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.