Jesus showed His divinity by doing miracles. One miracle was changing water into wine at Cana for a wedding feast. From this act, can we conclude that drinking is not a sin?
No, it would be wrong to come to that conclusion. Many books and articles have been written on this subject, both pro and con, and I cannot go into the detail they do in a short column such as this. But we can look at the highlights.
Incidentally, changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana was the first of about 35 miracles that Jesus performed. Before I deal with your question, let me say it is unfortunate that the gems of truth concerning this miracle often get lost in the question of the makeup of the wine itself. For one thing, the miracle showed Jesus’ ministry and His coming Church far superior to the religion the Jews practiced. The best wine served last depicted God’s keeping of His best gift—His only begotten Son—until that time. The wedding also looked forward to the marriage of the Lamb, where the Church will be presented to Christ as a bride. Christ began His ministry on earth at a wedding, and He will consummate His relationship with the Church at a wedding!
In a practical way, we also see how Christ can and wants to use seemingly insignificant objects— waterpots and water—to show His mighty power. He wants to use human vessels to His praise and glory. He wants us to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18–20) so that we can with joy (wine signifies joy) go out with the Word of God and touch other lives with it.
Here, now, are reasons we cannot conclude, as some have, that Jesus made an intoxicating beverage and, therefore, drinking is not wrong.
First, a study of the word “wine” will show us that not all wine was fermented and intoxicating. Some scholars cite the word oinos in the original as proof that Jesus made liquor. However, other Bible scholars have shown that this word can mean unfermented as well as fermented wine.
Another word in the original, the Greek verb methusko, causes confusion. We have in this account the phrase “men have well drunk” (John 2:10). In Ephesians 5:18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:7, this verb (have drunk) indicates drunkenness. However, this word and the cognate methuo do not always indicate drunkenness. They can also suggest drinking freely or drinking in an abundance. The Old Testament Septuagint uses that meaning of the word at least ten times, among them Psalm 23:5, “My cup runneth over” (methusko). Another passage is Isaiah 55:10, “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and retumeth not thither, but watereth [methuo] the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater.” Thus with this thought in mind, we realize that the wedding guests of Cana received wine in abundance, not intoxicating beverages.
Second, Scripture makes a distinction between wine and strong drink. Some facts indicate that what we call wine today would definitely be regarded as strong drink back in Bible days. Although the fermented wine back then might have been much less intoxicating, we have this familiar warning: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Prov. 20:1).
Third, we must consider the fermentation process, which was a long, complicated one. Aging would take perhaps six years or more. Our Lord could turn water into fermented wine in an instant if He wanted to, but would He? Looking carefully at the miracle and all its object lessons and analogies, we come to the conclusion that Jesus made fresh, new wine. Some people have argued that the best wine would have had to be the most intoxicating wine. But this conclusion is not true. Christ made perfect wine; it did not need to be fermented to be perfect. Observers both today and in ancient times have testified to the superiority of various unfermented wines and juices. For example, Horace, legendary poet of the Romans, spoke of a certain wine that had no sweeter parallel and was “perfectly harmless and would not produce intoxication.”
Fourth, we must remember the people who attended the wedding. These were people who believed in the Old Testament, which condemns drunkenness and intoxication. The wine they were used to was the unfermented kind, a staple in their diet. In this vein, some people raise the matter of the drink offering mentioned in Leviticus 1—7, Exodus 29:40, and Numbers 28:7. But keep in mind that this drink was not for human consumption but was rather poured upon the sacrifices.
In recent years some so-called evangelicals and conservatives have tried to justify the use of alcoholic beverages. It is no surprise that people in such homes and circles use wine. Drinking alcoholic beverages is supposed to be a reaction against what these people perceive as legalism on the part of Christians who believe in abstinence.
Has this new wave of permissiveness brought joy into lives? Reports indicate just the opposite. The problems that alcohol brings to the lives of unbelievers brings the same problems to the lives of believers. It is sad to learn about young people in professing Christian homes getting caught in the same heartache and bondage alcohol brings as the heartache unbelievers experience—accidents, illnesses, financial problems, loss of reputation, and disharmony and strife in the home.
No one ought to label or condemn as legalists those Christians who take a strict approach to this subject. They should not be ashamed to look for Scriptural evidence that alcohol has no place in the life of a believer. If the Old Testament priesthood was to abstain from all alcohol, shouldn’t we as “believer-priests” also leave alcohol alone? God expects us to be different, set apart, separate unto the Lord. Instead of looking for ways to get around these fundamental issues, we believers should be raising our personal and corporate standards. We don’t want to say things that the Bible doesn’t say, but it is evident that the Scriptures take a dim view of drinking and that the passages used to build a case for the validity of a Christian’s drinking are not by any means conclusive.
Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.