Wines of the Bible

The Seventh-day Adventist position on the use of intoxicating bev­erages has ever been con­sistent and Biblical. The church has always taken the unequivocal stand that alcoholic drinks are debilitating to body and mind, and hence are not to be used by the child of God, for "if any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are" (1 Cor. 3:17). Not only does the use of such beverages defile body and mind but the result of their con­tinued use makes a person unfit to enter the kingdom of heaven (chapter 6:10). Alcohol is formed by the process of fermen­tation. Fermentation signifies death, death is the result of sin, hence fermentation is a type of sin.

There is an obvious disagreement on the part of various students of the Bible as to the use of beverages termed "wine" in the Scriptures. Numerous Biblical schol­ars, both past and present, however, are in harmony with the belief that the word "wine" as used in the Bible has reference to an intoxicating beverage. Some have gone so far as to imply that its use as such in the Scriptures is with divine approval. This in turn has served as some sort of license for many to partake of such alco­holic drinks, and to use fermented wine in the communion service, claiming that the Bible and even Jesus Himself endorse its use.

Various reference works—lexicons, com­mentaries, dictionaries, and encyclopedias also seem to be in agreement that "wine" and the words answering to it, in whatever language, have reference to only fer­mented liquor. In some instances this seems almost to be taken for granted, thus implying a falsehood. Other sources are more emphatic that the wines used in Bible days were, in general, fermented. Dr. Wil­ham Smith, in his Dictionary of the Bible, is a case in point. He writes:

It has been disputed whether the Hebrew wine was fermented, but the impression produced on the mind by a general review of the above notices [Old Testament texts] is that the Hebrew words indicating wine refer to fermented, intoxicating wine.—Page 997.

If the above quotation be even generally true, there would be an evident contradic­tion on the part of Bible writers as to just what is signified by the word "wine," a fermented or an unfermented product. Ad­mittedly, in a hot climate, without the benefit of refrigeration, the pure juice of the grape had to be taken soon after it was produced in order to avoid fermentation, but even this assumption cannot be taken to mean that every instance of the usage of the word "wine" in the Bible has reference to fermented wine.

That the Bible writers make a distinc­tion between the wines of the Bible is ob­vious. In the Old Testament the Aaronic priests were forbidden to drink wine or strong drink while ministering about the tabernacle (Lev. 10:9). Those under the Nazarite vow were likewise prohibited from taking fermented wine (Num. 6:2, 3). These prohibitions cannot possibly have reference to "the pure blood of the grape," in which there was "a blessing" (Dent. 32:14; Isa. 65:8).

The New Testament record is likewise consistent. Christ's first miracle at the mar­riage feast was to produce "good wine" in an emergency. This was the pure juice of the grape. Note this inspired statement:

It was Christ who directed that John the Baptist should drink neither wine nor strong drink. It was He who enjoined similar abstinence upon the wife of Manoah. And He pronounced a curse upon the man who should put the bottle to his neighbor's lips. Christ did not contradict His own teaching. The unfermented wine which He provided for the wedding guests was a wholesome and refreshing drink. Its effect was to bring the taste into harmony with a healthful appetite.—The Desire of Ages, p. 149.

The Saviour's final act with His disciples was the institution of the Lord's Supper to take the place of the Passover supper. That the wine used on this occasion was unfer­mented is established by the fact that dur­ing the Passover season leaven and all other things fermented were not to be found in any Hebrew home (Ex. 12:15). It is unthinkable that the wine used to rep­resent His blood (1 Cor. 11:25) would bear the taint of ferment and its cause, which is death. Jesus said to the disciples, "But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matt. 26:29). The wine used at the Lord's Supper was called the "fruit of the vine." Ferment is a type of sin, and since in Him was no sin, the wine that represents His blood must be without ferment.

The Old Testament records that "mingled" wine was used at festivals (Prov. 9:2, 5) and occasions of excess (Isa. 5:22). Such a mixture of wines evidently had a delirious effect (Prov. 23:29, 30). It is sig­nificant to note that "wine mingled with myrrh" was offered to Jesus at His crucifix­ion to deaden the pain (Mark 15:23), but He refused it because of its stupefying ef­fect upon the brain. The Saviour of man needed the powers of His whole being to triumph over the adversary in those last crucial hours, and thus He refused that which would have helped ease His pain.

It should be noted in passing that in Bible times the vine was not cultivated wholly for the purpose of producing wine, but for other products as well. Dr. Eli Smith, who spent years in the Holy Land, writes, "Wine is not the most important, but rather the least so, of all the objects for which the vine is cultivated." I believe it is significant that nearly every one of the Hebrew words that stand for the product of the vine, are each rendered simply as "wine." The marginal reading of Hosea 3:1reveals to the lay reader that the word "wine" has also the meaning of "grapes."

A careful examination of the use of the word "wine" in its original setting of the Hebrew and Greek will clearly reveal the fact that two kinds of wine are used in the Scriptures—one intoxicating and the other unintoxicating.

The Hebrew is a very compact language and yet it is rich in synonyms. For example, there are thirteen words in Hebrew for the English word "man." It has more than sixty different words for the word "take." There are eleven words that are translated "wine" in our Bibles, but a translation that makes one English word stand for a dozen Hebrew words, must certainly de­stroy many shades of meaning. The eleven words we translate "wine" evidently do not all refer to wine as we understand it, in­toxicating or unintoxicating, but also to other products of the vine. It isn't neces­sary, therefore, to examine all eleven He­brew words translated "wine," for the testi­mony of the Hebrew Bible rests largely upon three main words and their uses.


1.     Tirdsh. The examination of the refer­ences used where this word occurs leaves lit­tle doubt that the wine referred to is of the harmless, unintoxicating variety. The word is used thirty-eight times and is always as­sociated with that which is good. Tirosh was given to sustain man (Gen. 27:37); it gladdens the heart (Ps. 104:15); it produces gladness and prosperity (Prov. 3:10); it is equated with the good fruit of the earth (Hosea 2:22). (See also Joel 2:19, Micah 6:15, and Zechariah 9:17.)

2.     Shekar. The word "wine" as trans­lated from Shekar is always a drink that beyond question is intoxicating, and its general rendering in our English Bibles as "strong drink" is quite appropriate. There is not one instance where this word is sanc­tioned by Divinity. Notice its usage: "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging" (Prov. 20:1); it brings sorrow and contention (Prov. 23:29, 30); priests and prophets have erred through strong drink (Isa. 28: 7); woe to them that follow strong drink (Isa. 5:11).

3.     Yayin. The texts in which this word is found reveal that it is merely a generic word having reference to wine in general. It is used both with favor and disfavor in the Scriptures, the context alone revealing whether intoxicating or unintoxicating wine is intended. This word occurs 140 times in the Old Testament. Notice how that both types of wine are signified by the word yayin: Noah "drank of the wine, and was drunken" (Gen. 9: 21); "How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine" (1 Sam. 1:14); "Had taken of them bread and wine" (Neh. 5:15); "Buy wine and milk . . . without price" (Isa. 55:1, used figuratively).

Hosea 4:11 provides a good example of the usage of two of the above Hebrew words: "Whoredom and wine [yayin] and new wine [tirash] take away the heart." Notice that yayin, the generic word for wine, and tireish, the word for unintoxicat­ing wine, are here associated with whore­dom and are said to "take away the heart." This is an indictment against the exploita­tion of appetite and points to the state of degradation in which all things minister to sensuality and the carnal nature. This could well be said in reference to overin­dulgence of good food and drink as well as intoxicants.


There are three Greek words that are translated "wine" in the New Testament. The word used mostly is oinos; however, there are two other words that are used once each which have reference to intoxi­cating wine; they are sikera and gleukos, used in the following texts: "[John the Baptist] shall drink neither wine [oinos] nor strong drink [sikera]" (Luke 1:15); "Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine [gleukos]" (Acts 2:13).

The Septuagint uses the Greek oinos to translate both yayin and tirdsh—the for­mer referring to wine in general, the latter to unintoxicating wine. On the basis of this, careful scholarship should attend the interpretation of those texts where oinos is used, taking cognizance of the context in which the word is found. This alone de­termines whether oinos should be rendered as an intoxicating beverage or not. Notice the usage of oinos in the following texts: Luke 7:33—"For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil." Luke 10:34—"And [the good Samaritan] went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine." John 4:46—"So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine." The word oinos is used in each of the above texts, but obviously dif­ferent kinds of wine are being set forth.

Some select certain passages in which the word "wine" is used, not knowing the usages in the original languages, thus dis­torting the true meaning to suit their own purposes. It is inconceivable, for instance, that Paul would counsel the early church deacons (1 Tim. 5:23) or aged women (Titus 2:3) to use shekar in the one in­stance and to shun it in the other, for Paul knew that intoxicating wines were forthrightly condemned in the Old Testa­ment, the Bible of his day.

The study of the wines of the Bible re­veals the fact that for every good thing that God has made, Satan has made a counter­feit. Nowhere in the Scriptures can it be proved that God has put His endorsement on the use of intoxicating wine. He has given man the pure juice of the grape for his enjoyment and benefit. He provided it as a symbol of the spilt blood of Jesus Christ for our sins, and greatest of all, we have the Saviour's promise: "I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matt. 26: 29).

Ministry Magazine, 1965 by Pastor RICHARD J. BARNETT