The Wrath of Grapes

FUNDAMENTALIST and many Evangelical Protestants have an aversion to wine. At their communion services they substitute grape juice. They claim that at the Last Supper Jesus didn’t use wine and that in a more general context drinking wine (or any other alcoholic beverage) is proscribed by the Bible.

Two chief verses are cited by the anti-wine crowd: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Prov. 20:1); “And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery” (Eph. 5:18). Other verses used are Proverbs 23:21, Habbakuk 2:15, and Isaiah 5:11.

We should read closely. In Ephesians 5:18 Paul doesn’t say, “Do not drink wine.” That would be a complete prohibition. Instead, he says not to drink wine to excess–quite a different thing.

The Church teaches, and common sense corroborates, that wine, like food, sex, laughter, and dancing, is a good thing when enjoyed in its proper time and context. To abuse any good thing is a sin, but the thing abused does not itself become sinful. “Everything is lawful for me,” writes Paul, “but not everything is beneficial. Everything is lawful for me, but I will not let myself be dominated by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12).

If Jesus had shunned wine and wanted his followers to do likewise, as these Protestants claim, why did he so frequently make use of wine in his parables and activities? Simple–he didn’t disapprove of wine drinking, so long as it conformed to the biblical guidelines of moderation. The Bible tells us Jesus drank wine (Luke 7:34)–often enough, apparently, that his detractors accused him of being a drunkard–and that his first recorded miracle was to turn water into wine (John 2:1-11).

Some anti-wine people say the kind of wine that was approved is the kind that doesn’t intoxicate. But the Greek word for wine, oinos, used in the “don’t get drunk on it” verses, is the same word used in the “it’s okay to drink it in moderation” verses. Besides, all true wine has alcohol and can intoxicate; “wine” without alcohol isn’t wine at all.

Look at 1 Corinthians 11:20-21: “When you meet in one place, then, it is not for eating the Lord’s Supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk.” Since grape juice has no intoxicating effects, what does Paul refer to? How can one get drunk on grape juice?

The Bible refers of the goodness of wine when used correctly: “You may then exchange the money for whatever you desire, oxen or sheep, wine or strong drink, or anything else you would enjoy, and there before the Lord your God, you shall partake of it and make merry with your family” (Deut. 14:26). Other prowine-drinking verses are Genesis 14:18; Ecclesiasticus 10:19; Sirach 31:12-31; Psalm 104:15; and 1 Timothy 5:23.

After reading the account of the wedding at Cana one might legitimately wonder why, if Jesus turned water into grape juice, John goes out of his way to quote the headwaiter’s remarks: “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one”? No matter how freely one drinks grape juice, it won’t impair one’s ability to discern between good and inferior grades.

Copyright © Patrick Madrid 1989 patrickmadrid.com. Published with permission.