11 Oct 2023

Seven Uses of Wine in the Bible

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church History, Contemporary Ethics, Discipleship, Gnosticism, Hebrew Bible, Spiritual Disciplines
wine to cheer us up” (Ps 104.15, CEB)

Quotable Quote from J. J. M. Roberts

It was only years later that I learned that grape juice for communion was a liberal innovation associated with the temperance movement, and only possible late in the 19th century after the Methodist Welch had perfected the process to keep grape juice from fermenting. The expression ‘fruit of the vine’ was a Hebrew expression that meant ‘wine,’ since Passover with which the expression is connected, occurs in the early Spring before the grape harvest when no unfermented grape juice would have been available in antiquity. All the pseudo-learned attempts to remove real wine from Scripture were just really bad scholarship and special pleading based on a social agenda, not real exegesis.” (J. J. M. Roberts, well known Hebrew Scholar, Professor of Old Testament at Princeton and elder in the Churches of Christ, in Staying the Course: Fifteen Leaders Survey Their Past and Envision the Future of the Churches of Christ, edited by Thomas H. Olbricht & Gayle D. Crowe, p. 129).

Beginning Thoughts

Why do I talk about this someone asks? Well a couple of reasons. First, I was asked about it. Second, It does not have to do with “I can drink wine and there is nothing you can do about it.” It goes to something deeper than that.

Rather it has to do with our very conception of biblical faith. The biblical “god” is the Creator God. The creator of the “very good” creation (Genesis 1.1-2.4a). In Scripture, creation is not a tool that is somehow the opposite of evolution. Creation is filled with the God of Israel’s goodness, wisdom, glory, Hesed (Psalm 104). Creation is a “wonder,” it is the “work” of God’s hands. Creation, as such, glorifies the creator. Sun, Moon, stars at night, creatures on land and sea all praise the Creator God in Scriptures (Psalm 19; Psalm 148).

In the Bible, the Creator does not surrender what God has created to the ravages of sin. God redeems “creation.” Sometimes we American disciples misunderstand the word spiritual to mean the antithesis of matter or materiality or stuff in this created world.” But God loves the world (John 3.16).

“Spiritual” is not the opposite of “matter” in Scripture. It is in the pagan worldview of Platonism and Gnosticism however. So the human body, its functions, etc are often seen as the very opposite of “spiritual” by those who have an unbiblical understanding of “spirituality.” Food is “spiritual” however just as Paul states directly that the Israelites ate “spiritual food” in the desert (1 Cor 10). It is the gift of God. That God is the Good Creator is not simply a slap at Darwin (whom biblical writers never heard of). It is a statement that God is King, that God provides, that our world was created as good.

When we embrace the worldview of Scripture we do not surrender what our Creator has given to evil. What the Creator has done is received in joyful gratitude, like a child from a parent. When we denigrate creation we in turn denigrate resurrection. It is the physical materiality of the sacraments like the Supper with its bread and wine that have played such a massive role in Christian theology against dualism and Gnosticism. Gisela Kreglinger observes correctly,

Kreglinger explores the two thousand year history of wine in Christianity and its use in the Bible and Worship

The Judeo-Christian faith has always held that God not only created this good world but also chose to manifest his glory in it. He reveals himself in and through creation and not apart from it. Creation and its materiality are a gift of God. The Lord’s Supper is a defense against lingering Gnostic heresies with their strong tendency to devalue creation. Instead, it [the Lord’s Supper] firmly anchors our life of faith in creation, upholding that God meets us in physical matter and our embodied and communal lives … God sanctifies them and meets us in bread and wine.” (Gisela Kreglinger, The Spirituality of Wine, p. 67. See Gisela Kreglinger’s The Spirituality of Wine, chapters 2 and 3).

For a review Kreglinger see To Drink is to Pray: The Spirituality of Wine, A Review.

In Scripture wine is Spiritual. Food is Spiritual. Sexuality is Spiritual.

The Bible refuses to surrender sex to abusers like Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt. Song of Songs rescues sexuality from them. The Song actually does more than rescue sex, it is a full blown celebration of it as God intended it to be.

The Bible refuses to surrender food to the gluttons like the citizens of Sodom (Ezk 16.49). Jesus’s kingdom parables rescue feasting from the gluttons. Food is not only rescued from the gluttons but the Kingdom celebrates feasting in the very presence of God. Feasting, btw, involves occasional overeating! But occasional feasting is not gluttony (let that sink in).

The Bible also refuses to surrender wine to Bacchus and drunks (habitual over-drinkers). Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, the Song of Songs and Cana rescues wine from the pagans and abusers. Wine is not merely rescued from abuse but becomes the celebratory symbol of the renewal of creation through the Kingdom itself.

Joy is an essential mark of Christianity. When C. S. Lewis recounts his journey from atheism to Christianity he called it being Surprised by Joy.

God created taste buds!
God created pleasure in sex.
God created wine.

McGovern, archeologist and one of the world’s leading experts on ancient wine, has fascinating work on wine in the Ancient Near East, including Israel.

The Bible never once condemns food. There is plenty of feasting in the Bible. But it does condemn gluttony.

The Bible never once condemns sex. It does not even condemn pleasure in sex. It does not condemn the joy of sex. It encourages it. But it condemn fornication and adultery.

The Bible never once condemns wine/beer/alcohol. It does not even condemn the enjoyment of wine. It explicitly – in so many words – declares it to be the creation of the Good God for the enjoyment of human beings (Ps 104.14-15; the whole psalm is about the gifts of God to creation. Sirach 31.25-31 brings the joy and abuse of this gift together in one passage.) But it does condemn its misuse.

Watch how all three: food, wine and sex are brought together in Song of Songs …

5.1, “I come to my garden, my sister my bride;
I gather my myrrh with my spice,
I eat my honeycomb with my honey
I DRINK MY WINE with my milk

Then the text uses two imperatives:

EAT, DRINK, friends and be DRUNK with love

This text in 5.1 is a direct and explicit comparison of the intoxication of wine and the intoxication of sexual love. And for the critic’s sake, note how Food, Sex and Wine all are in this verse and celebrated.

Celebrated. Celebrated. Celebrated. The Spirit guided author of Song of Songs is hardly embarrassed by the celebration of food, wine or sex. They are inherently good.

It is pagan Platonism to deny the good that God made. So the biblical position is:

Food is Gift from God. Gluttony is abuse of gift and sin.

Sex is Gift from God. Fornication is abuse of gift and sin.

Wine is Gift from God. Drunkenness is abuse of gift and sin.

There are 88 different words in the Hebrew Bible for wine and vintage used a total of 810x. There are 36 different words used in the Greek NT for wine for a total of 169x. Wine is not rare in the Bible. Indeed Palestine was awash in wine.

Seven Uses of Wine in Scripture

Here are a seven different categories where we find the use of wine or alcoholic beverages in the Bible. They are not exhaustive nor are the references. I have just cited representative texts.

1) Worship and Wine

In the Bible, these (Food, Sex, Wine) are inherently good. Thus we see wine and other intoxicating drinks were used in the worship of God being poured over sacrificial offerings on the altar as drink offerings.

Then you can use the money for anything you want: cattle, sheep, wine, beer, or whatever else you might like. Then you should feast there and celebrate in the presence of the Lord your God, along with your entire household.” (Deuteronomy 14.26, CEB).

Look up the following references, Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:5,7,10 18:12; 28:7,14; Deuteronomy 18:4; 1 Samuel 1:24; 2 Chronicles 31:5; Ezra 6:9; 7:22; Nehemiah 5:11; 10:37,39; 13:12. And the ministers were even paid with wine. The Levites received wine for themselves from the tithes given by the worshipers (Numbers 18:30).

2) Song of Songs & Wine (Why is it we never study this book??)

We already referenced the Song above. In the Song these things (Food, Wine & Sexuality) are celebrated extensively. For example …

Song of Songs 1.2 “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!For/because your LOVE is better than WINE

For this comparison to have any validity, the wine not only has to be some pretty potent stuff but also morally desirable otherwise the metaphor does not work. See 1.4; 4.10; 5.1f; 7.2; 7.9; 8.2 … Again for example:

Song of Songs 7.9 “your kisses, like the finest wine goes down smoothly, gliding over the lips and teeth

This is pure celebration by the Spirit guided author. Kissing is good. Kissing is enjoyable. Kissing is exciting … it even more enjoyable than wine! For this image to have any legitimacy the WINE has to be potent stuff. No one compares kissing and sex to kool-aid!!

There is not the slightest hint of embarrassment here by the biblical author. There is not the slightest suggestion that God is displeased. In fact it may be an insult to God according to the Song to imply such a thing. These are pure gift of divine grace to humanity.

3) Wine, the Creation of God (and Christ, if we believe what Col 1 and Heb 1 teach) for Cheer

You [God] cause the grass to grwo for the cattle
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the human heart
” (Ps 104.14-15)

4) Food, Wine & Sex God’s Gifts

We have touched on this but it bears stressing for there is such deep seated neo-platonic, even neo-gnostic, roots to so much modern American Christianity.

[I]t is God’s GIFT that all should eat and DRINK and take PLEASURE in all their toil” (Ecc 3.13, see 2.24)

Go, eat your bread [food = gift] with enjoyment,
drink your WINE with a merry heart [wine = gift]

Enjoy life with your wife whom you love [intimacy/love = gift]” (Ecclesiastes 9.7-9)

Feasts [food & intimacy] are for laughter [joy/pleasure];
wine gladdens life
…” (Ecc 10.19).

Old Testament scholar, Heskett teamed up with wine historian Butler to follow the “trail” of wine from “creation” to today by looking at the ancient world of wine to today’s in Israel and the Mediterranean.

5) Wine as a Reward from God

Wine is stated, explicitly, to be a reward or blessing from God for faithfulness and obedience to his covenant.

If you heed these ordinances, by diligently observing them, the LORD your God will maintain with you the covenant of love … he will love you, bless you … [with] grain, WINE …” (Deut 7.12-13; see 11.14 and 33.28 among many other places)

Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the first fruits of all your crops;
THEN your barns will be filled to overflowing,
AND your vats will brim with new wine

(Proverbs 3.9-10)

Wisdom has built her house;
she has hewn out seven pillars.
She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; . . .
Let all who are simple come in here!’
she says to those who lack judgment.
‘Come, eat my food and drink my wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways and you will live;
walk in the way of understanding
(Proverbs 9.1-5).

6) The Sin of Drunkenness is Placed with the SIN OF OVEREATING

Is it not interesting that preachers (and “ordinary” Christians) will castigate having a beer as sin while they have giant steaks at the Outback! But the Bible puts drunkenness with over eating. Food is not condemned. Gluttony is. Drinking even with joy is not condemned. Drunkenness is. The inspired text says,

Do not be among the winebibbers,
or among the GLUTTONOUS eaters of meat;
For the drunkard and the glutton will
come to poverty, and drowsiness
will clothe them with rags

(Proverbs 23.20-21)

7) Wine, Did God Command Sin?

So we saw above that the Bible commands the use of wine in worship in at least a dozen texts (yes a dozen!). This wine is consumed. So the question to be posed by is “Did God command sin?

This is crystal clear in Deuteronomy 14 and numerous other texts. Deuteronomy says in conjunction with the first fruits for when people live a ways away from Jerusalem.

buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, WINE or OTHER FERMENTED DRINK, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.” (Deut. 14.26, NIV).

Not only is wine confirmed to be fermented in this text but the Torah says get wine or “OTHER fermented drink” or “Beer” and then come worship in the Lord’s presence.

The Bible Position is … Sustained by Vast Amounts of Scripture

Food is Gift from God. Gluttony is abuse of gift and sin.

Sex is Gift from God. Fornication is abuse of gift and sin.

Wine is Gift from God. Drunkenness is abuse of gift and sin.

C. S. Lewis speaking and writing in the 1940s gave a small protest to the abuse of the word “temperance.” In Mere Christianity, he notes a significant difference between Islam and Christianity (and Judaism) is that it is Islam not biblical faith that is a “tee-totaler” religion. The American Temperance Movement used the word incorrectly.

Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism… [But in the past,] temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotalers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion.” (Mere Christianity, p.

We are supposed to enjoy the gifts of grace God has made. We are called to receive with thanksgiving and gratitude which, by their nature, exclude the abuse of God’s gifts.

Food for feasting and fellowship.

Sex is for enjoyment with our wives.

Wine with our friends, family and even in the presence of God.

Recommended Resources

Many false claims are made by religious people about wine both in and out of the Bible. Whatever one’s personal preferences may be our views should be founded upon real information. To have a grounded view of Christianity’s views on wine and a view that is historically accurate I cannot recommend the three works enough.

Giesela H. Kreglinger, The Spirituality of Wine (required reading)

Patrick E. McGovern, Ancient Wine, The Search for the Origins of Vineculture

Randall Heskett & Joel Butler, Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age

I make no money by recommending these books. All three are great reads but I recommend Kreglinger and then McGovern first.

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