Wine in the Bible


Chapter 2


Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University

"Why devote a chapter of this book to the definition of "wine"? Everybody knows that wine is the fermented juice of grapes! Such a surprise is understandable because most of today’s English dictionaries define" wine" as "fermented grape juice" or "the fermented juice of grapes," making no allowance for unfermented grape juice to be called "wine."

The universally accepted definition of "wine" as "fermented grape juice" may well explain why many Bible believing Christians have come to believe that the "wine" mentioned in the Bible must in all instances be alcoholic.

This assumption, known as the "one wine theory," has greatly prejudiced the study of the Biblical teachings on the use of alcoholic beverages by leading many sincere Christians to believe that God approves the moderate use of fermented, intoxicating wine. The reasoning can best be illustrated syllogistically, as follows:

1. The Bible, like today’s English language, knows only of alcoholic wine.

2. Wine is praised in the Bible as a gracious divine blessing.

3. Therefore, the Bible approves the moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages.

The problem with this syllogism is that its first premise is very wrong. As this chapter will show, the Bible knows of two distinctly different grape beverages: the first, unfermented, refreshing and lawful; the second, fermented, intoxicating and unlawful. This view of two kinds of wines in the Bible is flatly denied by numerous scholars.

Objective of Chapter
We intend in this chapter to examine if indeed the theory of two kinds of wine has no Biblical and historical foundation, as many contend. To some readers this investigation may seem rather technical and not directly related to the study of the Biblical teaching on alcoholic beverages. Yet, this investigation is essential to understand what the Bible has to say on this timely subject. In fact, our conclusion regarding the secular and Biblical usage of the term "wine" will enable us to clarify the apparent contradiction between those Biblical passages commending and those condemning the use of wine.

The procedure we shall follow is to trace the secular usage of the word "wine" backward, from English, to Latin, Greek and finally Hebrew. This historical survey across four languages is justified by the fact that the English word "wine" is directly related linguistically to the Latin vinum, the Greek oinos, and the Hebrew yayin. The relationship of sound and look between these words becomes clearer when we place these respective words side by side without the case ending um for the Latin vin(um), os for the Greek oin(os) and without the prefix ya for the Hebrew (ya)yin (originally yayin). Without the case endings or suffix these four words look like this: wine, vin, oin, yin. The linguistic relationship among them is self-evident. They all have a similar stem in common. This indicates that it is the sound of the same word which has been transliterated rather than the equivalent meaning which has been translated with a different word.

In view of their similarity in sound and look we must ascertain what these related words actually mean in the various languages. We shall conduct our investigation beginning with the usage of the word "wine" in the English language and then move backward to the Latin vinum to the Greek oinos and finally to the Hebrew yayin. We trust that this procedure will help the Bible reader to see the historical continuity existing in the secular and Biblical usage of this one-related-word as a designation for both fermented and unfermented grape juice.

This chapter is divided into two parts. The first examines the secular usage of wine, vinum, oinos, and yayin. The second considers the Biblical usage of the Greek oinos and the Hebrew yayin.


1. The Meaning of "Wine" in English

Current Usage of "Wine."

Most people assume today that the word "wine" can refer only to fermented, intoxicating grape juice, or to the fermented juice of any fruit used as beverage. The basis for this assumption is the current definition given to the word by most modern dictionaries. For example, the seventh edition of the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines "wine" as follows: 
1: fermented grape juice containing varying percentages of alcohol together with ethers and esters that give it bouquet and flavor. 
2: the usu. fermented juice of a plant product (as a fruit) used as a beverage. 
3: something that invigorates or intoxicates." Note that no mention at all is made in this current definition of unfermented grape juice as one of the possible meanings of "wine." It is not surprising that people who read a definition such as this, common to most dictionaries, would naturally assume that "wine" can only mean a fermented juice.
Past Usage of "Wine."

This restrictive meaning of "wine" represents, however, a departure from the more classical dual meaning of the word as a designation for both fermented or unfermented grape juice. To verify this fact one needs only to consult some older dictionaries. For example, the 1955 Funk & Wagnalls New "Standard" Dictionary of the English Language defines "wine" as follows: "1. The fermented juice of the grape: in loose language the juice of the grape whether fermented or not." This definition shows that forty years ago the loose usage of "wine" referred to "the juice of the grape whether fermented or not." It is noteworthy that even the more recent New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language (1971) defines "must" as "Wine or juice pressed from the grapes but not fermented." This definition clearly equates "wine" with grape juice.

The 1896 Webster’s International Dictionary of the English Language which defines "wine" as "the expressed juice of grapes, especially when fermented . . . a beverage . . . prepared from grapes by squeezing out their juice, and (usually) allowing it to ferment." This definition is historically accurate, since it recognizes that the basic meaning of "wine" is "the expressed juice of grapes," which is usually, but not always, allowed to ferment.

"The problem," as Robert Teachout points out, "is that people have taken the very usual meaning of the word (whether in Hebrew, Greek, Latin or English)—as an intoxicating beverage—and have made it the only definition of the word. That is incorrect scholarship! It is inaccurate both biblically and secularly, and it is inaccurate in the English language historically."

Older English Dictionaries

The inaccuracy in the English language becomes even more evident when we look at older English dictionaries. For example, the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary defines the word "must" as "new wine—wine pressed from the grape, but not fermented." Note that the unfermented grape juice is here explicitly called "new wine."

The 1759 Nathan Bailey’s New Universal English Dictionary of Words and of Arts and Sciences offers the following definition for "wine": "Natural wine is such as it comes from the grape, without any mixture or sophistication. Adulterated wine is that wherein some drug is added to give it strength, fineness, flavor, briskness, or some other qualification." Note that in this definition Bailey does not use the word "fermented," though it is implied in some of the wines he describes.

Other eighteenth-century lexicographers define the word "wine" very similarly. John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum, or A General English Dictionary, published in London in 1708, says: "Wine, a liquor made of the juice of grapes or other fruits. Liquor or Liquour, anything that is liquid; Drink, Juice, etc. Must, sweet wine, newly pressed from the grape."6 In this definition "wine" explicitly includes "must, sweet wine, newly pressed from the grape."

Benjamin Marin’s Lingua Britannica Reformata or A New English Dictionary, published in 1748, defines "wine" as follows: 
1. the juice of the grape. 
2. a liquor extracted from other fruits besides the grape. 
3. the vapours of wine, as wine disturbs his reason." It is noteworthy that here the first meaning of "wine" is "the juice of the grape," without any reference to fermentation.

A clear example of the use of the term "wine" to refer to unfermented grape juice is provided by William Whiston’s translation of Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, first published in 1737. Referring to Joseph’s interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream, Josephus writes: "He therefore said that in his sleep he saw three clusters of grapes hanging upon three branches of a vine, large already, and ripe for gathering; and that he squeezed them into a cup which the king held in his hand and when he had strained the wine, he gave it to the king to drink . . . Thou sayest that thou didst squeeze this wine from three clusters of grapes with thine hands and that the king received it: know, therefore, that the vision is for thy good."

In this translation Whiston uses "wine" as a proper rendering for fresh, unfermented grape juice (gleukos), obviously because in this time "wine" meant either fermented or unfermented grape juice. Josephus’ statement offers another significant insight, namely, that it was customary long before Israel became a nation to squeeze the juice from grapes and drink it immediately in its fresh, unfermented state. This is what Josephus called gleukos, the term which our English translators render "wine" or "new wine" in Acts 2:13. Does not this translation support the conclusion that unfermented grape juice was called "wine" in older English usage?

Bible Translations
The above sampling of definitions of "wine" from older English dictionaries suggests that when the King James Version of the Bible was produced (1604-1611) its translators must have understood "wine" to refer to both fermented and unfermented wine. In view of this fact, the King James Version’s uniform translation of the Hebrew yayin and Greek onios as "wine" was an acceptable translation at that time, since in those days the term could mean either fermented or unfermented wine, just as the words it translates (yayin or oinos) can mean either. Today, however, when "wine" has assumed the sole meaning of fermented grape juice, modern translations of the Bible should indicate whether the text is dealing with fermented or unfermented grape juice. By failing to provide this clarification, uninformed Bible readers are misled into believing that all references to "wine" in the Bible refer to fermented grape juice.

2. The Meaning of the Latin Vinum

Latin Usage of Vinum

It is significant that the Latin word vinum, from which the English "wine" derives, was also used to refer to fermented or unfermented grape juice. A large four-volumes Latin lexicon, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, published in 1740, gives several definitions for vinum, all supported by ancient Roman authors. Two of these are especially relevant: "Aigleuces vinum—("sweet wine"), "Defrutum vinum—("boiled wine"), both of which are unfermented grape juice. The lexicon further explains that "vinum vocantur ipsae etiam uvae"—("even the very grapes are called wine"). The latter statement is supported by Marcus Cato’s designation of grape juice as "vinum pendens," that is, "wine still hanging on the grapes."

Parkinson in his Theatrum Botanicum published in 1640, explains that "The juyce or liquor pressed out of the ripe grapes, is called vinum, wine. Of it is made both sapa and defrutum, in English cute, that is to say, boiled wine, and both made of mustum, new wine; the latter boyled to the half, the former to the third part." This explanation is significant because it attests that the juice pressed out of ripe grapes was called "vinum, wine," and when boiled it became "sapa" or "defrutum," depending on how much it was boiled down.

Pliny (A. D. 24-79), the renowned Roman scholar and author of the celebrated Natural History, lists the boiled wines sapa and defrutum among the vinum dulce—"sweet wine." To these he adds other kinds of unfermented sweet wines known as semper mustum—"permanent must," passum—"raisin wine," and militites—"honey-wine." The last was made from must "in the proportion of thirty pints of must of a dry quality to six pints of honey and a cup of salt, this mixture being brought to the boil."

W. Robertson in his Phraseologia Generalis, published in 1693, defines the Latin mustum as "new wine" and the phrase vinum pendens as "wine yet on the tree." Thomas Aquinas, the "Angelic Doctor" of the Roman Catholic Church, explains that "grape juice—mustum" can be used for the Eucharist, because it already "has the specific quality of wine [speciem vini]."

The foregoing examples suffice to show that the Latin word vinum, like its derived English wine, has been historically used to refer either to fermented or unfermented grape juice. Further documentation from ancient Roman writers supporting this conclusion will be given in Chapter 4, where we shall examine the ancient methods for preserving wine unfermented.

3. The Secular Usage of the Greek Oinos

Oinos: Only Fermented Grape Juice?

It is widely believed that both in secular and Biblical Greek the word oinos, from which derive both the Latin vinum and the English wine, meant exclusively fermented grape juice. For example, in his book The Christian and Alcoholic Beverages, Kenneth L. Gentry states: "Classical Greek—the historical forerunner of the New Testament (koine) Greek—employs the term as a fermented beverage. The Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon of classical Greek defines oinos as ‘the fermented juice of the grape.’ Interestingly, classical Greek apparently used oinos as a functional equivalent for ‘fermented juice,’ as Liddell and Scott note . . ." Gentry goes on quoting New Testament lexicographers to show that "no major New Testament lexicon disputes the fermented character of oinos." After examining some New Testament passages, Gentry concludes: "The case is clear: oinos is an alcoholic beverage. Yet nowhere is wine per se forbidden."

In the light of such a categorical claim, it is important to ascertain if indeed it is true that in classical Greek oinos meant only fermented grape juice. If this claim can be shown to be untrue—by submitting literary examples where oinos refers also to unfermented grape juice—then it is certainly possible that the same dual meaning of oinos is present also in the New Testament and in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint.

Unfermented Grape Juice

There are ample Greek literary texts which negate the narrow definition of oinos as denoting only fermented wine. A clear example is provided by Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). In his book Metereologica, he clearly refers to "grape juice" or "must" (gleukos), as one of the kinds of wine : "For some kinds of wine [oinos], for example must [gleukos], solidify when boiled."17 In another passage of the same book, Aristotle refers to a sweet grape beverage (glukus) which "though called wine [oinos], it has not the effect of wine, for it does taste like wine and does not intoxicate like ordinary wine." In this text Aristotle explicitly informs us that unfermented grape juice was called "oinos—wine," though it did not have the taste or the intoxicating effect of ordinary wine.

Athenaeus, the Grammarian (about A.D. 200), explains in his Banquet that "the Mityleneans have a sweet wine [glukon oinon], what they called prodromos, and others call it protropos." Later on in the same book, he recommends this sweet, unfermented wine (protropos) for the dyspeptic: "Let him take sweet wine, either mixed with water or warmed, especially that kind called protropos, the sweet Lesbian glukus, as being good for the stomach; for sweet wine [oinos] does not make the head heavy." Here the unfermented sweet grape juice is called "lesbian—effoeminatum" because the potency or fermentable power of the wine had been removed.

The methods by which this was done will be discussed in Chapter 4, when we discuss the preservation of grape juice in the ancient world. At this juncture it is significant to note that unfermented wine was recommended for stomach problems. To this fact we shall refer again in Chapter 7, when considering the meaning of Paul’s recommendation to Timothy to "use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (1 Tim 5:23).

In another passage Athenaeus explains: "At the time of festivals, he [Drimacus the General] went about, and took wine from the field [ek ton agron oinon] and such animals for victims as were in good condition." As Lees and Burns observes, "No one, we suppose, can carry prejudice so far as to impose upon himself the belief that fermented and bottled wine was thus "taken from the fields.’"

Oinos as Pressed Grape Juice

In several texts the freshly squeezed juice of the grape is denominated oinos "wine." For example, Papias, a Christian bishop of Hierapolis who lived at the close of the apostolic age, describes the current extravagant view of the millennium as a time when "vines will grow each with . . . ten thousand clusters on each twig, and ten thousand grapes in each cluster, and each grape, when crushed, will yield twenty-five jars of wine [oinos]."

Proclus, the Platonic philosopher, who lived in the fifth century, in his annotation to Hesiod’s Works and Days, has a note on line 611 where he explains how the grapes were first exposed to the sun for ten days, then to the shade for ten days and finally "they treaded them and squeezed out the wine [oinon]." Here also the freshly squeezed juice of the grape is explicitly called "oinos—wine."

Several Greek papyri, discussed by Robert Teachout in his dissertation, indicate that oinos could refer to unfermented grape juice. A rather clear example is a papyrus from A.D. 137 which contains this statement: "They paid to the one who had earned his wages pure, fresh wine [oinon] from the vat."

Nicander of Colophon speculates that oinos derives from the name of a man, Oineus, who first squeezed grapes into a cup: "And Oineus first squeezed it out into hollow cups and called it oinos." This view is supported by Melanippides of Melos who says: "Wine, my master, named after Oineus." These two statements suggest that some traced the origin of oinos to the very act of squeezing the juice out of grapes, first done by a man whose name, Oineus, presumably became the name of the grape juice itself.

The Septuagint Renderings

The Septuagint, an intertestamental Greek translation of the Old Testament, offers significant examples of the dual meanings of oinos. Ernest Gordon points out that "In the Septuagint, the Hebrew word for grape-juice, tirosh, is translated at least 33 times by the Greek word oinos, wine, and the adjective ‘new’ is not present. Oinos without qualification, then, can easily mean unfermented wine in the New Testament." It is interesting that the translators of the Septuagint used oinos to translate the Hebrew word for grape juice (tirosh), instead of a less ambiguous word like gleukos, which means "must."

It is also noteworthy that although the Septuagint usually translates the Hebrew yayin as oinos, in Job 32:19 yayin is rendered as gleukos, which is the common Greek word for newly pressed grape juice: "Behold, my heart is like wine [gleukos—grape juice] that has no vent; like new wineskins, it is ready to burst." In this instance the translators of the Septuagint show that for them the Hebrew yayin could refer to must in the process of fermentation.

The above sampling of texts, from both secular and religious authors, makes it abundantly clear that the Greek word oinos, like the Latin vinum and the English wine, was used as a generic term to refer either to fermented or unfermented grape juice. It remains for us now to verify if the same dual meanings are also present in the secular usage of the Hebrew yayin.

4. The Secular Usage of the Hebrew Yayin

Yayin as Freshly Pressed Grape Juice

Before examining the Biblical meaning of the Hebrew yayin and of the Greek oinos, we shall consider the usage of yayin in Jewish literature, since the latter provides extra-Biblical documentation on how this word was used over the centuries in Jewish culture. The Jewish Encyclopedia provides a concise description of the various usages of yayin: "Fresh wine before fermenting was called ‘yayin mi-gat’’ (wine of the vat; Sanh 70a). The ordinary wine was of current vintage. The vintage of the previous year was called ‘yayin yashan’’(old wine). The third year’s vintage was ‘yayin meyushshan’’(very old wine)."

An almost identical description of the use of yayin is found in the more recent Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): "The newly pressed wine prior to fermentation was known as yayin mi-gat (‘wine from the vat;’ Sanh 70a), yayin yashan (‘old wine’) was wine from the previous year, and that from earlier vintages, yashan noshan (‘old, very old’)." The full statement from Sanhedrin 70a, a Talmudic treatise to which both encyclopedias refer, reads as follows: "Newly pressed wine, prior to fermentation, was known as yayin mi-gat (wine from the press)."

Both of these standard Jewish Encyclopedias explicitly attest that the term yayin was used to refer to a variety of wines, including "the newly pressed wine, prior to fermentation." The newly pressed grape juice was apparently known also as "new wine," since Rabbi Hanina B. Kahana answers the question: "How long is it called new wine?" by saying, "As long as it is in the first stage of fermentation . . . and how long is this first stage? Three days."

Unfermented Wine for Religious Ceremonies

Louis Ginzberg, who for many years was an eminent Professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, wrote a scholarly article in 1923 entitled: "A Response to the Question whether Unfermented Wine May be Used in Jewish Ceremonies." In this article Ginzberg examines several passages from the Talmud, relating to the use of unfermented wine in Jewish ceremonies. His conclusions are significant and will be presented in chapter 5.

In this context we shall mention only a couple of statements from the Talmud which Ginzberg examines at considerable length. The first is from the treatise Baba Bathra 97a, where Rabbi Hiyya discusses whether freshly pressed wine could be used for the kiddush, the ceremony to welcome a religious festival such as the Sabbath. Rabbi Hiyya says: "Since the wine [yayin] from the press is acceptable for libations bedi’abad, it is acceptable for Kiddush lekatehillah." This statement is significant for two reasons. First, because is shows that freshly pressed grape juice was known as "wine" (yayin). Second, because it indicates that unfermented wine was acceptable for religious ceremonies.

The second passage is largely a restatement with changes of the one just quoted and is found in the Halakot Gedalot, the earliest Jewish compendium of the Talmud. The statement reads: "One may press out a cluster of grapes and pronounce the Kiddush over the juice, since the juice of the grape is considered wine [yayin] in connection with the laws of the Nazirite."

This statement is perplexing because the Nazirite law in Numbers 6:1-4 makes no reference that unfermented grape juice was considered wine. Presumably, some Rabbis reached this conclusion on the basis of their common acceptance of grape juice as wine. Louis Ginzberg expresses this view saying: "Since there is no express mention of grape-juice among the drinks prohibited to the Nazirite, its prohibition by the Rabbis can only be justified on the ground that it is considered wine."

If this assumption is correct, it would provide an additional indirect indication that unfermented grape juice was commonly considered wine (yayin) in the Jewish society. Such an indirect indication, however, is hardly necessary to establish this conclusion, since the two passages cited earlier provide direct evidence that the juice of the grape was indeed designated wine (yayin).

The investigation into the secular usage of the related words—wine, vinum, oinos and yayin—has clearly shown that these words have been historically used in their respective languages to designate the pressed juice of the grape, whether fermented or unfermented. This means that those who boldly claim that "the two wines view" is devoid of Biblical and historical support, base their claim on their ignorance of the parallel secular usage of the related words for wine in English, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.