Jesus Turns Water Into Wine

Why did Jesus turn the water into wine?

I suspect the questioner has a little more in mind than this. The question is not one of what was the motivation of Jesus to turn the water into wine, but rather, why is it that Jesus chose wine as the beverage into which to turn the water and is this the same kind of beverage that we speak about today when we talk about wine? This is a good question. Did Jesus turn water into alcoholic wine?

It cannot be correctly assumed just from a glance at the word wine in John 2:1-11 that this necessarily refers to an alcoholic beverage. Those who do so ignore the greater context of scripture and how this word is used in the ancient world. Sometimes it is used to refer to intoxicating beverages such as in Isaiah 5:11.

“Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!”

However, sometimes it is used to refer to the fresh squeezed juice of the grape such as in Proverbs 3:9-10

“Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.”

What comes out of the “wine press?” Does it come out as an alcoholic beverage? No. It comes out as grape juice, which must subsequently be processed and fermented in order to make alcohol. But the Bible describes this fresh juice of the grape as “new wine.” Notice also Matthew 9:17

“Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.”

The very concept of “new wine” here is the unfermented type because the process of putting it into bottles is what causes the fermentation and the subsequent stretching of the wineskin. Wine in these contexts refers to non-alcoholic beverages.

So how can we know what Jesus made in John 2? Simply understanding the fact that the word wine could be used to describe a non-alcoholic beverage does not necessarily establish the facts of the case. At this point all we know was that it could possibly have been non-alcoholic wine. How do we come to the conclusion about what type of “wine” this was? First, we must look at the immediate context. Notice what the governor of the feast said concerning the quality of the wine in John 2:10

“Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.”

This man, after having “well drunk” of the previous wine was still able to discern the difference between the wine that had formerly been served and the wine that Jesus created. If the wine were alcoholic, then he would not be able to discern the difference at all. The first thing that alcohol impairs in the mind is the sense of judgment and after having “well drunk” of alcohol this man should not be able to discern the appearance of the person in front of him, much less the quality of two different types of drink. Yet, he can discern between the two. This indicates that the wine was of the non-alcoholic sort.

The extended Biblical context makes this clear as well. In Proverbs 20:1 we read

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”

In Habakkuk 2:15 we read,

“Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!”

Jesus knew the Old Testament scriptures better than anyone alive. Would he knowingly violate those scriptures to satisfy the festive spirit of his fellow man? Would he do something upon which the Holy Spirit himself had pronounced a woe? Could Jesus cause someone to be drunk with wine and remain sinless? Such would be contradictory to what Jesus’ purpose was upon the earth, namely, causing another person to sin while preaching that men ought not to sin? Rather than face this extremely problematic situation by saying that Jesus created alcoholic wine, it is much more consistent with the life of Jesus to say that he made a non-alcoholic wine in this context.

Finally, what do we make of the statement of the governor of the feast that this was “good wine?” Again, the phrase “good wine” was used to describe not only intoxicating beverages but non-intoxicating ones as well. In Ancient Rome, a man named Columella wrote regarding horticulture of the day. He has extensive information on the different wines that were used during that time period. He describes one of these “wines” in book three of his twelve-volume work “On Agriculture.” He says regarding a particular good wine that it was inert, non-intoxicating, not harmful, ineffectual on the nerves. So it was within their custom to categorize both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages made from grapes under the same classification of “wine.” Moreover, even “good wine” can, according to the ancients, refer to something that is non-alcoholic. So, when Jesus turns water into wine it He does so in a way that is consistent with the character of God and is beneficial for man.

See also:

Kevin Cauley is the author of No Apologies: A Logical Approach to the Study of Apologetics... and the pulpit minister for the" New Boston church of Christ. Visit his blog titled Scripture & Thought.

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