Did Jesus Turn Water Into Alcoholic Wine?
Did Jesus really turn water into wine? The answer is unequivocally “yes”. But that is not what we generally want to know about this text. We want to know whether Jesus turned water into fermented, alcoholic wine. There are several problems with taking this interpretation:
First, many Christians who justify from John 2 the consumption of alcoholic beverages of today are unprepared to take this argument to its logical conclusion. If Jesus did indeed produce alcoholic wine, not only would it be morally right to drink it, it would also be morally right to produce it, sell it, serve it, and even bank a living from it. But this is further than many are prepared to go because that would absolutely and undeniably cause others to stumble.
Secondly, John 2:6 tells us that Jesus filled 6 stone water pots 20 to 30 gallons each to the brim. That is 120 to 180 gallons of wine. If He truly made alcoholic wine, we’re no longer in the realm of “temperate” consumption and social drinking – it’s a binge.
Third, John 2:10 tells us that Jesus made this wine after they were “well drunk” or had “drunk freely” where they would not have been able to detect poorer wine had it been served afterwards. If we’re to assume, as many do, that this means they were well on their way to being inebriated, than the fact that Jesus prepared 120 – 180 gallons means that He used His first miracle to contribute further to their intoxication (Hab 2:15). Is this consistent with the sinless nature of our Lord?
Fortunately, there is a more reasonable view to consider as it pertains to our Lord’s first miracle that does not propose as many problems. The evidence is considerable that Jesus actually produced nonalcoholic, unfermented wine of the highest quality.
First, the term “wine” in biblical times could refer to fermented or unfermented drink. Part of the problem with interpreting John 2 correctly is that we assume it was alcoholic wine merely because wine in our day exclusively refers to an alcoholic beverage. But when we use the term “church” today, we typically refer to the building in which Christians assemble. Yet in the bible, the term “church” always refers to people. The Greek word for “church” is “ekklesia” and literally means a people “called out”. Words can change meaning over time. Despite how the term "wine" is used today, bible wine could refer to an unfermented beverage (Isa 16:10; 65:8; Jer 48:33; Lam 2:11-12). Therefore, we must approach John 2 with this possibility in mind and let the inferences we derive from the context and not our current culture teach us its proper interpretation.
Second, it is more plausible to assume that the phrase “well drunk” or “drunk freely” is similar to what Economics calls, “The Law of Diminished Marginal Utility”. If you eat a piece of cake, it tastes good. If you eat a second piece, it is diminished in its ability to satisfy you. If you eat a third piece, you probably could have done without it. By the fourth piece, you might start feeling sick. In other words, the more you have of something, the less you appreciate it. It is more plausible that this is what the head waiter is referring to, that the more you drink of something the less you care what it tastes like simply because your taste buds have become saturated.
Third, the wine Jesus made was of the highest quality. It was “good wine” (John 2:10). Historical writings provide evidence that the best wine of biblical days was nonalcoholic. Pliny the Younger said, “The most useful wine has all its force or strength broken by the filter.” Plutarch said, “Wine is rendered feeble in strength when it is frequently filtered. The strength or spirit thus being excluded, the wine neither inflames the brain nor infests the mind and passions, and is much more pleasant to drink.”
Fourth, turning water into unfermented juice of the grape would have been the better miracle. This wedding was right before Passover (John 2:13) which was right before the time when the first grapes of the season were about to be harvested; only old wine remained. The reference to
Jesus’ wine as “good wine” indicates fresh grape juice before the first harvest and would have been an evident wonder of God when it was tasted this late in the year just before Passover.
Finally, it is inconceivable to suggest that Jesus provided these Jews with 120 – 180 gallons of substance that the bible says mocks, destroys, leads to poverty, woes, sorrows, contentions, babblings, worries without cause, impairs judgment, inflames passions, and enslaves. If Jesus did that, He sinned. If He sinned, that disqualifies Him from being the unblemished Lamb of God. Are we prepared to take that stance concerning the Lord? Did the one who spoke so strongly against stumbling blocks (Luke 17:1-2) become one Himself? Fortunately, Christians have a Savior in whom we need offer no apologies.