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I heard someone giving a talk on alcohol and Christianity. One thing that stood out was when they said that the word used for 'wine' at the wedding in Cana (John chapter 2) meant grape juice.

When looking up the word 'wine' in my Strong's Concordance the word is οἶνος (G3631 Strong's numbering).

John Chapter 2 (KJV),

  • verse 3 And when they wanted [lacked] οἶνος, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no οἶνος.
  • verse 9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made οἶνος...
  • verse 10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good οἶνος; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good οἶνος until now.

The explanation in my concordance just says "wine" and "perhaps from the Hebrew yayin (H3196 Strong's numbering), which refers to fermented wine.

Is the word οἶνος meaning alcoholic wine or (non fermented) grape juice?

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Most Greek lexicons will give a result very similar to that of BDAG which defines οἶνος as, "a beverage made from fermented juice of the grape, wine". This is readily seen in its usage in the NT as follows:

  • Matt 9:17, The bursting of the wine skins implies fermentation as in Mark 2:22, Luke 5:37, 38.
  • Matt 27:34, Wine mixed with gall was designed to cloud the mind and numb the pain of execution – thus the wine was most likely fermented as in Mark 15:23.
  • Luke 1:15, John the Baptist’s prohibition from wine or other fermented drink.
  • Luke 7:33, John the Baptist was never intoxicated with wine.
  • Luke 10:34 ,The fact that wine was used as a disinfectant suggests that it was not only fermented but that its alcohol content could be, at least here, quite high.
  • Rom 14:21, Drinking wine may cause some to stumble just as eating meat in some cases.
  • Eph 5:18, “Do not get drunk on wine” – a clear reference to fermented wine.
  • 1 Tim 3:8, Deacons should not use too much wine – another clear reference to wine of the fermented type.
  • 1 Tim 5:23, This instruction of Paul’s to use a little wine rather than water for the sake of Timothy’s frequent stomach complaints has caused much debate. We note the following facts: The water in the places where Timothy worked was often unsafe to drink; unfermented grape juice has considerable therapeutic value; lightly fermented wine was arguably better than fetid water for the health so long as it was “a little wine.”
  • Tit 2:3, Women addicted to wine is clearly fermented wine.
  • Rev 6:6, This is the sole reference to wine in the first half of Revelation and is that which is guarded and protected by God. It is presumably not intoxicating.
  • Rev 14:8, 10, 16:19, 17:2, 18:3, 13, 19:15. These are all references to maddening or intoxicating wine.

Thus, in the vast majority of uses of the word, "wine" (οἶνος) in the NT, the beverage is indisputably fermented. This leaves us with the reference to wine at the wedding feast.

  • John 2:3, 9, 10, The guests noticed the difference suggesting that they were not already drunk, and it was regarded as high quality wine – the most prized wine was unfermented and fresh which was only available for a short part of the year. However, this is far from conclusive. The text itself does not say.
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  • Drinking and being drunk are not the same, "most prized wine is freshly fermented (?) and its biologically impossible to store juice in that climate; it's either wine, quickly, or just unsafe to drink anymore. – LаngLаngС May 2 '19 at 9:03
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    Agreed - wine came in several forms: (a) fresh for a small period during the harvest and thus highly prized; concentrated to make a treacle-like cordial that would not ferment but could be diluted to original consistency when needed; fermented wine placed in wine-skins. Most was the latter. – user25930 May 2 '19 at 9:06
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    In addition, there are over 200 uses in the Septuagint, including Psalm 103:15 LXX (Grape juice gladdens the heart of man?) – user33515 May 2 '19 at 12:35
  • Re: high alcohol content, don't forget that wine back then was often mixed / diluted with water to make it a more everyday drink. Also, "fetid" rather than "feted" :) – Luke Sawczak May 2 '19 at 13:16
  • Thanks - I will fix the typo. I did not want to go to too much detail in the space provided. – user25930 May 2 '19 at 21:28
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In addition to the New Testament references already cited, one might also consult the Septuagint, where οἶνος appears over 230 times.

For example:

καὶ ἔπιεν ἐκ τοῦ οἴνου καὶ ἐμεθύσθη καὶ ἐγυμνώθη ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτοῦ. καὶ εἶδεν Χαμ ὁ πατὴρ Χανααν τὴν γύμνωσιν τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐξελθὼν ἀνήγγειλεν τοῖς δυσὶν ἀδελφοῖς αὐτοῦ ἔξω. καὶ λαβόντες Σημ καὶ Ιαφεθ τὸ ἱμάτιον ἐπέθεντο ἐπὶ τὰ δύο νῶτα αὐτῶν καὶ ἐπορεύθησαν ὀπισθοφανῶς καὶ συνεκάλυψαν τὴν γύμνωσιν τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν, καὶ τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτῶν ὀπισθοφανές, καὶ τὴν γύμνωσιν τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν οὐκ εἶδον. ἐξένηψεν δὲ Νωε ἀπὸ τοῦ οἴνου καὶ ἔγνω ὅσα ἐποίησεν αὐτῷ ὁ υἱὸς αὐτοῦ ὁ νεώτερος

And he drank of the wine, and was drunk, and was naked in his house. And Cham the father of Chanaan saw the nakedness of his father, and he went out and told his two brothers without. And Sem and Japheth having taken a garment, put it on both their backs and went backwards, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their face was backward, and they saw not the nakedness of their father. And Noe recovered from the wine, and knew all that his younger son had done to him (Genesis 9:21-24 LXX, Brenton translation)

I think one would have to concede that it is unlikely grape juice could have caused the behavior reported of Noah here.

Also:

καὶ ὃ μισεῖς, μηδενὶ ποιήσῃς. οἶνον εἰς μέθην μὴ πίῃς, καὶ μὴ πορευθήτω μετὰ σοῦ μέθη ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ σου.

Do that to no man which thou hatest: drink not wine to make thee drunken: neither let drunkenness go with thee in thy journey (Tobit 4:15)


μετὰ βουλῆς πάντα ποίει, μετὰ βουλῆς οἰνοπότει, οἱ δυνάσται θυμώδεις εἰσίν, οἶνον δὲ μὴ πινέτωσαν

Princes are prone to anger: let them then not drink wine (Proverbs 31:4)


ἀγαλλίαμα καρδίας καὶ εὐφροσύνη ψυχῆς οἶνος πινόμενος ἐν καιρῷ αὐτάρκης, πικρία ψυχῆς οἶνος πινόμενος πολὺς ἐν ἐρεθισμῷ καὶ ἀντιπτώματι.

Wine measurably drunk and in season bringeth gladness of the heart, and cheerfulness of the mind: but wine drunken with excess maketh bitterness of the mind, with brawling and quarrelling (Sirach 31:28-29)


The above are just a few examples of where I think one would be extremely hard pressed (forgive the pun) to interpret οἶνος as meaning "grape juice".

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