Did Jesus drink wine?


This article appeared originally in the Oldie magazine.

Did Jesus drink wine? You’d think the answer would be a resounding hell yes! Just think of the Wedding at Cana or the Last Supper. Then there’s Holy Communion; wine plays a sacred role in most Christian churches. But a couple of years ago I discovered that not all Christians agree.

My wife comes from a family of Southern Baptists who live in Iowa. Her grandparents were missionaries. They do not drink because they believe that the Bible expressly forbids it. I asked my mother-in-law about this and she explained the logic to me: Jesus didn’t turn water into wine in the miracle at the wedding at Cana, he turned it into grape juice.

If I’d been a bit quicker on the draw I would have quoted Psalm 104:15 ‘wine maketh glad the heart of man’ and we could have had a proper Bible quote-off but my Biblical knowledge is a little lacking. So I decided to do some research. It turns out there is a whole branch of writing arguing that the Bible is explicitly anti-alcohol. Pastor John Hamel, an Evangelical preacher from Nashville, writes:  “the fermentation of wine. . .  is a process of decay, which is rooted in death. Satan is the author of death, not Jesus or His Father.” It’s a rather circular argument. And this proscription against fermentation would preclude eating sourdough bread, sauerkraut, salami and cheese which no Christians as far as I know have a problem with.

Far more convincing is the Reverend William Patton’s 1871 work, Bible Wines, which has become the bible of non-alcoholic Christianity. I think this is the origin of my mother-in-law’s point about the Wedding at Cana. According to Patton, the Greek word, Oinos, used in the Gospel of John meant ‘new wine’ which could also mean grape juice. Except that it doesn’t. I spoke with Canon Dr. Anthony Phillips, an expert on Biblical Greek, who told me that it always means wine and that “there is a Greek word for grape juice which is trux but as far as I know it does not appear in the New Testament.” He went on to say “to argue this (grape juice) is what Jesus ordered is specious. Is it seriously suggested that at the Last Supper, Jesus produced grape juice?”

In a climate such as Palestine it would have been nearly impossible to preserve grape juice without fermentation.  Yet William Patton’s book is a picture of a parallel world where rather than make wine, the ancients would have preserved grapes by boiling the juice or pickling whole grapes. But of course they wouldn’t because they would have just turned it into wine.

Wine was ubiquitous in the ancient world. According to wine historian Hugh Johnson the only book of the Old Testament that doesn’t mention wine is Jonah. The usual Hebrew word in the Bible for wine is Yayin. Rabbi Rebecca Qassim Birk confirmed to me that it never means grape juice. Naomi Alderman, a novelist with a good knowledge of Hebrew both ancient and modern, told me “abstaining from alcohol isn’t considered positive in Judaism, in fact there are festivals where you’re actively supposed to drink. No evidence ancient Hebrews drank grape juice, plenty of wine-jar evidence they drank wine!” In present day Armenia they have found remnants of winemaking from 6,000 years ago. Even under Islam, Jewish and Christian communities made and indeed still make wine.

The only reference I could find to total abstinence comes from Numbers: “He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. . . ” This is the Nazarite vow, a holy order who also vowed not to cut their hair. This is not the mainstream Jewish view of alcohol. John the Baptist was a Nazarite and in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is explicitly contrasted with him: “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber (oinopotes in Greek literally wine drinker), a friend of publicans and sinners!”  

Unlike with many other things, the message from the Bible on alcohol is clear: drink good, drunkenness bad. For most of Protestant history, this crucial difference was understood. John Milton, the poet laureate of Commonwealth, wrote a paean to the joys of ”spicy Nut-brown Ale” in L’ allegro. Methodists now shun alcohol but the founder of the movement, John Wesley drank wine and was a beer connoisseur. The stereotype of the tight-lipped unsmiling Calvinist is an enduring one yet John Calvin himself wrote “we are nowhere forbidden to laugh, or to be satisfied with food. . . . or to be delighted with music, or to drink wine.’

American Protestantism used to be similarly relaxed about drink. The first crisis of the Pilgrim Fathers when they arrived in America was that they didn’t have any beer to drink. But following independence, the country developed a serious drink problem. In his book The Alcoholic Republic the historian WJ Rorabaugh estimates that the average American in the early 19th century put away a pint of spirits per day. The understandable reaction to such excess was the Temperance movement which flourished on both sides of the Atlantic. Initially this just meant temperance, moderation, but it soon moved to prohibit alcohol entirely. Much of the energy from Temperance came from Evangelical Abolitionists. They’d freed the black man from slavery, now they turned their attention to the working class at home who they saw as enslaved by alcohol. William Patton, author of Bible Wines, was just such a man. The techniques of the anti-slavery movement were used to demonise alcohol: mass petitions, articles placed in the press and striking prints depicting the misery of alcohol, and religiously-infused public meetings.

The roots of Protestant abstinence lie not in the Bible, but in an entirely understandable attempt to stamp out drunkenness. This mass movement later led to Prohibition with all the crime and unhappiness that went with that. One of the problems with this absolutist attitude to alcohol is that it makes drinking something illicit. When eating with my in-laws rather than the bottle of wine at the table I would sneak off for a surreptitious dram of whisky in my room.

From learning a bit about Biblical abstinence,  I am struck by the unyielding certainty of its proponents. They know better than scholars of the ancient world, people with a knowledge of ancient Greek and Hebrew. And yet ordinary Baptists aren’t always so closed off. Earlier this year I had lunch with Spanish winemaker. His wife’s family also didn’t drink for religious reasons. Rather than write an article in the Oldie, he politely discussed it with them. He pointed out that Jesus did indeed drink and showed them the evidence. Rather than falling out with them as I would have if I tried this, they were persuaded and, having been abstinent all their lives, now go on wine tasting holidays with their daughter and son-in-law.  People changing long-held beliefs in the face of evidence? Surely a miracle to rival turning water into wine.


About Henry

I’m a drinks writer. My day job is features editor at the Master of Malt blog. I also contribute to BBC Good Food, the Spectator and others. You can read some of my work here. I’ve done a bit of radio, given some talks and written a couple of books (Empire of Booze, The Home Bar and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary).
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29 Responses to Did Jesus drink wine?

  1. Pingback: Empire of Booze Nooze | Henry Jeffreys

  2. julie mckeever says:

    So did Jesus drink wine?

      • Josh says:

        Thanks for the historical backgrounds of the opposing views. Great stuff here. Jesus was at someone’s home when he contrasted himself with John the Baptist saying, For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” Luke 7:33ff

        Now what might have he been drinking that would have made room for the (false) accusation that he was a drunkard? Grape Juice? Also, what is the point of the contrast with John if Jesus isn’t drinking wine?

      • No

        Mathew 26:29

        But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

        It was Christ who in the Old Testament gave warning to Israel

        Proverbs 20:1
        “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise

        Daniel from the book of Daniel even purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with wine 🍷

        Daniel 1: 8
        But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

        Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. 3 John 2.

        What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20.

        Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31. –

    • Adam says:

      The wine which Christ provided for the feast, and that which He gave to the disciples as a symbol of His own blood, was the pure juice of the grape. To this the prophet Isaiah refers when he speaks of the new wine “in the cluster,” and says, “Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it.” Isaiah 65:8.

    • Jules says:

      Looks like thorough search was not done. One needs to go through the entire scripture. Even in Revelation if clearly warns “drunkards” will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Lets be logical: would a holy God make alcoholic wint for a wedding party seriously?? And the Son of God to also participate?? We ALL know aftwr one or more drinks what happens! Get serious!! Would a bunch of mind numbed sloppy ditzy flirting silly people embody the Holy Spirit of God? Think! What parties have we all attended and how did the drinkers all act after a few hours? A resounding NO. It was NEW wine created by Jesus! Many other verses attest the holy character of Jesus, & we, being sanctified do NOT drink alcohol. Ridiculous. To say Jesus drank alcohol… blows my mind I cant believe anyone thinks A Holy Being would watch his children participate in a drunken event. Weve ALL experienced parties. Come on…There are SO many instances in the Bible, theres no ROOM here to type it out. The truth is there. Those who want to drink, find excuses or cherry pick things out. And leave out plain warnings. I didnt write it-im just the messenger.

  3. Michael Martin says:

    After being awaken from a dream this question came to mind so I was curious about peoples answer . You gave me several passages to look at by different writers, I didn’t think that if Jesus drank wine it would’ve made him unpure because he was God in the flesh .The bible says that even on the cross he refused the bitter hops so I wandered why it became so popular to drink wine.

    • Sam Sackey says:

      on the cross bitter hops which contain alcohol would have dehydrated him more.
      There is nowhere in the bible that one should never drink alcohol.

      • Larry Usher says:

        Pro 20:1  Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. 

  4. Danny Burks says:

    The Bible flat states Jesus drank wine, read the Bible

    • Henry says:

      And you should read the article

    • Tshepo says:

      New International Version
      to prostitution; old wine and new wine take away their understanding.

      Proverbs 31:4
      It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to crave strong drink,

      Leviticus 10:9
      “You and your sons are not to drink wine or strong drink when you enter the Tent of Meeting, or else you will die; this is a perpetual statute for the generations to come.

      There are no contradictions in the bible, for God doesn’t speak against himself and He wouldn’t need to, because his word is truth and eternal.

      Our understanding of scripture is inadequate and we need to ask God for understanding not lead each other astray blindly or rather justify our way of unholy life’s based on the misinterpretation of the scriptures and the lack of obedience in asking God for revelation and understanding

      The truth is wine is plainly not forbidden in the life’s of believers.
      The wine that Jesus made made people sober not drunk (read it well)

      New International Version
      Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,

      New International Version
      “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.

      Jesus is the vine, The Father the vine dresser and the Holy Spirit is the wine.
      The wine that Jesus made was a prophetic image of the Holy Spirit which brought revelation to the disciple and the people that Jesus is from God

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

      To Jesus be the Glory, Honor and Praise Forever. Amen

      • Tshepo says:

        * the truth is wine is plainly forbidden in the life’s of believers ( made a mistake in one of the lines above)

    • Eric Salazar says:

      Jesus told us he would not drink wine

      Mathew 26:29

      But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

  5. jonathan says:

    Wine is a mocker.. if you abuse it! but a gift from God to those who acknowledge this and drink it carefully with all thanksgiving. I pray every time with thanksgiving before i take this gift from God. I drink it alone before my God. To the pure evreything is pure.

  6. So its ok to give New borns children and teenagers moderation drink?

  7. Bobby says:

    Well written. I am very religious, and come from a group of the most sober people on earth; Mormons. For those of you who dont know, mormons are very christian. Thats why its called the church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints. Mormons dont dronk because of the “word of wisdom”; a code of health prohibiting all alcohol. I think that Jesus did indeed drink wine, seeing as juice was uncommon, and somewhat useless. Wine helps fight off bacteria in contaminated food, and seems quite necessary to the day in which Jesus lived.
    My argument in favor of wine:
    1. Wine has health benefits. Including weight control, and cancer fighting properties in red wines, along with helping memory retention.
    2. Wine is hard to get drunk on. I think any religion prohibiting wine does so because it contains alcohol. Alcohol makes people drunk which leads to abuse, accidents, and general lack of accountability. I agree with that. Drunk is bad for many reasons, and good for almost none. Wine takes a lot of drink to get drunk, and anyone wishing to get drunk could save a lot of time and money by purchasing a vodka, tequila, or 6 pack. Wine is meant to be enjoyed and savored. A glass or two won’t get you woosey, and gives you all it’s benefits without sacrificing your accountability.
    3. Wine improves sex drive and intimacy in marriage. Personal experience.
    4. It’s a natural stress reliever and anti depressant.
    5. It brings better quality sleep.

    In moderation, I think that wine can be a blessing. But a line still needs to be drawn to protect ourselves and our children from the perils of drunkenness, and drugs, which can rapidly destroy our lives. I don’t know how to do that, and I will be keeping my moderated wine consumption to myself until I figure out how to be a good example to my children.

    To my Mormon friends out there; try a glass before you slam the door on it. By their fruits ye shall know them. I don’t know if I’m right about this, but it has been a good experience for me. Knowing that Jesus also had wine comforts me, and hopefully will be enough to get me through the gates. If I find out otherwise before then; I’ll toss it away.

    • Art Colgain says:

      Bobby, I live here in Utah, kaysville, and I have never heard a more honest and well stated point about alcohol. I am not Mormon and my point is similar to you. People pick and choose( Bible buffet) what they like and dislike. It is not free grace ie Romans 6:1 but we sin. All sin is unrighteousness. Man makes the rules over God. Paul states “ be imitators of me as I am of Christ. The ball is in our court. I was responsible for a car accident that killed my wife, am I a murderer? If I drink wine( at the age of 5 , being Italian we were given wine at evening meals) am I in sin? I stated that Paul used meat sacrificed to idols, Conscience sake therefore if something causes you to sin don’t do it but Paul says why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience . conservatives will take that out of context saying I have taken that out of context, but not the rules they make. we will all stand before God and give an account the ball is in our court.

  8. art colgain says:

    I am a practicing christian and believe that it is a choice to drink alcohol. Now the argument has always been in the very ambiguous direction, drunk. Ok what is drunk? “conservative” believers….say if you take a drink you are drunk and then quote Pro 20:1 . I drink wine by the cup and just one personally, so I’m drunk??? If you look at Paul dealing with meat sacrificed to idols and the CONSCIENCE, he tries to help those new to the faith. He then states in 1 Cor. 10:29… read for yourself. So my point, ah yes. It’s just fine to drop opiates ‘cause a doctor said so, BUT you can’t drink alcohol….well cept if it’s cough syrup then it’s ok….I also distain the view that the water of the day was….poo poo. REALLY, we read where man was given KNOWLEDGE back then,(1 Cor. 13:8-11) ya know to build the pyramids without really trick cranes…so I believe God, gave us clean water… so the argument about nasty water is weak and lame. Ok bottom line: you can use major addicting opiates, mood altering cancer causing meds but no no no to drinking some wine/alcohol. Oh wait Paul was coo coo when to told Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach and that a Deacon can’t be addicted to much wine…..ahhhh so should I go to the first recorded miracle….oh do do that was grape juice. Ahh my conscience can sleep tonight.

  9. Jay Vann says:

    Listen, the bottom line question should be, how does my drinking benefit Gods kingdom? If one can have a drink and remain sober then God bless you but our lives are not about ourselves. We as believers at some point must draw a line in the sand and make a definitive choice that we don’t have to something (as in drink, smoke etc). The world should see a difference when they look at us without being confused. We don’t want to lead a person into a bad decision because our desire will not allow us to make a stand for Christ! Context is everything as we bear witness to Christ! Please consider these thoughts and yes, question things in a manner that challenges ones self as it pertains to your walk. Lastly, there are numerous scriptures that talk about drinking and wine but as I stated before our lives are not about ourselves. Please check out Romans 14:15-21, take it to heart and pray on it. God bless!!!

    • Simplified says:

      Without going into a major scriptural debate back and forth with the person who began this discussion because sadly, man can and has over the years perfected the art of making the bible say what they want. Now this is what I would say about this topic. Both my wife and I come from a history of serious abuse and destruction of both families. To the point where I became an alcoholic at the age 18. Had I not been exposed to the Gospel that was preached uncompromisingly, I’d hate to think of where I would be today. Now, let me explain that this all began with a few sips from left over wine in bottles at home where I began to acquire a taste for this destructive stuff which may I add was a norm in the house that I grew up in. I understand the argument of drinking in moderation and socially but is that not where most alcoholics started? What about the child, as in my case who thinks alcohol consumption is a norm?
      What I find most disappointing about discussions of this nature is that whilst we are busy trying to make behavior of this nature acceptable in our societies, there are children somewhere going to bed hungry because their selfish alcoholic parent spent all the family funds on alcohol. What about the man or woman serving a prison term for culpable homicide? I don’t believe we should playing around issues like these but instead help people with the ample help that is found in the word of God on such issues. In closing, what are we going to do next? Justify weed because after all God created it and Jesus never openly condemned it whilst He walked the earth? Seriously, where do we draw the line?

    • Devin says:

      How does drinking coffee enhance your relationship to God? How does relying on science and medicine? You can apply generic logic to anything to equate it to your “view”…

  10. Hilda McNees says:

    We draw the line at the scales, God wants used to learn how to balance the scales…

  11. Hilda McNees says:

    We draw the line at the scales, God wants us to learn how to balance the scales…

  12. Food for thought says:

    “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1)

    “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:” (Proverbs 31:4)

    “But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.” (Isaiah 28:7)

  13. CEB says:

    I was actually kicked out of a Bible study because I argued against the “grape juice” idea. I’m a biologist, and worked as a drinking water microbiologist for years. Alcohol was drunk to avoid getting sick from contaminated water, and there was no way “grape juice” would not have begun to ferment within a day, even within its skin. The pastor insisted that all alcohol was bad, and since Jesus never sinned, he never drank alcohol. I disagreed and said that the idea of complete abstinence was relatively modern, and was told to just leave since I couldn’t accept the Word of God as spoken by the pastor. I avoid Christians now. God gave them brains that they decide to turn off.

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