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Sunday, September 13, 1998

19 - The Doctrine of Drinking

John 2:1-3 by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:52 mins 26 secs

The Doctrine of Drinking
John 2:1-3
John Lesson #019
September 20, 1998

John 2:1 NASB "On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there." In contrast to the presence of the mother of Jesus, notice she is not mentioned by name. The writers of the Gospels do not give much credibility to Mary. This was a heresy that came into the church many years later as the result of the assimilation of Christianity to pagan cults. Almost every world cult, especially in the ancient world, had what was called the mother-child cult. There was an elevation to honour the mother and the child and when Christianity came in what they did was say it was just another mother-child and they took the same figures from other ancient cults and called them Mary and Jesus. But we do not see this same honour and respect given to Mary in the Gospels, in fact she is de-emphasized by John the apostle and not emphasized.

The mother of Jesus was there. She was there as opposed to Jesus was also invited and his disciples. John 2:2 NASB "and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding." It would seem that Mary was very close to the family because of what happens in this episode in her awareness of the fact that the wine had played out and that she took it upon herself to solve the problem, that she had an official function at this wedding reception. Incidentally, the wedding reception would go on for about a week so that it was necessary to bring in great supplies of food and beverage in order to take care of the guests during that week-long feast. It was a time of tremendous joy and celebration. Jesus and His disciples were invited but Mary seems to have had some official function at the wedding.

John 2:3 NASB "When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, 'They have no wine'." This was a major social tragedy, for the wine to give out. In that day and age under the social conventions of the time the host was to supply food and wine to everybody, and if he did not and failed, then it was a major social embarrassment.

The biblical doctrine of drinking

The anti-alcoholism, defining alcohol use as inherently sinful, has its roots in a religious theological framework that grew out of what is called revivalistic theology in America. It has a theological connection to works oriented salvation, post-millennialism and social do-goodism, none of which is biblical.

Was the wine in John 2 fermented or unfermented grape juice? Remember there are two different types of wine here. There is the wine that was brought out initially and then there is the wine that Jesus miraculously produced from the water. Both are going to be the same because the second is said to be better than the first, so whatever the first was the second was.

1)  Grapes have been a major crop in Palestine since ancient times. Remember when the Israelites were going to go into the land of milk and honey and they sent the 12 spies in and they came back. They had a cluster of grapes that was so large and so heavy it was carried on a pole between two men. Ancient commercial records indicate that grapes and wine were a major commodity in the ancient world and that Palestinian wines in particular enjoyed widespread reputation for their excellence.

2)  In Israel grapes ripened and were harvested in August and early September. Remember, the wedding in Cana is just before Passover. Cf. John 1:12, 13. The Passover occurs on the 14th day of Nisan which is roughly equivalent to our later March or early April period on the Jewish calendar. So it takes place in early to mid-spring. The wedding in Cana occurs just before Passover in mid to late March. There is no technology available to the ancient world to keep fruit juice, which is very sweet and has a high sugar content which is the basis for the chemical reaction of fermentation, from fermenting a all. Within 24 hours fruit juice will begin to ferment unless it is treated in some chemical fashion or by pasteurisation. So if the wedding is in mid to late March and the grape harvest was six months earlier it is impossible that that juice could not have fermented.

3)  Both wine and new wine in the Greek is the word oinos [o)inoj], and in the Hebrew it is yayin. These words are used a number of times in Scripture and word meaning is always defined by usage. Yayin is used in Genesis 9:21 to describe what caused the drunkenness of Noah after the flood. Also in 19:35 when Lot's daughters got him drunk on wine so that they could commit incest with him to preserve his lineage. So obviously wine (yayin) can cause drunkenness. In Proverbs 23:20 it is linked with drunkenness. Some people try to make a distinction between wine and new wine and say that new wine is that which has been freshly squeezed and therefore has not had time to ferment. Yet in Hosea 4:11 it is said to cause drunkenness and in Acts 2:13 new wine, which is called gleukos [gleukoj], it was said that the men must be drunk and have partaken of new wine. So drunkenness is associated with wine and new wine in various passages in both the Old and New Testaments and clearly both wine and new wine had an alcoholic content at least high enough to induce intoxication.

4)  The terminology of the head waiter indicates that intoxication was expected, or it was expected that the wine would be able to induce intoxication. John 2:10 NASB "and said to him, 'Every man serves the good wine first, and when {the people} have drunk freely, {then he serves} the poorer {wine;} {but} you have kept the good wine until now'." The Greek word here is methusko [mequskw]. In Kittle's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament it lists the following meaning: "To make drunk, to get drunk, to intoxicate." But when we get some teetotaller legalist who can't handle the fact that Jesus created real wine here, they translate it "when men have drunk." But it says literally in the Greek: "Every man serves the good wine first, and when {the people} are intoxicated [and can no loner tell the difference between good wine and bad wine], {then he serves} the poorer {wine" because they won't know the difference." That is what this is saying, so the terminology makes it clear that intoxication was possible.

5)  What was the process of wine-making? After grapes are harvested they are crushed in a vat that was usually constructed of stone. Cf. Isaiah 16:10 NASB "Gladness and joy are taken away from the fruitful field; In the vineyards also there will be no cries of joy or jubilant shouting, No treader treads out wine in the presses, {For} I have made the shouting to cease." In other words, it was standard operating procedure for there to be a great time of celebration during the harvest. The men would sing songs and dance and shout while they were treading out the wine.  Jeremiah 25:30 NASB "Therefore you shall prophesy against them all these words, and you shall say to them, 'The LORD will roar from on high And utter His voice from His holy habitation; He will roar mightily against His fold. He will shout like those who tread {the grapes,} Against all the inhabitants of the earth'."  Jeremiah 48:33 NASB "So gladness and joy are taken away From the fruitful field, even from the land of Moab. And I have made the wine to cease from the wine presses; No one will tread {them} with shouting, The shouting will not be shouts {of joy.}" So they shouted, danced and sang in celebration of the harvest while they stomped out the grapes. This stomping produced a pulp from which there would be fermentation within as little as six hours. It would be placed initially in stone jars where it would ferment for a while and then it was transferred from the jars to wine skins.

6)  So from all this we have a clear answer. The wine was fermented and it was impossible for it to be otherwise. Wine generally has an alcoholic content of between 16% and 22%. But is this the strength of the wine that they had at that time?

7)  The Greek custom for drinking wine. The Greeks took wine and put them in a large storage vat that contained about nine gallons called an amphora. From that they would pour the wine out into a mixing bowl called a krator. There water was introduced to dilute the wine. According to Homer in the Iliad, section 3, line 265: "Then rose up Agamemnon, king of men, and Odysseus of many wiles, and mixed the wine in the bowls." Line 295 says that they poured wine from the mixing bowl into the cup. The Greeks considered anyone who did not dilute wine to be a barbarian. They would mix as much as a ration of ten parts water to one part wine, but usually it was more in the order of four to six parts water to one part wine. In the Odyssey, book 9, line 208, it is a mixture of 20 parts water to one part wine. In other places the ratio can be as little as three to one or two to one. This was the standard Greek practice and the Greeks thought anyone who didn't dilute wine to be rather barbaric, the assumption being that non-Greeks didn't dilute their wine. So we are in Israel!

8)  Jewish evidence is that sometimes they mixed and sometimes they didn't. In 2 Maccabees 15:39 – "For it is hurtful to drink wine or water alone; and as wine mingled with water is pleasant, and delighteth the taste…" But Isaiah seems top contradict this and states that diluted wine was a sign of a loss of divine blessing. Isaiah 1:22 the judgment that NASB "Your silver has become dross, Your drink diluted with water." There the dilution of wine with water was considered to be a sign of divine judgment. The Talmud which was written by the Jewish rabbis after the time of Christ contains instructions for mixing the Passover wine: 3 parts water to 1 part wine.

9)  Christian evidence. Justin Martyr, around 120 AD, in his book "The Apology," Bk. I, chapter 57, paragraph 5, "Add wine and water together." Cyprian, later 2nd century, early 3rd century AD, in his 62nd epistle, chapter 11, paragraph 13: "In considering the cup of the Lord water alone cannot be offered and wine alone cannot be offered, thus the cup of the Lord is not water alone or wine alone, unless each be mingled with the other." There is evidence from the very early church history that they used alcoholic beverages at the Lord's table because they used alcoholic beverages at the Passover. Clement of Alexandria—end of 2nd century, beginning of 3rd century—in his work "The Instructors," Bk II, chapter 23, paragraph 3-24: "It is best for the wine to be mixed with as much water as possible." So it is very likely in evaluated all of this evidence that the wine in John chapter two was genuine wine but it was not as strong as the wine today. It was probably the diluted four parts or three parts water to one part wine.

What application does that have to the believer?

Legitimate uses of wine

1)  Wine is part of God's creation and to be enjoyed by every human being. Where we see wine we see a picture of joy throughout the Scripture. When wine is used in accord with God's instructions it is a pleasure and a joy, but when it is used apart from God's instructions it is a curse and is destructive. The point is that if you can't handle wine according to God's instructions then you need to avoid it like anything else in life that you can't handle. But do not impose your weaknesses on others in self-righteousness.

2)  Wine and alcoholic beverages were a central part of worship and celebration during certain religious feasts and activities. In fact, the Hebrew word for banquet is derived from the word for drinking. Examples in Scripture: Abraham and Melchizedek, Genesis 14:18; part of the perpetual daily sacrifice, Exodus 29:39-41; part of the grain offering, Leviticus 23:13; wine was to be included in other offerings, listed in Numbers 15:7, 10; 18:12, 27; wine production was specifically stated to be a sign of divine blessing for Israel, Deuteronomy 7:13; 11:14. Once a year there was to be a grand celebration in Jerusalem and everyone was to send a tithe of their income on whatever food, wine or beer they desired for celebration, Deuteronomy 14:23. The celebration of the feast of booths included wine, Deuteronomy 16:13-15. The nature of wine drinking in all of these passages was to celebrate and worship the Lord, and to praise Him for the joy that He has provided. This is clear from Psalm 104:14, 15 NASB "He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine which makes man's heart glad, So that he may make {his} face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man's heart." So the palmist clearly attributes wine to the divine blessing of God and God's grace provision for man for enjoyment.

3)  One the other hand, the loss of the grapes crop and the loss of wine was a sign of divine judgment on the nation, Deuteronomy 28:39. The prophet Isaiah referred to this in Isaiah 5:2 NASB "He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it And also hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected {it} to produce {good} grapes, But it produced {only} worthless ones."

4)  Looking forward to a banquet of wine which pictures joy, fellowship with God, and is exemplified specifically in the messianic kingdom. Isaiah 25:6 NASB "The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, {And} refined, aged wine." So wine is always associated with joy. So we have to tie these concepts together when we look at this chapter in John. The wine, the  wedding feast and the miracle all say something about Jesus' messianic role coming to provide joy for mankind.  

5)  Wine was used medicinally. Proverbs 31:6 NASB "Give strong drink to him who is perishing, And wine to him whose life is bitter." 1 Timothy 5:23 NASB "No longer drink water {exclusively,} but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments."

6)  When the Lord came to offer His kingdom in the Gospels He went to banquets and ate the food that was offered Him, and he was accused of being a glutton. The Pharisees took what he did legitimately and exaggerated it and condemned it from their self-righteousness. In the same way He must have enjoyed the contemporary practice of having a glass of wine or two with His meal because the Pharisees said he was a drunkard. They exaggerated what He did legitimately and accused Him of being a drunk. Since the Lord Jesus Christ was impeccable and without sin the use of alcohol cannot be inherently sinful. Matthew 11:19 NASB "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'"

The illegitimate use of wine

1)  Ephesians 5:18 NASB "And do not get drunk with wine…" Intemperance is always condemned in the Scriptures. If you cannot use alcohol without being intemperate then do not use it at all. Intemperance is condemned throughout the Old and New Testaments. Total abstinence is never mandated as a universal principle but certain persons are commanded by Scripture to avoid alcoholic beverages. In the Old Testament Levitical priests were forbidden alcoholic beverages in Leviticus 10 and Ezekiel 44. Do not make the mistake that some do that because you are a priest in the royal family of God that that applies to you; you are not a Levite. Levites didn't even have to be regenerated, they just had to be born into the family of Levi and there is no requirement anywhere that they be born again or saved. They just had to have a physical descent from Levi, they did not have to have a spiritual relationship with God at all. Nazirites, to show that they were totally separate from their culture, were forbidden wine, and that was a unique vow taken by them, Numbers 6:3; Judges 13:4ff. The Rechabites in Jeremiah 35:6, 8, 14 and Daniel and his friends abstained from alcoholic beverage because it was associated with the pagan practices in Babylon, Daniel 1:8-16.

2)  The abuse, misuse and overuse of alcohol is clearly forbidden, as is drunkenness. Proverbs 20:1 NASB "Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise."

3)  Wine is to be refrained from when clear thinking is required. Thus it is specifically forbidden of certain leaders. In Proverbs 31:4, 5 it is forbidden for kings, to the executive officer of a nation. NASB "It is not for kings, O Lemuel, It is not for kings to drink wine, Or for rulers to desire strong drink, For they will drink and forget what is decreed, And pervert the rights of all the afflicted." The priest when he was on duty was not to drink, Leviticus 10:8, 9. Numbers 6:3, the Nazirite was forbidden wine. 1 Timothy 3, pastors and deacons, while not told to be teetotallers, are forbidden to be alcoholics or drunks.

4)  Concluding principles:  a) The Bible gives no encouragement and no excuse for excessive drinking; b) While drinking in moderation is permitted there are many believers who cannot do so because they will abuse it; c) For the believer who cannot or will not drink in moderation he should avoid the use of alcohol completely, except in medication; d) When in doubt abstain, for alcohol can create too many problems.

Alcohol and alcoholism

1)  The common definition of alcoholism is that it is a disease. A definition of a disease is something that you can catch, something that is transmitted to you against your volition. However, the Bible sees drunkenness and addiction to alcohol and alcoholism as fundamentally volitional, and therefore sinful. According to the Bible alcoholism is not a disease, it is a sin. We have to understand that a disease is something that overrides volition and forces a person to do something or behave in a certain way. An alcoholic is not forced against his will to drink. He initially is the one who made the decision to pick up that glass of wine or whatever it was. Whatever the solution is it must ultimately be resolved in the realm of volition. Alcoholism results in disease but is itself not a disease.

2)  Everyone has a sin nature and so these trends can be passed on genetically. Nevertheless the initial decisions are yours and they are always volitional.

3)  Alcoholism is a state of sinfulness and carnality which focuses on pleasure and is a way of handling life's problems and difficulties and stresses that are contrary to the divine grace provision.

4)  Alcoholics often use alcohol to cover some pain, difficulty or adversity in life. Therefore the root issues are spiritual, not just physical or biochemical, and they must be dealt with on the basis of divine viewpoint, the filling of the Holy Spirit and Bible doctrine.

5)  The result of too many decisions for drinking creates an endless cycle that may in fact make it almost impossible for the alcoholic to truly ever recover.

Drinking and the laws of Christian behavior

There are four laws of Christian behaviour outlined in 1 Corinthians. First, there is the law of liberty, 1 Corinthians 8:4, 9 NASB "Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols …. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." These were dubious things, doubtful things in Corinth that caused people some concern. They were clearly forbidden by the Word of God but legalists said "you can't," the antinomian said, "do it with all the gusto in life." Paul is giving them the principles. You have freedom to imbibe or not imbibe. Every believer has the freedom and the right to drink in moderation. Then, secondly, there is the law of love, 1 Corinthians 8:13 NASB "Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble." Point: If you are going to cause someone to stumble they have to be moving. The trouble is the average Christian isn't moving. He is mired in arrogance and self-righteousness. He turns his nose up at you because you enjoy a glass of wine or a beer, and he says not to do that because you might cause somebody to stumble. To cause somebody to stumble in this context was to sit them down and give them alcohol. This isn't somebody who in the privacy of their own home enjoys a glass of wine or a beer. This is someone actively engaged in getting another person to actively engage in something he has a problem with in his own conscience.

There are three categories of Christians. There is the weak brother, the one who just hasn't learned enough doctrine yet to know that he has freedom in Christ to partake or not to partake. Then there is the mature believer who understands he has the privilege but for the sake of this other believer isn't going to participate because it may cause a problem for them in their spiritual life until they grow to maturity. The third category of person is the "Pharisee." It doesn't say here not to offend because it might offend the Pharisee. There are always legalistic self-righteous Christian Pharisees who think Christians shouldn't drink at all. Jesus seemed even to go out of His way to offend the Pharisees. You are not to cause the weak brother to stumble but don't let the legalistic, self-righteous believer affect your decision-making because they are in carnality anyway. There is the law of expediency in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23. That means you have to make certain decisions based upon your witness, the situation, the culture and a number of other factors. Then there is the law of supreme sacrifice where you may say you have the right to do it but I am going to choose not to so that it doesn't create any problem.       

In conclusion:

1)  Alcohol is always wasted on the young. Teenagers and young people should abstain from alcohol altogether and the only time they need it is in terms of medicine.

2)  Do not drink when you are tired, miserable, frustrated and unhappy. Alcohol is a depressant and it will increase your problems.      

3)  If you are a young single woman or an older single woman, if you are in any place with men you do not know or are unfamiliar with, you should abstain from drinking altogether.

4)  Never drink alone. Moderate drinking is for social life and the enjoyment of it with others.

5)  Never drink on the job.

6)  Never drink while you are driving, flying a plane, or operating any kind of machinery.  

7)  Never mix gun powder and alcohol. When you are hunting, never drink.

8)  If you are drinking moderately and choose to do that, only drink around those people you trust.

9)  Always avoid the Christian drunk.

10)  If you have any doubts, abstain.