Friday, May 16, 2014

Wine, or Grape Juice in the Lord’s Supper?

Whether it is acceptable to serve either wine or grape juice during the Lord’s Supper is a debate that can be very divisive. People defend their position with great zeal and in an effort to defend the position they’ve taken, many people seem to lose sight of the greater issue, and that is what the liquid in the cup represents, the shed blood of our Lord and Savior. I would like to look at what Scripture says and what words are actually used to get some help on this subject.

Wine in the Old Testament 
The word "wine" occurs at least 193 times in the Old Testament, and 159 times the Hebrew words used mean "fermented" and "intoxicating." This was the wine used in their drink offerings unto Jehovah; not once do we find grape juice or fresh must of the grape used in any of their offerings. The Hebrew word "shekar," meaning "strong drink" that which is extremely intoxicating, occurs once, in Numbers 28:7, where it is in connection with the drink offering. The word "chamar," which occurs 7 times, means "fermented," and is used in connection with the burnt offering (Ezra 6:9). It is the same word used in Daniel 5 of the wine drunk at Belshazzar's feast, which undoubtedly must have been intoxicating. The word "tirowsh" is used 39 times and sometimes means wine, sometimes, fresh grape juice; however, this word does not occur in connection with the wine used in the offerings. It is striking, to say the least, that the "wine" used in their drink offerings to Jehovah was fermented and intoxicating. 

It is abundantly clear in Scripture that wine was consumed in Old Testament times. We first see its use (or misuse) when Noah became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent (Genesis 9:21). The Hebrew word (pronounced) yah-yin is translated as "wine" and means fermented. "And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine (yah-yin), and was drunk" (Genesis 9:20-21). Later we see King Melchizedek serve wine to Abram after returning from a battle (Genesis 14:17-18). In Exodus 29:37, 40 we see God commanding the use of wine as part of the Levitical sacrificial system, "Seven days thou shalt make an atonement for the altar, and sanctify it; and it shall be an altar most holy: whatsoever touches the altar shall be holy ... And with the one lamb a tenth deal of flour mingled with the fourth part of an hin of beaten oil; and the fourth part of an hin of wine (yah-yin) for a drink offering." 

When David was made king, his men feasted for three days with food and wine (1 Chronicles 38-40). In fact, Psalm 104:15 tells us that God made wine that gladdens the heart of man. And we also see the LORD preparing a feast for His people someday of rich food that includes a “banquet of aged wine” (Isaiah 25:6).

There were circumstances in the Old Testament when consuming alcohol was prohibited, but as matter of ceremonial observance, not because alcohol itself was sinful. Consuming wine was not a sin during the Old Testament era. It was even included among the blessings of the Promised Land as we see in Deuteronomy 33:28, "Israel then shall dwell in safety alone: the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine (yah-yin); also his heavens shall drop down dew." 

Wine in the New Testament 
In the New Testament we know that Jesus’ first miracle was changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). The Greek word translated as "wine" in the New Testament is pronounced oy-nos which means wine, not grape juice. We know that because the word is used where people are warned not to drink to excess and get drunk from it such as in Ephesians 5:18,"And be not drunk with wine (oy-nos), wherein is excess" and 1 Timothy 3:8, "Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double tongued, not given to much wine (oy-nos)" In the very same breath, Paul said to "keep yourself pure" and "use a little wine" "Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep thyself pure. Drink no longer water, but use a little wine (oy-nos) for your stomach's sake and your often infirmities.”

Warning for All Us 
The Bible is very clear that drunkenness is never acceptable. Ephesians 5:18 is very clear, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” “For they eat the bread of wickedness,
And drink the wine of violence.” Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, Those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red,
When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent,
And stings like a viper” (Proverbs 4:17, 20:1 and 23:29-32). Leviticus 10:9 we see the LORD tell Aaron that neither he nor his sons were to drink wine whenever they went into the Tent of Meeting or they would die.

As for using wine or grape juice in the Lord’ Supper, it would seem clear from Scripture that wine was used when the Lord Jesus instituted the memorial feast. But at the same time grace needs to be shone, if there are those who have struggled with alcohol and whose conscience is weak perhaps grape juice can be used or at least a small cup of grape juice on the side. It is important not cause them to lose focus as to the real issue and thereby disregard Christ’s very command that we do this in remembrance of Him.

Along these lines, the Apostle Paul said, “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). Accordingly, the very important question now becomes whether or not we are drinking from the cup in a worthy manner. As we approach the altar to partake of the Lord’s Supper are we doing so in a ritualistic fashion? Are we simply going through the motions? Is our sinful human nature causing us to be indifferent; do we have an unrepentant heart? Perhaps a spirit of bitterness, or any ungodly attitude? Unconfessed sin? We each need to look into our hearts. 

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