Rev. Mark H. Creech
Scriptural sobriety: Challenging assumptions about Jesus’ wine miracle
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By Rev. Mark H. Creech
April 15, 2024

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. In recognition, the following article is part one of a two-part series addressing two popular arguments made in favor of social drinking.

The late comedian, Milton Berle, humorously recounted a friend’s misinterpretation of the Bible, suggesting it condoned intoxication because it says the one who sins should be stoned. This anecdote serves as a quirky entry point into a broader discussion about biblical interpretations regarding alcohol consumption. Among the numerous arguments made by Christians in favor of drinking, none is more flawed, nor used more often, than the assertion Jesus endorsed imbibing when he transformed water into wine at the wedding in Cana.

I don’t always find myself in a situation where I can fully challenge this assertion, but when the opportunity does arise, I prefer to ask proponents to provide evidence Jesus made an intoxicating beverage that was inherently harmful. Without exception, no one has ever been able to demonstrate anything more than that the contention is based solely on assumption.

In Chapter 2 of John’s Gospel, the Greek word translated as “wine” is “oinos,” a term that encompasses a broad range of meanings and doesn’t exclusively denote a fermented beverage. As John D. Freeman in his classic book, “Shadow Over America” pointed out:

    “Throughout ancient times the word was used to refer to fruit juices, primarily grape juice, without regard to whether or not it was fermented, or had turned to vinegar. Recipes for preparing various kinds of wines without fermentation have been preserved by writers of antiquity; and the common practice of boiling their wines, and also of largely diluting them, showed that the action of fermentation was not regarded by the ancients as essential to the existence of oinos. Many authorities agree that the Greek use of oinos included fresh grape juice.” [1]

So, whether one believes that Jesus made an intoxicating wine or a non-intoxicating wine at the wedding in Cana is purely a matter of personal interpretation, as the Bible never definitively states that Jesus turned water into alcoholic wine. However, there are several reasons why this writer believes the weight of evidence is against Jesus having made an intoxicating beverage.

In vineyards everywhere, there is a sense in which God transforms water into wine year after year. The rain descends from the clouds above, the roots absorb the moisture, the sunshine fuels the growth, and the elements are processed. Gradually, blossoms appear on the branches, and grapes develop and ripen. Jesus merely accelerated this natural process when turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana.

Fermentation, on the other hand, is a process of decomposition. It seems incongruous that Jesus would create something pure and at the peak of perfection and then drive it rapidly through the course of fermentation. While it’s theoretically possible, the question arises: why would he do such a thing? Jesus’ first miracle at Cana was intended to display the glory of his divine nature. Producing what would have amounted to 120 gallons of a potentially harmful substance contradicts the purpose of showcasing his magnificence. It defies logic and goes against Christ’s impeccable character to purposefully alter what was naturally wholesome into a substance with risky mind-altering properties.

The notion itself tarnishes the character of Jesus and places him in potential violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of God’s law, as expressed in Habakkuk 2:15-16: “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk so that he can gaze on their naked bodies. You will be filled with shame instead of glory.”

David Brumbelow, in his book “Ancient Wine and the Bible,” presents a contemporary analogy to illustrate the scenario he believes Jesus would never have orchestrated at the wedding in Cana:

    “You can be assured that as the guest returned home, they were not guilty of drunk walking, drunk donkey riding, or drunk chariot racing. No drunk men went home that day and beat their wives and children.” [2]

Furthermore, if one were to assume Jesus actually drank alcoholic wine in participation with the wedding guests, as many have argued, then that act itself would have breached Proverbs 31:4-5, which admonishes:

    “It is not for kings, O Lemuel – not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.”

Isn’t Christ given the title of “King of kings”? Is it rational to believe the Son of God would consume a recreational intoxicant, hazarding himself of succumbing to sin and jeopardizing the Father’s mission of redeeming humanity? Such a notion is unfathomable and seems to border on blasphemy.

It is also crucial to recognize Jesus’ inaugural miracle – the transformation of water into wine – symbolized the establishment of God’s new covenant in Christ. As elucidated by the writer of Hebrews:

    “For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Heb. 9:15).

Introducing a fermented beverage – a corrupted beverage – as a symbol of this pristine, untainted, and incorruptible new covenant would certainly mar its intended imagery of purity. The term “ferment” inherently connotes agitation, unrest, commotion, tumult, and mayhem – qualities the new covenant in Christ rectifies and remedies. If the miracle of turning water into wine entailed the creation of an alcoholic beverage, its symbolism would sully the sanctity of this sacred covenant with terrible negative connotations. God forbid!

This author acknowledges the sincere perspectives of many devout Christians who disagree that the wine Jesus provided at the wedding was non-fermented or non-intoxicating. Nevertheless, John’s Gospel account nor the Bible as a whole provide any conclusive endorsement for the recreational use of alcoholic beverages.

Quite the contrary! Orin B. Whitmore succinctly substantiates this viewpoint, saying:

    “Is all wine ‘a mocker’? [Proverbs 20:1] Then it was a ‘a mocker’ that Jesus made for the guest at the wedding feast in Cana, and ‘a mocker’ which Jesus introduced to his disciples at the Passover table, and bade them to drink. Does all wine ‘bite like a serpent’ and ‘sting like an adder’? [Proverbs 23:32] Then Jesus made wine for the guests at Cana with the ‘bite of a serpent’ and the ‘sting of an adder’ in it. Do you believe it? No, a thousand times no! Did Jesus give to His disciples a cup in which were the ‘bite of a serpent and the sting of an adder,’ and tell them that cup contained that which represented his blood, His life-giving blood – shed for the remission of their sins? Do you believe it? No…” [3]

Though numerous other claims demonstrate the strength of evidence against Jesus creating an intoxicating wine, only one other shall be given here for consideration.

The late Albert Barnes, the distinguished theologian, whose commentary on the New Testament remains a staple in the libraries of seminaries globally, aptly cautioned against projecting modern perceptions of alcoholic beverages onto biblical interpretations about drinking. Specifically addressing the wine Jesus created at the wedding in Cana, Barnes wrote:

    “No man should adduce this instance in favor of drinking wine unless he can prove that the wine made in the waterpots of Cana was just like the wine he proposes to drink. The Savior’s example may be always pleaded just as it was but it is a matter of obvious and simple justice that we should find out exactly what the example was before we plead it.” [4]

F. B. Meyer, who ministered in Great Britain during the 19th and early 20th centuries echoed these same thoughts, writing:

    “We must remember that the light wines of the Galilean vintage were very different from the brandied intoxicants with which we are too familiar.” [5]

To quote Freeman again, he too takes the same line of thought, arguing:

    “While the use of wine as a beverage is referred to many times in the Bible, the honest scholar and student will not overlook some pertinent facts about it: Science had not uncovered the real nature of alcohol. If God had impelled his prophets to condemn it in the light of facts well known today, no one would have been able to interpret their words; for them, the world would still have been flat. The narcotic and anesthetic nature of alcohol was unknown.” [6]

Barnes, Meyer, and Freeman, among others, underscored the significance of interpreting biblical teachings within their original historical and cultural contexts, rather than superimposing a modern understanding onto an ancient text. Consequently, if one intends to cite the wine served by Jesus at the wedding in Cana as a defense for social drinking, it becomes imperative for proponents of this view to demonstrate the wine was the same as contemporary alcoholic beverages.

Today beer typically ranges from around 4% to 6% alcohol by volume (ABV) for most standard varieties. However, craft beers and specialty brews can have higher alcohol content, sometimes reaching 8% to 12% ABV and even much higher. Wine generally has an alcohol content ranging from about 9% to 16% ABV, with most table wines falling in the range of 9% to 14% ABV. But fortified wines like port or sherry can have higher alcohol content, often ranging from 17% to 20% ABV and more. Spirits, also known as hard liquor, generally have the highest alcohol content among alcoholic beverages. Common spirits like vodka, rum, whiskey, and gin usually have alcohol content ranging from about 35% to 50% ABV. Still, some specialty or high-proof spirits can have even higher alcohol content, sometimes exceeding 50% ABV.

Can the advocate for social drinking demonstrate their alcoholic beverage of choice aligns precisely with what Jesus provided for the wedding guests? Hardly! Thus, Jesus’ act of turning water into wine does not serve as a justification for contemporary drinking practices.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol is linked to more than 3 million deaths per year worldwide. [7] This figure encompasses a wide range of alcohol-related causes including liver cirrhosis, alcohol poisoning, accidents, violence, crime, and various diseases linked to alcohol consumption. Think of it – 3 million deaths annually – have an alcohol-related cause.

Three million fatalities is equivalent to the populations of Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose combined.

George Sweeting, formerly the president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, concluded:

    “One cannot drink without giving endorsement to a baneful custom and a conscienceless enterprise. It is unthinkable that a Christian should contribute to an industry that deals in death, misery, and the ruin of countless lives.” [8]

If one contends the wine Jesus miraculously created at Cana possessed intoxicating properties parallel with modern alcoholic beverages, then the onus is on proponents to conclusively demonstrate this from the text. They must also address why such an interpretation lacks support within the broader context of Scripture. Furthermore, they must effectively answer why Jesus would allegedly endorse the consumption of a hazardous and potentially lethal substance.

In this writer’s opinion, that mountain of validation is entirely too high to climb. Effectively addressing these concerns from Scripture is about as provable as saying the Bible endorses drunkenness because it instructs the one who sins to be stoned. The preponderance of the evidence just can’t sustain such claims and makes them somewhat comical.

This is a rewrite of the 2013 article “Drinking and Jesus: The Miracle of Turning Water into Wine” by Rev. Mark Creech

Resources:

[1] Freeman, John D. Shadow Over America. Nashville, Tenn., Convention Press, 1957, pgs. 89,90

[2] Brumbelow, David R. Ancient Wine and the Bible. Carollton, Ga. Free Church Press, 2011, pg. 142

[3] Ibid, pg. 145

[4] Peter Lumpkins, Alcohol Today: Abstinence in an Age of Indulgence, Hannibal Books, 2009, 151.

[5] Brumbelow, David R. Ancient Wine and the Bible. Carollton, Ga. Free Church Press, 2011, pg. 147

[6] Freeman, John D. Shadow Over America. Nashville, Tenn., Convention Press, 1957, pg. 85

[7] World Health Organization, Alcohol, May 9, 2022, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/alcohol.

[8] George Sweeting, Special Sermons, Alcohol: America’s Most Costly Luxury, Moody Press, Chicago, 1985, pg. 212.

© Rev. Mark H. Creech

 

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Rev. Mark H. Creech

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

Rev. Creech is a prolific speaker and writer, and has served as a radio commentator for Christians In Action, a daily program featuring Rev. Creech's commentary on social issues from a Christian worldview.

In addition to RenewAmerica.com, his weekly editorials are featured on the Christian Action League website and Agape Press, a national Christian newswire.

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