Drinking in the Old Testament

I.         Consistently in the Scriptures, drunkenness is condemned

            A.        I Cor 6:9-10 - A drunkard cannot inherit the kingdom of God

            B.        Rom 13:13 - Carousing and drunkenness is improper behavior

            C.        Few people argue that being down and out drunk is acceptable. We understand that it is wrong.

            D.        The problem is how drunk is drunk? We want to have a little bit of drinking without stepping over the line of sin. And the problem is we don’t know where the line is.

                        1.         A person who has been drinking heavily will argue with you that they are not drunk.

                        2.         States set levels of drunkenness where it is unacceptable to drive.

                        3.         Some believe a few drinks once in while is alright

                        4.         Some believe a drink with dinner is acceptable

                        5.         Some believe all alcohol must be avoided

II.        What is it about alcohol that causes all the debate?

            A.        It is deceptive - Proverbs 20:1

                        1.         It is a depressive. It slows down the reaction time of the body and the mind. It numbs the responses.

                        2.         People who drink have no idea how drunk they are because the drink is effecting their judgment.

                        3.         It is deceptive because it is progressive. One drink doesn’t totally wipe you out in one or even two drinks. Drunkenness is a matter of degree of drunkenness.

            B.        It causes errors in judgment - Isaiah 28:7

                        1.         A person under the effect of alcohol doesn’t think clearly.

                        2.         They make decisions they would never make when sober

            C.        It causes errors in moral decisions - Hab. 2:15

                        1.         People do things while drunk that they would never do sober

                        2.         Example: Noah became the butt of his son’s ridicule - Gen. 9:20-23

            D.        Alcohol is often used to escape depression, yet in the long run it causes depression - Prov 23:29-33

                        1.         It causes woes, it causes sorrows.

                        2.         It causes strife and anger.

                        3.         It causes babbling - loose tongues

                        4.         It affects memory - wounds without cause.

                        5.         Vs. 32 - it is poisonous, affecting the nervous system and the circulation.

            E.        “What is Wrong with a Friendly Glass of Beer?” Author Unknown

            I was speaking to a teenager at a high school conference and one fellow came up to me and said, "Now, Doc, I don't drink, and I don't intend to drink, but actually, what is wrong with a friendly glass of beer?"

            I said, "Do you know anything about the chemistry of alcohol?"

            "No," he said, "I don't."

            I said, "Alcohol is one of the greatest blessing God ever gave us."

            "Is it? I thought it was just a curse," he said.

            "No, it is a great blessing. The two reagents on a chemist's reagents rack which he uses as solvents are alcohol and water. Alcohol dehydrates and it dissolves. It is a marvelous thing. The photographic industry, tinctures, dyes, medicines, all kinds of things make use of alcohol.

            There are about 19 kinds of commercial alcohol which brilliant chemists have developed, and we produce them by the tons. The kind of alcohol you drink is one type (ethyl), and the kind you put in your radiator is another kind (methyl). But all alcohols are poisons. In the body, they are going to cause ill effects. The reason is that they dehydrate and they dissolve.

            Have you got a little imagination? Let us do a little chemical experiment here in your imagination. Let us take 16 bottles. In the first eight let us put alcohol and in the last eight let us put water. Over here we will see that alcohol dissolves, and here that it hardens.

            Take, for example, some kind of fat and put it on water. It will just float around. What if we put fat in alcohol? Shake it up and it will dissolve. Take some resin, put it in alcohol, shake it up and it will dissolve. It goes to the bottom of water and stays. What happens to camphor? It floats on the water. Put it in alcohol and it will dissolve. We have fat, resin, and camphor. They will dissolve in alcohol. Put a green leaf in alcohol and it will take the color out. Now put these things in water and nothing happens. Now shift over here. Put a little bit of bread in alcohol. What will happen? It will get hard. Put a piece of meat in alcohol. What will happen? It will get hard, it dehydrates, it takes the water out of the meat.

            Now this dehydrating and dissolving are the characteristics of alcohol which make it a great blessing. But, friends, when it goes down your gullet, it does not know if it is inside or outside. As soon as it gets in there it begins to work in the same way. It is not affected by gastric juices. It is absorbed through the walls of the stomach into the bloodstream and all your nerves and your brain are bathed with it. Every nerve has fatty substance called lipoid and the moment alcohol touches it, what happens? The alcohol dissolves it. When you dissolve the covering and insulation of the nerves, it is just like a telephone exchange with the insulation off. You do not get the message through to the proper source. This is why men stagger. They call for their right leg to act and the left leg gets the message. When alcohol goes into the heart of the nerves, that happens to be like the white of an egg. Alcohol cooks it. Alcohol is a great harm to the human body and mind because of these two properties of dissolving and dehydrating. Furthermore, alcohol is a narcotic, a deterrent of normal body functions. It is poison which adversely affects our judgment and self-control. It is, we believe, a harm to our offspring because it poisons the life-giving cells."

            We talked for half an hour; and finally the teenager said, "Sir, that's the first time I have ever had an intelligent answer as to why I shouldn't drink beer. Thank God you told us."


III.       But they drank during biblical times!

            A.        All people drink, but it makes a difference as to what they drank.

                        1.         The greatest difficulty is getting a definition that is not biased by a person’s desire to justify drinking.

                        2.         Instead of relying on the works of men, we can turn to the Bible and note the pattern

            B.        Yayin - a generic term used to identify all juice of the grape, fresh, fermented, or anything in between. Used 144 times in Old Testament

                        1.         Nehemiah 5:18 - All kinds of wine

                        2.         Yayin is used of the juice still in the grape

                                    a.         Isaiah 16:10 - no wine in their presses

                                    b.         Deut 28:39 - can’t drink the juice because worms will eat the grapes.

                        3.         Yayin is used of fresh grape juice

                                    a.         Jer 48:33 - The juice ceases to flow from the press

                        4.         Yayin is used of a grape syrup to be mixed with water

                                    a.         Prov 9:2,5 - Mixed her grape drink

                        5.         Yayin is used of fermented juice - Prov 20:1

                        6.         Yayin is used of wine mixed with drugs

                                    a.         Prov 23:30 - seeking mixed wine

                                    b.         Isa 5:22 - mingled strong drink

                        7.         Translation depends on context. It is usually translated “wine”, but that doesn’t indicate intoxicating in and of itself.

            C.        Tirosh - New wine or fresh grape juice; not fermented

                        1.         Isa 65:8 - Juice still in the cluster

                        2.         Prov 3:10 - Vats overrunning with new wine.

            D.        Chemer - The blood of the grape, fresh and foaming from the vat

                        1.         Deut 32:14 - Pure, unadulterated juice

            E.        Asis - Fresh juice of any fruit, including grapes

                        1.         Song 8:2 - Spiced pomegranate juice

                        2.         Amos 9:13 - Sweet wine or new wine

            F.        Sobe - thickened grape juice

                        1.         Isaiah 1:22 - mixed with water

            G.        Shekar - strong drink. Any fermented drink made from barley, dates, fruits or grains.

                        1.         Natural beers would be called shekar in Hebrew

                        2.         Shekar is almost always condemned - Prov. 20:1

                                    a.         The priests were not allowed to drink while on duty - Lev. 10:9

                                    b.         Kings were not allowed to drink - Isa 5:11

                                    c.         Strong drink was condemned

                        3.         Only two places were it is approved

                                    a.         Num 28:7 - used as a sacrifice to God in a drink offering

                                    b.         Deut. 14:26 -

                                    c.         Because of the otherwise consistent condemnation, many people believe it was used as enhancement for burning.

                        4.         It should be noted that natural fermentation will not produce any drink greater than 14% alcohol.

            H.        In Greek, we have basically one word that covers all grape products - oinis. It is equivalent to yayin. You can only tell the meaning by the context.

IV.      For years people argued that the ancients did not have a method for preserving grape juice, so it was bound to become alcoholic.

            A.        Actually, without a controlled environment, spoiled grape juice is more likely to become vinegar than wine.

            B.        There were three methods of preservation.

                        1.         Boiling the juice to the consistency of syrup

                                    a.         “By boiling, the juice of the richest grapes loses all its aptitude for fermentation, and may afterwards be preserved for years without undergoing any further change.” - Herman Boerhave, Elements of Chemistry, page 81

                                    b.         Columella (1st century) said it was common in Italy and Greece to boil wine.

                                    c.         Pliny (62-113 AD), wrote that after two centuries of production, Opimian wine had the consistency of honey.

                                    d.         Virgil (70-19 BC) said to make wine keep, they boiled the juice down to ½ or 1/3 of its original volume.

                                    e.         The reason the Jewish Mishna teaches the Jews to water down their wine was because they commonly kept it in syrup form.

                                    f.         There are records giving instructions for reconstituting the syrup, depending on the kind of wine being used

                                                (1)       Hesiod (8th century BC) said in the summer months, one part wine to three parts water was the correct amount.

                                                (2)       Hippocrates(460-377 BC) said to use one part Thracian wine to twenty parts water.

                                                (3)       Some regions built places where citizens could get hot, cold, or lukewarm water to mix with their wine, depending on the drink they desired. They were called “Thermopoliums” and several were found in Pompeii.

                        2.         Filtration

                                    a.         The gluten (or yeast) was separated from the juice. Without the gluten, fermentation could not take place.

                                    b.         Plutarch (46-120 AD) “Wine is rendered feeble in strength when it is frequently filtered. The strength or spirit thus being excluded, the wine neither inflames the brain nor infests the mind and passions, and is much more pleasant to drink.”

                                    c.         Pliny (62-133 AD) “The most useful wine was all its foce or strength broken by the filter.”

                        3.         Refrigeration

                                    a.         Juice kept at 45 degrees or less cannot ferment. If the juice is kept cool for a period of time, the gluten will settle to the bottom. Then the juice can be skimmed off the top and will not ferment even if it is warmed again.

                                    b.         Pliny described a wine called Aigleuces (“Always Sweet”) “They plunge the casks, immediately after they are filled from the vat, into water, until winter has passed away and the wine has acquired the habit of being cold.”

                                    c.         Marcus Pontius Cato (234-149 BC) “If you wish to have ‘must’ all year, put grape juice in an amphora and seal the cork with pitch. Sink it in a fishpond. After 30 days, take it out. It will be grape juice for a whole year.”

                                    d.         The Jews poured a small amount of olive oil on the top of juice placed in caves. The oil produced an airtight seal and the cool caves allowed large quantities of juice to be stored and sold at later times of the year.

            C.        Records consistently indicate that the best wines were considered to be the freshest, unfermented juice, even among the Gentiles.

V.        We will continue our study from the New Testament point of view later.

Wine in the Old Testament



Juice still in the cluster or recently squeezed out.

Fresh or unfermented juice

Boiled juice or juice concentrated to syrup

Fermented, intoxicating

Mixed with drugs to enhance effects or mixed with sugars to increase the alcohol content


A general term for every drink made from grape juice (Nehemiah 5:18)

Deuteronomy 28:39

Isaiah 16:10

Jeremiah 40:10

Jeremiah 48:33

Proverbs 9:2, 5

Proverbs 20:1

Proverbs 23:29-32

Proverbs 23:30

Proverbs 5:22


Foaming from the vat


Juice (literally “tears”)


Juice concentrated to a syrup.


Strong drink made from a variety of products, such as grapes, dates, or barley

Deuteronomy 32:14

Isaiah 27:2

Exodus 22:29

Hosea 4:18

Isaiah 1:10

Leviticus 10:9

Numbers 6:3

Numbers 28:7

Deuteronomy 14:26

Proverbs 20:1

Proverbs 31:4-7

Isaiah 5:11

Isaiah 28:7

Isaiah 56:12

Isaiah 5:22


Grape juice


Wine mixed with herbs or honey.

Proverbs 3:10

Isaiah 65:8

Joel 2:24

Numbers 18:12

Deuteronomy 7:13

Proverbs 23:30

Isaiah 65:11



Fruit Juice

Song of Solomon 8:2

Amos 9:13

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