Fermented or Unfermented Fruit of the Vine?
In most congregations, the Lord's people use unfermented grape juice as the fruit of the vine (Mt. 26:29) to represent the blood of the Lord's Supper. I believe this is a scriptural practice, although many religious organizations as well as some brethren teach that only fermented juice can be used. Their argument is usually based on a false assumption that since the Lord's Supper was instituted eight months after the grape harvest, all of the grape juice had by then fermented and unfermented juice was not available. Thus, they say, Jesus used fermented juice and we must also. Historical records show that unfermented juice was available during the whole year, and an examination of the scriptures seems in order to determine whether fermented or unfermented juice is acceptable.
Fermentation is a natural process by yeast bacteria in the absence of air that changes sugar to ethyl alcohol. Man has controlled this process since Noah (Gen. 9:21) to produce intoxicating beverages. In the Old Testament, fermented juice was described by several words, but the two most common, yayin and tirosh, are translated into the Greek language of the Septuagint as oinos (Thayer, p. 442). Thayer translates oinos as wine, which also appears 28 times in the New Testament. Arndt and Gingrich (p. 564) say that oinos is the fermented juice of grape, but some Bible scholars question whether it means fermented juice in every case or in some instances can mean unfermented juice. The point is that oinos generally means wine or fermented juice, but is never used to describe the emblem of the Lord's Supper. The silence of the scriptures is strong evidence that fermented juice or wine (oinos) was not used by Jesus - and should not be bound on Christians today. One could argue that Jesus might have used wine and the fact wag not recorded, in which case we would be free to use either juice or wine. The only way to prove that Jesus used wine is to prove that unfermented juice was not available, and the testimony of ancient arts cries just the opposite.
In Mt. 26:29, Mk. 14:25, and Lk.22:18, Jesus describes the cup as the fruit of the vine. The word for cup, poterion, in this case, is defined by Thayer (p. 533) as the contents rather than the vessel, and represents the blood of Christ which Paul told Christians to drink as the cup (I Cor. 10: 21). In the phrase "fruit of the vine," the word for fruit gennenma is used by Thayer (p. 113) to mean fruits of the earth or products of agriculture. Thayer (p. 32) does not specify any particular kind of vine for the word ampelos; however, Lev. 25:5 refers to the "grapes of thy vine," and most Bible scholars agree that this means grape vine in the New Testament.
By definition, grapes are the fruit of the grape vine. The grape is composed of an outer skin, juice vesicles, and sometimes seeds. When the grapes are hanging on the vine the juice is unfermented, and hence, unfermented juice is truly the fruit of the vine. In order to obtain fermented juice, the grape skin must be broken and the yeast spores contact the juice. Alcohol is not found in whole grapes on the vine, so fermented juice is not the fruit of the vine but rather the fruit of bacteria acting on the juice. By this reasoning, fermented juice is no longer fruit of, the vine, but something different and, hence, unscriptural for use in the Lord's Supper.
However, the heart of the question is whether unfermented juice was available for Jesus to use, and historians say yes! Normally, when the grape skin is broken, bacterial yeast spores are washed from the outside of the skin by the juice into the vat, where the spores germinate, grow, and begin fermentation. But Forbes (p. 124) records that when the ancient vats were first filled with grapes, the weight of the grapes was sufficient to gently break some skins and cause a small amount of juice to collect which contained very little bacteria. This first collected must (trux) ". . . could be kept, a year." He further states that "The Romans filled it in jars, shut and sealed them tightly and immersed them in cold river or salty water, thus stopping fermentation." Singer (p. 132) says "The first must that was collected, particularly that squeezed from the grapes by their own weight, was especially valued, and remained wholesome for a fairly long time if well sealed." Smith (p. 1774) also comments that sometimes the wine "was preserved in its unfermented state and drunk as must"
Those who contend that only unfermented juice can scripturally be used for the Lord's Supper should seriously consider the three points of this discussion. The Greek word meaning fermented grape juice oinos is not used to describe the fruit of the vine, alcohol is not found in grapes which are the true fruit of the grape vine, and unfermented grape juice was available throughout the Roman world at the time of Jesus. The important thing is not to strive about something the Bible does not teach, but rather unite in an understanding of the Lord's Supper and its relationship to God's love, Christ's sacrifice, and our salvation.
Arndt, W. F., and F. W. Gingrich, A GreekEnglish Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. The University of Chicago Press, 4th ed. 1957.
Forbes, R. J. Studies in Ancient Technology III. Leiden Co. 1955.
Singer, A History of Technology.
Smith W., Dictionary of the Bible. Revell Co.
Thayer, J. H. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Clark Co., Edinburgh, 4th ed. 1955.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 8, pp. 10-11