Did The Ancients Know How To Keep Wine From Fermenting?

It is written:

“And wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man’s heart.” (Psalm 104:15)

Perhaps the most deceptive and destructive drug known to mankind through the ages has been alcohol.

Each year, thousands of lives are killed through the recreational use of alcohol. The Bible, of course, has always condemned the use of drugs for recreational reasons (cf. Titus 2:11-14). Nevertheless, many in our day and age attempt to justify “social drinking” and disregard the plain testimony of Scripture.

One of the arguments often relied upon to try and attempt to justify social drinking is based on the claim that the ancients did not know how to keep wine from fermenting; and that therefore, when the Bible talks about wine, it must always be referring to alcoholic drink.

Is this true?

Not in the slightest.

“A major objection to the view that Scripture approves the use of unfermented grape juice is the alleged impossibility in Bible times of preserving grape juice unfermented. Burton Easton states this objection most clearly in his article on “Wine” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: “Unfermented grape juice is a very difficult thing to keep without the aid of modern antiseptic precautions, and its preservation in the warm and not overly-cleanly conditions of ancient Palestine was impossible.” 1 To test the validity of this popular assumption I have investigated the testimonies of ancient writers regarding the art of preserving fruits and wines in general and grape juice in particular….The process of fermentation occurs only in the presence of certain conditions such as a moderate temperature, moisture and air in the grape juice. Now there are four major methods known to the ancients by which these conditions can be altered or eliminated and thus grape juice be preserved fresh and unfermented….This method of preserving grape juice unfermented by carefully boiling it down to a syrup was commonly and successfully used in the ancient world….Several reasons lead us to believe that the boiling process was most probably used also in ancient Israel to preserve grape juice. The art of making and preserving wine was common to Mediterranean countries where viticulture prevailed, and has survived to the present. 10 There are indications that the ancient Jews preserved wine by boiling it….Another method by which the fermentation of grape juice can be prevented is by separating the albumen, which is located in the lining of the skin and in the envelope of the seeds of the grape, from the other elements….The fermentation of grape juice can be prevented also by keeping it below 40º F (4º Celsius). Nearly all processes of fermentation cease at about 40º F….The ancients were familiar with this method of preservation….The fermentation of grape juice can also be prevented by the fumes of sulphur dioxide….The use of sulphur to preserve wine was known in the ancient world….The ancient testimonies surveyed indicate that at least four methods were known and used in ancient times to preserve grape juice unfermented: (1) boiling the juice down to a syrup, (2) separating the fermentable pulp from the juice of the grape by means of filtration, (3) placing the grape juice in sealed jars which were immersed in a pool of cold water, (4) fumigating with sulphur the wine jars before sealing them.” (Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine In The Bible: A Biblical Study On The Use Of Alchoholic Beverages, 418-576 (Kindle Edition); Biblical Perspectives)

The ancients knew how to keep wine from fermenting, which helps us understand why the Bible so often uses the word “wine” to refer to unfermented grape juice (Genesis 49:11; Isaiah 16:10; 65:8; Jeremiah 48:33; Nehemiah 13:15). We are also reminded that the “wine” which the Bible calls upon us to abstain from is that which is fermented/alcoholic (Proverbs 23:29-35).

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