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The Following Articles Are Taken From the

Full Life Study BibleóNew International Version

Copyright 1992 by Life Publishers International



Articles and Page Numbers:


Wine in the Old Testament 204-205


Wine in New Testament Times (1) 1534-1535


Wine in New Testament Times (2) 1586-1587




204                                                     NUMBERS 6


Nu 6:3 "He must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins."

HEBREW WORDS FOR WINE. In general there are two Hebrew words that are translated as "wine" in the Bible. (1) The first and most common word is yayin, a generic term used 141 time in the OT to indicate various kinds of fermented or unfermented wine (see Ne 5:18, which speaks of "wine [yayin] of all kinds."). (a) On the one hand, yayin is applied to all kinds of fermented grape juice (see Ge 9:20-21; 19:32-33; 1Sa 25:36-37; Pr 23:30-31). The tragic results of using fermented wine are described in various places in the OT, notably Pr 23:29-35 (see next section).

(b) On the other hand, yayin is also used for the sweet unfermented juice of the grape. It can refer to fresh juice as it is pressed from grapes, Isaiah prophecies, "No one treads out wine [yayin] at the presses" (Isa 16:10); likewise Jeremiah says, "I have stopped the flow of wine [yayin] from the presses; no one treads them with shouts of joy" (Jer 48:33). In fact, Jeremiah even refers to the juice still in the grape as yayin (see Jer 40:10, 12). Further evidence that yayin at times refers to unfermented juice of the grape is found in Lamentations, where the author describes nursing infants as crying out to their mothers for their normal food of "bread and wine" (La 2:12). The fact that unfermented grape juice can go by the term "wine" is supported by various scholarly studies. The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901) states: "Fresh wine before fermentation was called yayin-migat [wine of the vat] (Sanh, 70a)." Also the Encyclopedia Judaica (1971) attests to the fact that the term yayin was used to refer to the juice of the grape in several stages, including "the newly pressed wine prior to fermentation." The Babylonian Talmud ascribes to Rabbi Hiyya a statement concerning "wine [yayin] from the press" (Baba Bathra, 97a). And in Halakot Gedalot it is said, "One may press out a cluster of grapes, since the juice of the grape is considered wine [yayin] in connection with the laws of the Nazirite" (cited by Louis Ginzberg in American Jewish Yearbook, 1923, pp. 408-409). For a discussion of oinos, the NT Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word yayin, see articles on WINE IN NEW TESTAMENT TIMES (1) AND (2), p. 1534 and p. 1586.

(2) The other Hebrew word translated "wine" is tirosh, a word meaning "new wine"

or "harvest wine." Tirosh occurs 38 times in the OT; it never refers to fermented drink,

but always to the unfermented fruit of the vine, such as the juice that is still in the grape cluster (Isa 65:8) or sweet juice from newly harvested grapes (Dt 11:14; Pr 3:10; Joel

2:24). Brown, Driver, Briggs (A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament) states that tirosh means "must, fresh or new wine"; The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901) says that

" Ďtiroshí includes all kinds of sweet juices and must, and does not include fermented

wine." Tirosh "has some good in it" (Isa 65:8); fermented wine, however, "is a mocker"

(Pr 20:1) and brings drunkenness (see Pr 23:31, note).

(3) In addition to these two words for wine, there is another Hebrew word that occurs

23 times in the OT and often in the same contextóshekar, usually translated as "beer"

(e.g., 1Sa 1:15) or "fermented drink" (e.g., Nu 6:3). Some scholars say shekar most often

refers to a fermented drink, perhaps made from palm juice, pomegranates, apples, or

dates. The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901) suggests that when yayin was distinguished from

shekar, the former was a form of fermented drink diluted with water whereas the latter

was undiluted. At times, however, it can refer to a sweet satisfying unfermented juice

(Robert P. Teachout, "The Use of ĎWineí In the Old Testament," Th.D. dissertation,

Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979). Shekar is related to shakar, a Hebrew verb that can

mean "to drink freely," in addition to "to make drunk." In most instances, it is best to understand that when

  yayin and shekar are used together, they form a single figure of speech referring to intoxicating beverages.

OLD TESTAMENT PERSPECTIVE ON FERMENTED WINE. There are various places in the OT where the use of yayin and shekar as fermented beverages is condemned. (1) The Bible first describes the evil effects of intoxicating wine in the story of Noah (Ge 9:20-27). He planted a vineyard, harvested it, made intoxicating wine from the grapes and drank it. Doing so led to drunkenness, immodesty, indiscretion and the family tragedy of a curse placed on Canaan. During Abrahamís time, intoxicating wine was a factor in the incest that led to the pregnancies of Lotís daughters (Ge 19:31-38).

(2) Because of the corrupting potential of alcoholic drinks, God commanded all priests of Israel to abstain from wine and other fermented drink during their time of ministry. God regarded the violation of this command sufficiently serious to warrant the death penalty for the offending priest. (Lev 10:9-11).

(3) God also revealed his will concerning wine and fermented drink by making abstinence a requirement for all who took the Nazirite vow (see next section).

(4) Solomonís God-given wisdom led him to write: "Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise" (See Pr 20:1, note). Alcoholic beverages can cause one to mock Godís standard of righteousness and to lose self-control with regard to sin and immorality.

(5) Finally, the Bible unequivocally states that in order to avoid woe and sorrow and instead to follow Godís will, the righteous must not even gaze at or desire any fermented wine that can intoxicate and cause addiction (see Pr 23:29-35, notes).

THE NAZIRITES AND WINE. Nazirites were expected to declare that any Israelite should live on as high a level of separation and commitment to God as they themselves did (see Nu 6:2, note). God gave them clear instructions concerning the use of wine. (1) Nazirites were to abstain from "wine and other fermented drink" (Nu 6:3; see Dt 14:26, note); in fact, they were not permitted to eat or drink any product made from the grape, either in liquid or solid form. Most likely God gave this safeguard against the temptation to use intoxicating drinks and against the possibility of a Nazirite drinking alcoholic wine by mistake (Nu 6:3-4). God did not want a totally devoted person to be exposed to the possibility of intoxication or addiction (cf. Lev 10:8-11; Pr 31:4-5). Thus, highest standard put before Godís people with respect to alcoholic beverages was total abstinence (Nu 6:3-4).

(2) Drinking alcohol often leads to various other sins (such as immorality or criminal activity). The Nazirites were to eat or drink nothing that came from the vine in order to teach them that they must avoid sin and anything borders on it, leads to it, or tempts one to commit it.

(3) Godís standard for the Nazirites of total abstinence from wine and other fermented drink was ridiculed and rejected by many in Israel in Amosís day. This prophet stated that the ungodly "made the Nazirites drink wine" (see Am 2:12, note). The prophet Isaiah also declared, "Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions. All the tables are covered with vomit and there is not a spot without filth" (Isa 28:7-8). This occurred because the leaders refused Godís high standard of total abstinence (see Pr 31:4-5, note).

(4) The essential spirit of Naziritismói.e., total consecration to God and his highest standardsóis a demand placed on the believer in Christ (cf. Ro 12:1; 2Co 6:17; 7:1). Abstinence from anything that might draw one into sin, stimulate a desire for harmful things, open the way to drug or alcohol addiction, or cause a brother or sister to stumble is as necessary for the believer today as it was for the Nazirite in OT times (see 1Th 5:6, note; Tit 2:2, note; see articles on WINE IN NEW TESTAMENT TIMES (1) AND (2), p. 1534 and p. 1586).

Bible articles  Footnotes to Wine Articles  Wine In New Testament Times (1)  Wine In New Testament Times (2)