinos” is alcoholic wine. That is the basic meaning of the word … ordinary wine. The word takes on metaphorical meanings as both symbols of judgment AND blessings. For this word to refer to NON-alcoholic drink something out of the ordinary in the context needs to DEMAND such an understanding.
In the Septuagint, written in biblical koine Greek, there is a book called Ecclesiasticus or Sirach. This book contributes to our discussion in several ways. First it shows us what a devout God fearing man was thinking (a man totally immersed in his biblical heritage); Second this book reveals what a God fearing man thought about wine and Third it shows us that the ordinary meaning of oinos was and is without doubt alcoholic wine. Fourth I believe this text represents the biblical attitude on this subject in summary form. I quote the text below from The Parallel Apocrypha which contains the Greek text of the LXX with the NRSV and several other translations. I have quoted the NRSV but have included the Greek words where necessary to show where oinos is in the translation. The term occurs six times and it is in fact alcoholic wine …
Do not try to prove your strength by wine drinking, for wine [oinos] has destroyed many. As the furnace tests the works of the smith, so wine [oinos] tests hearts when the insolent quarrel. Wine [oinos] is very life to human beings if taken in moderation. What is life to one who is without wine [oinos]? It has been created to make people happy. Wine [oinos] drunk at the proper time and in moderation is rejoicing of heart and gladness of soul.
Wine [oinos] drunk to excess leads to bitterness of spirit, to quarrels and stumbling. Drunkenness increases the anger of a fool to his own hurt, reducing his strength and and adding wounds . . .” (Sirach 31. 25-30).
Now because Ben Sira had read passages like Psalm 104 and Ecc 10.17 and 9.7 and a myriad of other passages he could never be biblical and construct some syllogism that denied those verses. And since Ben Sira had also read passage like Proverbs 23.29ff he knew that wine must be used with the care God seeks.
Ben Sira, I think, occupies the biblical ground. He does not invent definitions for words and rewrite Scripture to say as he pleased. He thanked God for the gifts a Wiser Man had declared to be good. He counseled against the seduction of becoming a fool through riotous living.
The stuff Jesus made in John 2 is oinos … real wine.