Did you know that words have a tendency to change meaning over the years? For instance, did you know that the word “across” used to mean, “In the form of a cross, crosswise; crossing each other, crossed.”, but today the meaning is more like “in a position reaching from one side to the other.”?
When we read the Bible, sometimes we could get the incorrect meaning of a word or two because of how the word was defined back in the day as opposed to how it is defined today.
One word from the Bible, and variations of it, has caused a bit of a stir because today there is a conflict on how it is interpreted. The word is “wine”.
We read that Jesus made water into wine (John 2) and we think that because he did this, drinking alcohol is an acceptable practice by Jesus’ standards. But a closer look at this word in Scripture results in conflicting passages that causes us to find out more as to why in one area it is frowned upon, and in other areas it appears to be OK. After all, the Word of God cannot contradict itself in its intention or it becomes unreliable.
Today, the world definition of wine is known as fermented grapes or fruit. But it wasn’t always that way. Earlier dictionaries define wine as both fermented and unfermented juice. So the word, when translated, held dual meanings throughout many centuries.
Greek and Hebrew versions/variations of the word “wine” in many cases have dual meanings in them and so context is the key to understanding which “wine” is being referred to. God’s Word provides clear instruction to refrain from drinking the fermented wine.
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” –Proverbs 20:1
“Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart will utter perverse things. –Proverbs 23:31-33
“But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.” –Isaiah 28:7
The important thing about understanding the meaning of words and phrases in Scripture is to not take one word or phrase and develop a standard interpretation. As Seventh-day Adventists, we understand Scripture as we study precept upon precept and line upon line (Isaiah 28:9-10).
Even outside of Scripture we understand that drinking alcoholic beverages impedes our minds from thinking clearly. All we have to do is look at the broken homes, accidents, and lives taken because of alcohol use and abuse.
This is why the Seventh-day Adventist Church, in Fundamental Beliefs #22 – “Christian Behavior”, says we are to abstain from it.
I hope this clears up why there is so much confusion on the word “wine.” Just like everything else in God’s Word, we must look deeper when we want to get the full understanding of things.
Recommended book to read on this subject:
- The Meaning of “Wine” by Samuele Bacchiocchi
- Death in the Kitchen, chapter 6 “Alcohol, A Curse” by Joe Crews
Here is a great resource on the Greek and Hebrew words of wine:
 Merriam Webster Dictionary (merriam-webster.com)
 1955 Funk & Wagnalls New “Standard” Dictionary of the English Language; New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language -1971; 1896 Webster’s International Dictionary of the English Language; and more