Some facts for those who want to be right


By Gary Ray Branscome


Many of the ideas being circulated in Evangelical circles have no basis in Scripture whatsoever. Worse yet, Satan uses those unscriptural ideas to divide churches, cause controversy, and give Christians a bad reputation. And, because Satan is using those ideas, he drives those who hold them to contend for them as if they were major articles of faith. At the same time, those who hold such views are totally oblivious to the fact that their opinions do not originate in Scripture. They simply assume that since that is what they have been taught, it must be right. And they convince themselves that the arguments or interpretations they come up with in defense of those views prove that they are right.


The idea that some or all of the wine used in ancient Israel was non-alcoholic, is just one of those unbiblical views. And, I realize that those who hold such views are more likely to become angry at me than to be honest about what the Bible says. Still, some things need to be said.


First of all, let me make it clear that if the Bible does not explicitly say something, then God does not want it taught as His Word. He is not stupid! Far more intelligence went into the wording of each and every verse of Scripture than all the human scholars who have ever lived could even dream of. He does not need us to “improve” on His Word. Furthermore, if we do not understand something that He has said, He wants us to interpret it to teach the same doctrine that is taught in passages so clear that they need no interpretation. He does not want us to create doctrines that consist of nothing more than man-made explanations (Proverbs 30:6, 2Peter 1:20).


That being said, let me make it clear that the Bible clearly and strongly condemns drunkenness. Drunkenness is a sin that should be strongly condemned in no uncertain terms. However, the Bible does not say anything about the alcoholic content of wine. The people living at that time did not even know what alcohol was much less have a word for it. But the Bible does tell is that the wine people used sometimes made them drunk.


          The tools and methods employed in making wine in ancient Israel were quite primitive. They did not even have barrels. In places where the ground was solid limestone, it was common for them to carve presses and fermenting vats out of solid rock. The grapes would be placed on a flat part of the rock that sloped toward the vat, and as they were crushed the juices would flow into the vat. The mixture in the vat would contain some crushed grapes and skins, how much I do not know. However, much of the red color of wine comes from the skins, and the only person I ever knew who actually made wine always included skins and crushed grapes in the mix.


          Natural yeasts on the skin of the grapes would cause the mix to begin to ferment as soon as the grapes were crushed, and before long alcohol would be present in the mix. After a few months, fermentation would cease, and the wine would be filtered and transferred either to wineskins, or to large clay jars. [There is a natural limit to the amount of alcohol in wine, because when it reaches about fifteen percent it kills the yeast, bringing fermentation to a stop.]


          Some time ago, I sent this quote (from the internet) to a man who held that wine in Israel was non-alcoholic.

Two terms for wine are used throughout the Bible. In the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), the Hebrew word is yayin, while the Christian New Testament, written in Greek, used the word oinos, from which we get our word “wine.” Both meant the same thing: fermented wine. There is no word for unfermented wine in Scripture. Wine is wine. It was always fermented.


Since the man I sent the quote to simply dismissed it, saying, “That is not true” we need to look at what the Bible says. What we believe should come straight from Scripture, and should consist of what God says, not the opinions of commentators.


          Before examining that quote in the light of Scripture let me point out that its author only mentions the two primary terms for wine. Actually there are five different words that are translated “wine” in our King James Bible (two Hebrew and three Greek), and we will look at all five.


First the Hebrew word is “yayin” (Strong’s number 03196).

This was the primary Hebrew term for wine. Since it is usage and context that determines the specific meaning of each word, not man-made dictionaries, let us look at some verses to see how the word was used.

[If you do not have the “Online Bible” program, it can be downloaded for free from the internet. If you use it to do a word search (and enter Strong’s number instead of the word) it will bring up all the verses that contain that word.]

Genesis 9:21  And he [Noah] drank of the wine <03196>, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.

1 Samuel 1:14  And Eli said unto her, How long will you be drunken? put away thy wine <03196> from thee.

Esther 1:10  On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine < 03196>,

Proverbs 31:4  It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine <03196>; nor for princes strong drink:

Isaiah 5:11  Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine <03196> inflame them!


The second Hebrew word is “tiyros” (Strong’s number 08492).

This word is often translated “new wine”. The context indicates that it was the word for wine that had just been fermented, or was fermenting. Verse after verse speaks of it in connection with harvest, but only a few speak of people drinking it. However, Hosea 4:11 tells us that it was a source of intoxication.

Hosea 4:11  Whoredom and wine and new wine <08492> take away the understanding.

Joel 1:10  The field is wasted, the land mourns; for the corn is wasted: the new wine <08492> is dried up, the oil languishes.

Proverbs 3:10  So shall your barns be filled with plenty, and your presses shall burst out with new wine <08492>.


The first Greek word is “oinos” (Strong’s number 3631).

This is the primary Greek word for wine, and is the root of our English word. This is the word used most often in the New Testament.

Luke 1:15  For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine <3631> nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.

Ephesians 5:18  And be not drunk with wine <3631>, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;

1 Timothy 3:8  Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine <3631>, not greedy of filthy lucre;

Luke 7:34  The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber <3630>, a friend of publicans and sinners!


The second Greek word is “paroinos” (Strong’s number 3943).

This word denotes wine that is always kept near. The thought is of someone who always has a bottle handy. It is only used twice in the New Testament.

1 Timothy 3:3  Not given to wine <3943>, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;

Titus 1:7  For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine <3943>, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;


The third Greek word is “gleukos” (Strong’s number 1098).

This Greek term could be translated as “sweet wine”. It is only used once in the New Testament, but Acts 2:15 makes it clear that it was intoxicating.

Acts 2:13  Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine <1098>.

Acts 2:15  For these are not drunken, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.


The quote mentioned at the beginning of this section concluded with these words, “There is no word for unfermented wine in Scripture. Wine is wine. It was always fermented.” The Bible passages just given prove the truth of that statement, by telling us that every word translated “wine” in our English Bible describes something that could make men drunk.


Some Final Thoughts


          It should be clear at this point that the claim that the wine used in ancient Israel was non-alcoholic does not come from Scripture. In fact, no one even heard of it until the late nineteenth century, when it was invented by those in the prohibition movement. However, because the water was often unsafe to drink, while wine was not, and wine by itself will not quench thirst, wine was often mixed with water. In fact, the wine used for everyday drinking often contained as much as fifty percent water (more water would ruin the flavor). Undiluted wine was usually reserved for special occasions, such as weddings. As a result, the wine in common use contained relatively little alcohol (perhaps six percent).

          Therefore, when the steward at the wedding feast (where Christ changed water into wine) said that the wine Christ made was the “good wine” he was saying that it was undiluted. And, when Paul advised Timothy to “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities”, he was telling him to use wine mixed with water to make the water safer (1Timothy 5:23). 


          Because the people who insist that the wine used in ancient Israel was non-alcoholic are either driven by the idea that abstaining from alcohol makes them better in God’s sight, or by a stereotype that envisions a person who abstains as a Christian ideal, they often assume that everyone who does not share their views frequents bars and gets drunk. That is totally wrong, unfair, and dishonest! I know many fine Christian people who have no problem with a drink now and then, but would never think of getting drunk because they regard drunkenness as a sin. I, personally, have never been drunk in my life, nor have I gone to a bar, or tasted whiskey, and I have no desire to. Because I believe that drunkenness is a serious sin, I have only tasted wine, apart from the Lord’s Supper, on rare occasions. However, the reason I generally abstain is because of my love for Christ, not because I have deluded myself into thinking that it is a sin to drink wine.        


Finally, it is totally wrong to assume that, if the wine in use at the wedding feast at Cana had alcohol in it, the people would all be drunk. These people were responsible friends and neighbors, not people out to get drunk. The steward of the feast was simply stating the general rule followed at feasts, when he said, “Everyone serves the best wine first; and when the guests have drunk freely, then that which is poorer: but you have kept the best wine until now.” (John 2:10) That is why Lenski, who firmly believed that the wine contained alcohol, said, “The situation here, as far as any application of the steward’s rule to the guests at this wedding is concerned, on its very face bars out all excess.” (Lenski’s commentary)




One man that I talked to said that the idea that the wine was not at all alcoholic in nature, “is in the realm of belief”. In other words, the Bible does not say it, but he still believes it. Christ said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31), yet he is doing the opposite by going outside of Scripture for his beliefs. God wants us to teach exactly what His Word says, not our own made-up explanations. While that fact should be self evident, I find few people who understand it, and fewer still who put it into practice.