Wine and Strong Drink


There are several words used for wine in the Bible.

a. יַ֫יִן, H3516. This is the usual word for the fermented juice of the grape and is generally rendered “wine” in RSV and KJV. It is used 141 times in the OT, appears in the cognate languages, but perhaps is not of Sem. origin. The Gr. equivalent is οἰ̂νος, G3885.

b. תִּירוֹשׁ, H9408. The usual tr. of this word is “wine,” but RSV and KJV occasionally render it “new wine,” which is its actual meaning. It was a specific reference to comparatively fresh grape juice which was not fully aged. References to tirōsh indicate that when incontinently used it was intoxicating. Hosea 4:11 says that both “yăyĭn and tirōsh take away the understanding” (cf. Judg 9:13; Acts 2:13). The LXX renders the word tirōsh by oinos.

d. עָסִיס, H6747. This is a poetical synonym for tirōsh, but is derived from the root “to crush, to press.” Like tirōsh it was intoxicating as in Isaiah 49:26 where the prophet says the oppressors of Israel, “shall be drunk with their own blood as with 'äsis.

Mixed wine.

There was also yăyĭn hä-rěḵäh, “spiced wine” Song of Solomon. This represented a variety of wines referred to as mixed or mingled wine. They were prepared with different kinds of herbs after the manner of the non-Israelite peoples of the Near E and were much more intoxicating than the regular wine. This fact made it popular at banquets and festive occasions (Prov 9:2, 5). The Biblical injunctions against its use are clear (Prov 23:29, 30). When wine was mixed with myrrh, it was used as a drug for its anaesthetic and stupefying effects. It was this that was offered to Jesus at the time of His crucifixion (Matt 27:34; Mark 15:23). The rabbinical writers refer to several mixtures of wine, which were known in Pal. and throughout the Near E. There was a mixture made of old wine with very clear water and balsam, which was used esp. after bathing. There was a raisin wine and a wine mixed with a sauce of oil and garum. A popular mixed wine was that mixed with honey and pepper, and recommended by the rabbis was a special emetic wine taken before a meal. There were many other mixtures of wine. Good vinegar was made by mixing barley in the wine.

Biblical attitudes to the use of wine.

There is no direct or absolute prohibition of the use of wine in the NT. The moderate and appropriate use of wine is recommended to Timothy by Paul, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim 5:23). The intemperate use of wine is condemned in the NT just as it is in the OT. The Christian should “not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery” (Eph 5:18). Christians should avoid living like non-Christians who are characterized as practicing drunkenness among their other vices (1 Pet 4:3). Leaders in the church are exhorted to practice temperance (1 Tim 3:3, 8). On one occasion Paul suggests total abstinence, if the use of wine even in moderation is a stumbling block to another (Rom 14:21).

Viticulture in Palestine.

The grapes were brought from the vineyards in baskets and were usually spread out for a few days in the sun, the effect of which was to increase their sugar content. The grapes were then placed in wine vats and trodden with bare feet. It seems to have been usual for several people to tread out the grapes together which is the point of Isaiah’s statement about the Messiah treading the wine press alone (Isa 63:3). The usual wine vat consisted of three sections, two rectangular or circular rock-hewn pits at different levels connected with a channel. The upper pit was the larger one and here the grapes were trodden, the juice accumulating in the lower vat. The upper vat was usually twice the size in area as the lower, but only about half as deep. The wine vats varied in size. Even after the appearance of mechanical wine presses the wine from trodden grapes was preferred and continued to be produced.

After the grapes were trodden, the husks that remained were pressed by means of a wooden plank, one end of which was secured to a socket in the side of the vat and the other end weighted with stones. Numbers of wine presses from Bible times have been discovered in the Holy Land and they vary in size and the number of vats. A wine press might have as many as four vats. The additional vats would allow for the settling of the “must” in the intermediate levels before the wine entered the final one. Usually the new wine was left in the vat to undergo the first fermentation which took from four to seven days. It was then drawn off (Hag 2:16, lit. “baled out”). If the vat had a spout the wine was run off into jars or wineskins to complete the process of fermentation (Matt 9:17). The whole period of fermentation would last from two to four months when the wine would be ready for use. It would then be placed in smaller jars and skins. At this time the wine was strained through an earthenware, metal, or linen strainer to eliminate such things as grit and insects. Isaiah refers to this straining process when he mentions “wine on the lees well refined” (Isa 25:6; cf. Matt 23:24).

To aid in further maturing the wine and to guard against undesirable thickening on the lees it was periodically poured from one vessel to another. Jeremiah has an allusion to this practice, “Moab has been at ease from his youth and has settled on his lees; he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile; so his taste remains in him, and his scent is not changed” (Jer 48:11; cf. Zeph 1:12). When the wine was refined and ready to be stored for long periods of time it was poured in jars lined with pitch which were sealed and placed in the “wine cellers” (1 Chron 27:27). There apparently were no attempts made to preserve wine in an unfermented state. The Mishna, for example, does not refer to any such attempts. Some scholars are of the opinion that unfermented wine was impossible in ancient times in Pal.

Uses of wine in the Biblical world.

The use of wine has been a part of religious ceremonies and festive occasions in the Jewish home and in the synagogue throughout Heb. history. Viticulture soon became the most important agricultural activity in Pal. in the colonies established by Zionism. The cellars of the Rothchilds at Rishon le-Ziyyon controlled almost the entire produce of the Zionist colonies and was distributed through the Carmel Wine Company in all parts of Europe, Russia, and the United States. The 1904 vintage in the Rothchild cellars was more than 7,000,000 bottles of which 200,000 went to Warsaw. The income of this trade in wine was of primary importance for the early economy of the Jewish homeland. During the period of prohibition in the United States (1920-1933) the production and sale of wine for sacramental purposes was permitted by the federal government. Orthodox rabbis insisted upon the use of wine although Conservative and Reform rabbis in the country held on the basis of Talmudic law, that for Jewish ritual grape juice could be used instead of wine.


M. Jastrow, Jr., “Wine in the Pentateuchal Codes,” JAOS, XXXIII (1913), 180-192; H. F. Lutz, Viticulture and Brewing in the Ancient Orient (1922); A. C. Haddad, Palestine Speaks (1936), 60-67.