The “Good Wine” Of John 2

It is written:

John 2:10-And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”

Advocates of social drinking argue that the wine which Jesus made in John 2:1-10 (i.e., the wedding feast at Cana) must have been alcoholic wine, based on the fact that the wine which Jesus made is called “the good wine.” It is argued that this phrase had reference to the high alcoholic content of the wine which the Savior produced.

Is this true?

First, it is important to realize that the Greek word translated here as “wine” (oinois) was commonly used in that day and age to refer to both fermented and unfermented wine. Context was the determining factor.

Scholar Patten tells us:

Oinos-Biblical scholars are agreed that in the Septuagint or Greek translation of the Old Testament and in the New Testament, the word ominous corresponds to the Hebrew word yayin. Stuart says: ‘In the New Testament we have oinos, which corresponds exactly to the Hebrew yayin.’ As both yayin and oinos are generic words, they designate the juice of the grape in all its stages….Dr. Frederick R. Lees, of England, the author of several learned articles in Kitto’s Cyclopedia, in which he shows an intimate acquaintance with the ancient languages, says: ‘In Hebrew, Chaldea, Greek, Syriac, Arabic, Latin, and English, the words for wine in all these languages are originally and always, and inclusively, applied to the blood of the grape in its primitive and natural condition, as well, subsequently, as to that juice both boiled and fermented.” (50-51 (William Patton, D.D., Bible Wines Or The Laws Of Fermentation And The Wines Of The Ancients, 50-51 (Kindle Edition))

The Greek word oinos used in Jesus’ day therefore could refer to either fermented or unfermented drink. Indeed, this is clearly demonstrated in several texts of the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint):

“The Septuagint, an Intertestamental Greek translation of the Old Testament, offers significant examples of the dual meanings of oinos. Ernest Gordon points out that, ‘In the Septuagint, the Hebrew word for grape-juice, tirosh, is translated at least 33 times by the Greek word oinos, wine, and the adjective ‘new’ is not present. Oinos without qualification, then, can easily mean unfermented wine in the New Testament.’” (Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine In The Bible: A Biblical Study On The Use Of Alcoholic Beverages, 169-173 (Kindle Edition); Biblical Perspectives)

Second, the context of the wedding feast in John 2 demonstrates very powerfully that this was not alcoholic wine that Jesus made. Jewish tradition strongly spoke out against using alcoholic wine at festive occasions, including weddings:

“The Talmud indicates that drinking to the accompaniment of musical instruments on festive occasions such as a wedding was forbidden. 3 The latter is confirmed by later testimonies of rabbis. For example, Rabbi S. M. Isaac, an eminent nineteenth-century rabbi and editor of The Jewish Messen-ger, says: “The Jews do not, in their feasts for sacred purposes, including the marriage feast, ever use any kind of fermented drinks. In their oblations and libations, both private and public, they employ the fruit of the vine—that is, fresh grapes—unfermented grape-juice, and raisins, as the symbol of bene-diction. Fermentation is to them always a symbol of corruption.” 4 Though Rabbi Isaac’s statement is not quite accurate, since Jewish sources are not unanimous on the kind of wine to be used at sacred festivals, it still does indicate that some Jews used unfermented wine at wedding feasts.” (Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine In The Bible: A Biblical Study On The Use Of Alcoholic Beverages, 638-645 (Kindle Edition); Biblical Perspectives)

Finally, please notice that according to the testimony of the ancient world, the phrase “good wine” had specific reference to unfermented drink that was sweet due to the absence of alcohol!

“Some argue that the description the master of the banquet gives about the wine Christ provides as the good wine means a high-quality alcoholic wine. However, to assume good wine to be alcoholic wine not only begs the question, it also reads our modern ways of evaluating the quality of wine back into the first century. Why would good wine necessarily be intoxicating? In fact just the opposite is true. Jacobus writes, “those [wines] were esteemed the best wines which were least strong.” Stuart asserts of the unfermented wines in the first century, “it was regarded as if a higher and better quality than any other.” Albert Barnes, in his commentary on John’s gospel about alcoholic strength as a test of good wine, writes: “We use the phrase to denote that it is good in proportion to its strength, and its power to intoxicate. But no such sense is to be attached to the word here.” Barnes further notes that Greek writers frequently mention that good wine was harmless or “innocent”. This means those wines did not intoxicate. Pliny, the first-century Roman historian, says “wines are most beneficial when all their potency has been removed by the strainer.” Plutarch similarly asserts wine is more pleasant to drink when it neither “inflames the brain nor infests the mind or passions” (Bacchiocchi, 2004). Hence the wine Christ creates is good not because it is strong or contains a high concentrate of alcohol. Instead Christ’s wine is good because of its purity.” (Peter Lumpkins, Alcohol Today: Abstinence In An Age Of Indulgence, 137-138 (Kindle Edition); Garland, TX; Hannibal Books)

Jesus did not make intoxicating wine at the wedding feast in Cana, and there is no biblical support for the notion of recreational drinking.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

2 thoughts on “The “Good Wine” Of John 2

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  1. Explain to me the use of strong drink in Deuteronomy 14:26.
    Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year.
    23 And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always.
    24 And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the Lord thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the Lord thy God hath blessed thee:
    25 Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose:
    26 And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household,
    27 And the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee.
    28 At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates:
    29 And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.

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