>Does God Drink Wine?

>

Duane Smith at Abnormal Interest has an interesting post on Judges 9:13. The passage is a portion of Jotham’s fable (Judges 9:7-15). In the fable, Jotham rebuked the people of Shechem for anointing Abimelech as king over them.

In his condemnation of the people, Jotham said:

“But the grapevine said to them, ‘Should I stop giving my wine that cheers both God and man, and rule over trees?’” (HCSB).

In commenting on this passage, Duane wrote: “But the allusion to gods finding cheer in the pressings of the vine has caused problems for both teetotalers (or at least those who think it unseemly for God or the gods to drink wine) and monotheists.”

Chris Heard at Higgaion joined the discussion by examining how English translations deal with the text. Chris discovered the following:

KJV, NJPS, NLT, ASV, NASB, ESV, HCSB, and WEB translate אֶלֺהִים as the singular “God” (the translators supplying a capital G), while the NIV, NRSV, NAB, NJB, NEB, and NCV translate אֶלֺהִים as the plural “gods” (the translators using a lower-case g).

In the case of Judges 9:13, one must remember that Jotham was criticizing the people of Shechem because he believed that Abimelech should not be allowed to rule as king over them. Since the people of Shechem were probably Canaanites, it is evident that Jotham was talking about the gods of the Canaanites and not about the God of Israel. Thus, the translation adopted by the KJV, NJPS, NLT, ASV, NASB, ESV, HCSB, and WEB is incorrect.

The translation offered by the KJV, the NLT and others raises a very interesting question: does God drink wine? Since I did not know the answer to this question, I decided to investigate the issue by searching the Bible to find out whether any passage presents the God of Israel as drinking wine.

After checking all the references in the Bible where the words “wine” and “strong drink” appear, I came to the conclusion, to the delight of teetotalers everywhere, that the Bible never says that God drinks wine.

Several texts from the Ancient Near East refer to gods drinking wine. In his post, Duane cites an Ugaritic text that makes reference to gods drinking wine. In the story of Bel and the Dragon, the Babylonians believed Bel was a living god because every day he drank about fifty gallons of wine (Bel 1:6).

There are, however, a few cases in the Old Testament where the text may give the impression that God drinks wine.

Jeremiah 25:15 reads: “For thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.”

Psalm 75:8 reads: “For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed; he will pour a draught from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.”

The references in Jeremiah and Psalm refer to the cup of God’s wrath which he puts on the lips of the wicked and holds it there until they drink it to the dregs. Other references to the cup of God’s wrath appear in Isaiah 51:17 and Ezekiel 23:32-24.

Psalm 78:65 says: “Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a warrior shouting because of wine.”

This text does not say that God was drunk but that when defending Israel, he will behave like a warrior aroused for battle, shouting like a drunken soldier.

In the New Testament, wine is associated with the Lord’s Supper. During the supper, Jesus and his disciples drank together:

“Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you’” (Matthew 26:27).

“Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it” (Mark 14:23).

“Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves’” (Luke 22:17).

It is important to observe, however, that the gospel writers never used the word “wine” to explain what took place during the meal. Instead, they use the word “cup.” The word “wine” is never used in the context of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

After Jesus gave the cup to his disciples, he said:

“I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).

“Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25).

“I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18).

Again, Jesus never used the word “wine” to explain what he would drink in the Kingdom of God. He used the expression “the fruit of the vine.”

In Hebrew there are two words for wine. The wordתִירֹוש (Tîrôš) is used to refer to unfermented wine or grape juice. The word יַיִן (yäyin) is used to refer to fermented wine. Micah 6:15 makes a distinction between Tîrôš and yäyin where Tîrôš is translated as “new wine” or “grapes” and yäyin is translated as “wine.”

“You will plant crops, but will not harvest them; you will squeeze oil from the olives, but you will have no oil to rub on your bodies; you will squeeze juice from the grapes [Tîrôš], but you will have no wine [yäyin] to drink” (Micah 6:15 NET).

In Isaiah 65:8 Tîrôš is the new wine “found in the cluster” (ESV) or “the new wine found in a bunch of grapes” (HCSB):

“Here is what ADONAI says: As when juice [Tîrôš] is found in a cluster of grapes, and people say, ‘Don’t destroy it, there is still some good in it,’ so I will do likewise for the sake of my servants, and not destroy them all” (Isaiah 65:8 CJB).

I think this ambiguity of whether new wine or fermented wine was used in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is very important for the contemporary church. I believe that God, in his divine providence, knew that the church would be divided between winebibbers and teetotalers. So, God left the question of the wine to be use in the Lord’s Supper as a matter of interpretation. Those who believe that “the cup” contained yäyin, use fermented wine. Those who believe that “the cup” contained Tîrôš, use grape juice.

I do not think, however, that the issue is as simple as explained above, but both winebibbers and teetotalers can find here an explanation for what they practice.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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15 Responses to >Does God Drink Wine?

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    >Claude, it is impossible that Jesus and the disciples drank unfermented grape juice at the Last Supper. Any grape juice would have been left over from the previous autumn, so for at least six months, and they had no refrigeration. So it would certainly have fermented. Anyway even “new wine” was alcoholic, as is clear from Acts 2:13. Also the unbroken Jewish tradition makes it clear that proper alcoholic wine was used for Passover celebrations. So, use non-alcoholic wine for your communion if you want to, but don’t try to pretend that you are following Jesus’ original example.

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  2. Bill says:

    >May God’s richest blessings be yours as you reflect on the extent of His love demonstrated through the death His Son on the cross and the awesomeness of His power exhibited through the resurrection.To God be the glory! -billa spiritual oasis

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  3. James Pate says:

    >To Peter (and anyone else who cares to answer):But can non-alcoholic wine count in the Lord’s supper? Alcoholics cannot drink any alcohol. Once they start, it’s hard for them to stop.

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  4. Jim Getz says:

    >James,Why would the historical reality of what happened in first-century Palestine dictate how one celebrates the Eucharist today?Take for example the Eastern Orthodox. They intentionally use leavened bread in the ritual to distance it from its Jewish roots (at least, that’s what a friend who’s an Antiochian priest explained to me).

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  5. >Peter,I was not trying to pretend that Jesus and his disciples used non-fermented wine. What I was saying is that the Bible does not say what they used. The Gospels and Paul do not say what they used. The Bible only mentions “the cup” and “the fruit of the wine.” The rest is interpretation. I am also not saying that Jesus did not drink wine for the New Testament says he did. Since “new wine” and “wine” are wine, then both of them can be used in celebrating the Lord’s Supper.Claude Mariottini

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  6. >Bill,Thank you for you words. I join you and say: “To God be the glory.”Claude Mariottini

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  7. >James,In answer to you question I say that non-alcoholic wine can be used in the Lord’s Supper. Remember that the Hebrew word tirosh is also wine. Since the Bible does not use the the word “wine” in the context of the Lord’s Supper, non-fermented wine is as good as fermented wine since in the Bible both are considered to be wine or the fruit of the vine.Claude Mariottini

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  8. >Jim,You have a point in your comment. There are many things today’s church does that were not done in the early church. And there were many things the early church did that are not done in the church today.I think the refusal of the Gospels and Paul to use the word “wine” in the context of the Lord’s Supper is providential. Since I argued in my post that the Bible mentions two kinds of wine, then either one can be used in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.Claude Mariottini

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  9. Peter Kirk says:

    >Just to clarify, I am not claiming that communion is only valid with alcoholic wine or unleavened bread. Personally I would have no problem with the validity of a communion of pizza and Coca-Cola, or whatever counts as regular food and drink in a particular society. My problem is only with what I understood as an attempt to challenge the historical data, which almost certainly refers to unleavened bread and alcoholic wine.

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  10. Peter says:

    >When Jesus says “this cup … do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me”, is he referring toa) the specific cup at the Passover meal, expecting the disciples to remember him this way once a year?or b) any cup (and bread), expecting his disciples to remember him in this way daily?If b), then I can see the Peter’s point about pizza & coke, or tea & biscuits, and I have celebrated communion with such things.

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  11. >Peter,The answer to your question is found in Jesus words: “whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Therefore, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper can be once a week, once a month, or even once a year. If the bread was a symbol of the Lord’s body and the cup was a symbol of his blood, then I believe that pizza, coke, and tea may not reflect the proper symbolism.I would say that “the fruit of the grape” is different from coke or tea. However, I am sure that there are some primitive societies where bread and wine or grape juice may not be available. Thus, another substitute would be as good as bread and wine. Some societies in Central American use tortilla instead of bread.Since the biblical text does not say what was in the cup (read my post again), then, I guess that in communities where wine or grape juice may not be available, then tea or other beverage may be used.Claude Mariottini

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  12. >Peter Kirk,In response to your comment above. I have not doubt that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper included unleavened bread and alcoholic wine. However, look at the text again: none of the Gospels and not even Paul in 1 Corinthians mentioned wine, and as I said in my post, I think that it was providential. That the disciples used wine is a matter of interpretation since the text does not say that it was wine. Today many people do not drink wine so, it is OK to use “the fruit of the vine” since the Bible does not specify that Christians must use alcoholic beverage.Claude Mariottini

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  13. Peter Kirk says:

    >I would take “whenever you drink it” in the other Peter’s sense (b), and so to refer to any drink. After all, as Claude points out, the text nowhere says what was in the cup. I see no reason to restrict this to special ceremonies, nor to vine products. It seems to me that what Jesus did is more parallel to saying grace at meals than to our modern communion services.I note also that Peter does not mention an exegetical option of weekly or monthly, and rightly so. If this does not refer to every meal, the other option is that it should be an annual celebration, the Passover transformed a memorial of the Passion.

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  14. >i totally disagree with your interpretations dr claude.. i think christians are so afraid they’re gonna go to hell that they fear truth.. truth is.. JESUS drank wine and took joy in it.. and according to jotham… so does GOD.

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  15. >Dear Friend,I completely believe that you misunderstood the intent of my post.1. I never said or even implied that Christians are going to hell if they dink wine.2. I never said that Jesus did not drink wine.3. If you read what I wrote you will discover that the text says “gods” (Hebrew: elohim) and not God.There is not one single passage in the whole Bible that says that God drinks wine.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini

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