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Jesus’ Miracle at Cana

I have this question:

When Jesus made wine at the marriage supper at Cana, did he
convert the feast into what we would call a wild drinking party?

Was this wine that Jesus made actually fermented intoxicating liquor or was it pure grape juice?
What does the original Greek text say about this?

 

Reply:

These questions bear on the first wonder of Jesus whereby He changed water into wine on a wedding-feast in Cana of Galilee. The word found in the Greek text of the Scripture passage involved (John 2: 1-11) is oinos. That the word means wine and not unfermented juice of grapes is plain from the Scripture at Ephes. 5:18: “And be not drunk with wine—oinos — wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;” It would not do to translate here: “Be not drunk with unfermented juice of grapes.” In all the places where the word oinos occurs it is reasonably clear that the thing designated is wine proper. Rom. 14:21: “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine—oinos— nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth. . . .” Matt. 9:17: “neither do men put new wine— oinos—into old bottles: else the bottles break and the wine—oinos—runneth out, and both perish: but they put new wine—oinos—into new bottles, and both are preserved.” Luke 1:15: “And he (John the Baptist) shall be great before the Lord; and wine—oinosi—and strong drink in no wise shall he drink. I Tim. 3:3: “A bishop then must be blameless . . .not given to wine—oinos.”

That it was wine into which Jesus changed water is plain from the very context. “When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine—oinos—, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew) the ruler 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 has kept the good wine—oinos —until now.” The excellency of the beverage that had resulted from the wonder working power of Jesus amazed the ruler. It was wine of superior quality. It will hardly do to conclude that the ruler was speaking of unfermented juice of grapes.

The Greek word for juice of grapes still in an unfermented state or in which the process of fermentation had progressed but a little is “gleukos,” rendered in our version “new wine”. The mockers who on the day of Pentecost had collected in the place where the Spirit had been poured out upon the church and where as a result the disciples were speaking in strange tongues thought to explain the miracle by saying that “these men are filled with gleukos—new wine/ that is, wine newly made and plentiful at that time of the year, it being the time of harvest. Imbibing of this wine too freely was a common error. According to the mockers the disciples had committed that error and this was held to account for their supposed strange deportment. They were full of new wine.

But besides the “oinos” and the “gleukos” the New Testament Scriptures know of still another alcoholic beverage for which the greek name is “sikera” and rendered in our version “strong drink”. This drink on account of its high alcoholic contents was exceptionally potent as an intoxicant and therefore may be regarded as having been the equivalent of our whiskies and brandies.

It need not be supposed that Jesus changed water into “strong drink”. But it was wine proper nevertheless, and wine of the best quality.

My correspondent seems to be taking the opposite view. For his reasoning it seems to be this: had Jesus changed water into wine at the marriage feast in Cana, He would thereby have converted the feast, into what we call a wild drinking party. But as Jesus, being the sinless Christ, could not have been guilty of such a thing, we are shut up to the conclusion that the beverage into which the water was changed was unfermented juice of grapes. But this reasoning won’t do. It is certain, as has been made plain, that Jesus did change water into wine proper. And now we could still ask, of course, whether any of the guests or even the entire company of guests, taking occasion by the abundance of wine with which Jesus had provided the company, drank to excess and thereby converted the feast into a wild drinking party. The rationalist Straus, in his attempt to prove the scripture narrative of this wonder pure fiction, contented that in this story the
guests did that very thing. With so much wine on hand they all became drunk. He bases his contention on the words of amazement of the ruler of the feast: “Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.” Straus supposed that these words are descriptive of the condition of the guests at the moment of the performance of the miracle. At that moment, he reasons, the guests had already well drunk. They had had enough, so that the inevitable result of their being supplied with a new abundance of wine was that they all became drunk. But Straus mistake was that he refused to observe that the ruler was referring simply to a prevailing custom—that of setting forth the worst wine last—without meaning to reflect in any way upon the state of the guests.

We must not with the rationalist Straus suppose that the reaction of the guests to Jesus’ miracle was that they one and all drank themselves drunk. And supposing some of the guests did drink to excess. We can’t blame Christ for the failure of such people to practice moderation. What do we expect God to do? Withhold from the wicked His good gifts in order to make it impossible for them to sin in this life? But such is not God’s way with the wicked. On the contrary, He gives them rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness in order not to leave Himself without a witness (Acts 14: 17). But unto His people He gives grace to use His good gifts with the required moderation and to end with them in Him by placing them in His service.

And consider the miracle with which we are now occupied. It was an earthy sign of Jesus’ power to change His people by nature dead in their trespasses from vile sinners into Spirit filled saints crying out the praises of their redeemer—God. It was thus a sign that “manifested forth Christ’s glory.” And the result was that His disciples believed on Him (John 2:11). Thus in performing that miracle Jesus was preaching the Gospel; He was preaching Himself as the Jesus who saves His people from all their sins. In a word, by the performance of that miracle Jesus was gathering His church. For, as we just noticed, His disciples believed in Him. Should Jesus then have refrained from performing this miracle just because some of the guests might have lacked the grace to use God’s gifts aright?

* * * * *

My correspondent has still another question. It is this:

How can one conclude that Jesus used intoxicating wine when he instituted the Lord’s Supper? All that these Gospel writers, the apostle Paul in I Cor. 10 and 11, and the form for the administration of the Lord’s Supper make mention of the “cup” and the “fruit of the vine”, but not of wine. Also the above, form does not read like this, “And out of many berries being pressed together, yeast being added, and allowed to ferment, one wine floweth and mixeth itself together.”

Reply:

The proof that Jesus used wine as fermented when he instituted the Lord’s Supper is derived from the Old Testament Scriptures. We must first of all take notice here of the words contained in the Old Testament Bible for wine.

1) yayin (from an unused root meaning to bubble, hiss, foam) wine as fermented.

2) cherem (from the root chamar to rise, ferment) wine as fermented.

3) tiyrowsh must or fresh grape juice as just squeezed out, new wine.

It is significant that in every case the word employed for designating the wine that was used in connection with the offerings is yayin—wine as fermented—and not tiyrowsh—fresh juice just squeezed out. Ex. 29:40: “Now this is what thou shalt offer upon the altar; two lambs and the fourth part of a hin of wine—yayin . .” Lev. 23.12, 13: “And ye shall offer that day when ye wave the sheaf, an he , lamb . . . and the drink offering thereof shall be of wine—yayin.” Nu. 15:4,5: “Then shall he that offereth his offering unto the Lord bring a meat offering . . . and the forth part of a hin of wine—yayin.”

As the bread and wine of holy communion symbolizes the body and blood of Christ, so those animal sacrifices and the wine—yayin—associated with these offerings typified the body and the blood of Christ. And this wine was yayin—wine as fermented. This to my mind proves that Jesus used yayin—wine as fermented—when He instituted the Lord’s Supper.

There is a definite reason why the wine of holy communion should be wine as fermented. The symbolism of this sacrament so requires. As the wine proper gladdens the heart of man (Ps. 104:15), so Christ is the joy and heavenly gladness of His people who believe in God through Him.

We need not be prejudiced against wine—yayin—anymore than against bread and oil. The one as well as the other is a good gift of God to His people that He meant them to have and to use with proper moderation. Ps. 104:14, 15: “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; and wine—yayin and not tiyrowsh—that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.” According to the terminology in use in Scriptures, strictly unfermented grape juice is not wine.

 

A final remark:

As we have now seen, the Scriptures use several words for wine. A study of these words in the connections in which they appear make it reasonably clear that strictly unfermented juice of grapes was not in use among the people of Israel. For even the tiyrowsh and the gleukos “fresh juice of grapes as just squeezed out,” “new wine” was already to a degree intoxicant as appears from the remark of the mockers to the effect that the apostles were full of new wine.