Southern Baptists hate alcohol.  There is no other way to put it. They hate it, and in many eyes, anyone who consumes alcohol, is at best, a bad Christian.  But can scripture support such a position?

Much of the argument goes around the translation of the Greek word οἶνος.  Abstinence/Prohibitionists like to play games with this nice little word.  They claim, that this word can mean both fermented wine, and grape juice.  Convinenently, everytime something positive is said about this word, it means grape juice.  Everytime it is used negatively, it means fermented wine.  What a terrible way to interpret scripture.

I would like to highlight a particular verse that, in my opinion, tears apart the idea that οἶνος has a dual meaning.

Please consider Luke 7:33-34.

“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’  The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”

Now the word “wine” there is the word οἶνος.  Further, the word “drunkard” is the word οἰνοπότης, literally “wine-drinker”.  The clear context being, they were accusing Jesus of being a drunkard.  You cant get drunk off of grape juice.

Now how can that happen unless Jesus was actually drinking wine?  Surely, if he was not, He would have said “Look, this is not wine!”  But rather, He uses the reaction to John the Baptist, and the reaction to Him, which was done by the same people, to prove a point.  It is exactly as Jesus says.  John the Baptist did not drink any wine, and for that he was ridiculed; and yet Jesus is drinking wine, and He too is being ridiculed.  Jesus was pointing out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  They rejected John for one reason, and then use the exact opposite reason to reject Jesus.  Thus the in these two verses, it becomes clear that the use of οἶνος, clearly is in reference to an alcoholic beverage.  Thus, Jesus Himself drank alcohol.

Another way of looking at the parallell between John B. and Jesus is that John was “fasting” in preparation for the coming of God’s kingdom.  Jesus on the other hand was “celebrating” because God’s kingdom has arrived.[1]

Let us look at another issue.  The case of Jesus’ first recorded miracle, the wedding in Cana, found in John 2:1-12.  I will let you read it for yourself but again, οἶνος is used here for the word translated in most bibles as “wine”.  New wine, cannot mean “grape juice” as some argue.  Look at the context.  You had a wedding where wine was being served.  Towards the end of the wedding, the wine was running out, and Jesus created some more from water.  The waiter comes and reacts harshly to the servants because this wine was saved for last, it was better than what was already being served.  Now if the “old” stuff was alcoholic, and the “new” stuff was grape juice this text would make no sense.  Why would people care what got served first?  The reason the “new” wine was served first, was because you could get away with using less of it.  Why?  Because as people drank and their senses became dulled due to the wine, they would not notice the “lesser” standard of wine being served.  They would not care.  The waiter was upset because he assumed that the “new” wine that Jesus just created was being wasted now that it was well into the wedding feast.  Indeed in John 2:10, the Greek word that is translated, “people having drunk freely”, is one word μεθύω, that is “to drink to a point of intoxication, to be drunk”.

The reason why abstinence/prohibitionists jump over themselves to argue that οἶνος, has to have a meaning of “grape juice” is because of the misplaced idea that they have to “protect” Jesus.  After if that word truly means alcoholic wine, than Jesus was getting people drunk!  Indeed there are several scripture passages that warn against being drunk.  And I will be honest, how to explain this, I do not know.  What I do know, is translating and interpreting words to avoid having to deal with “sticky” situations like this is wrong. οἶνος means alcoholic wine.  The Greek does not allow it to be otherwise.

However, we do have another verse that is important here.  1st Timothy 5:23, “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.”  This verse is important for several reasons.  First, earlier in 1st Timothy 3, Paul is giving the qualifications for elders and deacons.  One of those is the line “not addicted to wine”.  Many Baptists jump to use this verse to say pastors/deacons in the church cannot drink any alcohol.  But then Paul tells Timothy to drink wine.  Both words are οἶνος here.  So this is (as some argue) a case of sometimes it means “wine” and other times it means “grape juice”; hopefully you can now see how silly that argument is.  So clearly, ALL consumption of wine is not wrong, otherwise Timothy now, per Paul’s instruction, is prohibited from ever serving as an elder/deacon.  Again, kind of silly.

This verse is also interesting in light of many modern day studies that show moderate consumption of some alcoholic products (usually red wine), can be beneficial to peoples health.  Considering the Greeks and Romans were expert wine producers, it is not surprising that they would have figured this out back then, i.e. “Hey if I drink a little wine every day, I don’t get sick as often!”  Wine also would serve as an antiseptic, killing off the microbes, viruses, and bacteria that were in water of that time.  Sometimes people today forget that the “clear” water that they get from the tap or from bottles is a relatively “new” thing historically.  Unless you were healthy, drinking straight water was not a good idea.  Grape juice, would not serve as an antiseptic.  Have you watched old westerns or such shows, and sometimes after someone gets injured/wounded, they ask for some type of alcoholic beverage, usually something like whiskey, and then (usually after the “doctor” takes a quick swig as a gag) they poor it on the wound and the instruments?  You ever wonder why they do that?  Alcohol = antiseptic.  Paul is giving some good medical advise!

In the Greek, words have specific meanings.  Just because you don’t like what the words mean, does not give you the right to invent new interpretations of those words.  I demonstrated something similar in my post regarding homosexuality.  Words may change over time, but the meaning of a word at a specific point in time does not change.

So then what why am I arguing this?  Some would say I am trying to justify a reason to go drinking!  Indeed, I would say that fear of that accusation, is the primary reason why I have chosen not to drink alcohol since I was called to seminary.  But that, is not a good reason to do or not to do something.  I still do not know for sure if submission to this unbiblical position is truly being lifted.  Until I know that without a doubt, I still wont drink.  But that does not mean that I will be silent on what I view is a gross misinterpretation of scripture.

[1] Robert H. Stein, Luke. The New American Commentary. Vol. 24. (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 1992); 233.