Wine in the Bible
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Five of the nine chapters can be accessed by clicking their titles below:

A Preview of Wine in the Bible

The Meaning of Wine

The Preservation of Grape Juice

Jesus and Wine

Wine in the Apostolic Church

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Chapter 2


Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University

"Why devote a chapter of this book to the definition of "wine"? Everybody knows that wine is the fermented juice of grapes! Such a surprise is understandable because most of today’s English dictionaries define"wine" as "fermented grape juice" or "the fermented juice of grapes," making no allowance for unfermented grape juice to be called "wine."

The universally accepted definition of "wine" as "fermented grape juice" may well explain why many Bible believing Christians have come to believe that the "wine" mentioned in the Bible must in all instances be alcoholic. This assumption, known as the "one wine theory," has greatly prejudiced the study of the Biblical teachings on the use of alcoholic beverages by leading many sincere Christians to believe that God approves the moderate use of fermented, intoxicating wine. The reasoning can best be illustrated syllogistically, as follows:

1. The Bible, like today’s English language, knows only of alcoholic wine.

2. Wine is praised in the Bible as a gracious divine blessing.

3. Therefore, the Bible approves the moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages.

The problem with this syllogism is that its first premise is very wrong. As this chapter will show, the Bible knows of two distinctly different grape beverages: the first, unfermented, refreshing and lawful; the second, fermented, intoxicating and unlawful. This view of two kinds of wines in the Bible is flatly denied by numerous scholars. Dunlop Moore states emphatically: "The theory of two kinds of wine—the one fermented and intoxicating and unlawful, and the other unfermented, unintoxicating, and lawful—is a modern hypothesis, devised during the present century, and has no foundation in the Bible, or in Hebrew or classical antiquity."1 An even stronger denial of the two wines theory is found in E. W. Bullinger’s The Companion Bible, which says: "The modern expression, ‘unfermented wine,’ is a contradiction of terms. If it is wine, it must be fermented. If it is not fermented, it is not wine, but a syrup."2

Objective of Chapter. We intend in this chapter to examine if indeed the theory of two kinds of wine has no Biblical and historical foundation, as many contend. To some readers this investigation may seem rather technical and not directly related to the study of the Biblical teaching on alcoholic beverages. Yet, this investigation is essential to understand what the Bible has to say on this timely subject. In fact, our conclusion regarding the secular and Biblical usage of the term "wine" will enable us to clarify the apparent contradiction between those Biblical passages commending and those condemning the use of wine.

Procedure. The procedure we shall follow is to trace the secular usage of the word "wine" backward, from English, to Latin, Greek and finally Hebrew. This historical survey across four languages is justified by the fact that the English word "wine" is directly related linguistically to the Latin vinum, the Greek oinos, and the Hebrew yayin. The relationship of sound and look between these words becomes clearer when we place these respective words side by side without the case ending um for the Latin vin(um), os for the Greek oin(os) and without the prefix ya for the Hebrew (ya)yin (originally yayin). Without the case endings or suffix these four words look like this: wine, vin, oin, yin. The linguistic relationship among them is self-evident. They all have a similar stem in common. This indicates that it is the sound of the same word which has been transliterated rather than the equivalent meaning which has been translated with a different word.

In view of their similarity in sound and look we must ascertain what these related words actually mean in the various languages. We shall conduct our investigation beginning with the usage of the word "wine" in the English language and then move backward to the Latin vinum to the Greek oinos and finally to the Hebrew yayin. We trust that this procedure will help the Bible reader to see the historical continuity existing in the secular and Biblical usage of this one-related-word as a designation for both fermented and unfermented grape juice.

This chapter is divided into two parts. The first examines the secular usage of wine, vinum, oinos, and yayin. The second considers the Biblical usage of the Greek oinos and the Hebrew yayin.


1. The Meaning of "Wine" in English

Current Usage of "Wine." Most people assume today that the word "wine" can refer only to fermented, intoxicating grape juice, or to the fermented juice of any fruit used as beverage. The basis for this assumption is the current definition given to the word by most modern dictionaries. For example, the seventh edition of the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines "wine" as follows: "1: fermented grape juice containing varying percentages of alcohol together with ethers and esters that give it bouquet and flavor. 2: the usu. fermented juice of a plant product (as a fruit) used as a beverage. 3: something that invigorates or intoxicates." Note that no mention at all is made in this current definition of unfermented grape juice as one of the possible meanings of "wine." It is not surprising that people who read a definition such as this, common to most dictionaries, would naturally assume that "wine" can only mean a fermented juice.

Past Usage of "Wine." This restrictive meaning of "wine" represents, however, a departure from the more classical dual meaning of the word as a designation for both fermented or unfermented grape juice. To verify this fact one needs only to consult some older dictionaries. For example, the 1955 Funk & Wagnalls New "Standard" Dictionary of the English Language defines "wine" as follows: "1. The fermented juice of the grape: in loose language the juice of the grape whether fermented or not." This definition shows that forty years ago the loose usage of "wine" referred to "the juice of the grape whether fermented or not." It is noteworthy that even the more recent New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language (1971) defines "must" as "Wine or juice pressed from the grapes but not fermented." This definition clearly equates "wine" with grape juice.

The 1896 Webster’s International Dictionary of the English Language which defines "wine" as "the expressed juice of grapes, especially when fermented . . . a beverage . . . prepared from grapes by squeezing out their juice, and (usually) allowing it to ferment." This definition is historically accurate, since it recognizes that the basic meaning of "wine" is "the expressed juice of grapes," which is usually, but not always, allowed to ferment.

"The problem," as Robert Teachout points out, "is that people have taken the very usual meaning of the word (whether in Hebrew, Greek, Latin or English)—as an intoxicating beverage—and have made it the only definition of the word. That is incorrect scholarship! It is inaccurate both biblically and secularly, and it is inaccurate in the English language historically."3

Older English Dictionaries. The inaccuracy in the English language becomes even more evident when we look at older English dictionaries. For example, the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary defines the word "must" as "new wine—wine pressed from the grape, but not fermented."4 Note that the unfermented grape juice is here explicitly called "new wine."

The 1759 Nathan Bailey’s New Universal English Dictionary of Words and of Arts and Sciences offers the following definition for "wine": "Natural wine is such as it comes from the grape, without any mixture or sophistication. Adulterated wine is that wherein some drug is added to give it strength, fineness, flavor, briskness, or some other qualification."5 Note that in this definition Bailey does not use the word "fermented," though it is implied in some of the wines he describes.

Other eighteenth-century lexicographers define the word "wine" very similarly. John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum, or A General English Dictionary, published in London in 1708, says: "Wine, a liquor made of the juice of grapes or other fruits. Liquor or Liquour, anything that is liquid; Drink, Juice, etc. Must, sweet wine, newly pressed from the grape."6 In this definition "wine" explicitly includes "must, sweet wine, newly pressed from the grape."

Benjamin Marin’s Lingua Britannica Reformata or A New English Dictionary, published in 1748, defines "wine" as follows: "1. the juice of the grape. 2. a liquor extracted from other fruits besides the grape. 3. the vapours of wine, as wine disturbs his reason."7 It is noteworthy that here the first meaning of "wine" is "the juice of the grape," without any reference to fermentation.

A clear example of the use of the term "wine" to refer to unfermented grape juice is provided by William Whiston’s translation of Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, first published in 1737. Referring to Joseph’s interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream, Josephus writes: "He therefore said that in his sleep he saw three clusters of grapes hanging upon three branches of a vine, large already, and ripe for gathering; and that he squeezed them into a cup which the king held in his hand and when he had strained the wine, he gave it to the king to drink . . . Thou sayest that thou didst squeeze this wine from three clusters of grapes with thine hands and that the king received it: know, therefore, that the vision is for thy good."8

In this translation Whiston uses "wine" as a proper rendering for fresh, unfermented grape juice (gleukos), obviously because in this time "wine" meant either fermented or unfermented grape juice. Josephus’ statement offers another significant insight, namely, that it was customary long before Israel became a nation to squeeze the juice from grapes and drink it immediately in its fresh, unfermented state. This is what Josephus called gleukos, the term which our English translators render "wine" or "new wine" in Acts 2:13. Does not this translation support the conclusion that unfermented grape juice was called "wine" in older English usage?

Bible Translations. The above sampling of definitions of "wine" from older English dictionaries suggests that when the King James Version of the Bible was produced (1604-1611) its translators must have understood "wine" to refer to both fermented and unfermented wine. In view of this fact, the King James Version’s uniform translation of the Hebrew yayin and Greek onios as "wine" was an acceptable translation at that time, since in those days the term could mean either fermented or unfermented wine, just as the words it translates (yayin or oinos) can mean either. Today, however, when "wine" has assumed the sole meaning of fermented grape juice, modern translations of the Bible should indicate whether the text is dealing with fermented or unfermented grape juice. By failing to provide this clarification, uninformed Bible readers are misled into believing that all references to "wine" in the Bible refer to fermented grape juice.

2. The Meaning of the Latin Vinum

Latin Usage of Vinum. It is significant that the Latin word vinum, from which the English "wine" derives, was also used to refer to fermented or unfermented grape juice. A large four-volumes Latin lexicon, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, published in 1740, gives several definitions for vinum, all supported by ancient Roman authors. Two of these are especially relevant: "Aigleuces vinum—("sweet wine"), "Defrutum vinum—("boiled wine"), both of which are unfermented grape juice.9 The lexicon further explains that "vinum vocantur ipsae etiam uvae"—("even the very grapes are called wine"). The latter statement is supported by Marcus Cato’s designation of grape juice as "vinum pendens," that is, "wine still hanging on the grapes."10

Parkinson in his Theatrum Botanicum published in 1640, explains that "The juyce or liquor pressed out of the ripe grapes, is called vinum, wine. Of it is made both sapa and defrutum, in English cute, that is to say, boiled wine, and both made of mustum, new wine; the latter boyled to the halfe, the former to the third part."11 This explanation is significant because it attests that the juice pressed out of ripe grapes was called "vinum, wine," and when boiled it became "sapa" or "defrutum," depending on how much it was boiled down.12

Pliny (A. D. 24-79), the renowned Roman scholar and author of the celebrated Natural History, lists the boiled wines sapa and defrutum among the vinum dulce—"sweet wine." To these he adds other kinds of unfermented sweet wines known as semper mustum—"permanent must," passum—"raisin wine," and militites—"honey-wine." The last was made from must "in the proportion of thirty pints of must of a dry quality to six pints of honey and a cup of salt, this mixture being brought to the boil."12

W. Robertson in his Phraseologia Generalis, published in 1693, defines the Latin mustum as "new wine" and the phrase vinum pendens as "wine yet on the tree."13 Thomas Aquinas, the "Angelic Doctor" of the Roman Catholic Church, explains that "grape juice—mustum" can be used for the Eucharist, because it already "has the specific quality of wine [speciem vini]."14

The foregoing examples suffice to show that the Latin word vinum, like its derived English wine, has been historically used to refer either to fermented or unfermented grape juice. Further documentation from ancient Roman writers supporting this conclusion will be given in Chapter 4, where we shall examine the ancient methods for preserving wine unfermented.

3. The Secular Usage of the Greek Oinos

Oinos: Only Fermented Grape Juice? It is widely believed that both in secular and Biblical Greek the word oinos, from which derive both the Latin vinum and the English wine, meant exclusively fermented grape juice. For example, in his book The Christian and Alcoholic Beverages, Kenneth L. Gentry states: "Classical Greek—the historical forerunner of the New Testament (koine) Greek—employs the term as a fermented beverage. The Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon of classical Greek defines oinos as ‘the fermented juice of the grape.’ Interestingly, classical Greek apparently used oinos as a functional equivalent for ‘fermented juice,’ as Liddell and Scott note . . ."15 Gentry goes on quoting New Testament lexicographers to show that "no major New Testament lexicon disputes the fermented character of oinos."16 After examining some New Testament passages, Gentry concludes: "The case is clear: oinos is an alcoholic beverage. Yet nowhere is wine per se forbidden."17

In the light of such a categorical claim, it is important to ascertain if indeed it is true that in classical Greek oinos meant only fermented grape juice. If this claim can be shown to be untrue—by submitting literary examples where oinos refers also to unfermented grape juice—then it is certainly possible that the same dual meaning of oinos is present also in the New Testament and in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint.

Unfermented Grape Juice. There are ample Greek literary texts which negate the narrow definition of oinos as denoting only fermented wine. A clear example is provided by Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). In his book Metereologica, he clearly refers to "grape juice" or "must" (gleukos), as one of the kinds of wine : "For some kinds of wine [oinos], for example must [gleukos], solidify when boiled."17 In another passage of the same book, Aristotle refers to a sweet grape beverage (glukus) which "though called wine [oinos], it has not the effect of wine, for it does taste like wine and does not intoxicate like ordinary wine."18 In this text Aristotle explicitly informs us that unfermented grape juice was called "oinos—wine," though it did not have the taste or the intoxicating effect of ordinary wine.

Athenaeus, the Grammarian (about A.D. 200), explains in his Banquet that "the Mityleneans have a sweet wine [glukon oinon], what they called prodromos, and others call it protropos."19 Later on in the same book, he recommends this sweet, unfermented wine (protropos) for the dyspeptic: "Let him take sweet wine, either mixed with water or warmed, especially that kind called protropos, the sweet Lesbian glukus, as being good for the stomach; for sweet wine [oinos] does not make the head heavy."20 Here the unfermented sweet grape juice is called "lesbian—effoeminatum" because the potency or fermentable power of the wine had been removed.

The methods by which this was done will be discussed in Chapter 4, when we discuss the preservation of grape juice in the ancient world. At this juncture it is significant to note that unfermented wine was recommended for stomach problems. To this fact we shall refer again in Chapter 7, when considering the meaning of Paul’s recommendation to Timothy to "use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (1 Tim 5:23).

In another passage Athenaeus explains: "At the time of festivals, he [Drimacus the General] went about, and took wine from the field [ek ton agron oinon] and such animals for victims as were in good condition."21 As Lees and Burns observes, "No one, we suppose, can carry prejudice so far as to impose upon himself the belief that fermented and bottled wine was thus "taken from the fields.’"22

Oinos as Pressed Grape Juice. In several texts the freshly squeezed juice of the grape is denominated oinos "wine." For example, Papias, a Christian bishop of Hierapolis who lived at the close of the apostolic age, describes the current extravagant view of the millennium as a time when "vines will grow each with . . . ten thousand clusters on each twig, and ten thousand grapes in each cluster, and each grape, when crushed, will yield twenty-five jars of wine [oinos]."23

Proclus, the Platonic philosopher, who lived in the fifth century, in his annotation to Hesiod’s Works and Days, has a note on line 611 where he explains how the grapes were first exposed to the sun for ten days, then to the shade for ten days and finally "they treaded them and squeezed out the wine [oinon]."24 Here also the freshly squeezed juice of the grape is explicitly called "oinos—wine."

Several Greek papyri, discussed by Robert Teachout in his dissertation, indicate that oinos could refer to unfermented grape juice.25 A rather clear example is a papyrus from A.D. 137 which contains this statement: "They paid to the one who had earned his wages pure, fresh wine [oinon] from the vat."26

Nicander of Colophon speculates that oinos derives from the name of a man, Oineus, who first squeezed grapes into a cup: "And Oineus first squeezed it out into hollow cups and called it oinos."27 This view is supported by Melanippides of Melos who says: "Wine, my master, named after Oineus."28 These two statements suggest that some traced the origin of oinos to the very act of squeezing the juice out of grapes, first done by a man whose name, Oineus, presumably became the name of the grape juice itself.

The Septuagint Renderings. The Septuagint, an intertestamental Greek translation of the Old Testament, offers significant examples of the dual meanings of oinos. Ernest Gordon points out that "In the Septuagint, the Hebrew word for grape-juice, tirosh, is translated at least 33 times by the Greek word oinos, wine, and the adjective ‘new’ is not present. Oinos without qualification, then, can easily mean unfermented wine in the New Testament."29 It is interesting that the translators of the Septuagint used oinos to translate the Hebrew word for grape juice (tirosh), instead of a less ambiguous word like gleukos, which means "must."

It is also noteworthy that although the Septuagint usually translates the Hebrew yayin as oinos, in Job 32:19 yayin is rendered as gleukos, which is the common Greek word for newly pressed grape juice: "Behold, my heart is like wine [gleukos—grape juice] that has no vent; like new wineskins, it is ready to burst." In this instance the translators of the Septuagint show that for them the Hebrew yayin could refer to must in the process of fermentation.

The above sampling of texts, from both secular and religious authors, makes it abundantly clear that the Greek word oinos, like the Latin vinum and the English wine, was used as a generic term to refer either to fermented or unfermented grape juice. It remains for us now to verify if the same dual meanings are also present in the secular usage of the Hebrew yayin.

4. The Secular Usage of the Hebrew Yayin

Yayin as Freshly Pressed Grape Juice. Before examining the Biblical meaning of the Hebrew yayin and of the Greek oinos, we shall consider the usage of yayin in Jewish literature, since the latter provides extra-Biblical documentation on how this word was used over the centuries in Jewish culture. The Jewish Encyclopedia provides a concise description of the various usages of yayin: "Fresh wine before fermenting was called ‘yayin mi-gat’’ (wine of the vat; Sanh 70a). The ordinary wine was of current vintage. The vintage of the previous year was called ‘yayin yashan’’(old wine). The third year’s vintage was ‘yayin meyushshan’’(very old wine)."30

An almost identical description of the use of yayin is found in the more recent Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): "The newly pressed wine prior to fermentation was known as yayin mi-gat (‘wine from the vat;’ Sanh 70a), yayin yashan (‘old wine’) was wine from the previous year, and that from earlier vintages, yashan noshan (‘old, very old’)."31 The full statement from Sanhedrin 70a, a Talmudic treatise to which both encyclopedias refer, reads as follows: "Newly pressed wine, prior to fermentation, was known as yayin mi-gat (wine from the press)."

Both of these standard Jewish Encyclopedias explicitly attest that the term yayin was used to refer to a variety of wines, including "the newly pressed wine, prior to fermentation." The newly pressed grape juice was apparently known also as "new wine," since Rabbi Hanina B. Kahana answers the question: "How long is it called new wine?" by saying, "As long as it is in the first stage of fermentation . . . and how long is this first stage? Three days."32

Unfermented Wine for Religious Ceremonies. Louis Ginzberg, who for many years was an eminent Professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, wrote a scholarly article in 1923 entitled: "A Response to the Question whether Unfermented Wine May be Used in Jewish Ceremonies." In this article Ginzberg examines several passages from the Talmud, relating to the use of unfermented wine in Jewish ceremonies. His conclusions are significant and will be presented in chapter 5.

In this context we shall mention only a couple of statements from the Talmud which Ginzberg examines at considerable length. The first is from the treatise Baba Bathra 97a, where Rabbi Hiyya discusses whether freshly pressed wine could be used for the kiddush, the ceremony to welcome a religious festival such as the Sabbath. Rabbi Hiyya says: "Since the wine [yayin] from the press is acceptable for libations bedi’abad, it is acceptable for Kiddush lekatehillah."33 This statement is significant for two reasons. First, because is shows that freshly pressed grape juice was known as "wine" (yayin). Second, because it indicates that unfermented wine was acceptable for religious ceremonies.

The second passage is largely a restatement with changes of the one just quoted and is found in the Halakot Gedalot, the earliest Jewish compendium of the Talmud. The statement reads: "One may press out a cluster of grapes and pronounce the Kiddush over the juice, since the juice of the grape is considered wine [yayin] in connection with the laws of the Nazirite."34

This statement is perplexing because the Nazirite law in Numbers 6:1-4 makes no reference that unfermented grape juice was considered wine. Presumably, some Rabbis reached this conclusion on the basis of their common acceptance of grape juice as wine. Louis Ginzberg expresses this view saying: "Since there is no express mention of grape-juice among the drinks prohibited to the Nazirite, its prohibition by the Rabbis can only be justified on the ground that it is considered wine."35

If this assumption is correct, it would provide an additional indirect indication that unfermented grape juice was commonly considered wine (yayin) in the Jewish society. Such an indirect indication, however, is hardly necessary to establish this conclusion, since the two passages cited earlier provide direct evidence that the juice of the grape was indeed designated wine (yayin).

Conclusion. The investigation into the secular usage of the related words—wine, vinum, oinos and yayin—has clearly shown that these words have been historically used in their respective languages to designate the pressed juice of the grape, whether fermented or unfermented. This means that those who boldly claim that "the two wines view" is devoid of Biblical and historical support, base their claim on their ignorance of the parallel secular usage of the related words for wine in English, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.


The foregoing investigation has shown that in secular Greek and Hebrew, the respective words for wine, oinos and yayin, have been used to refer either to fermented or unfermented wine. At this juncture it is important to ascertain if the same dual meanings are found in the Biblical usage of these two related words. This information is essential because it will explain why Scripture sometimes clearly approves of wine and sometimes strongly disapproves of it, while using the same word to designate both.

The apparent ambiguity of Scripture toward wine is resolved if we can establish that the two related words for wine—oinos and yayin—are used in Scripture in the same way as in secular Greek and Hebrew, namely to refer to the juice of the grape, whether fermented or unfermented. If these dual meaning is present in Scripture, then it will be easier to show that God approves of the unfermented grape juice and that He disapproves of the fermented intoxicating wine, even while using the same word to designate both. The procedure we shall follow is to examine first the usage of yayin in the Old Testament and then of oinos in the New Testament.

1. Yayin as Fermented Wine

Frequent Use. The noun yayin is the most frequently used word for wine in the Old Testament, fully 141 times. As already noticed, there is an apparent inconsistency in the use of this word, since sometimes it receives God’s approval and sometimes His disapproval. The reason for this will become apparent by looking at some examples where yayin obviously means fermented, intoxicating wine and at others where it means unfermented grape juice.

According to Robert Teachout’s tabulation of the 141 references to yayin in the Old Testament, 71 times the word refers to unfermented grape juice and 70 times to fermented wine.36 This tabulation may not necessarily be accurate, since in certain instances the context is unclear. The actual ratio in the two usages of yayin is of relative significance, because for the purpose of our study it is important simply to establish that yayin is sometimes used in the Old Testament to refer to the unfermented juice of the grape.

Examples of Intoxication. No one doubts that yayin frequently refers in the Old Testament to intoxicating wine. This fact is clearly established both by the many examples of the evil consequences of drinking yayin and by the divine condemnation of its use.

The very first example of the use of yayin in Scripture describes the intoxicating effects of fermented wine: "Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine [yayin] and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent" (Gen 9:20, 21).

Another sordid example in which intoxicating wine played a leading role is that of Lot’s daughters. Fearing to be left without progeny after the destruction of Sodom and the surrounding cities, the older daughter said to the younger: "Come, let us make our father drink wine [yayin], and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring through our father.’ So they made their father drink wine [yayin] that night; and the first-born went in, and lay with her father; he did not know when she lay down or when she arose" (Gen 19:32-33). The story continues relating how the following night the younger daughter repeated the same strategy.

The story of Nabal provides another example of the evil effects of intoxicating wine. Nabal was a wealthy man who had benefited from David’s protection. Yet he refused to give any food in return to David’s men. When David organized his men to kill the ungrateful Nabal, his wife, Abigail, acted hastily on a tip received and brought provisions to David, apologizing for her husband’s foolish behavior. After David accepted her apologies and provisions, she returned home, only to find her husband drunk: "And Abigail came to Nabal; and, lo, he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. And Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; so she told him nothing at all until the morning light. And in the morning, when the wine [yayin] had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him and he became as a stone" (1 Sam 25:36-37).

Among the many other stories of intoxicating wine, we could refer to Ammon, who was murdered by the servants of his brother Absalom while he was "merry with wine [yayin]" (2 Sam 13:28). Also King Ahasuerus who, when his heart "was merry with wine [yayin]" (Esther 1:10), tried to subject Vashiti, his queen, to the gaze of the inebriated nobility of the royal court.

The examples cited suffice to show that yayin in the Old Testament often refers to fermented, intoxicating wine. Further indications are provided by the explicit divine disapproval of the use of wine.

Disapproval of Yayin. The classic condemnation of the use of intoxicating wine and a description of its consequences is found in Proverbs 23:29-35. After warning against some woes caused by wine, such as sorrow, strife, complaining, wounds without cause and redness of eyes, Solomon admonishes to refrain even from looking upon wine: "Do not look at wine [yayin] when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder" (Prov 23:31-32).

A similar warning against intoxicating wine is found in Proverbs 20:1: "Wine [yayin] is a mocker, strong drink a brawler; and whoever is led astray by it is not wise." Such warnings, however, were largely ignored. By the time of Isaiah, drinking fermented wine had become such a universal problem that even "the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink; they are confused with wine [yayin], they stagger with strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in giving judgment" (Is 28:7).

Other passages which clearly indicate that yayin refers to fermented, intoxicating wine, will be mentioned in the following chapter, where we shall examine more closely some of the reasons that Scripture admonishes not to use fermented wine.

2. Yayin as Unfermented Grape Juice

No Self-explanatory Passage. The use of yayin in the Old Testament to denote unfermented grape juice is not always as evident as its use to describe alcoholic wine, because the former does not come under condemnation like the latter. There is no single passage which clearly defines yayin as unfermented grape juice. If such a passage existed, there would be no controversy over this subject and no need to write this book.

The Bible, however, is not a lexicon which defines its words. The meaning of its words must often be derived from their context and from their comparative usage in other passages and/or related (cognate) languages. In the case of the word yayin, we believe that there are passages where the context clearly indicates that the word designates unfermented grape juice.

Isaiah 16:10. One of the clearest passages is Isaiah 16:10. The context of the passage is God’s judgment upon Moab for its pride. The judgment is manifested, as often is the case throughout the Old Testament, through the removal of the divine blessing from the vineyard and the grape juice: "And joy and gladness are taken away from the fruitful field; and in the vineyard no songs are sung, no shouts are raised; no treader treads out wine [yayin] in the presses; the vintage shout is hushed" (Is 16:10).

The important point which this passage clarifies is that what the treaders tread out in the pressing vat is called yayin. This is obviously unfermented grape juice, since fermentation is a time-controlled process. Some people wrongly assume that if one just lets grape juice alone, it will automatically ferment into a "good" grade of wine. Such an assumption is wrong. Pressed grape juice (must) allowed to ferment without a controlled environment becomes spoiled grape juice (vinegar) which no one wishes to drink.

Kenneth L. Gentry objects to this interpretation by arguing that "the poetic imagery so common in Hebrew poetry will allow yayin here to be alcoholic."37 His argument is that in poetry sometimes the end results are attributed to the substance which causes the result. Gentry’s objection has two major weaknesses. First, it fails to recognize that the poetic imagery of Isaiah 16:10 deals with the joy of the harvest and the treading of the grapes. The yayin flowing out of the press is seen not in terms of what it could become, fermented wine, but in terms of what it is at harvest time, "wine in the presses."

Second, Gentry ignores the fact that the pressed grape juice, prior to fermentation, was called by the Jews, as shown earlier, "yayin mi-gat—wine from the press." Being unwilling to accept the fact that pressed grape juice could be called yayin, Gentry and a host of moderationists are forced to interpret as alcoholic wine the very yayin flowing from the press. Normal interpretation of Isaiah 16:10 does not require interpreting yayin as a poetic reference to the finished product, fermented wine, since the plain reference to fresh grape juice makes good, understandable sense in the context. A parallel passage is found in Jeremiah 48:33.

Jeremiah 40:10, 12. Another clear example of the use of yayin to designate the unfermented juice of the grape is found in Jeremiah 40:10, 12. In verse 10, Gedaliah, the Babylonian governor, tells the Jews who had not been taken captive: "Gather wine [yayin] and summer fruits and oil, and store them in your vessels, and dwell in your cities that you have taken." This order encouraged those Jews who had fled to neighboring countries to return to the land of Judah "and they gathered wine [yayin] and summer fruits in great abundance" (Jer 40:12). In both of these verses we find the term yayin used in a matter-of-fact construction to refer to the fruit of the vine. Alcoholic wine is not gathered from the fields. Such usages negate the assumption that yayin can refer only to fermented wine.

Nehemiah 13:15. In Nehemiah 13:15 we find another example where yayin is used to designate freshly pressed grape juice. "In those days I saw in Judah men treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on asses; and also wine [yayin], grapes, figs and all kind of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day; and I warned them on the day when they sold food." Here yayin is most probably the pressed grape juice, since it is mentioned together with the treading of wine presses on the Sabbath. The fresh juice was sold on the Sabbath along with fresh grapes and other fruits.

Lamentations 2:12. In Lamentations there is a vivid description of the physical anguish suffered by Judah during the great famine caused by Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem. In famished distress the little children cried out to their mothers: "‘Where is bread and wine[yayin]?’ as they faint like wounded men in the streets of the city, as their life is poured out on their mothers’ bosom" (Lam 2:12).

In this passage the nursing infants are crying out to their mothers for their normal fare of food and drink, namely, bread and yayin. It is hardly imaginable that in time of siege and famine, little children would be asking their mothers for intoxicating wine as their normal drink. "What they wanted as they were dying on their mothers’ breast," notes Robert Teachout, "was grape juice (yayin) which has a tremendous nourishment and which had been part of their normal diet."38

Genesis 49:11. In Genesis 49:11 the blessings of God upon Judah are prophesised through the imagery of an abundant harvest of yayin: "He washes his garments in wine [yayin] and his vesture in the blood of grapes." The idea expressed by this imagery is that the harvest is so copious that the garments of the grape treaders appear washed in the abundance of juice.

In this passage we also have a striking example of Hebrew parallelism where two clauses express the same thought with different words. In this instance, the "garments" of the first clause correspond to the "vesture" of the second clause, and the "wine" (yayin) to the "blood of the grapes." "Blood" is a poetical name for "grape juice," and its usage in parallelism with "wine" suggests that in Bible times grape juice was called yayin, prior to its fermentation.

Song of Solomon. Other examples of the use of yayin referring to unfermented grape juice are found in the love poem written by Solomon, King of Israel. In several verses the enjoyment of pure love is compared with yayin: "O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love is better than wine [yayin], . . . We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine [yayin]; . . . How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride! how much better is your love than wine [yayin]" (Song of Solomon 1:2, 4; 4:10).

In these verses yayin can hardly refer to fermented, intoxicating wine, since the author of this book condemns fermented wine as a "mocker" and a stinging "adder" (Prov 20:1, 23:32). It is evident that Solomon is comparing the sweetness of pure, undefiled love with sweet grape juice. Such a comparison is most appropriate, because, as Teachout observes, "just as grape juice was given explicitly by God for the purpose of rejoicing the heart of man (Psalm 104:15), so too is the love between a man and a woman."39

The foregoing examples clearly indicate that, contrary to prevailing opinion, yayin was used in the Old Testament, as in rabbinical literature, to designate either fermented or unfermented grape juice.

3. Oinos as Fermented Wine

The meaning of oinos, the Greek term for wine in the New Testament, is equivalent to the Hebrew meaning of yayin in the Old Testament. Earlier we established that oinos was used in secular Greek literature as a generic term to refer either to fermented or unfermented grape juice. The same dual meanings of oinos can be found in its Biblical usage. The word, however, occurs only 32 times in the New Testament, while the corresponding Hebrew yayin occurs 141 times.

Intoxicating Oinos. One of the clearest examples of the use of oinos as intoxicating wine, is found in Ephesians 5:18: "And do not get drunk with wine [oinos], for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit." It is evident that here oinos refers to fermented, intoxicating wine. First, because it can make a person "drunk," and second, because its usage is condemned as "debauchery," that is, utter depravity and dissoluteness.

The intoxicating power of oinos is implied in its symbolic use to describe divine judgment upon the wicked: "He also shall drink the wine [oinos] of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger" (Rev 14:10). Here the "wine of God’s wrath" is said to be "unmixed" (akraton), that is, not mixed with water which would reduce its potency. A similar figurative use is found in Revelation 16:19 (NIV) where it says: "God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine [oinos] of the fury of his wrath." Here the fury of God’s wrath is described by the imagery of a cup of wine, intoxicating and maddening those who are compelled to drink it.

The intoxicating wine of God’s wrath represents the retribution in kind upon "the great harlot . . . with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the dwellers on earth have become drunk" (Rev 17:1, 2). Here spiritual whoredom is represented as intoxicating wine possessing an incredible power to confuse the understanding and to corrupt the heart.

These few examples of the literal and figurative use of oinos make it abundantly clear that the term is used in the New Testament to refer to intoxicating, fermented wine.

4. Oinos as Unfermented Grape Juice

Indications of the Biblical usage of oinos as unfermented grape juice come to us in two different ways: (1) through the Greek translation of the Old Testament (known as the Septuagint) used by the apostles, and (2) through the context of such New Testament texts as Matthew 9:17 and Revelation 6:6.

Oinos in the Septuagint. We noted earlier that the Septuagint, an intertestamental Greek translation of the Old Testament used by the apostles, translates at least 33 times the Hebrew word for grape juice, tirosh, by the Greek word oinos (Ps 4:7-8, Is 65:8; Joel 1:10-12; 2:23-24). For example, in Proverbs 3:10 the freshly pressed juice of the grape (tirosh in Hebrew) is translated oinos in the Septuagint. The King James Version reads: "Thy presses shall burst out with new wine" (Prov 3:10). "New wine" translates the Hebrew tirosh, but the Septuagint simply uses the word oinos without the adjective "new." This in itself shows, as Ernest Gordon observes, that "oinos without qualification, then, can easily mean unfermented wine in the New Testament." 40 The fact that the translators of the Septuagint employed the word oinos to translate tirosh, which is the common Hebrew word for fresh grape juice, is proof that oinos was used to refer to both fermented and unfermented grape juice.

This conclusion is further supported by the use of the Greek word oinos in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word yayin when the latter clearly means the freshly pressed juice of the grapes. For example, the Septuagint uses oinos to translate yayin in Isaiah 16:10: "No treader treads out wine [oinos in the Septuagint] in the presses." In view of the fact that the language of the Septuagint greatly influenced New Testament writers, it seems plausible to assume that oinos is used also in the New Testament with the same dual meanings of fermented or unfermented grape juice.

New Wine in Fresh Wineskins. A possible use of oinos in the New Testament as a reference to unfermented wine, is found in Matthew 9:17 where Jesus says: "Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; if it is, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved." From this verse we learn that it was customary in Christ’s time to put new wine into new wineskins in order to preserve both the wine and its wineskins.

The usual explanation for this custom is that new wineskins were used because they could better resist the expansive force of the carbonic acid generated by fermentation. For example, Jimmy L. Albright writes: "Freshly made wine was put into new wineskins; old skins would burst under the pressure (Matt 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37-38)."41 This view can hardly be correct, because new wineskins, no matter how strong, could resist the pressure caused by fermentation. I have learned this fact from personal experience, as I have seen in my parents’ cellar glass bottles shattered to pieces by grape juice which had inadvertently fermented.

The Encyclopedia Biblica rightly observes that "it is impossible that the must could ever have been put into skins to undergo the whole process of fermentation, as is usually stated, the action of the gas given off in the earlier stages of the process being much too violent for any skins to withstand."42

The process of wine making in the ancient Near East is only relatively known. James B. Pritchard, excavator of ancient Gibeon, where 63 storage vats were found, candidly admits that "only a little is known from literary and pictorial sources of preclassical times about the process of making wine in the ancient Near East."43 According to his reconstruction, at Gibeon the juice of pressed grapes was transferred into four different tanks during the course of several days. In the last three tanks the violent fermentation processes occurred. Then the decanted wine was poured into large jars sealed with olive oil at 65 degrees F (18 degrees C).

Unfermented Grape Juice. In the light of this information, Christ’s saying about "new wine" being placed in "fresh wineskins" can best be understood as referring to wine fresh from the press which was strained and possibly boiled, and then placed immediately into new wineskins made air-tight, possibly by a film of oil on the opening of the wineskin. The various methods used by the ancients to preserve grape juice unfermented will be discussed in Chapter 4. At this juncture it suffices to note that Christ’s words suggest that "new wine" was placed into fresh wineskins to insure the absence of any fermentation-causing substance.

"If old bags were used," Lees and Burns explain, "some of the decayed albuminous matter adhering to their sides must, by the action of air, have become changed into a leaven or ferment (Hebrew, seor); or by long wear and heat, cracks or apertures admitting the air might exist undetected; and the wine, thus set a-fermenting, would in due course burst the skin, and be spilled and ‘lost’"44 On the other hand, if unfermented new wine was poured into new wineskins, no cause of fermentation would be present. Thus, the wine would be preserved from fermentation and the wineskins from rupture. If this interpretation is correct, then Christ’s reference to "new wine" (oinos neos) would constitute another example of the use of oinos in the New Testament to describe unfermented grape juice.

Oil and Wine Spared. An example of the generic use of the word oinos is found in Revelation 6:6, where a voice is heard from the center of the throne room, saying: "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not harm oil and wine [oinos]!" The warning against hurting the oil and the wine sets the limits to the destruction which the black horse and its rider are about to carry out. "Since the roots of the olive and vine go deeper," explains Robert H. Mounce, "they would not be affected by a limited drought which would all but destroy the grain."45

In the context of this warning against the destruction of the harvest, the reference to "oil and wine" is significant, because it shows that these two terms could be used to refer to the solid fruits, the olive and the grape yielding oil and wine (oinos) . This usage of the term oinos to refer to the actual fruit—the grapes—is not surprising, because there are numerous examples in secular Greek in which wine is spoken of as produced within the grape and cluster.46 Anacreon, for example, speaks of the oinos "imprisoned in the fruit upon the branches," and he sings of the treaders "letting loose the wine."47

The above examples of the usage of oinos in the New Testament and in the Septuagint show that the term was used in Biblical Greek in a generic way, to refer to either fermented or unfermented grape juice. This usage is consistent with what we have found to be the use of yayin in the Old Testament. Thus the meaning of the two related Biblical terms for wine (yayin and oinos) must be determined by the context in which they are used. This will become more apparent in the next chapter where we shall examine the Biblical teaching on wine.


The survey conducted in this chapter on the usage of four related words—wine in English, vinum in Latin, oinos in Greek and yayin in Hebrews—has shown an amazing consistency in the historical usage of these related words. In all four languages, these linguistically related words have been used historically to refer to the juice of the grape, whether fermented or unfermented. This significant finding discredits the charge that the theory of the two wines is devoid of Biblical and historical support. The sampling of Biblical and historical sources examined in this chapter shows instead that it is the theory of one wine which is devoid of Biblical and historical support.

Long before this century, scholars recognized that the Hebrew, Greek and Latin words for wine could refer equally to fermented or unfermented grape juice. In recent times, however, this historical understanding has been obscured by the restrictive use of "wine" which has come to mean only fermented, intoxicating grape juice. This has misled many Christians into believing that yayin and oinos also refer only to fermented wine which Scripture allegedly approves.

In this chapter we have endeavored to clarify this prevalent misunderstanding, by showing how Scripture uses the same words (yayin and oinos) to designate either fermented or unfermented grape juice. This conclusion will become clearer in the next chapter, where we shall examine some of the reasons that the Bible disapproves of fermented wine but approves of unfermented grape juice.


1. Dunlop Moore, "Wine," in Philip Schaff, A Religious Encyclopedia of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal and Practical Theology (Chicago, 1887)), vol. 3, p. 2537. The same view is emphatically articulated by Kenneth L. Gentry, The Christian and Alcoholic Beverages (Grand Rapids, 1986), pp.29-56. See also Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago, 1970), p. 1168.

2. E. W. Bullinger, The Companion Bible (London, 1923), appendix 27.

3. Robert P. Teachout, Wine. The Biblical Imperative: Total Abstinence (Published by the author, 1986), p. 22.

4. Cited by Frederic Richard Lees and Dawson Burns, The Temperance Bible-Commentary (London, 1894), p. xxxvii. Several similar definitions are given on pp. xxxvi to xxxviii.

5. Cited by Charles Wesley Ewing, The Bible and Its Wines (Denver, 1985), p. 1.

6. Ibid., p. 2.

7. Ibid.

8. William Whiston, trans., Josephus Complete Works (Grand Rapids, 1974), p. 48. The text is from Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 2, 5, 2, emphasis supplied.

9. Thesaurus Lingae Latinae (London, 1740), vol. 4, p. 557.

10. Marcus Cato, On Agriculture 147, 1.

11. Cited by Lees and Burns (n. 4), p. xxxvi.

12. Pliny, Natural History 14, 11, 80-85, trans. H. Rackham, Pliny Natural Hstory, The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, 1960), pp. 241-243.

13. Cited by Lees and Burns (n. 4), p. xxxvi.

14. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York, 1947), part 3, question 74, article 5, p. 2443.

15. Kenneth L. Gentry (n.1), pp. 45-46.

16. Ibid., p. 46.

17. Aristotle, Metereologica 384. a. 4-5.

18. Aristotle, Metereologica 388. b. 9-13. See also Metereologica 388. a. 34 which says: "There is more than one kind of liquid called wine [oinos] and different kinds behave differently. For new wine contains more earth than old, and so thickens most under the influence of heat, but solidifies less under the influence of cold." The reference to the thickening of new wine under the influence of heat implies that new wine was preserved unfermented by boiling it down. This practice, as we shall see in Chapter 4, was common among the Romans.

19. Athenaeus, Banquet 1, 54.

20. Ibid., 2, 24.

21. Ibid., 6, 89.

22. Lees and Burns (n. 4), p. 198.

23. Cited by Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5, 33, 3-4, trans. Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Apostolic Fathers (New York, 1950), p. 263.

24. Cited by Lees and Burns (n. 4), p. 433.

25. Robert P. Teachout, "The Use of ‘Wine’ in the Old Testament" (Ph.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979), p. 369.

26. P. Oxy. IV. 72919; ibid., p. 10.

27. Nicander, Georgica frag. 86, cited by Robert P. Teachout (n. 25), p. 370.

28. Cited by Athanaeus, Banquet 2. 35.

29. Ernest Gordon, Christ, the Apostles and Wine. An Exegetical Study (Philadelphia, 1947), p. 14.

30. The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906 ed., s. v. "Wine," vol. 12, p. 533.

31. Encyclopaedia Judaica, 1971 ed., s. v. "Wine," vol. 16, p. 538.

32. Sanhedrin 70a, trans. H. Freedman, Sanhedrin (London, 1935), vol. 2, p. 476.

33. Cited by Louis Ginzberg, "A Response to the Question Whether Unfermented Wine May Be Used in Jewish Ceremonies," American Jewish Year Book 1923, p. 408.

34. Ibid., p. 409.

35. Ibid., p. 410.

36. Robert P. Teachout (n. 25), pp. 349-358.

37. Kenneth L. Gentry (n. 1), p. 30.

38. Robert P. Teachout (n. 3), p. 37.

39. Ibid., p. 38.

40. Ernest Gordon (n. 29), p. 14.

41. Jimmy L. Albright, "Wine in the Biblical World: Its Economic, Social and Religious Implications for New Testament Interpretation" (Doctor of Philosophy dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1980), p. 137.

42. Encyclopedia Biblica, s. v. "Wine and Strong Drink."

43. James B. Pritchard, Gibeon: Where the Sun Stood Still (Princeton, 1962), p. 97.

44. Lees and Burns (n. 4), p. 266.

45. Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, 1977), p. 155.

46. For some examples see Lees and Burns (n. 4), p. 433.

47. Anacreon, Ode 49 and Ode 51.

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