“Fruit of the Vine”: Three Parts Water, One Part Wine

Fruit of the Vine RecipeA new commenter recently posted a comment on my post from July 31, 2006 on “The Church’s Witness to the Responsible Use of Wine.” Convinced that Keith Mathison’s information about the Church’s early and ongoing use of alcoholic wine, while true, is also misleading, due to Mathison’s lack of reference to its dilution, Barry Traver adds valuable scholarship to the fact that, while the wine used in the Passover before the cross and the Lord’s Supper afterward was certainly fermented, it was also as certainly diluted by three parts water. Following are his remarks which can also be found at the old site at Blogger. I’m posting it here, linking to as many of his references as possible, so that it may benefit those of you who are presently keeping up with this WordPress site. Here are links to the related posts to which Traver responds:
Traver writes: 

Your post says this:

“We have already mentioned that wine was universally used by the entire church for the first 1,800 years of her existence. During those years, there was never any suggestion that another drink should be used. In the early church, for example, we find clear testimony to the use of wine by such men as Justin Martyr (The First Apology, 65) and Clement of Alexandria (The Instructor, 2.2).”

True, but misleading, since it fails to mention the ancient practice (including 250 B.C. to A.D. 250) of using diluted wine. That fact is brought out clearly in both Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria. Read on!

First, let’s look at Charles Hodge’s comments in his Systematic Theology (volume 3, pages 617):”The Elements to be used in the Lord’s Supper…. In most churches, the wine used in the Lord’s Supper is mixed with water. The reasons assigned for this custom, are,

(1.) The eucharist having been instituted at the table of the Paschal supper, and the wine used in the Passover being mixed with water, it is morally certain that the wine used by Christ when instituting this sacrament, was also thus mixed. Hence it was inferred that his disciples in all ages should follow his example. That the Paschal cup contained wine mixed with water rests on the authority of Jewish writers. “It was the general practice of the Jews to dilute their wine with water….” It is certain, from the writings of the fathers, that this custom prevailed extensively in the primitive Church. As the Greeks and Romans were in the habit of mixing water with their wine on all ordinary occasions, it is the more natural that the same usage should prevail in the Church. It is still retained, both by Romanists [i.e., Roman Catholics] and by the Oriental [i.e., Eastern Orthodox] Church.

(2.) Besides this historical reason for the usage in question, it was urged that it adds to the appropriate significance of the ordinance. As water and blood flowed from the side of our Lord on the cross, it is proper, it is said, that water should be mixed with the wine in the service intended to be commemorative of his death….”

Note that Hodge — an advocate of the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper — indicates that “[i]n most churches, the wine used in the Lord’s Supper is mixed with water ….” for two reasons, one based on ancient practice (the “historical reason”) and the other based on “the appropriate significance of the ordinance.” (Hodge is using the word “significance” in its older meaning of a “symbol” or “sign” with a theological reference.)

Like Charles Hodge, Robert Stein — New Testament seminary professor and author of Difficult Passages in the New Testament (Baker, 1990, pp. 233-238) — believes that it “is obvious that the term wine in the Bible does not mean unfermented grape juice….” Stein provides many interesting specifics that support Charles Hodge’s references to “the Greeks and Romans,” “Jewish writers,” and “the writings of the [Church] fathers” on the “prevailing custom” of diluting wine with water:”

In ancient Greek culture, … [w]hat is important to note is that before wine was drunk, it was mixed with water…. The ratio of water to wine varied. Homer (Odyssey 9.208-9) mentions a ratio of twenty parts water to one part wine. Pliny (Natural History, 14.6.54) mentions a ratio of eight parts water to one part wine…. [Stein also mentions Hesiod (three to one), Alexis (four to one), Diocles (two to one), Ion (three to one), Nicochares (five to two), and Anacreon (two to one).] [As] a beverage [wine] was always thought of as a mixed drink. Plutarch (Symposiacs 3.9), for instance, states, ‘We call a mixture “wine,” although the larger of the component parts is water.’ The ratio of water might vary, but only barbarians drank wine unmixed, and a mixture of wine and water of equal parts was seen as ’strong drink’ and frowned upon. The term wine or oinos in the ancient Greek world, then, did not mean wine as we understand it today, but wine mixed with water. Usually a writer simply referred to the mixture of water and wine as ‘wine.’…”

And we … have examples in both Jewish and Christian literature … that wine was likewise understood as being a mixture of wine and water. In several instances in the Old Testament a distinction is made between ‘wine’ and ’strong drink.’…. The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia (vol. 12, p. 533) states that in the rabbinic period at least, ‘ “yayin”‘ [wine] is to be distinguished from “shekar” [strong drink]: the former is diluted with water…; the latter is undiluted….’ In the Talmud, which contains the oral traditions of Judaism from about 200 B.C. to A.D. 200 (the Mishnah)…, there are several tractates in which the mixture of water and wine is discussed…. In a most important reference (Pesahim 108b) the writer states that the four cups every Jew was to drink during the Passover ritual were to be mixed in a ratio of three parts water to one part wine. From this we can conclude with a fair degree of certainty that the fruit of the vine used at the institution of the Lord’s Supper was a mixture of three parts water to one part wine. In another Jewish reference from around 60 B.C. we read, ‘It is harmful to drink wine alone, or again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious and enhances one’s enjoyment’ (2 Macc.15:39). In ancient times there were not many beverages that were safe to drink…. The drinking of wine (i.e., a mixture of water and wine) served therefore as a safety measure, since often the water available was not safe….”The burden of proof … is surely upon anyone who would say that the wine of the New Testament is substantially different from the wine mentioned by the Greeks, the rabbis during the Talmudic period, and the early church fathers.

In the writings of the early church fathers it is clear that ‘wine’ means wine mixed with water. Justin Martyr around A.D. 150 described the Lord’s Supper in this way: ‘Bread is brought, and wine and water, and the president sends up prayers and thanksgiving’ (Apology 1.67.5)…. Cyprian around A.D. 250 stated….: ‘Nothing must be done by us but what the Lord first did on our behalf….. Thus, therefore, in considering the cup of the Lord, water alone cannot be offered, even as wine alone cannot be offered….’ (Epistle 62.2, 11, 13). Here it is obvious that unmixed wine and plain water were both found unacceptable at the Lord’s Supper. A mixture of wine and water was the norm…. Earlier (the latter part of the second century) Clement of Alexandria had stated: ‘It is best for the wine to be mixed with as much water as possible…. To … the water, which is in the greatest quantity, there is to be mixed in some of the [wine]….” (Instructor, Book II, Chapter 2, page 243 [A.D. 182-212]).

If wine in Bible times had a maximum alcoholic content of 12% undiluted and if it is true that “we can conclude with a fair degree of certainty that the fruit of the vine used at the institution of the Lord’s Supper was a mixture of three parts water to one part wine,” then that would put the alcohol content of wine used for the Lord’s Supper at 3% or less.

–Barry Traver

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11 responses

  1. Just an aside, I was visiting Sweden one year a number of years ago during the Easter holidays, I was there about 18 days in all. During the “State” holiday at the “State” run official Church, we partook of the Sacraments as a part of the Easter “service”. I was sitting in the back with the Swedes who brought me there so as the service progressed it took awhile for us to finally get up and partake of the “body” and “blood” of Jesus this “state” pastor was serving. It was a packed out service. I noticed that we were going to drink from one source, the golden Chalice. This priest would from time to time sip from it as he serviced the elements. He would “frequently” refill the golden chalice and after every sip from himself or a member of the Church, he wiped it dry for the next person. I also noticed this priest “getting” tipsy more near the time we got our turn to eat and drink. Once I partook, sipping from the Chalice, I got a buzz from this “very good” wine! I went away in Him, by His Faith working in me that I was a forgiven sinner and saying to myself, wow, a strong wine indeed and this priest is a drinker, maybe on the tab of the nation of Sweden! 🙂

  2. The Greek word for wine is oinos. It means wine. The common Hebrew word for wine is yayin, from a root meaning “to boil up,” “to be in a ferment.” Others derive it from a root meaning “to tread out,”. In Old Testament times wine was drunk undiluted, and wine mixed with water was thought to be ruined (Isa 1:22).
    There is also ‘Asis, “sweet wine,” or “new wine,” the product of the same year (Cant. 8:2; Isa. 49:26; Joel 1:5; 3:18; Amos 9:13), from a root meaning “to tread. The power of intoxication is ascribed to it. Then there is Mesek, “a mixture,” mixed or spiced wine, not diluted with water, but mixed with drugs and spices to increase its strength(Ps. 75:8; Prov. 23:30). In Acts 2:13 the word gleukos, rendered “new wine,” denotes properly “sweet wine.” It must have been intoxicating.

    It is true that the alcohol content was probably closer to a modern day beer which is about 4%, whereas modern wines are anywhere between 8 and 11%. The form of argumentation as stated above proves that we should at least drink beer.

    Gage Browning
    Post Tenebras Lux

  3. I recall your father admitting that the oinos of New Testament times was cut with 3 parts water to 1 part wine in his lesson on the Wedding at Cana.

    I find Traver’s presentation interesting because it further helps belie the fundamentalist, prohibitionist myth that New Testament oinos was unfermented unless otherwise stated by the context. Traver does not dispute that yayin, shekar and oinos were fermented; but he seems to recognize that it couldn’t be a case of mass hysteria to find in the Talmud, the Apocrypha, the Fathers, and pagan ancient Greek literature that wine was often, if not usually, mixed with water. And that it especially was in the Passover, which means it was mixed with water when Christ transformed Passover to the Lord’s Supper.

    If you can prove that the Talmud, the Apocrypha, ancient Greek Lit, the Fathers, Hodge and Stein are inaccurate to recognize that fermented wine was often mixed with water, and was so in the Lord’s Supper, and you may be on to something.

    I find nothing wrong with the facts you present, Gage, but your apparent conclusion that wine was never mixed with water seems a little week in light of Traver’s evidence. Is that your conclusion?

  4. No, my conclusion was that it is possible. I thought I regularly admitted that the alcohol content was probably not the same as today…comparing it to modern beer as far as content level. Thus my remark- we should drink beer. If all anyone is trying to do is to get everyone to see that it was fermented drink mixed w/ water…that’s fine I can accept that. It’s when Fundamentalist (prohibitionists) isogete into the text mixing w/water in order to get the wine out of the text (fermentation). My point was it’s still got alcohol. I’m afraid too many are trying to prove otherwise which you absolutely cannot do and do justice to the words. “Oinos” is wine and it is fermented no matter how many parts water the Talmud says was used. But I am going to dig further into the 1st and 2nd Temple Jew’s idea that water mixed w/ wine was anathema.

    Gage Browning
    Post Tenebras Lux

  5. One question…was the surprise of the waiter at Cana suprised by the fact that it wan’t mixed w/ water? Or was it that it was so pure?

  6. ” If all anyone is trying to do is to get everyone to see that it was fermented drink mixed w/ water…that’s fine I can accept that. ”

    Bingo! That’s all Traver was trying to say. And this concept has nothing to do with fundamentalist prohibitionism. They insist that oinos is not necessarily fermented, but is only to be interpreted such when the context explicitly includes the potential of intoxication. They wouldn’t advocate diluting fermented wine, that’s against their religion. They prefer the message of “touch not, taste not, handle not.” Here’s a good example of fundamental Baptist prohibitionism by David Cloud of Way of Life Publications: “The Bible and Wine.” This is “fundamentally” different than Traver’s message. And yes, the pun was intended!

    : )

  7. In answer to your test case of Cana, no, there is no explicit reference to the wine created out of water was diluted, nor does it deny it. I think the point of the discussion regarding the word oinos in Traver’s citations were intended to convey that even when the text doesn’t specify that the oinos was diluted, that it probably usually was anyway. Again, that’s not the fundy tee-totaler line. They’re eager to deny the very presence of fermentation altogether.

    Looking forward to your findings on the first and second Temple Jews’ opinion of wine diluted with water.

  8. Interesting post John. Gage already pointed out that diluted at 3-1, wine would be roughly equivalent to modern beer.

    Usually abstentionists use the dilution argument by pointing to the most extreme historical example of 20-1 dilution and claiming that even if the wine is fermented, it is certainly not a substance similar to our modern beverages that are relatively easy to get drunk from.

    In doing so they ignore the facts which support something closer to 3-1 or 4-1 dilution, which gives a drink similar to beer.

    However, if getting drunk took lots of determined effort (as some would say, based on their views of dilution), then why the oft-repeated warnings against drunkenness, some of which hone in on wine as being that which can produce drunkenness.

    In all of this, I think people lose sight of three important things.

    1) Scripture commends the use of strong drink (for drink offerings, and for celebrants to partake of with their tithe money in a feast to God)

    2) Scripture actually commends wine for its joy-producing, spirit-uplifting (in short its slight intoxicating) qualities. Wine “gladdens the heart of man” and “cheers God and man”. Anyone who has experienced alcoholic beverages knows what these verses are saying. And for those who haven’t, this effect happens long before drunkenness.

    3) Scripture nowhere condemns one beverage over another based on its alcoholic content level. In other words, Scripture addresses the beverages of its day. It warns in relation to strong drink, yes; but it doesn’t forbid it, even as it encourages it in some circumstances.

    So, since the pleasurable effects of wine are praised and commended, the alcoholic content is really a moot point. We are commanded to avoid drunkenness, since that is sin. So, if someone wants to drink a shot-glass or two of 80 proof whiskey, depending on the physiological makeup of the person, this likely will not cause that person to get drunk. Especially if partaken with food and not downed instantly, but drunk from slowly. This will very quickly provide the pleasure that alcohol can give. The same person might have to drink 4 cans of beer or something like that, to get the same effect, and he would rather avoid the extra calories and besides whiskey tastes different than beer.

    Now with beer or with whiskey, as with wine, one can go beyond his limit and get drunk. In any case, it isn’t the substance that causes the drunkenness, it is the lack of prudence and misjudgment, or the overindulgence, of the individual. Individuals sin, amoral substances don’t.

    Anyway, those are just some thoughts on this topic. Perhaps Mathison could qualify his historical quotes, but then he’d have to explain some of what I did here, and that might be a little can of worms. He knows the wine is still alcoholic.

    Thanks for the interesting post, John.

    Blessings from Christ,

    Bob

  9. So, Bob, would you say that the lack of Scriptural distinction about alcohol content levels grants liberty to churches in the amount contained in their Lord’s Supper observances? Would not, though, the extra-biblical knowledge of how the Jews and other ancients mitigated the potency of the alcohol by dilution at least lead those who believe in the liberty to drink responsibly to respect those who would likewise seek to mitigate the alcoholic content? It’s one thing to affirm liberty in relation to alcohol, it’s another thing to crusade for it to the extent that any reference to others foregoing, or at least mitigating, their liberty is seemingly received as a bad thing.

    If I told you that when I searched online to locate Barry Traver I discovered that he’s OPC, would that have any bearing in your opinion on his motives for the info he related, and his accusation that Mathison was “misleading” in not bringing up the issue? Is the OPC known for being more conservative on this wine issue than other Reformed bodies?

  10. So, Bob, would you say that the lack of Scriptural distinction about alcohol content levels grants liberty to churches in the amount contained in their Lord’s Supper observances? Would not, though, the extra-biblical knowledge of how the Jews and other ancients mitigated the potency of the alcohol by dilution at least lead those who believe in the liberty to drink responsibly to respect those who would likewise seek to mitigate the alcoholic content? It’s one thing to affirm liberty in relation to alcohol, it’s another thing to crusade for it to the extent that any reference to others foregoing, or at least mitigating, their liberty is seemingly received as a bad thing.

    If I told you that when I searched online to locate Barry Traver I discovered that he’s OPC, would that have any bearing in your opinion on his motives for the info he related, and his accusation that Mathison was “misleading” in not bringing up the issue? Is the OPC known for being more conservative on this wine issue than other Reformed bodies?

  11. Cap’n,
    The OPC historically, and the one’s I’ve been to personally will have wine in communion. If there is an abstinence thing going on, it’s not a denominational thing.

    Taste Great!

    Gage Browning
    PostTenebras Lux

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