What About Wine in the Lord’s Supper?
While Scripture condemns drunkenness (Deu 21:20; Prv 20:1; Rom 13:13; 1Cor 6:10; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:18; 1Pet 4:3), it also says that wine is not inherently evil, but even good. Note that the word for good wine used in the wedding at Cana (Grk oinos) is the same word used in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery …” And one of the words for “drunkard” is oinopotes (Matt 11:19), a related form of oinos. In this verse, the Pharisees charged Jesus of being “a glutton and a drunkard.”
Wine “gladdens the heart” (Psa 104:15; Ecc 10:19). It can also be used for health reasons
(1 Tim 5:23), and red wine is proven to be heart healthy (“How Red Wine Helps the Heart,” webmd.com, June 21, 2010). Our Lord himself sanctified the use of wine in a wedding celebration (John 2), and drank wine (Matt 11:18-19). And one of the blessings God gives to the righteous is plenty of wine (Prv 3:9-10).
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, it was during the Passover feast. Wine is the drink that was used in the Passover meal, and Jesus drank the “fruit of the vine” with the apostles
(Luke 22:18). Jews during the time of Jesus referred to wine as the “fruit of the vine.” Davis Dictionary of the Bible Illustrated (Baker, 1973), ed. John D. Davis, p. 868, has this entry:
Fruit of the vine, the designation used by Jesus at the institution of the Lord’s Supper … is the expression employed by the Jews from time immemorial for the wine partaken of on sacred occasions, as at the Passover and on the evening of the Sabbath (Mishnah Berakoth 6:1). The Greeks also used the term as a synonym of wine which was capable of producing intoxication (Herodotus i. 211, 212).
Wine was almost universally used in the Lord’s Supper throughout church history until the 1870s. But in 1849, Moses Stuart, a Congregationalist pastor, published a pamphlet where he argued that “when the Bible talks about wine in a bad way, it means the fermented stuff, and when the Bible praises wine, it means, well… grape juice.” Obviously, he interprets the oinos of the wedding at Cana in John 2 as grape juice, and the same word oinos in Ephesians 5:18, and Matthew 11:19 as the “fermented stuff.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Thomas Welch, a dentist and a Communion steward at a Methodist Episcopal Church in New Jersey, was bothered whenever he served wine at Communion because of rampant drunkenness in the country. He was a “teetotaler” and became a supporter of the Temperance movement in America that advocated total abstinence from wine. So in 1869, Dr. Welch invented non-fermented juice from grapes and recommended it to the pastor of his church for Lord’s Supper. In 1916, Methodists made the use of grape juice mandatory, and almost all Protestant churches followed suit, spreading to most evangelical churches in America and then to the whole world.
Therefore, wine, not grape juice, is the Biblical drink in Communion. Having said that, my intention is not to use only wine in Communion. Grape juice will still be provided, together with wine, for the sake of conscience or abstinence, such as those who have struggled or are struggling with alcoholism.
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