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Wine and Alcohol in the Bible

Occurrences and origination:


• The first occurrence of the word “wine” is found in Genesis 9:21

And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:


And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.

• The word wine here is translated from the Hebrew word “yayin” Strong’s number 3196:

yah’-yin {140x}; from an unused root meaning to effervesce; wine (as fermented); by
implication intoxication: -- banqueting {1x}, wine {138x}, winebibbers + 5433 {1x}.
(1) This is the usual Hebrew word for fermented grape. (13) The word is used as a
synonym of tirosh (8492), “new wine,” in Hosea 4:11, where it is evident that both can
be intoxicating… (13a) Tirosh is distinguished from yayin by referring only to new wine
not fully fermented; yayin includes “wine” at any stage. (13c) In 1st Samuel 1:15 [“And
Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have
drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD.”]
yayin parallels shekar (7941), “strong drink.”(13c1) Shekar in early times included
wine: “And the drink offering thereof shall be the fourth part of an hin for the one lamb:
in the holy place shalt thou cause the strong wine to be poured unto the LORD for a
drink offering” (Numbers 28:7); (13c2) but meant strong drink made from any fruit or
grain: “He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar
of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat
moist grapes, or dried.” (Numbers 6:3) (Strong 113)

• In the books of Ezra and Daniel (with the exception of Daniel 1:6) wine is translated from
the Aramaic word chărmar, Strong’s number 2562, which corresponds to 2561 chemer,
also meaning wine (Deut. 32:14, Isa 27:2). Both (2562 and 2561) are derived from
châmar (2560):

châmar, khaw-mar’ {6x}; a primitive root; properly to boil up; hence to ferment (with
scum); to glow (with redness); as denom. (from 2564) to smear with pitch: --troubled
{3x}, red {1x}, daub {1x}, foul {1x}. (Strong 91)

• Strong’s number 6071: âçîyç, aw-sees’ means must or fresh grape juice (as just trodden
out): -new wine {2x}, sweet wine {2x}, juice {1x}. This word is synonymous with tirosh
referring to new wine and can also lead to drunkenness as denoted by Isaiah 49:26:
“And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken
with their own blood, as with sweet wine (âçîyç): and all flesh shall know that I the
LORD am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.”

• In the New Testament the word wine by itself is derived from the Greek word ŏinŏs for
the general case and in one instance, glěukŏs, to refer to new wine:

ŏinŏs, oy’-nos {33x}; a primary word (or perhaps of Hebrew origin [3196]); “wine”
(lieral or figurative): -wine {32x}, winepress + 3125 {1x}. (Strong 177)

glěukŏs, glyoo’-kos {1x}; akin to 1099; “sweet” wine, i.e. (probably) “must” (fresh
juice), but used of the more saccharine (and therefore highly inebriating) fermented
“wine:” –new wine {1x}.
Gleukos denotes sweet “new wine,” or must, Acts 2:13, where the accusation shows that
it was intoxicant and must have been undergoing fermentation some time. (Strong 60)

• As to the occurrence of the word wine in the word of God these are all that we find to be
used, and all refer to wine in varying stages of the fermentation process. I’d think it
would be safe to assume there may very well be words in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek
that could refer specifically to unfermented grape juice, but the fact is they don’t appear
in biblical text.

Contextual Usage:
• The context of the first occurrence of wine in the bible (as seen above) is one as an
intoxicating substance which led to Noah’s drunkenness.

o It’s interesting to note that in this whole ordeal (Genesis 9:18-29), there was no
implication of any condemnation for Noah’s drunkenness much less the
consumption of wine. What we read about is how his son Ham saw his father’s
nakedness and instead of doing something about it, furthered his father’s
embarrassment by telling his brothers. Noah then curses him for what he has
done, which later on in the Torah is explicitly outlined as sin. ( See Leviticus
18:6-19)

• The next mentioning of wine (derived form yayin) is used in a form of a gift or blessing
by Melchizedek, a “priest of the most high God” whom Christ’s priesthood is likened to.
(Genesis 14:17-20; Hebrews 5:5-6)

o Note that Christ’s revelation of his glory to the disciples and the introduction of
Melchizedek were both preceded by the bringing forth of wine. In both cases,
wine was derived from the general word for wine in their respective languages
and not the word for new wine. (John 2:7-11; Genesis 14:18)

• Later uses of wine in the book of Genesis are in the contexts of a conduit for sin (19:30-
40), a beverage of refreshment and a blessing (20:25-37; blessing in v28), and generic
references (49:11-12)

o Note that in context where transgression was found in this story, it was neither the
drinker nor the wine that gained the focus (Genesis 19:30-40).

• In Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers; wine is mostly used in the description of drink
offerings which described as “a sweet savour unto the LORD” and also included “*strong
wine.” (*Numbers 28:7)

• Wine in the context of prohibition is first seen in Leviticus 10:9:

Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the
tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your
generations:

o We must note that the full context of this scripture is a commandment given
directly to Aaron concerning him and his sons (the Levitical priesthood) from
God. Prior to this God has just killed two of his sons for acting on their own
accord offering something that God hadn’t commanded them to. Also before this
incident the narrative was usually something like “And the LORD spake unto
Moses, saying,” “as the LORD commanded Moses,” “This is the thing which the
LORD commanded that ye should do,” or something along those lines addressing
the general congregation of Israel. Knowing this one can see the sharp contrast of
the scripture mentioned above in full context:

And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put
fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD,
which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and
devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said unto Aaron,

This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh
me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace. And
Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and
said unto them, Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of
the camp. So they went near, and carried them in their coats out of the camp; as
Moses had said. And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar,
his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest
wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel,
bewail the burning which the LORD hath kindled. And ye shall not go out from
the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: for the anointing oil of
the LORD is upon you. And they did according to the word of Moses.

And the LORD spake unto Aaron, saying, Do not drink wine nor strong drink,
thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation,
lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations:
And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean
and clean; And that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the
LORD hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses. (Leviticus 10:1-11)

o After this the narrative resumes its usual, general tone (Leviticus 11:2)

o Furthermore the priests (Aaron and his progeny) were later told that the things
that were offered to God were theirs to consume after the offering has taken place.
This included “the best of the wine (tirosh: new wine)” as the things offered to
God were usually the first fruits as the scripture explains. This may seem to be a
contradiction to the prohibition, but the priests were told not to drink wine “when
ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation,” (also see Ezekiel 44:21) which
implies that it was OK to do so otherwise, hence the direction to drink the wine of
the offerings.

• In Numbers, wine is again used in a prohibitory context when God outlines the
stipulations for the “vow of a Nazarite,” forbidding those who take this vow from certain
things including wine and any part of the (grape) vine from fruit to root. Like the
prohibition for the priesthood this restriction was not a general command for all of Israel,
it only addressed those who would take this vow and only for the duration of the vow.
(Number 6:2-20; esp. v2-4 and v18-20)

• The usage of wine in Deuteronomy is more general as it is mostly used to denote one of
the products of agriculture and the blessing thereof. (Deuteronomy 7, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16,
18, 28, 33) There are a few exceptions though:

o In Chapter 14 God encourages consumption of wine and strong drink (among


other things) so that one could rejoice in serving Him:

And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen,
or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth:
and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou,
and thine household, (Deuteronomy 14:26) (read v22-26 for full context)

This scripture corresponds to the direction given in Deuteronomy 12:17-18, not to


consume their tithes (which included wine) within their gates but only in a place
the Lord had designated.
o In Chapter 29, it is pointed out that Israel did not drink wine nor strong drink
while they were in the wilderness.

Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink: that ye
might know that I am the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 29:6)

o The first time wine is depicted negatively is when it is used to describe the wine
of those that turned from God and his commandments

“Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.”
(Deuteronomy 32:33; read whole chapter for full context)

• The next time we see wine used in the context of prohibition is in the book of Judges
when an angel of God gives instructions to a barren woman that is to give birth to a
Nazarite (Samson) that will deliver God’s people from the Philistines.

And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold
now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.
Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat
not any unclean thing:
For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his
head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall
begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. (Judges 13:3-5)

• Some other notable passages:

o Psalm 75:8 –the wicked drink the dregs of the mixed wine poured out from God
(figurative language)

o Psalm 104:15 –depicted as a gift from God to make our hearts glad

o Proverbs 20:1 –characterized as a mocker and warning is given to avoid being


deceived thereby.

o The later part of Proverbs 23 gives warning about envying sinners and improper
company with a few references to wine and drunkenness (Note: “eating of flesh”
and gluttony are depicted in a similar light). (Proverbs 23:17-35)

o In Proverbs 31:4-5, we are told that wine and strong drink are not for those who
execute the law and judge matters so that they can do so without perversion;
much like the commandment given to the Levitical priest and those who desire
the office of Bishop or Deacon in the *New Testament Church. (*1st Timothy 3)
o In Isaiah 5, verses 11 and 22 may seem to some to condemn the use of wine and
strong drink but it doesn’t take much to see that the context of these scriptures
condemns the abuse thereof and the character of that person (one without regard
for God). (context: v11-12 and v22-24)

o In Isaiah 27:1-3, the Church is likened to “A vineyard of red wine” (chemer) that
the Lord Himself takes care of.

o Isaiah 28:7 has been interpreted by some as speaking of those that have erred
because they drank wine, however, when read in context (v1-8) and compared to
Leviticus 10:8-11 it takes on a different meaning. [precept must be upon precept]

o Habakkuk 2:5 may, to some, seem to imply that drinking wine is a transgression.
However verses 4-6 give a description of a wicked man and starts off by saying
he is not “upright.” Give wine to the person like this and sin will surely follow.
Other translations word this scripture a little differently but the constant theme is
that wine is merely a conduit not sin itself:

 Ex of Habakkuk 2:5

in Young’s Literal Translation:


“And also, because the wine [is] treacherous, A man is haughty, and
remaineth not at home, , And doth gather unto itself all the nations, And
doth Who hath enlarged as sheol his soul, And is as death that is not
satisfied assemble unto itself all the peoples,”

in the Darby Translation:


“And moreover, the wine is treacherous: he is a proud man, and keepeth
not at rest, he enlargeth his desire as Sheol, and he is like death and cannot
be satisfied; and he assembleth unto him all nations, and gathereth unto
him all peoples.”

in the Holman Christian Standard Bible:


“Moreover, wine betrays; an arrogant man is never at rest. He enlarges his
appetite like Sheol, and like Death he is never satisfied. He gathers all the
nations to himself; he collects all the peoples for himself.”

o Romans 14:21 states that it is good not to drink wine [or consume anything that
causes a brother to struggle with his faith]. The context of this scripture (whole
chapter) parallels 1st Corinthians 8, which specifically address foods sacrificed to
idols. With this knowledge, the advice given can be understood as: it is better to
stay away from things sacrificed to idols no matter how strong your personal faith
may be, so that a weaker brother will not struggle.

Conclusion:
I found many scriptures that described wine as something positive for man and God as well as
scriptures that outline the dangers and foolishness of over-indulgence in drinking. Strong drink,
which seemingly applies to general alcohol, only appears 19 times in the King James Version of
the bible, and none of those instances are direct prohibitions, as the phrase is always
accompanied by wine. This shows that prohibiting someone to drink or not extending the hand of
Christian fellowship to those that choose to drink (in moderation) is an un-biblical practice as
there is no scripture on which this doctrine can stand. The scriptures reveal that wine is meant to
be enjoyed but not abused much like other blessings from the Lord.

Sources:
King James Version Bible

The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible Red-Letter Edition

The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible

The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of the Words in the Greek New Testament

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