Wine in the Bible Num. 6: 3-4

Wine in the Bible Num. 6: 3-4 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO

In the Bible, the word “wine” is usually a reference to fermented grape juice. And generally the word is used in connection with something negative, like drunkenness and fornication.  But the word “juice” is only used one time, in Song of Solomon 8:2, and there it is a reference to the juice of pomegranates.

So, in no place do we find the juice of grapes referred to as simply “juice.”  And yet there are ample references to grapes and the products of grapes for the fresh juice to be spoken of somewhere.  For instance, in Num 6:3-4 we find the things that a Nazarite is prohibited from eating and drinking during his separation.  He cannot have:

  • Wine
  • Strong drink
  • Vinegar of wine
  • Vinegar of strong drink
  • Liquor of grapes
  • Moist grapes
  • Dried grapes
  • The kernels
  • The husk

“Grape juice” is not listed as one of the items prohibited.  However, verse 4 clearly states that he shall “eat nothing that is made of the vine tree.”  Evidently, then, grape juice is listed as “wine,” because it certainly can’t be anything else in the list above.

To our way of thinking today, the fresh squeezed juice of the grape is “grape juice” and the fermented juice is “wine.”  But in the Bible that’s not the case. Wine can be a reference to either the juice of the grape or the fermented wine. The term “wine” covers both.

The question comes up, “How can you know for sure that grape juice is included in the word ‘wine?'”  There are a number of ways you can tell.

First, the press used to tread the grapes and remove the juice is called a “WINEpress,” (Job 24:11).  It is not called a “Grapepress.”  The grapes are trodden and the juice is collected.  Furthermore, the vat or trough that receives the juice from the grapes is called a “WINEfat,” (Is 63:2).  It is not called a “Grapefat.”  Thus, the Bible refers to the juice of grapes as wine, even before it’s fermented.

Second, look at Is 16:10. “… the treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease.”  Notice that WINE is pressed out of the winepress by the treaders.  That’s fresh grape juice.  Look at it again in Jer 48:33, “… and I have caused wine to fail from the winepresses: none shall tread with shouting; their shouting shall be no shouting.”  The treading of grapes in the winepress produces wine.

Third, look at Hos 9:2. “The floor and the winepress shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail in her.”  Here the wine from the winepress is called “NEW wine.”  See a similar reference to new wine in Prov 3:10.  There the Bible says, “So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.”  Hence, the Bible makes a distinction in some cases between wine and new wine to let us know the difference between fermented wine and grape juice.  The wine is new when it is first pressed out of the grapes.

Fourth, during the fermentation process, yeast acts on the sugar in the grapes to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The release of carbon dioxide adds pressure to the vessel containing the fermenting wine.  So, the vessel has to be able to withstand the increased pressure, release the pressure or expand with the pressure.  Thus, Jesus taught that new wine was not put into old bottles because they couldn’t expand with the pressure.  New wine was put into new bottles so that as it fermented, the bottles could expand to accommodate the pressure.  New wine is, therefore, unfermented (Matt. 9:17).

Fifth, Is. 65:8 tells us where to find the new wine.  Isaiah says, “Thus saith the LORD, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants’ sakes, that I may not destroy them all.”  The new wine is in the cluster, which is where the grapes are when they are growing on the vine.  Thus, the juice of grapes is called new wine.  We see a picture of this new wine in the butler’s dream in Gen. 40:9-11. In the dream, the grapes were pressed directly into Pharaoh’s cup.

Sixth, new wine or grape juice could be preserved without fermenting by one of four methods: boiling, filtration, cold storage, and sulphur fumigation. Therefore, it did not have to be drunk fresh in order to still be grape juice. These methods are discussed in great detail in an article entitled The Preservation of Grape Juice, by Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University, at the following web site: http://www2.andrews.edu/~samuele/books/wine_in_the_bible/3.html

For these reasons, the “cup” that was drunk at the Lord’s Supper would not have been fermented wine.  You know this because:

  • It was not even called wine in the gospels or in Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor. 11. It was called the “fruit of the vine.”
  • Paul had to rebuke the Corinthians in their observance of this ordinance because some of them were getting drunk on wine (v. 21). Thus, they despised the church of God (v.22).
  • The fermentation of wine is the result of adding yeast, a leavening agent, to the grape juice to make alcohol. At a supper of unleavened bread, there is no way that the Lord would offer a drink made with yeast.

With this understanding, you can also be sure that the water turned into wine at the marriage in Cana was not fermented.  It was new wine made that same evening.  Therefore, the next time someone tries to use the Lord’s supper or the marriage of Cana to justify drinking fermented wine, you will know that they have incorrectly applied the scriptures.