by Mark Herbster
I believe that the Bible teaches total abstinence from alcohol. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Prov 20:1) This verse clearly states that it is not wise for us to partake of alcoholic beverages. If it is not wise it is foolish. I believe that there is clearly a distinction between the use of alcoholic and non-alcoholic wine in the Bible.
There are many Old Testament and New Testament passages that use the word wine, whether Hebrew yayin or Greek oinos, to refer to non-alcohoic fruit of the vine. Clearly in many of these passages the word simply means grape juice. Ex. (Prov 3:10) So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine. In this passage it would be very hard to make a case that the wine was alcoholic. It seems in context to simply be talking about the overwhelming abundance of the grape juice. The word for wine in Hebrew, yayin, means newly pressed wine, prior to fermentation. If the word means before fermentation then, unless the context speaks otherwise, we should assume each reference speaks about non-alcoholic wine. We know this is the case because there are many passages that actually encourage and promote the use of yayin. This yayin could not be alcoholic as we know today.
Proverbs 23:29-35 is a key passage in the distinction in Bible wines view. In verse 31 God through Solomon puts an absolute prohibition on a certain type of yayin. This type of wine is the wine that makes itself red. The natural process is yeast in the wine devours the sugar and causes fermentation. This fermentation is what makes the wine alcoholic. The wine that makes itself red may be wine that has set for a period of time for the express purpose of fermenting. There is clearly a distinction between normal grape juice and fermented grape juice. The word yayin can mean both and must be distinguished by the context. This is similar to the use of cider in our English language. The rest of verse 31 may be referring to the actual fermentation process. “when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.” Rest of this passage describe the results of someone indulging in alcoholic beverages. It talks about the spiritual and physical problems that come as a result of drinking alcohol. “The most immediate and dramatic consequence of the ingestion of any amount of alcohol is the impaired efficiency of the brain with its related central nervous system” (Charles Carroll). Why would God ever allow us to consume something that has such dramatic effects on our physical body. Clearly this passage in Proverbs is a reference to something different that just fresh squeezed grape juice.
One of the arguments that commonly comes up against this view is that all wine had to be fermented because they had no way of preventing fermentation in those days. This is simply not true based upon several ancient authorities. So, there was definitely a distinction between fermented and un-fermented wine.
This prohibition did not apply in medicinal situations. Proverbs 31:6-7 says to give strong drink and wine to those who are close to death. I Timothy 5:23 commands Timothy to take a little wine for some physical stomach problems. This would apply to us today as many of the medicines that are used may include some percentage of alcoholic content.
So, the summation of my view is as follows: The Bible uses the word wine in both instances of fermented and un-fermented grape juice. It must be discerned and distinguished by the reader what the context is teaching concerning wine. If the context is speaking of drunkenness, revelry, and/or any other result of intoxicating wine we may assume it is definitely dealing with fermented grape juice. If does not we may assume it is dealing with un-fermented grape juice. However you look at it God clearly teaches us to abstain from alcoholic beverages.