Was Jesus a Bootlegger?

Posted on June 2, 2011

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Most people know the story of Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine, but there is a great deal of disagreement as to the nature of that wine. Was it alcoholic, or not? While this issue is not really a critical one, i do find it very interesting, so I thought I’d comment on it. So to find the answer, I’ll just apply a few simple tests to the Scripture.

1. Does the Bible say that it was alcoholic?
2. Does the meaning of the word require it to be alcoholic?
3. Does the context of the passage require it to be alcoholic?
4. How much wine was produced?
5. Would the production of alcoholic wine violate the nature of Jesus?

First, let’s look at the Scripture of John 2:1-11.

John 2:1-11 NKJV
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it. ” Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. 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!” This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

Does the Bible say the wine that Jesus produced was alcoholic? The answer is no. You won’t find anything in the Scripture that says such a thing. We may infer from the Scripture and from a historical context, that up until the time of the miracle, the people were drinking fermented wine. Even that, however reasonable, is an inferrence, as the Bible does not specifically say that. If you pay close attention to what the Master of the feast said, he is simply speaking to the way things usually work. He does not actually say that the people at this wedding were, in fact, drunk.

What about the word “wine” what does it mean? This word is translated from the Greek word “oinos” which is the most common word for wine in the New Testament. Oinos can refer to fermented or unfermented grape juice. While in modern usage it is very rare for it to mean anything but fermented, in ancient Greek literature, that is not the case. The works of Aristotle, Hippocrates, and the Papyri all show oinos to mean unfermented grape juice, as well. Since the word can go either way, you have to look at the context to determine meaning.

Having said that, does the context require that the wine be alcoholic? The textual context requires no such thing, but what about the historical context? It is almost certain that the guests were originally drinking alcoholic wine. In that climate, grape juice would begin to ferment very quickly. There were a couple of ways that people of that era could preserve grape juice, but neither of them were conducive to good quality. They could boil the grape juice down to a paste, and recosntitute it with water, later on. Or, they could add sulfur to it, to retard the fermentation process. Neither of these methods were optimal. For this reason, fresh grape juice was very highly prized in that culture. The statement of the Master of the feast (that it was the good stuff) makes perfect sense if it were sweet, fresh grape juice, as oppossed to the bitter, alcoholic wine of the day. Also consider that Jesus had just made it, so it didn’t have time to ferment, not even in that climate. So we see that the context doesn’t require alcohol, either.

So how much wine was in those six waterpots? The answer to that is a minimum of 120 gallons, and possibly more than 150. That’s a lot of wine, would that much alcohol be consistent with the character of Jesus? Look at James 1:13.

James 1:13
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

Notice that God does not tempt anyone. He tests you and tries you, but He will never tempt you to sin. Now regardless of your view on the use of alcohol, which is not the topic of this post, most Christians would agree that drunkeness is a sin. 120 gallons or more is a lot of wine, even with a large wedding party, it is enough to cause drunkeness, and would provide a great temptation. That is something that God will not do. Also, fermentation is a product of decay, and that is simply not the way that God creates things. The creation of alcoholic wine would certainly have been a violation of the very character of Jesus, so I think its clear that the wine which was produced was not of an alcoholic nature.

God’s seeks only to bring us the best, and will not tempt us to sin. Furthermore, we see in John 2:11 that miracles are meant to bring glory to Him, that people may believe.

John 2:11
This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

Certainly, if Jesus had caused people to sin, He wouldn’t have been glorified.

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