Subtitle: Is It Appropriate For Use In A Communion Service?
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This topic, like many others we have explored, continues to provoke disagreement among the brethren. Proponents cite numerous passages of Scripture, quote "expert opinion" and make logical assumptions, while opponents do the same. Both are equally positive they are right and the other side is wrong. So with this being the case, can such issues be completely resolved this side of glory? Our belief is that because of human nature the answer is, unfortunately, "Not likely." The Holy Spirit leads those to the truth who have a willingness to learn and remain open to concepts that are sometimes contrary to what they have been taught. Dogmatism is good up to a point, but stubborness is not.
As I tried to illustrate in my last article, "Rightly Dividing The Word Of Truth" (www.cuttingedge.org/articles/p235.html), nearly all such disputes arise over precise interpretation of certain words and terms. And this particular issue is no different. In every instance of its use in the Bible, the English word "wine"--because of its very definition--denotes an alcoholic beverage. But there remains a question as to the legitimacy of one word accurately translating different Hebrew and Greek words (of which there are several) used to describe the "fruit of the vine". And when one consults lexicons about those words translated as "wine," a definitive answer that is beyond dispute is elusive to say the least. But common sense would seem to dictate that, as important as the juice of the grape was to people in Bible times, there had to be a term that at the very least implied, or allowed, a difference between fermented and unfermented. A case in point is the English word "cider"--which, according to the dictionary--can refer to either fermented or unfermented juice.
To insist, as some do, that the Hebrew words yayin, tirosh, chamar, asis, sobe, chomets, shekar, shemarim, ashishah, mesek and the Greek oinos and gleukos always denotes fermented wine--because their use in certain contexts clearly show them to be--defies logic. Common sense indicates that one or more of the words in each language either specifies unfermented juice or has a dual meaning like the word "cider." And I hope to prove that such conclusions are largely based upon dogmatic assertions made by some who failed to check all the available evidence.
If there is one thing I have learned in my 65 years, it is that the majority opinion is not always a safe haven. Under the best of circumstances, good men make honest mistakes. And if they are respected scholars, the mistakes usually multiply because students and others adopt them as being "gospel." So we must exercise caution when we approach the Word of God and rely on the Holy Spirit to be our Teacher. The opinions of men can be very helpful, but we must take them all with "a grain of salt." And that same principle most definitely applies to my own thoughts on this matter. You must weigh the evidence and decide for yourself.
QUESTION: WAS THE LIQUID CONSUMED AT THE LAST SUPPER FERMENTED WINE?
I have read quite a few passionate arguments in which the affirmative is stoutly defended. In them numerous quotes by respected Christian pastors and teachers are cited and I have no doubt that each and every one of them reflect a sincere position on the matter. But the essence of all their arguments revolve around three major points: (1) The wine had to be fermented because grape juice could not be preserved. (2) Many authorities contacted by them--particularly those who were Jewish-- agree that it was fermented. And (3) Prior to the "temperance movement" and onset of Prohibition, most Protestant denominations used fermented wine in communion services.
But before we address these major points, it is imperative that we establish a Scriptural frame of reference. And I think it entirely safe to say that most will agree the liquid in question represents the blood of Jesus Christ. (Only a few within Protestantism who still cling to the Roman Catholic position of "transubtantiation" will insist that the liquid literally becomes the blood of Christ when ingested--but that is another subject entirely and will not be addressed here). That representation is found in the following passsage:
"Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you" Luke 22:20 (KJV).
Another point in which there is virtually unanimous agreement is that the blood of Jesus Christ was incorruptible and without sin.
"For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption" Psalm 16:10 (KJV).
"Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption" Acts 2:27 (KJV).
"Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption" Acts 13:35 (KJV).
"He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption" Acts 2:31 (KJV, emphasis mine).
"But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption" Acts 13:37 (KJV, emphasis mine).
As we can see from these passages, the point is firmly established that the Messiah was to see no corruption and in fact did not when God raised Him from among the dead. And we should recognize that both the resurrection and the incorruption were supernatural, because technically speaking decomposition of a dead body begins immediately upon death. The effects, such as odor, etc., can be delayed by a cool temperature, but decay begins immediately. In carefully controlled tests, some cadaver dogs have demonstrated the ability to detect a dead body in as little as 1.5 hours after death--with all the rest of the control group doing so in 3.5 to 5 hours--thus demonstrating how quickly chemical decomposition takes place.
Another area of agreement is that Christ's body is represented by unleavened bread--bread in which leaven (a picture of sin throughout the Bible) was not allowed. That commandment to omit leaven goes all the way back to the first Passover when the children of Israel were instructed to eat unleavened bread as a memorial to their being spared from the death of the first-born in Egypt. And of course that prohibition placed upon the bread rendered it fit to serve as a symbol of the sinless body of the Messiah, Jesus Christ--a point He made clear to His Apostles at the Last Supper:
"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body" Matthew 26:26 (KJV)
But when we come to the symbolism of the "cup," many good men insist Christ's blood must be represented by fermented wine--not grape juice.
"And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;  For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" Matthew 26:27-28 (KJV)
The central point of their argument is that grape juice contains albumen, or gluten--a leavening type substance also found in human blood--which, they claim, renders it unfit as a symbol of sinless perfection. So, to overcome this difficulty it must be allowed to ferment wherein the alcohol generated will eventually kill the leavening agent. Thus it becomes "pure and preserved". But this is an incorrect understanding of scientific facts! Fermented wine still contains yeast spores and several types of bacteria. Let oxygen get to it and the alcohol will decompose further and become acetic acid--vinegar. Because of this principle, wine bottled in the traditional manner is put in horizontal racks so that the corks will remain wet and swelled--thereby insuring an air-tight seal at the neck. If the seal fails, further fermentation will occur. Obviously if wine were truly pure and preserved, this could not happen.
But beyond the basic science involved, it has apparently never occured to these brethren that they are attempting to symbolize blood that has not "seen" corruption with a substance that is unquestionably the product of it. Fermentation is a process of decay--of decomposition--and Christ's precious blood did not experience any degree of corruption and most definitely was not the product of it. See Acts 13:37 above! The word "corruption" translates the Greek word diaphthora, which according to Strong's Concordance means "decay."
"But I tell you this, brethren, flesh and blood cannot [become partakers of eternal salvation and] inherit or share in the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable (that which is decaying) inherit or share in the imperishable (the immortal)" 1 Cor. 15:50 (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified, emphasis mine).
Corruption is deterioration and irreversible. Fresh juice > wine > vinegar.
Furthermore, to emphasize the fallacy of that line of reasoning, the same principle should hold true for the bread. "What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander." If we leaven the bread, baking will kill the bacterial leavening agent and it will wind up "pure." But God clearly said to get rid of every trace of leaven to prepare for Passover--not depend upon the baking process to kill it. Light and fluffy bread is the product of leavening and is more palatable to our flesh. In like manner alcoholic wine is the product of leavening and has always been highly prized by the world. Discriminating vinophiles prefer certain wines to be old--aged for many years--and they are usually very costly. The Lord verified this when He stated:
"No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better" Luke 5:39 (KJV)
But in instituting the Lord's Table, He said:
"I say to you, I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it with you new and of superior quality in My Father's kingdom" Matthew 26:29 (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified, emphasis mine).
The point that must be stressed is that there is absolutely no word or phrase in Matthew 26:29 or Mark 14:25 that identifies beyond question what was actually in the cup. Neither is there in 1 Corinthians 11:25 where the Apostle Paul reiterates the Lord's Words relative to the communion service. So to assume otherwise is not wise when irrefutable facts are not in evidence. The emblem of "the cup" at the Last Supper instituted something totally new because nowhere in the Old Testament do we find a reference to a beverage of any kind being associated with Passover. And even though it is said the Jewish tradition at the time of Christ was to consume four cups of alcoholic wine during that meal--if so, it was done without any specific commandment from God. And holding such additions to be doctrine was condemned by the Lord when He said:
"....... Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.  Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,  This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.  But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Matthew 15:6b-9 (KJV, emphasis mine)
What is apparently being overlooked by many is that while unleavened bread has always pictured the body of Christ, up to and including the Last Supper the actual blood of the sacrificial animal was used--not an emblem. So when the Lord said, "This cup is the new testament in My blood," I respectfully submit to you that He introduced something entirely new and used "new wine"--the unfermented juice of the grape--as an emblem of His blood.
Oh, but many insist the words neos oinos or gleukos (or the Hebrew equivalent tiros) at times translated "new wine," always refers to fermented wine. But if that is the case, then what term in the Bible describes the "must"--from the Latin mustum, meaning "new"--the expressed juice of fresh grapes?According to their arguments, there is none--because they insist that each and every instance where the word "wine" is used denotes fermented wine. I do not know about you, but I find it extermely difficult to believe that as important as grapes were to their economy--no word in the entire Bible would be used to describe the fresh juice. Therefore, I view it as just common sense to assert "new wine" was a generic term describing the must--whether absolutely fresh or that which had begun to ferment. Why? Because Websters Dictionary defines must as: "Unfermented or fermenting juice, especially from grapes." And I believe the following statement made by the Lord illustrates that principle:
"Neither is new wine put in old wineskins; for if it is, the skins burst and are torn in pieces, and the wine is spilled and the skins are ruined. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved" Matthew 9:17 (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified, emphasis mine)
No knowledgeable person would intentionally put juice that has begun to ferment into wineskins, old or new! And the reason is certainly not as is usually argued by those who insist old skins are brittle and not elastic. Once "new wine" begins to ferment a wooden barrel with steel bands would burst under the strain of the carbon dixode released--much less a new animal skin, no matter how elastic it might be! It is said that there is roughly a 500 to1 expansion of gas generated and "basement explosions" have attained legendary status among those who attempt to make and bottle their own wine at home! Wineskins are kept tighly sealed in normal use--if for no other reason than to keep insects out! And I strongly suspect that the flexible skin is pressed after each use to expel as much air as possible before putting the stopper back in the end of it. Oxygen and airborne yeast spores are always a threat to cause fermentation--whether the liquid is juice or alcoholic wine.
According to my research, in Bible times one did not put freshly filtered "must" or fermented wine into a skin without first rendering the skin "fresh" by fumigating it with sulfur smoke to kill latent yeast spores and bacteria. To do otherwise was to invite rapid fermentation and ruin of both the liquid and the skin. Old skins became more and more difficult to sterilize because of the gradual build-up and absorption of trace amounts of albumen left in the juice after it had been strained. But to put either liquid into a fumigated skin would result in both being preserved (longer without fermentation taking place). But absolute preservation--contrary to claims made of alcoholic wine--is not possible due to the relatively low percentage (10-12%) of alcohol present. As has already been stated, alcoholic wine will continue to ferment and deteriorate into vinegar if subjected to oxygen and a leavening agent.
Therefore, we must insist that "new wine"--in at least some, if not all instances where it is thus translated--refers to fresh grape juice that had nearly all of the albumen removed. One hundred percent removal was no more possible than the complete removal of all yeast spores from the unbaked bread. The air we breathe is filled with such microscopic spores--so absolute sterilization of either is out of the question. However, omitting the leaven and straining out the albumen came close enough for practical purposes.
Since grape juice contains albumen (it is sometimes referred to as "gluten", or "yeast"), how could it be rendered fit to serve as a symbol of the blood of Christ? This brings us to major point #1 cited earlier: That is, grape juice could not be preserved without fermentation taking place, so of necessity alcoholic wine had to be used by the Lord at the Last Supper to represent the New Testament in His blood.
When logic is based upon false assumptions, conclusions are nearly always off target. And that is most definitely the case here! The ancients--despite protestations to the contrary--were very adept at preserving "the fruit of the vine" in a state of near-freshness. And it is far beyond the scope of this article to fully explore them all, but suffice it to say that the book ""Bible Wines or The Laws of Fermentation," ("The Challenger Press," ISBN: 0-86645-046-7) written by William Patton in the 1800's and later edited by M.L. Moser, does a credible job of citing the evidence. And we will quote but a portion of the sections devoted to "Filtration" and "Subsidence" because they are most pertinent to our present discussion:
"By filtration, the gluten or yeast is separated from the juice of the grape. Whilst the juice will pass through the filtering implements, the gluten will not, and, being thus separated, the necessary conditions of fermentation are destroyed.
Donovan, already quoted, states, that, 'if the juice be filtered and deprived of its gluten or ferment, the production of alcohol is impossible.' Dr. Ure says, as previously stated, that fermentation may be prevented 'by the separation of the yeast either by the filter or by subsistence........"
"On the works of Horace, 'vina liques,' Car. lib. i ode ii., the Delphin Notes says: 'Be careful to prepare for yourself wine percolated and defecated by the filter, and thus rendered sweet and more in accordance with nature and a female taste.' Again: 'The ancients filtered and defecated their must repeatedly before it could have fermented; and thus the faeces which nourish the strength of the wine being taken away, they rendered the wine itself more liquid, weaker, lighter and sweeter, and more pleasant to drink.'--Bible Commentary, p.168, and Nott, London Edition, p.79......'
"Gluten is as indispensable to fermentation, whether vinous or acetous, as is sugar. It is a most insoluble body until it comes in contact with the oxygen of the atmosphere; but by frequent filtering of the newly-pressed juice, the gluten is separated from the juice, and thus fermentation prevented....."
"Chemical science teaches that the gluten may be so effectually separated from the juice by subsidence as to prevent fermentation. The gluten, being heavier than the juice, will settle to the bottom by its own weight if the mass can be kept from fermentation for a limited period. Chemistry tells us that, if the juice is kept at a temperature below 45 degrees, it will not ferment. The juice being kept cool, the gluten will settle to the bottom, and the juice, thus deprived of the gluten, cannot ferment. Dr. Ure says: 'By lowering the temperature to 45 degrees, if the fermenting mass becomes clear at this temperature and be drawn off from the subsided yeast, it will not ferment again, though it should be heated to the proper pitch." ---Bible Commentary, p. 168.
Pliny, liber xiv. c. 9, when speaking of a wine called Aigleuces, that is, always sweet, says: 'Id evemt cura.' 'That wine is produced by care.' He then gives the method: 'Mergunt eam protinus in aqua cados donec bruma transeat et consuetudo fiat algendi.' 'They plunge the casks, immediately after they are filled from the vat, into water, until winter has passed away and the wine has acquired the habit of being cold.' Kitto, ii. 955; A.-B. 217; Smith's Antiquities. Being kept below 45 degrees, the gluten settled to the bottom, and thus fermentation was prevented.
Columella give the recipe: 'Vinum dulce sic facere oportet.' 'Gather the grapes and expose them for three days to the sun; on the fourth, at mid-day, tread them; take the mustum lixivium; that is, the juice which flows into the lake before you use the press, and , when it has settled, add one ounce of powered iris; strain the wine from its faeces, and pour it into a vessel. This wine will be sweet, firm or durable, and healthy to the body.' --Nott, London Ed. 213; A.-B. 216.
We notice in this recipe: 1, the lixivium, which the lexicon (Leverette) defines 'must, which flows spontaneously from grapes before they are pressed;' 2, this is allowed to settle, and then it is strained or filtered. Here are three combined operations to prevent fermentation.
The same author, liber xii. cap. 29 (see Nott and A.-B. 216), mentions a recipe: 'That your must may always be as sweet as when it is new, thus proceed: Before you apply the press to the fruit, take the newest must from the lake, put into a new amphora, bung it up, and cover it very carefully with pitch, lest any water should enter; then immerse it in a cistern or pond of pure cold water, and allow no part of the amphora to remain above the surface. After forty days, take it out, and will remain sweet for a year.' Prof. C. Anthon gives the same recipe in his Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. We here notice: 1, that the newest--the unfermented juice--is taken; 2, it is put in a new amphora or jar free from all ferment from former use; 3, the air is perfectly excluded; 4, it is immersed in cold water for forty days. Being below 45 degrees, fermentation could not commence. Thus there was ample time for the gluten to settle at the bottom, thus leaving the juice pure and sweet....."
(Note: The "lake" mentioned above, refers to the catch basin at the wine press site--not a body of water.)
The book lists quote after quote taken from many sources dating back to Bible times, or earlier, in which it was stated the unfermented juice of the grape was the preferred drink of the people. So the assumption that it could not be preserved is without basis in fact. Plus we must note that in the process of preservation, the "leaven"--the albumen--was taken out, thereby rendering it fit to serve as a symbol for Christ's precious blood. The resultant juice was natural, pure, and--most importantly--"saw no corruption."
Point #2 of the objections, mentioned at the beginning, is that many authorities contacted by them--particularly those who were Jewish-- agree that the wine used at the Last Supper was fermented.
We must answer by pointing out all of us have a definite tendency to seek out those who agree with our position and then cite as many as possible to bolster our argument. But truth is found in facts, logic based upon facts, and not numbers of those who agree with a particular position--no matter how tempting it is to refer to them.
Point #3, that prior to the "temperance movement" and onset of Prohibition, most Protestant denominations used fermented wine in communion services.
To this we merely have to point out the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church was to use alcholic wine and it doubtless "rubbed off" on many of the Protestants who came out of her. Such traditions become ingrained in people and only time and reflection upon God's Word will erase them. A few Protestants still stubbornly cling to transubstantiation, but most rejected that position long ago as being false.
So in closing, I want to point out that most proponents of alcoholic wine nearly always include a caveat concerning the inherent danger of its misuse. One writer said that because of that potential he was a total abstainer, except in the cases of "sacramental wine and medicinal use". He even included a chapter in his book that was entitled "Snake In A Bottle," to caution against excessive use of wine. And because they admit there is an inherent danger, I marvel that such individuals cannot see the obvious symbolic contradiction in their position! The precious blood of Jesus Christ is to be enjoyed to the fullest by all who are "thirsty". And there is certainly no warning in the Word of God urging sinners to exercise caution when doing so:
"In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink" John 7:37 (KJV)
Those who are dehydrated and thus truly thirsty want to quench that thirst by drinking as much as possible as quickly as possible. And this definitely invites inebriation if alcohol is present:
"And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" Ephes. 5:18 (KJV, emphasis mine).
Just ask yourself this question: "Is it possible to have an excess of the blood of Christ?"
So since any portrayal of the precious blood of Christ as being potentially harmful in any shape, form, or fashion is clearly unthinkable--the symbol representing it must be completely safe as well.
If you have been born again and received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, but have been very lukewarm in your spiritual walk with Him, you need to immediately ask Him for forgiveness and for renewal. He will instantly forgive you, and fill your heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Then, you need to begin a daily walk of prayer and personal Bible Study.
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