Should We Use Wine or Grape Juice for the Memorials?

There has been much debate in our community over whether we should use wine or grape juice during our memorial services, or even if it matters. With this study I hope to thoroughly investigate the matter and present a truly Biblical answer.

Words Used

The English word “wine” occurs 194 times in 183 verses of the KJV of the Old Testament, and 38 times in 30 verses in the New Testament.

In the Old Testament the primary Hebrew words are yayin and tiyrosh. The Chaldean equivalent of yayin is the word chamar, which is found in Ezra and Daniel exclusively.

In the New Testament the primary Greek words used are oinos, gleukos and oxos.

In both Old and New Testaments there are additional words that relate to the words above (such as the Hebrew word shekar or the Greek word oinophlugia) and these words frequently refer to either to a stronger version of an alcoholic drink, or the person partaking of the drink, though there are other related words that refer to the process of making the juice or wine (i.e. a wine press) rather than the liquid itself or the consumption of it.

Here are the definitions of the words we are going to look at in this study.

Hebrew

yayin - meaning to effervesce – only translated “wine” (140 times in 134 verses).

tiyrosh - expulsion; must (fresh grape juice) – can imply “sweet, or new wine” – translated “wine” and “new wine” (38 times in 38 verses).

Chaldee

chamar – wine (used 6 times in 6 verses – Ezra 6:9; 7:22; Daniel 5:1, 2, 4, 23).

Greek

oinos – literally wine. (33 times in 25 verses)

gleukos - sweet wine, that is, (properly) must (fresh juice), but used of the more saccharine (and therefore highly inebriating) fermented wine. (Used only once - Acts 2:13)

oxos - vinegar, that is, sour wine. It used to be cheap, poor wine which was mixed with water, common drink especially for the poorer classes and soldiers. Mingled with myrrh or bitter herbs, it was given to persons about to be executed in order to stupefy them. (Used 7 times in 6 verses – Matthew 27:34, 48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36; John 19:29, 30)

How “wine” is used – Old Testament

yayin - As with most words used in Scripture the first occurrence usually gives us an idea of how a word is going to be used throughout the Bible, and so we find that this is the case with the Hebrew word yayin. The following is the very first time yayin is used in the Bible.

Genesis 9:20-24 – And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.

This Hebrew word is frequently used in a negative context, and is used by God to depict His judgments upon Israel and/or Judah and their leaders or upon various nations. Some example passages are listed below.

Genesis 19:30-38; 27:16-30; Leviticus 10:1-11; 2 Samuel 13:28-31; Nehemiah 13:15; Job 1:13-19; Psalm 60:3; 75:8; Proverbs 4:17; 20:1; 21:17; 23:20, 30-31; 31:4-7; Isaiah 5:11-23; 28:1-11 (NET); 56:8-12; Jeremiah 25:15-16; 51:7; Daniel 1:5, 8, 16; Hosea 4:11; 7:1-8; 9:1-4; Joel 1:5; 3:3; Amos 2:8; 5:11; 6:6; Habakkuk 2:1-5.

The word yayin is not always found in a negative context, and in fact the second time it is ever used it is in a very positive context.

Genesis 14:14-20 - And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan. And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus. And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people. And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale. And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.

This positive reference is in a pattern which seems to match our memorial service in certain aspects. Wine was also a part of the drink offering under the Law of Moses, which was poured out to Almighty God, but never drunken by the priests or Levites.

Leviticus 23:12-13 - And ye shall offer that day when ye wave the sheaf an he lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering unto the LORD. And the meat offering thereof shall be two tenth deals of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering made by fire unto the LORD for a sweet savour: and the drink offering thereof shall be of wine, the fourth part of an hin.

Numbers 15:1-16 - And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land of your habitations, which I give unto you, And will make an offering by fire unto the LORD, a burnt offering, or a sacrifice in performing a vow, or in a freewill offering, or in your solemn feasts, to make a sweet savour unto the LORD, of the herd, or of the flock: Then shall he that offereth his offering unto the LORD bring a meat offering of a tenth deal of flour mingled with the fourth part of an hin of oil. And the fourth part of an hin of wine for a drink offering shalt thou prepare with the burnt offering or sacrifice, for one lamb. Or for a ram, thou shalt prepare for a meat offering two tenth deals of flour mingled with the third part of an hin of oil. And for a drink offering thou shalt offer the third part of an hin of wine, for a sweet savour unto the LORD. And when thou preparest a bullock for a burnt offering, or for a sacrifice in performing a vow, or peace offerings unto the LORD: Then shall he bring with a bullock a meat offering of three tenth deals of flour mingled with half an hin of oil. And thou shalt bring for a drink offering half an hin of wine, for an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD. Thus shall it be done for one bullock, or for one ram, or for a lamb, or a kid. According to the number that ye shall prepare, so shall ye do to every one according to their number. All that are born of the country shall do these things after this manner, in offering an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD. And if a stranger sojourn with you, or whosoever be among you in your generations, and will offer an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD; as ye do, so he shall do. One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourneth with you, an ordinance for ever in your generations: as ye are, so shall the stranger be before the LORD. One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.

Most of the references to wine (yayin) used in positive contexts can be found in the following passages:

Numbers 28:14; 1 Samuel 1:24; 1 Chronicles 9:29; 12:40; 2 Chronicles 2:10, 15; Psalm 104:15; Proverbs 9:1-11; Song of Solomon 4:10; 7:9; Isaiah 55:1; Hosea 14:7; Amos 9:14-15; Zechariah 10:7

As we go through the Old Testament we find that God, through the prophets uses the imagery of wine as a thing of judgment.

Psalm 75:1-10 - (To the chief Musician, Altaschith, A Psalm or Song of Asaph.) Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks: for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare. When I shall receive the congregation I will judge uprightly. The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved: I bear up the pillars of it. Selah.

I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly: and to the wicked, Lift not up the horn: Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another. For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them. But I will declare for ever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked also will I cut off; but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted.

Jeremiah 25:15 - For thus saith the LORD God of Israel unto me; Take the wine cup of this fury at my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send thee, to drink it. And they shall drink, and be moved, and be mad, because of the sword that I will send among them.

tiyrosh - This word seems to be a little more flexible in its use. The passages it is found in can refer to the grape as well as the product of the grape (i.e. juice or grapes). The KJV uses the word wine exclusively when translating this word, whereas some modern translations use a wider variety of words, such as the New International Version which translates this word as follows: new wine (34), grapes (1), juice (1), new (1), wine (1) and the New American Standard Bible which renders it: new wine (33), fresh wine (1), wine (3), grapes (1). A comparison is shown here between the King James Version and the Contemporary English Version for the very first occurrence of the word.

Genesis 27:28 - Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. (KJV)

God will bless you, my son, with dew from heaven and with fertile fields, rich with grain and grapes. (CEV)

Due the context, some translators feel it best to render the word grapes rather than wine. In the case of Genesis 27 it follows naturally with the other words used; dew, fertile fields, grain. As we go through the rest of the passages the Hebrew word tiyrosh is found we discover that about half of the contexts allow for it to be translated as grapes rather than wine.

The following is a breakdown of how the word is used with reference to other translations. In every case the KJV translates the word as wine.

Wine: Deuteronomy 11:14 (except the Concordant Literal Version and the New Living Translation - grapes); Deuteronomy 33:28 (except the CLV – grape juice); Psalm 4:7 (except the CEV – grapes; CLV – grape juice); Judges 9:13; Isaiah 24:7 (except CLV – grape juice; NLT – grape); Hosea 4:11 (except CLV – grape juice; The Message – whiskey); Deuteronomy 7:13 (except CLV – grape juice; NLT – grapes); 2 Kings 18:32 (except CEV – vineyards)

Grapes: Micah 6:15 (A Conservative Version, American Standard Version – vintage; Amplified Bible, Bible in Basic English, CEV, Complete Jewish Bible, English Standard Version, NASB, NIV, NLT, RSV – grapes; CLV – grape juice); Numbers 18:12 (in reference to whatever is first ripe – v.13; ACV, ASV – vintage; CLV – grape juice); Deuteronomy 12:17; 14:23; 18:4 (in reference to being offered to God, first fruits); Deuteronomy 28:51 (the fruit of the land); Proverbs 3:10 (again, first fruits and product that is still in the presses – CEV – grapes; CLV – grape juice)

How “wine” is used – New Testament

oinos - This is very plainly wine. Jesus uses the word in his parable of old and new bottles (Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37). It is also the same word used when Jesus made the water into wine (John 2:3, 9-10; John 4:46). Like its Old Testament counterpart yayin, oinos is used in both negative and positive contexts.

Positive context: Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37; 10:34 John 2:3, 9-10; 4:46; 1 Timothy 5:23

Negative context: Mark 15:23; Luke 1:15; 7:33; Romans 14:21; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Timothy 3:8; Titus 2:3

Also like the Old Testament wine became a symbol of judgment upon the wicked as the following examples show.

Revelation 14:8-11 - And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

Revelation 16:17-21 - And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

gleukos - While this word is used only once in the Bible it gives us a very clear idea of how the word is intended to be understood.

Acts 2:1-16 - And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.

Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.

But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel…

Some have claimed that the word gleukos used here refers to grape juice and quote from Horace Bumstead’s lengthy article on the matter in Bibliotheca Sacra (1848) to support their view. While some of his information does seem to support his view, his (and others) explanation of why Peter responded the way he did (“we have not drunk to intoxication”) if it was just grape juice, is totally unsatisfactory to my mind. Nor does the explanation take into account why the LXX uses the word gleukos in Job 32:19 as a translation of the Hebrew word yayin.

oxos - This was a cheap, poor wine which was consumed by soldiers and the poorer classes of people. It was harsh and tasted vinegary; hence it was translated as “vinegar” in the KJV. This was what the soldiers gave to Jesus just before they nailed him to the cross. In the Matthew account we are told they had cut the oxos with gall (possibly myrrh, as a pain killer) when they first offered it to Jesus, which he refused. Just before he died he was offered more, but this time it was uncut and he partook of it, probably enough to wet his mouth for the final words “It is finished”. Every occurrence of this word is in a negative context. Here is a sample passage.

Matthew 27:33-50 - And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull, they gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there; and set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

Could Grape Juice Be Preserved 2000 Years Ago?

While researching this I found this quote from Alan Mansager, minister of the “Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry”, a seventh day, Old Testament feast keeping group which favours grape juice only for their communion.

“Some years ago a number of wine producers and processors of grape juice were contacted with the question, "Could grape juice have been preserved in the Holy Land 2,000 years ago from the fall of the year until early spring?" The response was equally divided. Those producing wine expressed doubts that grape juice could be preserved. Those producing grape juice stated it was possible even under primitive conditions, to do so. Furthermore, grapes in Israel had a high content of sugar, which was an advantage in preservation, some pointed out.

The Living Bible Encyclopedia in Story and Pictures explains how grape juice could be preserved: "The means for preserving grape juice were well known. Kato (De Agri Cultura CXX) has this recipe: ‘If you wish to have must [grape juice] all year, put grape juice in an amphora and seal the cork with pitch. Sink it in a fish pond. After 30 days take it out. It will be grape juice for a whole year’" (vol. 16, pp. 2088-2089).

“Another method of preserving grape juice was to concentrate the juice by boiling it into a syrup. Stored in a cool place, this concentrate would not ferment. Adding water later yielded a sweet, unfermented grape juice. This was common in ancient times.

“Still another way to have grape juice all year was to finely chop raisins, which are dried grapes--and then add water to produce the reconstituted juice.”

NB: De Agi Cultura is Latin for On Agriculture and was written by a very well known Roman statesman Cato the Elder around 160 BC. The above quotation has been verified from the webpage reproduction of Cato’s works found at the University of Chicago in both English and Latin (Mustum si voles totum annum habere, in amphoram mustum indito et corticem oppicato, demittito in piscinam. Post dies XXX eximito. Totum annum mustum erit.). - Source

As we see, grape juice could be preserved in the time of Jesus’ first advent, and it appears to have been known in the Roman Empire.

What word(s) is/are used in connection to the last supper, and the Passover?

None of the words that relate to wine, grapes, raisins or liquor are ever used in relation to either celebration. There are no Old Testament references to any sort of drink in connection to the Passover, and in the New Testament there are only two phrases used in relation to the memorial service instituted by our Lord.

Fruit of the Vine

Matthew 26:29 - But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.

Mark 14:25 - Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.

Luke 22:18 - For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.

The/This Cup

Matthew 26:27 - And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it...

Mark 14:23 - And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it.

Luke 22:17, 20 - And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves… …Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

1 Corinthians 10:16, 21, 25-28 - The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?... …Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils… …After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.

The fact that we are left with the phrases “fruit of the vine” and “the/this cup” should tell us that God in his wisdom left the contents of the cup ambiguous. Could “fruit of the vine” refer to wine? Most certainly, but it could also refer to grape juice which is also a “fruit of the vine”. The phrase “the/this cup” in the Greek refers to whatever happens to be in the cup, which it does not define for us at all.

Why is it left ambiguous?

The reason we are left with a choice, I believe, is because God wants us to think more of our brother than ourselves, especially during the memorial service.

Romans 14:13-23 - Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

What are we to conclude then? I believe that considering the evidence presented we are to use our Christ developed conscience and consider our brother or sister better than ourselves. If it is known that we have a member in our midst that has an issue with alcohol for whatever reason, we are Scripturally permitted to use grape juice as a substitute rather than wine.

Other Words Not Discussed

Old Testament

chomets – vinegar. Used 6 times in 5 verses, and always translated vinegar. It refers to wine or liquor which has gone sour.

shekar - an intoxicant, that is, intensely alcoholic liquor – translated “strong drink” and “strong wine” and “drunkards” (once) – used 23 times in 20 verses. It refers to an intoxicating drink and is usually understood as some kind of beer.

hemer - A masculine noun meaning wine. It indicates fermenting wine. It is used once (Deut. 32:14).

mishrah - A feminine noun indicating juice. It refers to a flowing liquid and is used of the juice of grapes (Num. 6:3). Used only once in the Bible and translated liquor.

mezeg – mingled or tempered. It means spiced wine, sweetened and flavored. Used only once in Song of Solomon 7:2.

enab – grapes or raisins. It is used 19 times in 17 verses.

New Testament

paroinos - staying near wine, that is, tippling (a toper). It has been defined as pertaining to wine, drunken. The word does not include the responsible and temperate usage of alcohol; rather, it has in view the abuse or incessant use of it. The word-picture is that of an individual who always has a bottle (or wineskin) on the table and so signifies addiction. (Used twice only in Scripture - 1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7)

oinophlugia - an overflow (or surplus) of wine, that is, vinolency (an old word meaning drunkenness). In strict definition oinophlugía is an insatiate desire for wine, alcoholism and was commonly used for debauchery. No single English word renders it better than debauchery since it is an extravagant indulgence in long, drawn-out drinking bouts which may induce permanent damage to the body. The death of Alexander the Great was ascribed to oinophlugía. (Used only once in Scripture – 1 Peter 4:3)

staphule - A cluster of grapes. It is used three times in three verses (Matthew 7:16; Luke 6:44; Revelation 14:18)

sikera - Strong drink, any intoxicating liquor, whether wine (LXX: Numbers 28:7) or, more usually, that prepared from grain, fruit, honey, or dates (used only once in Luke 1:15, where it occurs together with oínos , wine).

Written by Matthew Smith