I heard this question again recently, and because it still comes up in some circles, I thought I would give a sincere answer on my blog…
What kind of wine did Jesus drink? What was the alcohol content? This could seem straightforward to some, but there are some cultural reasons why it may not be for others. I hope this helps, especially for those who did not grow up in a wine drinking culture and who have little experience with the subject.
Grape juice turns quickly on its own, even within 5-10 days (but don’t take my word for it, try an experiment at home:). Typically fermented wine is usually around 9-15% alcohol (take a look at wine in the store and you will see wine is almost always in this range). To obtain a greater alcohol content, a beverage must be “distilled” in addition to being “fermented.” Examples would be whiskey, brandy, etc., i.e. liquors. To achieve less than 9% other special processes are required.
Juice from harvested grapes wasn’t available year-round. Drinking fresh juice would have only been available in season, thus the point of wine-making to begin with. We can imagine that people in Biblical times would have drank not only wine, but fermented cider (from apples) and beers (from hops, etc.), all being less that 15% alcohol when fermented, although the Greeks were known to distill drinks as well.
We have no direct evidence in Scripture that Jesus drank beer, but certainly he drank wine and turned water into wine according to the Gospels. I suppose the wine he made could have been fresh and unfermented, which would have certainly been miraculous and surprising to the host and guests given the Spring season (months after the last fresh juice was gone).
Some have speculated that the wine at the Last Supper was unfermented in connection with the Jewish restriction against yeast during the Passover feast, but this would have only applied to drinks fermented with wheat, not naturally fermented grape juice. Passover was also in the Spring, several months after the grape harvest, again making fresh grape juice impossible.
So did Jesus drink wine? Certainly. We have no reason to think he didn’t. What was the alcohol content? Most likely under 15% and probably closer to 9-12% as with most wines today. Was it white or red wine? I suppose it depends on what food he paired it with! Just kidding :)
In the US, Prohibition (circa 1920s) left an indelible mark on the American church. Thomas Bramwell Welch, the famous Methodist and prohibitionist, used the pasteurization process to avoid fermentation (i.e. Welch’s Grape Juice).
As I have explained many times to European friends, we need to understand the abstinence culture in some of the American church in this context of Prohibition and the emergence of a uniquely American church untied to European roots (and vines:)
Other Christians, throughout history and around the world, drank and still drink wine (and cider and beer), with moderation (there are biblical teachings against getting drunk). Many (if not most) Christians around the world drink wine with Communion, as did Jesus at that “First Communion.” In fact, many of them would find grape juice for Communion very bizarre. In our day, we have the luxury of fresh juices and we can practice moderation and total abstinence with many other options available.
So if you are asking the question, because of your upbringing or because you are new to Christianity and just wanted to know… Yes! Jesus enjoyed wine with friends and family. He almost certainly practiced moderation as well (we know he fasted, practiced silence, prayer, and solitude for example, all expressions of self-control and self-denial).
Depending on your past, your family, friends, and even your dietary needs or genetics, there are still some excellent reasons not to drink wine, but Jesus’ drinking custom is simply not one of those excellent reasons.
Time permitting, I hope to write a follow-up blog dealing with the choice itself to drink wine or abstain entirely. If Jesus chose to drink wine, that may merit some reflection for us today. I very much want to respect those who have struggled with addiction to alcohol and hope to discuss some good reasons to abstain (and one bad reason)…. but more on that next time!
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