I ran into an argument that “every lexicon” defines oinos as a fermented drink. Do you have sources to disprove this?


I really appreciate the work you do as a Gospel preacher and a brother in Christ.

I am in the process of studying the subject of moderate drinking with a brother in Christ, and also for myself. I have no doubt the Bible condemns it and I agree with your work 100%. However, I have been approached with a new argument and I would like some input if you have the time. The Greek word oinos is a general term for wine. I realize that, and it seems that there is scriptural evidence to show that. The argument I'm being given is that "every lexicon" represents the word oinos as a fermented drink. I have a few scholarly sources that say otherwise but, believe me, not all lexicons always get it right. Do you have some sources, input, articles, that might help me teach the truth on this matter? Any help you could give would be greatly appreciated.

Again, thank you for your work in the Lord's Kingdom and God bless.


An argument based on the word "every" is a hard one to support. People rarely fully agree. So let's look at several sources. The first two are dictionaries (or lexicons):

The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary

"It is important to note that the Hebrew word tirosh, "grape juice, unfermented wine," appearing 38 times in the Old Testament (Harris, "tirosh," Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2:969), is almost exclusively translated by oinos (36 times). In other words, oinos can and does refer to either unfermented or fermented wine in the Septuagint."

"In the New Testament oinos is used 33 times. Concerning the Parable of the Wineskins, the juice would be acted on by yeast from the old wineskins and would begin to foam. Such gases could split any wineskin, but especially an older one that was already stretched out (Matthew 9:17; Luke 5:37,38). New wine would be grape juice (or a grapeade) mode from grape syrup while old wine would be 2 to 3 years old."

"Grapes were generally harvested in mid to late summer (Hopkins, "The Subsistence Struggles of Early Israel," p.186) and, to prevent spoilage in the intense heat, had to be processed immediately. Stored wine naturally fermented unless it was boiled down or kept cool, ..."

"There have been endless tirades and debates on the nature of the wine made by our Lord at the wedding in Cana (John 2:9,10). Sides are drawn not on the basis of the word oinos, but on the view of abstinence held. The issue seems to be whether or not Jesus would create fermented wine and contribute to the further inebriation of the wedding guests. (Had the wine been unfermented, it would not have had time to ferment since it was consumed immediately.) From the Septuagint usage noted above, the oinos could be fermented or unfermented. Suffice it to say, the "better" wine of course does not in any way imply or demand a more alcoholic, or even an alcoholic, wine at all (one would presume that any wine that God had made would be better than man-made wine)."

Sources: Strong 3631, Bauer 562, Moulton-Milligan 444, Kittel 5:162-66, Liddell-Scott 1207, Colin Brown 3:918,922

Thayer Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

oinos [from Homer down], Septuagent for yayin, also for tirosh (must, new wine), chemer, etc.; wine; ...

Bible Wines, by William Patton, 1871, p. 52-53


OINOS. — Biblical scholars are agreed that in the Septuagint or Greek translation of the Old Testament and in the New Testament, the word oinos corresponds to the Hebrew word yayin. Stuart says: "In the New Testament we have oinos, which corresponds exactly to the Hebrew yayin."

As both yayin and oinos are generic words, they designate the juice of the grape in all its stages.

In the Latin we have the word vinum, which the lexicon gives as equivalent to oinos of the Greek, and is rendered by the English word wine, both being generic. Here, then, are four generic words, yayinoinosvinum, and wine, all expressing the same generic idea, as including all sorts and kinds of the juice of the grape. Wine is generic, just as are the words groceries, hardware, merchandise, fruit, grain, and other words.

Dr. Frederic R. Lees, of England, the author of several learned articles in Kitto's Cyclopaedia, in which he shows an intimate acquaintance with the ancient languages, says: "In Hebrew, Chaldee, Greek, Syriac, Arabic, Latin, and English, the words for wine in all these languages are originally, and always, and inclusively, applied to the blood of the grape in its primitive and natural condition, as well, subsequently, as to that juice both boiled and fermented."

Dr. Laurie, on the contrary, says: "This word denotes intoxicating wine in some places of Scripture; therefore, it denotes the same in all places of Scripture." This not only begs the whole question, but is strange, very strange logic. We find the word which denotes the spirit often rendered wind or breath; shall we, therefore, conclude it always means wind orbreath, and, with the Sadducees, infer that there is neither angel nor spirit, and that there can be no resurrection? So, also, because the word translated heaven often means the atmosphere, and that there is no such place as a heaven where the redeemed will be gathered and where is the throne of God?

But the misery and delusion are that most readers of the Bible, knowing of no other than the present wines of commerce, which are intoxicating, leap to the conclusion, wine is wine all the world over — as the wine of our day is inebriating, therefore the wine mentioned in the Bible was intoxicating, and there was none other.

There is a perverse tendency in the human mind to limit a generic word to a particular species.

John Stuart Mill, in his System of Logic, says: "A generic term is always liable to become limited to a single species if people have occasion to think and speak of that species oftener than of anything else contained in the genus. The tide of custom first drifts the word on the shore of a particular meaning, then retires and leaves it there."

The truth of this is seen every day in the way in which the readers of the Bible limit the generic word wine to one of the species under it, and that an intoxicating wine.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, p. 881

To insist on a distinction between intoxicating and unfermented wine is a case of unjustifiable special pleading.

Barnes' Notes for John 2:10

The good wine. This shows that this had all the qualities of real wine. We should not be deceived by the phrase "good wine." We often use the phrase to denote that it is good in proportion to its strength and its power to intoxicate; but no such sense is to be attached to the word here. Pliny, Plutarch, and Horace describe wine as good, or mention that as the best wine, which was harmless or innocent--poculo vini innocentis. The most useful wine -- utilissimum vinum-- was that which had little strength; and the most wholesome wine-- saluberrimum vinum-- was that which had not been adulterated by "the addition of anything to the must or juice." Pliny expressly says that a "good wine" was one that was destitute of spirit (lib. iv. c. 13). It should not be assumed, therefore, that the "good wine" was stronger than the other: it is rather to be presumed that it was milder. The wine referred to here was doubtless such as was commonly drunk in Palestine. That was the pure juice of the grape. It was not brandied wine, nor drugged wine, nor wine compounded of various substances, such as we drink in this land. The common wine drunk in Palestine was that which was the simple juice of the grape. We use the word wine now to denote the kind of liquid which passes under that name in this country--always containing a considerable portion of alcohol --not only the alcohol produced by fermentation, but alcohol added to keep it or make it stronger. But we have no right to take that sense of the word, and go with it to the interpretation of the Scriptures. We should endeavour to place ourselves in the exact circumstances of those times, ascertain precisely what idea the word would convey to those who used it then, and apply that sense to the word in the interpretation of the Bible; and there is not the slightest evidence that the word so used would have conveyed any idea but that of the pure juice of the grape, nor the slightest circumstance mentioned in this account that would not be fully met by such a supposition. No man should adduce this instance in favour of drinking wine unless he can prove that the wine made in the" water-pots" of Cana was just like the wine which he proposes to drink. The Saviour's example may be always pleaded JUST AS IT WAS; but it is a matter of obvious and simple justice that we should find out exactly what the example was before we plead it. There is, moreover, no evidence that any other part of the water was converted into wine than that which was drawn out of the water-casks for the use of the guests. On this supposition, certainly, all the circumstances of the case are met, and the miracle would be more striking. All that was needed was to furnish a supply when the wine that had been prepared was nearly exhausted. The object was not to furnish a large quantity for future use. The miracle, too, would in this way be more apparent and impressive. On this supposition, the casks would appear to be filled with water only; as it was drawn out, it was pure wine. Who could doubt, then, that there was the exertion of miraculous power? All, therefore, that has been said about the Redeemer's furnishing a large quantity of wine for the newly-married pair, and about his benevolence in doing it, is wholly gratuitous. There is no evidence of it whatever; and it is not necessary to suppose it in order to an explanation of the circumstances of the case.

Josephus, Antiquities II.V.2

He [the cupbearer] therefore siad that in his sleep he saw three clusters of grapes hanging upon three branches of a vine, large already, and ripe for gathering; and that he squeezed them into a cup which the king held in his hand; and when he had strained the wine [oinos], and that he received it from him with a plaeasant countenance.


The word 'wine' [oinos] is ambiguous and different wines behave in different ways.

Wine in the Bible: A Biblical Study on the Use of Alcoholic Beverages by Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University, Chapter 2

[Personal note: Samuele Bacchiocchi is generally not a good source. I've debated him once in the past and found him willing to play fast and loose with definitions to "prove" his preconceptions. However, I'm including this quote because he does provide several quotes from ancient literature that can be checked and verified.]

Unfermented Grape Juice. There are ample Greek literary texts which negate the narrow definition of oinos as denoting only fermented wine. A clear example is provided by Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). In his book Metereologica, he clearly refers to "grape juice" or "must" (gleukos), as one of the kinds of wine : "For some kinds of wine [oinos], for example must [gleukos], solidify when boiled."17 In another passage of the same book, Aristotle refers to a sweet grape beverage (glukus) which "though called wine [oinos], it has not the effect of wine, for it does taste like wine and does not intoxicate like ordinary wine."18 In this text Aristotle explicitly informs us that unfermented grape juice was called "oinos—wine," though it did not have the taste or the intoxicating effect of ordinary wine.

Athenaeus, the Grammarian (about A.D. 200), explains in his Banquet that "the Mityleneans have a sweet wine [glukon oinon], what they called prodromos, and others call it protropos."19 Later on in the same book, he recommends this sweet, unfermented wine (protropos) for the dyspeptic: "Let him take sweet wine, either mixed with water or warmed, especially that kind called protropos, the sweet Lesbian glukus, as being good for the stomach; for sweet wine [oinos] does not make the head heavy."20 Here the unfermented sweet grape juice is called "lesbian—effoeminatum" because the potency or fermentable power of the wine had been removed.

The methods by which this was done will be discussed in Chapter 4, when we discuss the preservation of grape juice in the ancient world. At this juncture it is significant to note that unfermented wine was recommended for stomach problems. To this fact we shall refer again in Chapter 7, when considering the meaning of Paul’s recommendation to Timothy to "use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (1 Tim 5:23).

In another passage Athenaeus explains: "At the time of festivals, he [Drimacus the General] went about, and took wine from the field [ek ton agron oinon] and such animals for victims as were in good condition."21 As Lees and Burns observes, "No one, we suppose, can carry prejudice so far as to impose upon himself the belief that fermented and bottled wine was thus "taken from the fields.’"22

Oinos as Pressed Grape Juice. In several texts the freshly squeezed juice of the grape is denominated oinos "wine." For example, Papias, a Christian bishop of Hierapolis who lived at the close of the apostolic age, describes the current extravagant view of the millennium as a time when "vines will grow each with . . . ten thousand clusters on each twig, and ten thousand grapes in each cluster, and each grape, when crushed, will yield twenty-five jars of wine [oinos]."23

Proclus, the Platonic philosopher, who lived in the fifth century, in his annotation to Hesiod’s Works and Days, has a note on line 611 where he explains how the grapes were first exposed to the sun for ten days, then to the shade for ten days and finally "they treaded them and squeezed out the wine [oinon]."24 Here also the freshly squeezed juice of the grape is explicitly called "oinos—wine."

Several Greek papyri, discussed by Robert Teachout in his dissertation, indicate that oinos could refer to unfermented grape juice.25 A rather clear example is a papyrus from A.D. 137 which contains this statement: "They paid to the one who had earned his wages pure, fresh wine [oinon] from the vat."26

Nicander of Colophon speculates that oinos derives from the name of a man, Oineus, who first squeezed grapes into a cup: "And Oineus first squeezed it out into hollow cups and called it oinos."27 This view is supported by Melanippides of Melos who says: "Wine, my master, named after Oineus."28 These two statements suggest that some traced the origin of oinos to the very act of squeezing the juice out of grapes, first done by a man whose name, Oineus, presumably became the name of the grape juice itself.


17. Aristotle, Metereologica 384. a. 4-5.

18. Aristotle, Metereologica 388. b. 9-13. See also Metereologica 388. a. 34 which says: "There is more than one kind of liquid called wine [oinos] and different kinds behave differently. For new wine contains more earth than old, and so thickens most under the influence of heat, but solidifies less under the influence of cold." The reference to the thickening of new wine under the influence of heat implies that new wine was preserved unfermented by boiling it down. This practice, as we shall see in Chapter 4, was common among the Romans.

19. Athenaeus, Banquet 1, 54.

20. Ibid., 2, 24.

21. Ibid., 6, 89.

22. Lees and Burns (n. 4), p. 198.

23. Cited by Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5, 33, 3-4, trans. Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Apostolic Fathers (New York, 1950), p. 263.

24. Cited by Lees and Burns (n. 4), p. 433.

25. Robert P. Teachout, "The Use of ‘Wine’ in the Old Testament" (Ph.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979), p. 369.

26. P. Oxy. IV. 72919; ibid., p. 10.

27. Nicander, Georgica frag. 86, cited by Robert P. Teachout (n. 25), p. 370.

28. Cited by Athanaeus, Banquet 2. 35.

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