Jesus eating and drinking

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Jesus eating and drinking, and the crowd's reaction

"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, a friend of publicans and sinners! But wisdom is justified of all her children" (Luke 7:33-35).

  Jesus contrasts Himself to John the Baptist, who was a Nazarite. Jesus was a Nazarene because He came from Nazareth, but He was not a Nazarite. Nazarites were people who had been called to live under a special vow, a totally different lifestyle, in order to show their total devotian to God. Among other things, they were to eat nothing made from grapes, including grape juice.

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord: 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. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk" (Num. 6:1-4).

  Jesus was not restricted by a Nazarite's vow. Therefore, He came eating grapes and drinking the fruit of the vine, all of which was called wine. This brought a reaction from His enemies. They called Him a gluttonous man and a winebibber (a tippler or heavy drinker).

But it is a mistake to accept the word of Jesus' enemies as truth. On two other occasions they said He had a devil (John 7:20 and John 8:48). Crowd reaction is certainly not safe ground for building sound doctrine. Jesus answered their charge by saying that God's wisdom is shown to be true by all who accept it. His righteous life would prove their accusations false.

Jesus making wine at the marriage feast in Cana

"And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him"(John 2:1-11).

  The events surrounding Jesus' first miracle need little explanation. He had been invited to a wedding and had been accompanied by His disciples. During the feast following the ceremony, the host ran out of wine. Mary presented the problem to Jesus, and He provided wine enough for all the guests.

There are two important facts to keep in mind.

(1) The wine Jesus made did not conform to twentieth-century standards; it conformed only to the standards of that day. To those at the feast, all juice of the grape, fermented or unfermented, was considered wine.

(2) Whatever Jesus made that day was consistent with His character.

  Jesus had come to fulfill the Scriptures. Scores of Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in His birth, life, death, and resurrection. The gospel declares this truth.

"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures"(1 Cor. 15:3,4).

  We have already seen that in the Old Testament, fermented wine symbolized wrath and judgment. Its use was prohibited. It is inconceivable, then, that Jesus would have violated this biblical principle by making more than 120 gallons of intoxicating wine to be served to the wedding guests.

In 1907, Dr. R. A. Torrey wrote:

"The wine provided for the marriage festivities at Cana failed. A cloud was about to fall over the joy of what is properly a festive occasion. Jesus came to the rescue. He provided wine, but there is not a hint that the wine He made was intoxicating. It was fresh-made wine. New-made wine is never intoxicating. It is not intoxicating until sometime after the process of fermentation has set in. Fermentation is a process of decay. There is not a hint that our Lord produced alcohol, which is a product of decay or death. He produced a living wine uncontaminated by fermentation."4

  One of the great Bible scholars of this century, Dr. William Pettingill, wrote:

"I do not pretend to know the nature of the wine furnished by our Lord at the wedding of Cana, but I am satisfied that there was little resemblance in it to the thing described in the Scriptures of God as biting like a serpent and stinging like an adder (Prov. 23:29-32). Doubtless rather it was like the heavenly fruit of the vine that He will drink new with His own in His Father's kingdom (Matt. 26:29). No wonder the governor of the wedding feast at Cana pronounced it the best wine kept until the last. Never before had he tasted such wine, and never did he taste it again."5

  Isn't that characteristic of our Lord? For believers, the best is yet to come!

Those who base their use of beverage alcohol on the miracle at Cana are on shaky ground. The excellent commentary Barnes On the New Testament places the burden where it belongs.

"No man should adduce this instance in favour of drinking wine unless he can prove that the wine made in the 'water pots' of Cana was just like the wine which he proposes to drink".6

  The water pots of Cana were filled with kingdom wine and the earthly supply is exhausted, not to be replenished until the King returns.

The Lord's Supper

"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 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"(Matt. 26:26-29).

  Those who conclude that fermented wine was used in the first Communion service do so without biblical support. Jesus spoke only of "the cup" and "the fruit of the vine."

Is fermented wine the fruit of the vine? Charles Wesley Ewing argues:

"Fermented wine is not a product of the vine. Chemically it is entirely different from the sweet and unfermented grape juice. Fermented wine is 14% alcohol, and it has other constituents that are not found in the fresh grape juice. Alcohol does not grow on the vine. It is not a vine product. Alcohol is the product of decay, the product of fermentation. It is produced by the process of spoiling."7

  The fruit of the vine used in the first Communion service speaks of the blood of Christ. Moses called unfermented grape juice the "pure blood of the grape" (Deut. 32:14). Decay has not taken place in fresh grape juice, and that fact is vital in the symbol of the blood of Christ. David prophesied that the body of Christ would be totally preserved from decay or corruption.

"For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption"(Ps. 16:10).

  Peter says this is a reference to the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:31). So we are given the assurance both prophetically and by the New Testament Scriptures that the body of Christ experienced no corruption or decay. It would be improper, then, for a product of decay (fermented wine) to be used to symbolize His blood. Commenting on this text in his book The King of the Jews, Dr. John R. Rice says:

"The cup the disciples drank at the Lord's supper is nowhere called wine, but "the fruit of the vine." We believe it was simply grape juice. Even if the word wine had been used, wine in the Bible means grape juice, whether fermented or unfermented. Fermented wine, with microbes of decay, would not picture the perfect blood of a sinless Christ."8

  William Patton concurs, stating:

"Leaven, because it was corruption, was forbidden as an offering to God... If leaven was not allowed with the sacrifices, which were the types of the atoning blood of Christ, how much more would it be a violation of the commandment to allow leaven, or that which was fermented, to be the symbol of the blood of atonement? We cannot imagine that our Lord, in disregard of so positive a command, would admit leaven into the element which was to perpetuate the memory of the sacrifice of himself, of which all the other sacrifices were but types."9

  Fermented wine would have been out of place at the Lord's Supper for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most important has to do with the holy character of this experience. Remember that in the Old Testament, the priests were forbidden to use wine. Jesus is our great High Priest, the fulfiller of the Scriptures. We can be sure that He remained consistent when establishing the Communion service and therefore did not use intoxicating wine as the symbol of His blood.

The final statement of our Lord on the Communion service settles the issue. All Christians who take Communion are to do so in anticipation of the coming kingdom. We have already seen that the wine of the kingdom is unfermented. If we are to look forward to the wine of Eden and Cana during the kingdom, it would be inconsistent to use intoxicating wine when remembering the death of our Savior and King.

Wine offered to Jesus on the cross

"And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not" (Mark 15:23).

  The wine offered to Jesus at the time of His crucifixion was, without doubt, intoxicating wine. Its purpose was to make the pain more bearable.

In His most trying hour, Jesus refused intoxicating wine.

And so should we.


The early church had scarcely begun its task of world evangelism when its members were accused of drunkenness. On the day of Pentecost the believers were given the gift of tongues, which enabled them to preach the gospel in all the languages of the people gathered at Jerusalem for the feast. As a result of this miracle, thousands were converted to Christ. Others, confused by hearing the many languages, began to mock the disciples, saying: "These men are full of new wine" (Acts 2:13).

In his book Lectures on Acts, H. A. Ironside shares an interesting experience similar to that of the disciples on the day of Pentecost.

"This situation was illustrated very clearly to me some years ago in San Francisco when a group of us were in the habit of going down to the worst part of the city every Saturday night where hundreds of sailors from the ships in the harbor would pass. We held a street meeting from eight o'clock until midnight, speaking to all classes of men. One speaker, now a missionary in the Argentine Republic, was a Spaniard by birth, yet spoke fluently French, Italian, Portuguese and other languages. When he would see a group of French seamen passing (the name of their ship upon their caps), he would suddenly call out to them in their own language and speak to them for perhaps twenty minutes; and then, as he sighted a group of Portuguese sailors (easily distinguished by their uniforms) he would swing over and talk to them in Portuguese and they would gather in close. Later he might speak to a group of Spaniards or Mexicans and then perhaps to some Italians. There was rarely a Saturday night when he did not speak in all these different languages. More than once I have seen persons come up and say, 'What is the use of listening? He is drunk. You can't understand a word he says!' They did not know the language, and that is the way it was on Pentecost. Peter and his companions were not acting strangely -- that wasn't the point; but as they spoke in different languages, those who couldn't comprehend came at once to the conclusion that they were drunk."1

  There is, however, another dimension to the mockery of the crowd on that day. They accused the disciples of being drunk on new wine (gleukos), a product that does not intoxicate. Patton writes:

"To account for the strange fact that unlettered Galileans, without previous study, could speak a multitude of languages, the mockers implied they were drunk, and that it was caused by new wine (gleukos). Here are two improbabilities. The first is that drinking alcoholic wine would teach men languages. We know that such wines make men talkative and garrulous; and we also know that their talk is very silly and offensive. In all the ages, and with the intensest desire to discover a royal way to knowledge, no one but these mockers has hit upon alcohol as an immediate and successful teacher of languages.

The second improbability is, that gleukos, new wine, would intoxicate."2

  The crowd's charge that the disciples are drunk on new wine seems to be mockery run wild. In effect, they are saying, "These abstainers are drunk on grape juice." Of course, they lacked understanding concerning the miracle that was taking place that day. The promise of the Father had been fulfilled. The Holy Spirit had come. Believers had been baptized into the body of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. The church had been born.

Here, as in other portions of the Bible, it is not safe to build doctrines or convictions on the mockery of a crowd. The charge of intoxication on the day of Pentecost was false.

Heavy drinking did become a problem in the church at Corinth, however, even degrading the Communion service. Paul rebuked these carnal Corinthian believers, saying:

"When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken"(1 Cor. 11:20,21).  

The breaking of bread in the church at Corinth had deteriorated into gluttony and drunkenness. Does this mean the Christians in Corinth used fermented wine for their Communion service?

Yes, without question.

But their practice had developed apart from apostolic instruction. In celebrating Communion, they had moved from the fruit of the vine to intoxicating wine. There is no evidence that this is true in any of the other local churches spoken of in the New Testament. In Paul's instruction concerning the Communion service, given to correct the errors at Corinth, he avoids the use of the word "wine," describing the first Communion as follows:

"For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup [containing the fruit of the vine -- see Matt. 26:29] is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come"(1 Cor. 11:23- 26).

  Note Paul's reference to the "cup," and his reminder that the Communion service looks forward to the Lord's return, when Christians will share kingdom wine with their Savior.

Carnality was rampant in the church at Corinth, and its problems went far deeper than just the use of intoxicating wine (although that is often a companion of trouble). Believers there were given to divisions, gossip, and confusion. Immorality was common. Their church services were disorderly. Paul had to remind them that God is not the Author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). Perhaps most sobering is the revelation that some of their number had become sick and others had died because of their irreverence at the Communion table.

The effects of beverage alcohol have not changed with the passing of centuries. Commenting on the judgment brought upon Nadab and Abihu because of their irreverence in the service of God (Lev. 10), J. A. Seiss wrote:

"If the effects of alcoholic stimulation went no further than to cloud the mind and stupefy the natural senses of those who indulge in it, it would not be so bad. The great mischief is that, as it clouds the moral nature, it kindles all the bad passions into redoubled activity. It not only enfeebles and expels all impulses of good, but it quickens and enthrones every latent evil, and fits a man for the ready performance of any vile and sacrilegious deed."3

  Wine brought confusion and chastening to members of the Corinthian church. It will bring the same to all who follow in their steps.

On two occasions Paul spoke favorably of temperance. Three times he emphasized the importance of being temperate. Once he urged moderation. Does this mean Paul favored the controlled or limited use of beverage alcohol?

Let us consider the texts in question.

"And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee" (Acts 24:25).

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law (Gal. 5:22,23).

  In both of the above settings, "temperance" means self-control. In the first reference, the apostle is rebuking Felix, his judge, because of the governor's lack of self-control, warning him of the consequences of his loose living.

As part of the fruit of the Spirit, temperance (self-control) gives evidence of a life that is totally yielded to God and under the direction of His Spirit.

When Paul writes of being temperate, he is speaking of the disciplined Christian life. Here are examples of his use of that word.

"And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible (1 Cor. 9:25).

For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate (Titus 1:7,8).

But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience"(Titus 2:1,2).

  In every case appearing in the Bible, "temperance" refers to self-control and living a disciplined life.

The word "moderation" appears once in the Bible in Philippians 4:5: "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand."

A careful reading of this text reveals that Paul is not calling for moderation in drinking. The word translated moderation here means gentleness and has to do with our attitude toward others in view of Christ's return.

But doesn't Paul say we should drink to the glory of God? "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).

There is no question about his command to drink to the glory of God, but there is not a hint that this drinking involves beverage alcohol. Disobedience does not bring glory to God. One can only act to the glory of God when his action is within the framework of biblical revelation.

We have already seen that intoxicating wine is presented in the Bible as an enemy, a mocker, a producer of poverty, and a symbol of divine wrath. Therefore, it is inconceivable that Paul would urge his readers to use this destructive substance in the hope of bringing glory to God.

Some may question why God allows fermentation if He forbids the use of fermented drinks. The question may have been answered best by Clarence True Wilson in a debate with Clarence Darrow on the subject of prohibition.

"I bought some grape juice and put it away for a month and God turned it into wine," Darrow said

Wilson replied, "How about eggs? Nature and time will do the same thing to them, but I don't insist on eating them."

Darrow had no answer.4

Those given to the use of fermented wine were not allowed to hold office in the New Testament church. Among the qualifications for the office of a bishop was a restriction concerning the use of wine.

"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous" (1 Tim. 3:2,3).

Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre" (1 Tim. 3:8). 

Some have concluded that the "much wine" of this text allows for the use of some wine by deacons. But Paul is simply saying that there are to be no drinking deacons. He does not open the door in this text to some wine anymore than to some gossip or some greed. Had he done so, his counsel for deacons would have placed him in direct conflict with the entire body of Old Testament teaching on the subject. The only valid reason for the use of a little wine is for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23). In Appendix K of Robert Teachout's thesis, he explains.

"In the light of the conclusions drawn earlier that there is no explicit Old Testament justification for assuming that wine drinking is ever appropriate for the saint, even in moderation, it is important to indicate briefly that the New Testament evidence concurs with, or at least is not contrary to, this conclusion. The reason that this appendix is necessary is that a superficial understanding of 1 Timothy 3:8 might lead one to the belief that the New Testament qualifications for lead- ership stated there, "not given to much wine" (AV), requires a re-evaluation of the Old Testament evidence. However... this verse too can be readily harmonized with the remainder of Scripture which leads to the position that the Bible always condemns the use of intoxicating beverages in any amount."5

  We can be certain that Paul would not have compromised the unity of the Scriptures in order to provide a few cups of wine for thirsty deacons in the early church.

The message that comes through concerning the servants of God -- from Old Testament priests to New Testament pastors and deacons -- is that God requires total abstinence. Patton says:

"That both Paul and Timothy understood that total abstinence was an essential qualification for the Christian pastor is evident from the compliance of Timothy. In the same letter v.23, Paul advises Timothy, "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine oft infirmities." The fact is plain that Timothy, in strict accordance with the direction, "not given to wine," that is, not with or near wine, was a total abstainer. The recommendation to "use a little wine" is exceptional, and strictly medicinal."6

  Those who choose to use intoxicating beverages sometimes hold up Paul's medical prescription for Timothy's stomach trouble as justification for their drinking. They seem to forget that this single instruction to use wine was strictly for a medicinal purpose. Neither can we be sure that the wine prescribed was fermented. Charles Wesley Ewing offers this interesting possibility:

"Timothy was a native of the city of Lystra in Lycaonia. At the time of Paul's letter to him, Timothy was at Ephesus. Both of the places are in Asia Minor. The water in that region was strongly alkali and was upsetting to Timothy's stomach. Paul was giving him advice on how to get rid of his stomach disorder. It was the practice in those days, and it is still practiced today in Syria, Mesopotamia, and other parts of Asia Minor, that when people drank this alkali water they would mix it with a spoon full of jam made from boiling the juice of grapes that are similar to our own Concord grape. The acids in the grape jam would neutralize the alkali in the water and make it fit for the stomach. This is what Paul was telling Timothy to do."7

  Actually, we cannot be sure whether the wine prescribed by Paul for Timothy's stomach trouble was fermented or unfermented. In either case, the text provides no encouragement for the use of fermented wine except for the sick. This position is consistent with the one set forth in the Old Testament, and therefore, it is the one we can safely conclude to be correct.

In the finest hour of the church, beverage alcohol was shunned by earnest and dedicated believers. This also has been true during periods of great revival in church history. Today, claiming Christian liberty, many believers choose to imbibe alcoholic drinks. But Christian liberty was never intended to open the door to the destroyer.

We are free from the law, but all Christian freedom is within the boundaries of love. Liberty extends to that which builds up others, not that which causes weaker ones to stumble. The use of beverage alcohol by church members today is a tragic compromise of biblical standards that can only weaken the church and disillusion new converts. Unless there is a reversal of present trends, the church will become powerless through misusing the liberty intended to be her strength.

Alcohol enslaves. It is not a champion of liberty. And the church should be the one place on earth where thirsty souls can find peace apart from the presence of mood-altering drugs.

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