Is the wine in the bible really grape juice?

Someone I talked to claims this. I find it hard to believe, as wine was used in ancient times. I checked Scientific American, and got no answers. So I throw it to the teeming millions. Thanks!

From the looks of that title, looks like I got a little too much wine. Mods, could you correct that?

[note: Despite the considerable temptation to leave it because it was funny, I cleaned up the thread title. -manhattan]

[Edited by manhattan on 02-27-2001 at 06:58 PM]

Naw. But I’ll bet you a nickel that the person who told you this was either a Baptist or a Methodist, both strong teetotalling denominations. I’ve heard it from both.

According to the Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, there are 11 different Hebrew words for “wine” in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, all the NT references to wine except for the one in Acts 2:13 use the Greek oinos:

See also this.

From a practical standpoint it’d have been really tough for the ancients to keep pulverized grapes from fermenting for more than a day or two. When picked, grapes are covered with all sorts of yeasts which begin turning sugars to alcohol as soon as the grapes are crushed. While they might have used boiling to kill the yeast in fresh squeezed grape juice, they’d have had to seal the stuff in sterilized containers, or refrigerate it to prevent airborn yeast spores from restarting fermentation. Both sterile food handling techniques and refrigeration are fairly recent inventions.

I have heard this too, and do not believe it. However, before Louis Pasteur, wine making was hit and miss. You store some grape juice. If you store some grape juice, and drink it real soon, you get grape juice. If you wait longer you get wine, sometimes good and sometimes bad.

One proof that it was wine was that when the steward, during Jesus’ first miracle at Cana, checked Jesus’ work he said: “Wow! This is good stuff! Usually they serve the good stuff first and save the $2 stuff for later when everyone is drunk.” The implication, to me anyway, is that the “good stuff” got you drunk, Jesus made the good stuff, Jesus made alcoholic wine.

Nope, it’s real wine. In fact, it’s probably stronger stuff than the sort of wine that we buy in bottles today; diluting their wine with water was a regular part of serving and drinking wine back then (our bottled stuff is pre-diluted).

The “oinos” in the New Testament is without a doubt real wine. In addition to the passage that KeithB mentioned, we have the parable of the good Samaritan, where Jesus mentions that the Samaritan poured wine upon the wounds of the injured man. Only an alcoholic beverage would do any good here; pouring grape juice on wounds only makes them worse. (Lk. 10:34)

If the grape juice didn’t turn to wine, it turned to vinegar. It’s hardly likely grape juice stayed grape juice for very long.

As a matter of fact, until pasteurization, no fruit juice could be kept without fermenting.

The first to successfully bottle grape juice and keep it grape juice was Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch in 1869, and it was pasteurized.

Uh, I hope not. You DO NOT put water in wine as part of the manufacturing.

Unless it has a cute name and is blue.


I tend to agree with cmkeller, because it mentions mixing wine with water in mixing bowls prior to drinking in The Odyssey, making mention in various places of how the good stuff needs to be mixed with more water than the weak stuff. It might not be part of the manufacturing process, but it was certianly a part of drinking it, at least in Homer’s time.

Check the Oxford Classical Dictonary, and you’ll see that it really was wine like we have today —sort of. There were known good producers and the equivalent of preferred “appellations”.

Wine travelled quite a bit, too. It was exported to a lot of places, including the “barbarians”, who were mocked for drinking their wine straight —without the addition of water. A pun on the full name of the Emperor Tiberius can be translated to “Drinker of Wine Without Water”; he was supposed to have been a hard boozer.

I reckon from the numerous references to the addition of water (and sometimes spices) in wine at serving time and the surviving number of wine strainers, we could conclude that more often than not, average wine was pretty strong (heavy-bodied) in flavor and contained a good deal of sediment. Probably, it was like a lot of the home-made red wine that we still see once in a while, or like the Austrailian reds used to be (as Monty Python [?] once described it “very heavy-bodied --excellent for hand-to-hand combat”).

If I was to make a less well-founded supposition, I would bet that ancient wine was a little stronger than the 12 percent we usually see today. My thought is that these wines were like the better, beefier California Zinfandels (and no, I don’t mean “Pink” wines —I don’t even count them as real wine). Some of these wines are 14 to 16 percent alcohol. Their color is also a much darker red than the ruby of Cabernet.

Occasionally, some of the Zins from the hotter climates and older vines (I’m thinking in particular of some Amador County ones) will have a slightly nutty tinge, making them almost like a port. I guess this is in part from tannins, but it isn’t as “Oak-ie” as a good Cabernet. It doesn’t taste all that smooth to me, and I would think that it wouldn’t please the ancients, either —especially if it were even more pronounced. In such a case, I can see where they’d filter, flavor, and cut it.

Just thinking about human nature, it makes sense that it was wine. Who would make such a big deal over grape juice?
Note also that there is a special Hebrew prayer for wine.

If the ‘wine’ was grape juice, what did Noah get so drunk on that he passed out naked in his tent? Whisky? Vodka? Bacardi Breezers? :smiley:

Nah, he had one too many Zimas. :smiley:

Reminds me of a joke that, with variations, has probably been around the world a few times:

A young priest, fresh out of college, is sent to a small church in a valley in deep southwestern Norway. The congregation, he quickly discovers, is extremely conservative, and he’s not what you would call a perfect match. In particular, his parishoners oppose his “liberal” attitudes towards alcohol.

“But my friends,” he says to a group of parish leaders, “Jesus turned water into wine, you know. And He drank wine at the last supper.”

“We know,” one of the men replies. “And we don’t approve.”

I’m Methodist (United Methodist, actually), and did not know that this is why we use grape juice. I thought it was just so that kids could partake of communion at any age.

The first Catholic wedding I went to was an eye-opener, specifically when the priest was very meticulous in getting every crumb of wafer swept together, put in the remaining wine, and drank entirely. “That’s because the wine and wafers are sacred,” I was told by an informative neighbor at the ceremony. It kind of makes the bottle of Welch’s we keep in the UM church refridgerator seem sacrilegious. :D:D

Here I go with my very first real post. I was raised Methodist Episcopalian and was taught that the wine in the bible was real wine. I really do not know why grape juice is used in communion. It probably does have something to do with the kids taking communion.

Grape juice started to replace wine in communion during Prohibition as it was thought to be more patriotic to not drink alcoholic beverages. Some denominations have continued this practice because of a general anti-alcohol sentiment.

Just a little cleanup here. Modern day vintner’s may add water to the grape juice before fermentation, but they couldn’t add it afterwards and still have something of wine strength. If anything, modern wines may be a little stronger than (prediluted) ancient wines because they are made using modern specialized wine yeast strains, and using quality control good enough to achieve a precise sugar balance which will result in completed fermentation at a desired level.

There is good evidence that ancient cultures watered their wine to drink it. Given natural fermentation under hit-or-miss conditions, the original stuff may have been 9 - 11 % alcohol, if they got a good batch. If they watered it to drink it, they were probably still drinking something of beer strength, or a little less - 3 - 5 % alcohol. You would easily be able to get plastered if you drank enough of it.

Given their poor quality control, it is quite possible that their wines developed some esters that made them rather nasty to drink at full concentration. Also, if they didn’t dilute the grape juice first, they may have wound up with something more like an alcoholic syrup that would be simply too disgusting to drink straight.

Some religious types will point to dilution of wine by ancient cultures and claim that what they drank was only mildly alcoholic, and that they would view modern wine with horror as “strong liquors”. Somehow, I doubt it. It’s possible that they wouldn’t like it, but it would be a matter of taste, not morality. I have a sneaking suspicion that the biblical prophets would have loved fortified rotgut like Mad Dog.

I grew up in the very fundamentalist church of Christ. (So fundamentalist that we did’t even capitalize the ‘c’ in ‘church.’ Don’t ask.)

Wine was sinful my heathen friends! Sinful!!!

The wine in the Bible was (we were assured) grape juice. We drank grape juice at communion (or “the Lord’s supper,” as we called it) not for the kids’ sake, but because wine was sinful!

How did the church reconcile this with the plain language of the Bible? Not without some serious logical acrobatics. They pointed to the many verses in the Bible which decry drunkenness. They also quoted Proverbs 23, verses 31 and 32:

(Yeah, and it floateth like a butterfly, too.)

They took this passage to be a reference to (and injunction against) fermented wine. The ‘wine’ Jesus drank was said to be grape juice.

Hey, I said the whole argument required logical gymnastics.