Question: What is the difference between new wine and fermented wine? Please explain John 2:1-10 and 1 Timothy 5:23.
The primary difference between “new wine” and “fermented wine” is that the former is produced by a vine and the latter by a process, Isaiah 65:8 “Thus saith the Lord, as new wine is found in the cluster…” In this verse “new wine” is unfermented grape juice, i.e. that which is found in the cluster. But, how does one determine when the word “wine” means unfermented juice or fermented wine? In the Old Testament, the word “wine” is translated from two Hebrew words e.g. Tirosh and Yayin. Tirosh is translated “wine” 26 times, “new wine” 11 times and “sweet wine” once. From these references it is evident that Tirosh is used to denote an unfermented drink, or the juice of the grape. The word Yayin is the most common word translated “wine”. It is a generic word and may refer to wine in its fermented or unfermented state. It is associated with drunkenness some 30 times and is condemned in over 60 other references. Another word (Shekar), also generic, usually translated “strong drink” originally referred to “liquor obtained from dates or other fruits” (grapes excepted). It is associated with Yayin in nearly all cases. Thus it becomes evident that it is impossible to determine whether a fermented or unfermented drink is indicated based solely of the use of the English word “wine.” This determination must be made by looking at the original word along with the context in which the word is used. New wine, found in the cluster is unfermented. The vine does not produce an intoxicating drink. In order for us to have intoxicating wine, the process of fermentation must take place. When the process is completed, we not longer have the “new wine” (Isaiah 65:8). Just what effect does fermentation have on “new wine”? Ferrar Fenton, in his book, (The Bible and Wine p. 16-17 and 22) says “Gluten, Gum, and Aroma,” are removed when the fruit of the vine is changed by fermentation. And “alcohol, acetic Acid, Enanthic Ether, Extractive, Succinic Acid, Glycerin, and Bouquet” are added. “Thus it will be seen that by a triple process of destruction, addition, and abstraction (the result of fermentation) grape juice loses all the essential qualities of the fruit of the vine…” In the New Testament the word “Gleukos is used only in Acts 2:13 and, according to Thayer, means “sweet juice pressed from the grape”, or unfermented grape juice. The Greek word Oinos is translated “wine” in all 33 places where it’s used in the New Testament. It is a generic word that can mean grape juice or fermented wine. In at least one translation of the Old Testament into Greek, Oinos was used to translate both Itorosh and Yayin, but never Shekar. Again, it is necessary to study the context to determine the exact meaning of the word. Conclusion: New wine, i.e. wine in the cluster, is unfermented; it is the pure blood or juice of the grape, whereas fermented wine is the product of a process (fermentation) rather than the product of a vine. John 2:1-10 Scholars are divided over the kind of wine produced by Jesus in this miracle. Albert Barnes went to great lengths to prove that the wine was unfermented and concluded by saying, “No man should adduce this instance in favor of drinking wine unless he can prove that the wine made in the water pots of Cana was just like the wine which he proposes to drink.” The Greek word translated wine is Oinos, a generic word that may mean fermented or unfermented wine; hence we must rely upon the context to determine its meaning here. The real question would seem to center around the moral implications of Christ producing, by miracle, intoxicating wine to be distributed to the guests, when throughout the Bible such beverages are condemned and prohibited (Ephesians 5:18-21, 1 Timothy 3:8, Romans 14:21-23, Proverbs 4:17; 23:29-30). There are a number of commentators and ancient writers who understood the drink here in John 2 to be unfermented. “All who know of the wines then used, well understand the unfermented juice of the grape. The present wines of Jerusalem and Lebanon, as we tasted them, were commonly boiled and sweet,
without intoxication qualities, such as we here get in liquors called wines. The boiling prevents fermentation. Those were esteemed best wines which were least strong” (Dr. Jacobus, Bible Wines or The Laws of Fermentation by William Patton). Patton also quotes a number of ancient writers that concur in this conclusion on pp 76-77 of his book. Ferrar Fenton in his book, The Bible and Wine quotes from ancient Roman sources to prove that “the ordinary drink of the Romans, was juice of the grape, which they mixed with water, both hot and cold.” This drink was made from “mustum” which was grape juice boiled down into a thick like molasses and stored in jars for future use. On the other side of the issue are those who believe this wine in John 2 was a wine of low alcohol content that was common during that time period. Of these writers none that we read believe that such gives permission for people to use alcoholic beverages today. In the final analysis the Bible student must draw his conclusion, as to the kind of wine used here, based on the general tenor of the scriptures relating to the use of wine and the facts of the miracle as they are given in this account. 1 Timothy 5:23 In this verse wine is from Oinos, the generic word, meaning that the drink could be either fermented or unfermented. If it is fermented, then Paul is merely recommending to Timothy that he drink “a little wine” for its medicinal value, nothing more. Fenton contends that “stomach wine” or “wine for the stomach” was, according to Greek medicine, a grape-juice prepared as a thick, unfermented syrup, for use as a medicament for dyspeptic and weak persons. For anyone to conclude that Paul intended to condone the use of fermented wine as a beverage, stretches the verse beyond its contextual application.