By Leon Goff
There are some, including some among our own brethren, who believe that Jesus’ turning water into wine, according to John 2:1-11, puts God’s stamp of approval upon the drinking of intoxicating beverages for social and recreational purposes. In Paul’s listing of the qualifications of elders and deacons, the expressions “not given to wine, ” and “not given to much wine” are sometimes used to support the position that drinking a little wine for social and recreational purposes is scripturally sanctioned (1 Tim. 3:3, 8).
The same arguments would also justify the social and recreational use of other drugs, since alcohol itself is a drug. How many who profess to be faithful Christians are ready for this consequence and conclusion? I would hope, none!
I wish to emphasize at the very beginning of this article that I do not believe the above passages, or any others, can be used successfully and rightfully to prove that the social and recreational use of alcohol and drugs is approved of God. I believe this basic issue must be kept before us regardless of the difficulty of some passages and contexts, and especially in the face of the mixed signals we may get from “scholars” who have dealt with this general theme.
Jesus Turned Water Into Wine (John 2:1-11)
What was the “wine” that Jesus made from water? Many jump to the conclusion that because the word “wine” is used, Jesus made a fermented, intoxicating drink. I do not believe that can be proven.
Someone may respond, “Yes, but you cannot prove it was not fermented.” I may not be able absolutely to prove that it was not fermented, especially to others’ satisfaction. It is not my obligation to prove that. It is only my intention and obligation to prove that just because the word “wine” is used does not necessitate the conclusion that Jesus made fermented, intoxicating wine.
The word is used five times in John 2:1-11, twice by John the writer of the gospel, once by the mother of Jesus, and twice by the governor or master of the wedding in Cana. In all five usages the Greek word is oinos. In fact, this word is the one used in the New Testament, except for Acts 2:13, where gleukos is used and translated “new wine.” Vine says that “OINOS is the general word for wine” (p. 219). This one word in the New Testament and the Greek includes different Old Testament Hebrew words for wine. Thayer says the Greek word oinos translates, in the Septuagint Version, not only the Hebrew word yayin, but also the Hebrew words tiyrosh and hemer (p. 442). Tiyrosh is the word in Isa. 65:8: “As the new wine is found in the cluster…. ” In the Greek translation this is the same word (oinos) as is used all five times in John 2:1-11.
What does all of this prove? The word oinos used in John 2:1-11 is a general word covering all stages of the juice of the grape (fermented and unfermented), including the juice in the grape still in the cluster on the vine (Isa. 65:8). That proves Jesus, in turning the water into “wine,” could have, and may have, made unfermented grape juice. As I mentioned earlier, that is all I am obligated to prove. Those who take the view that Jesus approved of the social and recreational use of alcohol and drugs must prove that the “wine” Jesus made could only refer to fermented, intoxicating wine. I believe that is impossible!
What if Jesus did make fermented wine? Does that prove that Jesus approves of the social use of alcohol? Remember, the basic point of this context is the recording of the first miracle Jesus performed. If Jesus’ performing this miracle proves Jesus approves of “intoxicating wine making and drinking,” would not his miracle of casting the demons out of the man and into the swine and destroying two thousand head of swine (Luke 8:26-37) prove that Jesus approves of our destroying other people’s property? Would Paul miraculously striking Elymas blind (Acts 13:6-12) prove that Paul (under God’s guidance and power) was giving us approval to punch out someone’s eyes? Are we ready for these kinds of interpretations and conclusions? I think not!
I believe it to be very questionable and dangerous to use the miracles of Jesus and his apostles to establish approval for something we wish to do.
1 Timothy 3:3, 8
The expression me paroinon in verse 3, in the qualification of bishops, is translated “not given to wine,” “not given to drunkenness.” Me in the Greek means “no, not, never, no in no wise,” and is a particle of qualified negation, according to Strong. Paroinon is a combination of the word Para, (“with an accusative . . . at, by, near by the side of, beside, along” Thayer 477), and oinos which means “wine.” Vine says it means “tarrying at wine…. probably has the secondary sense, of the effects of wine-bibbing, abusive brawling” (p. 146).
“Not given to much wine” translated from me oinos polio prosechontas (v. 8) is a similar expression to that found in verse 3. Prosechontas means “to hold to, signifies to turn to, turn one’s attention to” (Vine, p. 211), and polio means much or many.
The emphasis in both of these qualifications seems to be that elders and deacons cannot be guilty of drunkenness or intoxication. Wine-bibbing, and giving attention to that which will intoxicate one is to be no part of the life of one considered to be elder or deacon material. Is it not dangerous to take these negatives toward that (drunkenness) which every Christian must agree is plainly condemned in the Scriptures and try to turn that into a positive in favor of drinking moderately socially and recreationally? In 1 Timothy 3:3 we have a similar construction in the expression “no striker, not violent.” This could be translated “not given to striking or violence.” Are we to interpret that to mean we can strike a little and engage in a little violence as long as we don’t overdo it?
Admittedly, these are difficult passages, especially when someone is determined to make them say something they really do not say. I emphasize again what I wrote at the beginning. While it can be proven from the Bible that “wine” was used medicinally and sacrificially with God’s approval, I do not believe it can be proven that God approves of the social and recreational use of alcohol and drugs.
I have known members of the church of Christ who drank alcoholic beverages. But I cannot remember even one of such cases where they were used without involving intoxication. I have seen grown men with trembling hands and tears running down their cheeks saying they wished they had never taken the first drink. I have heard Christians who have been enslaved to alcohol, as well as drugs, plead with our young people never to make the mistake of taking the first drink. Do you really believe that Jesus ever approved of something so enslaving and so dangerous?
Solomon said: “Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper” (Prov. 23:31, 32). There is no question about the kind of wine he speaks of in this verse. Do you believe what he said? Why try to make Jesus and the Bible contradict such plain statements?
Guardian of Truth XL: 3 p. 22-23
February 1, 1996