Jesus, Cana, and Wine – Nana Yaw Aidoo

Nana Yaw Aidoo

No one who is at least acquainted with modern scientific revelations regarding alcoholic wine can deny that total abstinence is the way of wisdom. (cf. Prov. 20:1). A study of alcohol production across the ages reveals that the formula used in producing distilled spirits like whiskey, brandy and vodka is relatively modern.

Natural wines and brewed beverages were the only alcoholic drinks until a few centuries ago. In antiquity, as far back as 800 BC, they seem to have had crude methods of distilling alcohol from rice, millet and mare’s milk. However, the process of distillation leading to modern methods was first developed and applied in Italy about AD 1000. Spain followed two centuries later and France in the next century. In the sixteenth century Scotland founded her trade in whisky by distillation of alcohol from barley (Edith A. Kerr; Alcohol and the Scriptures, p. 5).

As a result of this relatively modern formula, the alcohol content in alcoholic beverages today is higher than it was in its ancient counterparts. Not only is this so, but alcoholic beverages today “…have a large percent of sugar of lead, strychnine, strontian, potash, soda, carbonates, benzine, Brazil wood, logwood, etc., etc” (D.R. Dungan; Rum and Ruin: The Remedy Found, p. 53, 2012 electronic edition). These things are poisons and thus, to refer to alcohol as a stimulant is to make a very big mistake. At best, alcohol acts as an anesthetic on the brain and as a depressant of the central nervous system. “Even small amounts of alcohol may affect the whole nervous system; larger amounts taken over a period of time can cause permanent brain damage.” (Kerr; ibid., p. 5).

Professor D.R. Dungan again noted;

Now, it ought to be known that wine, at the worst, was only supposed to contain a percent of alcohol; but that it was entirely free from those poisons that now go to make up the staple of other liquors. Alcohol is now being condemned by the entire medical profession as a beverage, and very many of the most learned of the present time deny that it can ever be used as medicine without injury (ibid., p. 53).

The voice of medical science is clear:

Alcohol, from the pharmacological view point, is an anaesthetic and a narcotic, potentially a habit-forming, craving-creating addiction drug (Andrew C. Ivy, M.D., Vice-President, University Illinois, U.S.A. as cited by Edith A. Kerr in Alcohol and the Scriptures, pg.5).

Then again, no sincere student of the Bible can deny that total abstinence from alcoholic wine is the duty of the child of God. A careful study of the Bible concerning wine leads to the conclusion, “…that when a word is used that indicates the presence of alcohol, the curse of the Almighty rests upon it.” (Dungan, p. 60). Notwithstanding, there are many who still attempt to justify their social or moderate drinking by appealing to the Bible as their source of authority.

It is strange that any man who believes that God is the author of that book would use it to establish a habit which the science and medical skill of the age agree in condemning. To me it seems the last extremity for the rum-drinker or the rum-seller when he flies to the Bible for support. Before the courts of medicine, history and popular opinion, he has lost his cause; and now as a dernier resort, he betakes himself to the Bible, in the vain hope of finding something, under cover of which he may disappear from public condemnation (ibid, p. 52).

One passage that continues to be wrested to support the sin of the moderate drinking of alcohol is Jesus’ turning of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. It is argued that since Jesus Christ turned water into wine, then a moderate drinking of alcohol is allowed, so long as one does not become drunk. I have always wondered at which point a person becomes drunk. Is it when he begins to vomit all over himself or is it when he is unable to walk properly? Inherent in this argument is the assumption that wine, as used in the Bible, always and without exception refers to alcoholic wine. The argument can be set forth in this syllogism.

Premise 1: Jesus Christ turned water into wine.

Premise 2: Wine is always and without exception a reference to alcohol in the Bible.

Conclusion: Therefore, drinking of alcohol is sanctioned by Jesus Christ.

It is a sad state of affairs that some would go as far as accusing the sinless Son of God, with sanctioning that which “bitteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.” We unequivocally deny that Jesus Christ turned water into alcoholic wine and it will be our burden in this note to so prove. A cursory reading of the text (John 2:1-12) reveals that Jesus Christ and His disciples honored a wedding invitation in Cana of Galilee. When there was a shortage of wine at the wedding, Jesus’ mother sought His help. Jesus Christ then had some servants to fill six water pots of stone with water.

And he saith unto them, draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and saith unto him, every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now (John 2:8-10).

Wine

The word translated wine in the ninth and tenth verses is the Greek word oinos. I do not profess to be a Greek scholar but those who are, claim that this word is a generic term that can be used in reference to both alcoholic and non-alcoholic wine. We agree with this conclusion, for in Ephesians 5:18, which is undoubtedly a reference to alcohol, we have the word, oinos. Then again in Mathew 9:17, the word oinos is clearly a reference to non-alcoholic wine for new wine is wine that “had not yet gone through its state of fermentation.” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary). Concerning this Greek word, D.R. Dungan noted that.

we have ten occurrences in which unfermented grape juice is intended, and six in which intoxicating wine is meant, and two in which alcoholic wine is probably referred to…Besides these, the word oinos occurs fifteen times, in which the meaning of the word is more or less in dispute…Hence when men tell us that oinos in the New Testament always means alcoholic wine, we know that they are not themselves informed in the matter, or are intentionally trying to deceive us (ibid., p. 59).

From the foregoing, we see that whether or not alcohol is in view, can only be determined by the context in which the word oinos/wine is found or with more information at our disposal. The word oinos/wine alone is insufficient in determining what Jesus Christ turned the water into. Thus, to conclude, just by considering the word oinos/wine alone, that Jesus Christ turned water into alcohol is nothing but a deceitful handling of God’s Word. (2 Cor.4:2).

Good Wine

Notice carefully that in the tenth verse, the governor of the feast called Jesus’ wine, “good wine.” The word good translates a Greek word that includes the idea of moral goodness. This is enough to prove to us that Jesus Christ did not turn water into something that is seen even by alien sinners as immoral. What would you say about your preacher if you found him in a pub drinking alcohol? Would you be proud to tell someone you’ve been teaching the gospel to that the man behind the bar with a glass of alcohol in his hands is the preacher at your congregation? If no, then is this not an admission that the drinking of alcohol is immoral and unbecoming of a child of God? And more, do not they charge Jesus Christ with immorality, who foolishly claim that He produced 180 gallons of alcohol (John 2:6) for people to drink?

That which Jesus Christ produced was “good wine” and thus it was wine that could not be deemed “immoral.” I submit that only non-alcoholic wine falls into this category. Lest the foregoing be construed as sophistry, I present this comment by Tayler Lewis, LL. D., in the first edition of the Temperance Bible Commentary.

As to what was esteemed ‘the good wine,’ there is ample evidence that the stronger (unmixed) wines were not preferred or drunk except by vicious or intemperate men, and that the sweetest and lightest wines, almost, if not altogether, incapable of intoxicating, were deemed the best by all sober persons. Indeed the governor’s language implies that ‘the good wine’ usually provided at feasts was of a kind that could be abundantly used without inebriation; and in one remarkable passage, Philo (who flourished during and after our Lord’s life upon earth) describes the votaries of wine proceeding from one kind to another, till they finished up with great draughts of the unmixed and strongest sorts (303).

D.R. Dungan also noted that,

According to Pliny, Plutarch, Horace, Theophrastus, and many others, they denominated the wine that would not intoxicate, “the best wine,” “the wholesome,” “the innocent,” “the moral wine,” etc. Pliny expressly says that “good wine was destitute of spirit.” Lib. iv. 13 (ibid. 62).

Therefore, since the context tells us that the wine Jesus Christ produced was “good,” then we can safely conclude of a surety that the wine He produced was non-alcoholic?

Conclusion

Jesus Christ was the only man to walk the face of this earth and not sin. (Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). And since He was amenable to the law of Moses (Gal. 4:4-5), clearly He never acted contrary to that law. Many passages can be shown from the Old Testament that outlaw giving alcohol to others to drink. (cf. Amos 4:1; Hab. 2:15). Could our Lord have given others alcohol to drink and yet be sinless? The moderate or social drinking of alcohol is a sin and is incompatible with holiness. (Amos 4:1-2). In Ephesians 5:18, methusko, which is translated drunk, is an inceptive verb, which signifies the process of becoming intoxicated (Vine). That process begins when one takes the first drink and thus, what is being outlawed by the Holy Spirit in the letter to the Ephesians is the process of becoming intoxicated or as is popularly called, moderate or social drinking. Woe to anyone who charges the Christ—Who sent the Holy Spirit to the apostles—with hypocrisy.

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