Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Debate over the Prohibition of Alcoholic Beverage part two

God cannot deny Himself. He cannot lie. Therefore, Scripture will not contradict itself. The Bible does not contradict itself. We always have a reasonable explanation for what might seem like a contradiction.

In the Old Testament we have the word yayin ("wine") used 134 times. What are we to think that yayin is? How are we to treat it? On the one hand Psalm 104:15 says that "yayin gladdens the heart of man." On the other hand, Proverbs 23:31 offers a prohibition, which reads: "Look not thou upon the yayin when it is red." So yayin is encouraged in Psalm 104:15 and it is prohibited in Proverbs 23:31. If yayin is the same substance in both those instances, then those two verses would contradict each other. God will not contradict Himself. So could yayin be referring to at least two different substances or have two different nuances of meaning?

A word taking on two meanings is not unusual in the Bible. If we are simply to understand that every word has one meaning, we will have trouble with getting a right interpretation of scripture. For instance, Romans 3:28 says, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." Romans 4:2 authenticates this truth about justification: "For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God." And yet we read in James 2:21 this rhetorical question: "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?" There is either a contradiction between Romans 4:2 and James 2:21 or we must understand the meaning of "justified" in two different ways. They are the same Greek word (dikaiao), just like we have the same Hebrew word yayin in Psalm 104:15 and Proverbs 23:31. The meaning of the word must be determined by the context. In the case of Romans 4:2 the word dikaiao means "to be declared righteous" and in James 2:21 it means, "to be vindicated." Abraham was declared righteous (justified) by faith and he was vindicated (justified) by works. We see an exegetical distinction between the two words, though both translated "justified."

I could give several more examples of how that the same word in the Bible has several different meanings or understandings dependent upon its context or usage. So often we must determine the meaning of words based upon their context or usage. Certain words can mean different things. This is the case with the word yayin. In order to harmonize two passages that contradict each other, we must consider whether there are two different meanings of a word. Often in a dictionary, you will find that one word can have four or five or more varied meanings depending upon how it is used.

This is exactly the case when we study out the word translated "wine" in scripture. It is not always the exact same kind of beverage. If it were always exactly the same beverage, we would take what is called a "one wine" view. We can see by looking at Psalm 104:15 and Proverbs 23:31 that the word has different meanings dependent especially upon its immediate context. Therefore, we believe that there are at least two meanings to the word "wine." This has often been titled the "two wine" view. I actually think that the word "wine" is used in even more ways than just two ways. It might actually be a "three wine" position or even more.

Now as we look at Proverbs 23:31, this becomes even more clear. Read the whole verse:

Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.

The verse gives a prohibition: "Look not thou upon the wine." If we stopped with that prohibition, none of us should think that we could ever look upon wine. Yayin would be prohibited completely in scripture. That's not the case though. So what Solomon does here is that he distinguishes this particular yayin from another understanding or even a contrasting idea of the word yayin. In this instance, there are several qualifiers for the word yayin to distinguish from another kind of yayin. There are three differentiating qualities to this yayin:

"when it is red"

"when it giveth his colour in the cup"

"when it moveth itself aright"

All of three of those distinctions of this yayin are describing the same characteristic of this yayin. There is a specific reason why these descriptions are given. Solomon wants us to know that this is a particular kind of yayin that we are prohibited from even looking at. It is still yayin though. If all yayin were the same, there would be no need for these three qualifiers.

What does Solomon mean with these three descriptives? At that time in history there was no word for "alcoholic" in the ancient languages. No qualifying adjective like "alcoholic" was in existence. Because of that, Solomon distinguished this yayin from non-alcoholic yayin with descriptive phrases of alcohol. The particular yayin that Solomon was writing about was "red." There are actually two words in the first qualifying phrase, the particle ki, meaning "when" and then a verb, adem, which is hithpael, imperfect, meaning "it makes itself red." In the qal, this verb has the understanding of "to be red," but in the hithpael it has a reflexive meaning so should be understood as "to make itself red." Grapes themselves are already red. Solomon is not prohibiting the looking at yayin when it is its natural red. Yayin doesn't make itself that color; it just is that color. He isn't distinguishing red wine from white wine. He is prohibiting the gazing at yayin when "it makes itself red."

What is it when yayin "makes itself red"? In the near previous context, we see "redness of eyes" related to drinking this beverage. Since no word existed that meant "alcoholic," some characteristic of the drinking of this beverage was used to describe the beverage itself. Drinkers of alcohol will develop red eyes and a red nose. Solomon is prohibiting the looking at yayin when it has made itself alcoholic. Yayin, pressed grapes, makes itself alcoholic. Yeast on the surface of the skin consumes the sugar and produces alcohol. It is fitting that the hithpael is used here to describe what has actually happened in making yayin alcoholic, that is, making it red. This understanding is authenticated in rabbinic literature. The Talmud says that "red" doesn't speak of the color of the yayin, but of the faces of the drinking men.

The other two descriptive phrases corroborate this first adjectival phrase. One of the meanings of the word translated "color" ('ayin) is "sparkle," so "when it gives sparkle." "Sparkle" is a description of yayin, that when it becomes alcoholic, it sparkles in the cup. This yayin is also moving, that is, effervescent or bubbly. Alcoholic wine today is often called "sparkling." These two combine to describe yayin that is alcoholic in its sparkle and movement.

The verses surrounding verse 31 explain why it is that alcoholic yayin is prohibited. It causes all sorts of sinning and the consequential problems and difficulties. The drinking of it is very destructive. The debilitating results of this drink offer further argumentation for why not even to look at it, let alone drink it.

If all yayin were alcoholic, these elaborate descriptors would not be necessary to distinguish this yayin as alcoholic. There was no word for alcoholic in ancient writings, so these types of adjectival phrases were employed to distinguish the yayin in this context as alcoholic. Proverbs 23:31 forbids even looking at yayin when it is alcoholic. This verse prohibits drinking all alcoholic yayin.

Here is the tale of two yayins. One yayin is non-alcoholic. It is encouraged. It can make your heart glad (Psalm 104:15). Why? It refreshes thirst. It provides nourishment. It represents that result of a very good farming season. We can be glad that God has provided a good crop of grapes once again. God has given us gladness with more of this delightful beverage for another year. Something we should never take for granted.

Another yayin is alcoholic. This yayin possesses negative characteristics (v. 29). This yayin takes you down the wrong direction (Proverbs 23:30). This yayin yields horrible results (Proverbs 23:32-35). It is the viper's poison. No one would be encouraged to drink viper's poison even in moderation.

More to come on this subject.


Don Johnson said...

Kent, I think you are going about this wrong. No one denies that yayin in Pr 23 is alcoholic. What you have to prove is that yayin in Ps 104.15 is not alcoholic. I don't know of any passage where you can clearly exegete that definition. To simply assume that it is not alcoholic if the context gives no tip-offs doesn't make the grade.

What I am looking for in work of this sort is a clear passage where yayin cannot mean anything other than something that is non-alcoholic. (Or oinos would be fine also.) I don't know of any such passage.

Thus, I think we have to argue our view from different premises. I would like you to be able to prove two wine, but this one just doesn't do it.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

reglerjoe said...

I hope your series deals with Deu. 14:26. I am a prohibitionist, and I scratch my. head at that verse. All of the typical prohibitionist literature that I have read has discussed the verses you've mentioned, but I have yet to read an explanation of Deu. 14:26 - a verse the moderationists tend to mention as a check-mate move.

Looking forward to the rest of the series.

Kent Brandenburg said...

First Joe, only because it is an easier question. I'll deal with shekar and shakar in a later post, which is to deal with Deut 14:26.

Second, Don.

I'm not done with yayin, but I believe this exegetical argument checkmates one wine, unless scripture contradicts itself. If Proverbs 23:31 prohibits alcoholic wine, then Psalm 104:15 cannot be alcoholic wine, unless scripture contradicts itself, and it doesn't. We can't turn to Psalm 104:15 as positive about alcohol if Proverbs 23:31 prohibits it, which it does.

Further evidence is coming though. I think that Proverbs 23:31 is the perfect place to start because it is clearly alcoholic wine and it is plainly being prohibited. That is going to alter the way we look at every other usage of yayin.

Kent Brandenburg said...

One more thing, for scripture not to contradict, due to the Proverbs 23:31 text, all alcoholic wine is bad and all non-alcoholic is good. The place where we know it is alcoholic it is said to be always bad when alcoholic. We can interpret the rest in light of this one text.

Gary Webb said...

Here is one verse that requires that yayin refers to a non-alcoholic juice: Isaiah 16:10. "Treaders" do not tread out fermented wine; they tread out juice.
For the word tirosh, Isaiah 65:8 demand juice, because the juice in a grape in a cluster cannot ferment.
All the passages that associate wine with the harvest & the winepress would refer to non-alcoholic juice.
Of course, in the NT passages like Luke 5:37 indicate that the wine put into the "bottles" was just juice, but then it began to ferment & expand & therefore break the "bottles" (wineskins).
There is your scriptural proof.

Lisa said...

I find this extremely interesting Kent. I am no Bible scholar...nor can I just take up the greek language or even study it. I am an average wife and mother of 3 who is absoulutely in love with Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. The 2 different wine theory honestly makes so much sense to me because I just cannot wrap my mind around the fact that God would encourage anyone to drink anything that would intoxicate their mind even in the slightest bit! If it was not a big deal why didn't he turn the water in the barrels into fermented alcohol. Why make it to where they couldn't become intoxicated. I don't buy the drink a little for good health. There are other ways to stay healthy. If I am wrong on this theory and what I seem to find in scripture...and God does commend or ok alcohol, the verse that talks about not causing others to stumble comes to mind. We live in a day and age that alcohlism is off the charts. Daily families are losing spouses and children to drunk driving or alcohol related issues. My Aunt was just killed last month by a man that was already wanted for killing another woman drunk. My husband lost an uncle for the same reason. Teens drinking is rising day by day....My point is in all this is we live in a day and age where our culture is embracing alcohol and to no end it is warping our nation. We are not of this world nor should we embrace the things of this world. If we cause 1 person 1 person to stumble in this area we have sinned not only against the person but against God. If we lived in any other age maybe this issue would not be such a hot topic but we don't live back in the days of Christ. Things have changed. People change and even Christians have to change...however God's word NEVER changes! I don't understand why christians are so persistant to keep alcohol apart of their life. What if it causes one person , whether they have alcohol issues are not or whether you know them personally or even come into contact with them to turn away from the cross because of your witness. Is it not worth it to just let go of ever sipping another glass of wine. We have to reach the lost. We need to show them that their are better things out their than a drink that will only open doors for the enemy to come in and kill steal and destroy. Again I am not a bible scholar or a debater. I strictly rely on the Holy Spirit and the word of God.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I agree with Brother Webb on his comments. Good. I'm coming back with some stuff on this in part 3.


Thanks. Very good points you made. I'm glad you love Jesus too!

Don Johnson said...

Hi all,

Just in after a long day of travel.

For the record, I agree with your conclusions. I am a prohibitionist actually. I think our government should bring it back. (I'm not holding my breath.)

However, I don't agree with the reasoning by which you arrive at the conclusions.

First, Kent:

One could argue that the wine being described in Pr 23 is undiluted wine, which is why colour is an issue. One could also argue that the context is clearly talking about drunkenness, tarrying long at the wine, etc, so it is that usage that is under prohibition.

My objection to using this argument is that it will not satisfy the critics since it can be argued another way.

For the two-wine theory to be convincing, we need clear examples in the Bible that show the word yayin or oinos being used to designate that which is clearly not alcoholic wine.

Second, Gary:

Isa 16.10 is a possible verse for the two-wine theory, but I don't think it is conclusive. (In other words, I am not throwing it out altogether.) The reason I think it is not conclusive is because there is a tendency to use terms referring to an end product to apply to substances used in the process of production. For example, the wine vat or wine press is so called because wine begins its production in those implements, even though what is actually contained in those implements is almost entirely juice at that point. Thus, though the juice just having been trodden is mostly just juice, it can be called wine because that is where it is headed. This is a normal use of language.

Do you see what I am saying? I am not trying to quibble here, simply to note that this passage is inconclusive because of the way language can be used.

The verse could be a supporting verse, but not a conclusive verse. We need something more solid than that.

The Isa 65.18 passage involves tirosh, as you note. As such I think it is largely irrelevant. If I recall correctly, only one use of tirosh is clearly negative. The others could refer to juice, as this one does.

However, tirosh is very little used, especially compared to yayin (and oinos in the NT). So to me bringing tirosh into the discussion is irrelevant.

As for Luke 5.37, sorry, but the fermentation process is well started by the time the stuff is being put in wineskins. It may not be as potent as it will get, but it is already started.

Now, please remember, I am in agreement with your conclusions and application. No wine, no beer, no hard liquor, no alcohol at any time (except perhaps medicinal use like nyquil). But I don't think that the two-wine argument is convincing.

So my argument is established on different grounds, but no less exegetical.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...


I had the entire post above finished (part three) before I posted your comment. And when I use the word "stupid," which I decided to keep there, I'm thinking of moderationists attempting to protect their drinking.