Wine and the Lord's Table
July 12, 2022
Melanie asks a question about whether or not it is right to use alcoholic "wine" on the Lord's table . . .
As far as I can tell, the reason that this discussion even comes about is because of two primary reasons.
First, it is the lack of evidence of positive/authorized use of alcohol in any way. I mean to say that the Bible NEVER endorses this “use” of alcohol. (And, I think that Jim McGuiggan makes a compelling argument, even, to see 1 Timothy 5:23 as non-alcoholic “wine.” [That's a discussion for another time . . . I'm merely concerned with Paul's intent and would certainly think that usage of medicines would be permitted; that simply may not be Paul's intent in the passage, however, is all I'm suggesting here.]) You'll have noticed that the Bible consistently speaks against alcohol and treats it negatively? (See Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-ff.). What text in the Bible – either testament! – speaks positively about the usage of alcohol?
Second, it is because many Christians can see the nasty and rotten effects of “booze” that leads them to “feel” that alcohol is simply out of place on the Lord's table. (What follows isn't much of an argument, but it is a worthy observation . . . I can't help but think that alcoholic “wine” on the Lord's table is only a stepping stone to something more. I mean to say that I can't imagine our “alcohol on the Lord's table” as ending there – especially in the States. Surely, our use of alcohol – if it's being used on the Lord's table – is more expansive than that atmosphere alone?! Social drinking is bound to follow, don't you think? And, then, what?)
Having said both of those things, our “concern” ought to be raised immediately . . .
One would've thought that if the matter were completely a non-issue and neutral that the Bible would've made it clear, but in fact, the entire, overall tenor of the Bible on the matter is negative. I'm beating a dead horse, aren't I? The book of Proverbs alone exposes the view of the Master on the alcohol issue! And some want to say that those texts are merely concerned with “drunkenness” – an “overindulgence,” that is! – and not social drinking and/or the Lord's table?! To be clear, it is completely out of place – it's a complete jump/shift in the discussion – to move from what I've just mentioned to say, “But alcohol on the Lord's table is a neutral matter . . .” That's just intolerable!
I think that it's a complete disgrace to the Master, who in His holy text, has too much to say against alcohol to then say, “I suppose it's a neutral matter . . .” How clear must he be in order for us to catch His drift on the whole alcohol issue?!
Let me make a few arguments now . . .
First, in preparing the Passover (taken from Exodus 12, of course), Jesus set the disciples in the upper room at the evening feast of Unleavened Bread – another name for Passover . . . Here's what Exodus 12:15 said, “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your house . . .” And, Deuteronomy 16:4 is even more clear: “For seven days no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory . . .” So, the backdrop for Jesus' very institution of the Lord's Supper is a Jewish feast where there is to be NO LEAVEN in the house/territory. THE point is that alcoholic beverage simply couldn't have been what Jesus used in the Lord's Supper on the eve of His crucifixion. (I'll make the point stronger in my next paragraph.)
I once read a fellow, who makes three arguments FOR the neutrality of alcohol on the Lord's table; he said 1) that they also had roasted meat and bitter herbs at Passover – cf. Exo. 12:8,9 – he's suggesting that we'd have to do the same if Jesus is intending the Passover as His backdrop for forming “the Lord's Supper” – 2) that the leaven was only the leaven for the purposes of baking bread and 3) that the prohibition only concerned baking bread, and he cites OT linguist, Ludwig Koehler and the others that worked on The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Bless me, this is poor . . .
On the fellow's #1, he needs to recognize the purpose of calling attention to the Passover as the setting for Jesus' instituting the Lord's Supper. One is hardly arguing that “all things Lord's Supper” must match “all things Passover.” Why, the Passover was to be held on the first month of the year (Exo. 12:2), had an offering of a year-old, male Lamb – grabbed on the tenth day of the month (Exo. 12:3) – on the fourteenth day of the month (Exo. 12:5-ff.) and were supposed to put the blood on the posts of the house in the same night that they ate the meal (Exo. 12:7). The fact that the fellow calls attention to the roasted meat and bitter herbs is as useless of a point – in this discussion – as calling attention to the other things that I just listed. My question to this fellow would be, “So what?!” In calling attention to the Passover as the backdrop, all I'm seeking to do is demonstrate the background; there would not have been alcohol/leaven in a faithful Jew's house (Jesus?!) at Passover.
On this fellow's #2, he suggests that the leaven was only for the purpose of the baking of bread . . . Hmm . . . I wonder if that even matters at all . . . Give Deuteronomy 16:4 another glance and see if the “reason” for the leaven in the house is even consequential.
On this fellow's #3, he attempts to marshal linguistic evidence to support his prior claim, that the prohibition was only in reference to the leaven concerning the baking of bread . . . My, Deuteronomy 16:4 is a killer . . .
BUT, the Passover as the backdrop for Jesus' institution of the Lord's Supper isn't even a MAJOR argument . . . All it seeks to do is call attention to the setting, and it certainly looks plausible, then, that the “wine” at the Lord's table (in Matthew 26/Mark 14/Luke 22) was NOT alcoholic.
BUT, I read another fellow (as documented in Wayne Jackson's little piece (https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/224-was-the-fruit-of-the-vine-fermented) who said that the Lord's Supper MUST HAVE BEEN ALCOHOLIC/FERMENTED . . . Can you beat that?! He said that there was no way of preserving fresh juice . . . My, my . . . Jackson's article exposes that view (showing that they DID AND COULD preserve fresh juice), but also Isaiah 65:8 said that “new wine” is found in the cluster, so that whole view fails desperately . . . BUT, let me go a step further . . .
Second, I'd question if Jesus – under the Old Law (cf. Gal. 4:4,5)! – would have allowed alcohol to be in His possession in the first place! See, Habakkuk 2:15 has something to say about setting alcohol before one's neighbor; reminds us of Lot with his daughters, doesn't it (cf. Gen. 19:30-38), but could Jesus have even put alcohol in front of the disciples?! And, it's worth recognizing that it was the “Passover meal” where the cup (of “wine”) was; it wasn't a little sip from an individualized container as we have in the states. Whatever “beverage” was in Jesus' cup at the supper, it was something that was completely ordinary and “in its place” long before He “made” THE SUPPER. (I mean to say that the disciples weren't “shocked” by the beverage at the table before He instituted the supper; whatever beverage was in THAT cup was completely usual and normal. Later, He'd pick up both the bread and the cup and give them symbolic significance . . . “This is my body . . . This is my blood . . . This is THE NEW COVENANT.”) So, whatever beverage Jesus had with Him that evening WAS NOT RESTRICTED TO A SINGLE SIP! It was a beverage that was normal and usual . . . Put that with Proverbs and Habakkuk 2:15, and, then, can you believe that it was alcoholic beverage that was in the hands of the Master?!?! (Same reasoning goes for the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee . . . John 2 – And that was barrels of alcohol, not just a sip! See John 2:6,7 where the “waterpots” are estimated to have been about 120-180 gallons of “wine.” And, our Master – who lived in PERFECT ACCORDANCE WITH THE OLD LAW – set that much alcohol before the guests?!)
As a final point, Jim McGuiggan really goes overkill in handling some of the linguistic issues. You'll want to see some of his material, here, I think: https://web.archive.org/web/20160424144743/http://jimmcguiggan.com/reflections2.asp?status=The%20Bible%20and%20Wine It's all too clear that “oinos” (Greek for “wine”) is flexible and CAN refer to either alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage. McGuiggan also handles some of the Hebrew words, “yayin,” “tirosh” and maybe a few others, showing their flexibility in meaning. The CONTEXT must be the determining factor; linguistics don't help resolve whether or not the beverage was alcoholic. That said, OUR CONTEXT is Jesus' life and actions; what might we think His view – in line with THE LAW – would have been regarding alcohol?!
Let me see if I can't tie all of this up . . .
First, the entire biblical witness is against alcohol consumption. (I'm meaning in the usual, normal sense. Medical purposes are simply NOT the context of my remarks nor the biblical ones.) The fact that it is consistently this way SHOULD be enough, but human beings love to confuse matters where God has been clear enough. Maybe, there is an agenda behind the suggestion for alcohol on the Lord's table? In my experience, we've got elders, deacons, preachers, etc. that can't “give up” alcohol (in other areas), so we justify it instead and put it on HIS table also . . . God help us. (And, Lord willing, that's not your experience; hopefully, motives of the leaders in your area have been pure! And, if so, God bless them for THAT, for sure!)
Second, the context of both Jesus' life and then especially in the institution of THE SUPPER suggests strongly AGAINST its' being alcoholic or even allowing alcohol. The LAW was staunch against it; if we take the reputation of Jesus seriously, we have to believe that the Supper that HE instituted was with non-alcoholic beverage. I don't think that another option is seriously available to us.
Third, in areas where congregations are struggling on this matter or in foreign fields where it is commonplace, I think that we need to 1) educate, 2) pray and 3) be patient. I'd certainly be set against the practice and try to be persistent against it – oh, and I don't know that the argument, “Well, what if they only have alcoholic beverage and no access to simple grape juice?” is worth anything! What if we only had leavened bread?! At that point, if that were TRULY the case, I'm not sure that the Lord would really care about the Supper! If we were truly – TRULY! – trying to please Him and only had access to leavened bread or alcoholic beverage – or what if we had no access at all?! – He'd be perfectly fine, knowing that our HEARTS/MOTIVES are right and pure. (See this point precisely in Psalm 50:7-14; God's seen a thousand offerings before, but right hearts are His primary.) After all, John (on Patmos, Rev. 1) might not have had unleavened bread or fruit of the vine, and captives like Peter and Paul and Silas (Acts 5; 16) might not have had them either . . . Our Lord understands . . . It is our hearts that must align with His. If we get that right, I am convinced that the alcohol issue, too, will work itself out.
A final thought: why are some so insistent, in the States, to use alcoholic juice on the Lord's table when non-alcoholic is so readily available? What is pushing the use of alcohol? Hmm . . .
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© Copyright Drew Leonard 2019