Wine was a common commodity in Jewish life. It was a major agricultural product in Palestine. Solomon traded wine for timber (2 Chronicles 2:10, 15). Wine was used in worship when sacrificing a lamb (Numbers 15:6-7). Wine was also used as a beverage. Whenever one discusses a Christian view on drinking, the question arises, “Was the wine of Bible times the beverage we know today?”
The Scriptures always condemn drunkenness. In our day there is much disagreement about the freedom of the believer to drink alcoholic beverages. Many refer to Paul’s admonition to young Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:23 to “drink a little wine for your stomach’s sake,” as proof that it is perfectly acceptable for the Christian to imbibe.
Several kinds of wine are mentioned in the Bible. One was a strong, high alcohol drink that quickly caused its drinker to get intoxicated. Another kind of wine, called gleukos, was called new wine, and was very sweet and quickly fermented. This was the wine that the apostles were accused of drinking on Pentecost (Acts 2: 13).
The most common wine in the Bible is a third type which was made from boiling grape juice down to a heavy syrup. This allowed it to be preserved in a day when refrigeration was unknown. The New Testament word for this kind of wine is oinos, and the word simply means “juice of grapes.” This syrup would be reconstituted with water to make a beverage, or was used as a spread on bread and pastries. It was nonalcoholic, or at least nearly so.
Even the strong alcoholic wine made in biblical times was diluted with water as much as twenty-to-one before drinking. if one assumes naturally fermented wine with an alcohol content of eleven percent, the strongest wine normally consumed in Bible times was mixed in a three-to-one water/wine ratio, that wine would have an alcohol content of around 2.75 percent. This is a far cry from the wine commonly sold for consumption today. So the wine of Bible times is not comparable to today’s commonly used undiluted wine.
One must also remember that in many areas of the world, water supplies were contaminated with bacteria. Mixing wine with water actually helped purify the water and made it fit to drink. Most likely this is why Paul advised Timothy to drink some wine; wine also helped to medicate him in a limited way. Many available alternatives today exist so that it is unnecessary to drink alcohol except in the most extreme circumstances. Those who practice total abstinence from alcoholic beverages will never know drunkenness.