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Dr. Henry Waiters: What about wine

Most people believe that wine is a fermented, intoxicating drink. They also believe that in all 230 times it is mentioned in the Bible, it means fermented or intoxicating wine. Because of this perception, it is often said there are contradictions in the Bible; example, “Do not drink wine or strong drink” (Lev 10:9); “Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink” (Judges 13:4). “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the spirit” (Eph 2:18); “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities (1 Tim 5:23).

Until one knows that the Hebrew words translated “wine” in the Bible do not always mean fermented or intoxicating wine, the misuse and misunderstanding will continue. The Hebrew words that are translated wine in the Bible are: tirosh, yayin and shekar.

Since wine is considered both a curse and a blessing, also a symbol of judgment and a symbol of prosperity, it is imperative that we understand these English contradictions, which are not Hebrew contradictions.

Tirosh, translated as “wine” in the Bible, means “new wine or grape juice.” It often refers to the juice still in the grapes before pressing — “Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth and plenty of corn and wine (tirosh)” (Gen 27:28).

The association with corn speaks of the harvest. “That I will give to you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn and thy wines (tirosh) and thine oil” (Deut 11:14).

Note the gathering of corn and wine in the harvest with the unmistakable reference to the wine — tirosh, juice still in the grape, or unfermented wine.

Thus saith the Lord, “As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, ‘Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it’” (Isaiah 65:8). This passage says wine in the cluster is a blessing.

When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, 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 (tirosh), until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt 26:27-29).

Paul said to Timothy: “Drink no longer water, but use little wine (tirosh) for thy stomach’s sake” (1 Tim 5:23). The water had become polluted in Ephesus, causing illness. Paul instructed him to stay there and to drink only grape juice, which would help prevent illness.

Yayin means fermented grape juice. The intoxication character of yayin in general is plain from Scripture. To it are attributed the “darkly flashing eye” (Gen 49:12), “the unbridled tongue” (Prov 20:1, Isaiah 28:7), “the excitement of the spirit” (Prov 31:6, Isaiah 5:11, Zech 9:15 and 10:7), “enchained affections of its zealous worshipers” (Hosea 4:11), “the perverted judgment” (Prov 31:5; Isaiah 28:7), “the indecent exposure” (Heb 2:15, 16) and “the sickness resulting from the bottles of wine” (Hosea 7:5).

Noah planted a vineyard and drank of the yayin and was drunken (Gen 9:21). Nebla drank yayin and was very drunken (1 Sam 25:36-37). The “drunkards of Ephraim” were overcome with yayin (Isaiah 28:1). Jeremiah says, “I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom yayin hath overcome (Jer 23:9).

The intoxicating quality of yayin is confirmed by rabbinical testimony. The Mishna, in the treatise on the Passover, informs us that four cups of wine were poured out and blessed and drunk by each of the company at the eating of the Paschal lamb and that water was also mixed with the wine because it was considered too strong to be drunk alone.

The Gamara says, “The cup of blessing is not to be blessed until it is mixed with water.” Although yayin was intoxicating, it was not permitted to be drunk but was also used for sacred purposed and is spoken of as a blessing (Gen 49:12, Deut 14: 24-26, Ex 29:40, Lev 23:13, Num 15:5 and Amos 4:9).

Shekar is an intoxicant and inebriating drink, whether wine prepared or distilled from barley, honey or dates. Shekar is rendered “strong drink” 21 times, “wine” 25 times and “strong wine” once (Num 28:7, Psalms 69:12, “drunkards”). The liquors included under shekar are pomegranate wine, palm wine, apple wine, honey wine, other fruit wines and even beer.

The word is employed in the following passages in such a manner as to show decisively that it denotes an intoxicating drink: Lev 10:9, where the priests are forbidden to drink shekar when they go into the Tabernacle; 1 Sam 1:15, where Hannah, charged with drunkenness by Eli, replies it is not so: “I have drunk neither wine nor shekar;” Prov 31: 4-5, “It is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes shekar, lest they drink and forget the law.”

Tirosh is translated “wine” 42 times in the Bible, yayin is translated “wine” 141 times, and shekar is translated “wine” 47 times, totaling 230 times the word “wine” appears in the Bible.

Charles W. Ewing says, “If a reader will just consider the context surrounding the word, he can easily understand whether fermented or unfermented juice was intended. Wherever the use of wine is prohibited or discouraged it means the fermented wine. Where its use is encouraged and is spoken of as something for our good, it means the unfermented.”

How sad Christian social drinkers are, in light of the fact that one billion Muslims plus one billion Buddhists, who think of Christ as only a good prophet, refrain from the use of alcoholic beverages. Christian boozers need an old-fashioned, Holy-Spirit-empowered transformation so that holiness will become their watchword.

If your question is: “Didn’t Jesus make wine?” was fermented wine used in the first communion service? Does the New Testament sanction the use of beverage alcohol?” In Matt 26:29, Jesus said, “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine (tirosh),” answers questions one and two, and 1 Cor 6: 9-10 and Gal 5: 19-21 answers question three.

Misunderstanding historically causes churches to use yayin as shekar, fermented wines for communion, when Jesus made unfermented wine at the wedding and used unfermented grape juice (tirosh) for the Supper.

Dr. Waiters can be reached at 704-636-3369.

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