Editor's Note: In 2006, the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution which not only expressed opposition to church members drinking alcohol, but also stipulated that no one who does so may be elected to serve within the denomination. Seminary president Paige Patterson supported the stand with a look at Scripture's warnings about strong drink.

FORT WORTH -- References to wine are frequent in both the Old and New Testaments. The Masoretic text of the Old Testament employs the Hebrew word yayin in the vast majority of cases -- 141 times to be exact. A handful of other words are translated “wine” but not with enough frequency to matter. The Greek term oinos is used predominantly in the New Testament, and coming through Latin is transliterated into English as “wine.” The Greek term gleukos (literally, “sweet wine”) is sometimes used.

The wines varied in kind and strength. However, four basic varieties may be distinguished, all of which are described indiscriminately by oinos:

  1. Freshly pressed grape juice, which had been stomped out by the, hopefully, clean feet of a local family in their private wine vats, or else crushed in grape presses of stone. In the climate of Palestine, fermentation began within 24 hours, so pure unfermented grape juice was available only for a brief time.
  2. The initial, violent, foaming fermentation process lasted about one week. The wine was then transferred to new wineskins for 40 days of further fermentation. The heavier matter, “lees” or “dregs,” would settle to the bottom, and then the wine would be drawn off, providing the daily drink.
  3. Sometimes the wine would be left on the lees to ferment still further. This provided a real knock-out punch, one evidently imbibed by only a few since it often turned insipid and unbearable (Jeremiah 48:11).
  4. Wine frequently was diluted with water or herbs or both. On the cross, Jesus was offered such a concoction of cheap, low-grade wine, which He refused.

The Attitude of Scripture

In strict fairness, one must acknowledge that the ancients, however noble, imbibed without reluctance. Evidently the prophets and the apostles did not view this as wrong, so long as it was a small glass of wine (see varieties Nos. 1, 2 or 4 mentioned above) taken with the noon or evening meal. These wines, of course, were locally produced.

At this point, however, a significant difference exists between what is permissible and what is best for the child of God. In addition to the constant clear identification of drunkenness as a highly disreputable and debilitating sort of sin, please note the following:

-- The Nazarite (one who was especially separated unto God) was prohibited from the use of wine altogether (see Numbers 6:3Judges 13:4-7Judges 13:13-14).

-- In Jeremiah 35:1-10, the Rechabites are highly commended by God and by Jeremiah for their total abstinence.

-- John the Baptist, touted by Jesus as “the greatest born among men,” was a total abstainer. He was evidently patterning his lifestyle after that of the Nazarite Law, and thereby expressing God’s prescription for what is the best for a godly man. In fact, the angelic announcement to Zacharias prohibited John the Baptist from using any wine (Luke 1:15). Here also is noted the first specific contrast between the fullness of the Spirit and the use of wine. This contrast occurs again at Pentecost in Acts 2, and again in Ephesians 5:18.