Ancient Alcohol Use in Israel

Merely knowing the bible on a superficial basis along with an anachronistic viewpoint, where interpreting biblical narratives through the lens of our own culture, is distinctly dangerous.

Historically, in Christian America, alcohol use has been greatly proscribed as an evil with most Protestants being teetotalers. Only one time have I witnessed a Protestant observance of The Lord’s Supper with the use of wine as an element which is prescribed by the bible and history. Certainly, I have never witnessed any alcohol served at a church dinner. This is very different from biblical and Jewish culture where peace and freewill offerings included alcoholic wine. The idea was that God shared a meal with the worshiper when they would partake of these same items. Bread and wine were the staple foods of ancient Israel. My understanding of a “drunkard” in the bible was one who didn’t work or provide for his family and only wanted to get drunk. Of course, I am not advocating drunkenness which is sinful. Imbibing alcohol with food in moderation would not result in drunkenness. Our Historical American Culture has had a prohibitionist mindset and some who react against this mindset will often go to the opposite extreme of over indulgence. I believe the ancient biblical culture avoided this pitfall by parental and elder example in everyday contexts. The 3 feasts of O.T. yearly observance was a time of feasting and rejoicing with wine and other strong drinks such as beer. Notice Acts 2.13: But others jeered saying, “They are drunk on wine!” (literal translation). This was the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost). Some translations render the term wine as “new wine” or “sweet wine” as if the beverage wasn’t fully fermented. But if the substance wasn’t intoxicating, their mocking would make no sense. Grapes typically take from 5-21 days to fully convert the sugars to alcohol in fermentation. Grapes in Israel mature from August to November. These grapes were picked the preceding autumn, since Pentecost occurs May/June, making this wine “new” as a typical festival beverage from the last grape harvest and fully intoxicating. Generally, the use of the two terms “wine” and “new wine” in the New Testament differentiate between a recent vintage and one that has had time to mature being successively transferred from container to another container leaving the sediments behind.

The open table of Jesus with “tax collectors and sinners” showed ministry in a context of slight inebriation. Jesus performed His first miracle by turning water into wine at a wedding celebration and His disciples believed in Him. Jesus, the disciples, along with all the guests who imbibed were all under wine’s influence to some degree. Alcohol (wine) feature during the wedding celebration with Abraham and the Patriarchs in the future Reconciliation.

Ironically, I barely use any alcohol myself as old age prevents its efficient digestion. I do use a small amount in cooking. Generally, people change their consciousness every day during sleep. Many folks pray that God would keep them safe during this time. Also, during our normal waking hours Christians will often pray for guidance and help. Perhaps it’s time for Christians to recognize Jesus as King of the altered state and pray that He would give guidance and wisdom for responsible use of their intoxicants.