Question: "Did Jesus change the water into wine or grape juice?"
Answer: John chapter 2 records Jesus performing a miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. At the wedding, the hosts ran out of wine. Jesus' mother, Mary, asks Jesus to intervene, and He does so, reluctantly. Jesus has the servants bring six jars filled with water and then instructs the servants to give it to the overseer of the celebration. The water miraculously turns into wine, and the overseer declares that it was the best wine he had ever tasted. In this account, Jesus performed an amazing miracle, actually altering the molecular composition of the water, changing it into wine. The point of the account is summarized in John 2:11, "He thus revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him." Usually, though, when this passage is studied, a side issue becomes the main issue. Did Jesus transform the water into wine (fermented, alcoholic) or into grape juice (non-alcoholic)?
Throughout the passage, the Greek word translated "wine" is oinos, which was the common Greek word for normal wine, wine that was fermented/alcoholic. The Greek word for the wine Jesus created is the same word for the wine the wedding feast ran out of. The Greek word for the wine Jesus created is also the same word that is used in Ephesians 5:18, "...do not get drunk on wine..." Obviously, getting drunk from drinking wine requires the presence of alcohol. Everything, from the context of a wedding feast, to the usage of oinos in 1st century Greek literature (in the New Testament and outside the New Testament), argues for the wine that Jesus created to be normal, ordinary wine, containing alcohol. There is simply no solid historical, cultural, exegetical, contextual, or lexical reason to understand it to have been grape juice.
Those who oppose the drinking of alcohol, in any quantity, argue that Jesus would not have turned the water into wine, as He would have been promoting the consumption of a substance that is tainted by sin. In this understanding, alcohol itself is inherently sinful, and consumption of alcohol in any quantity is sin. That is not a biblical understanding, however. Some Scriptures discuss alcohol in positive terms. Ecclesiastes 9:7 instructs, “Drink your wine with a merry heart.” Psalm 104:14-15 states that God gives wine “that makes glad the heart of men.” Amos 9:14 discusses drinking wine from your own vineyard as a sign of God’s blessing. Isaiah 55:1 encourages, “Yes, come buy wine and milk…” From these and other Scriptures, it is clear that alcohol itself is not inherently sinful. Rather, it is the abuse of alcohol, drunkenness and/or addiction, that is sinful (Ephesians 5:18; Proverbs 23:29-35; 1 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Peter 2:19). Therefore, it would not have been a sin for Jesus to create a drink that contained alcohol.
A second, related argument is that by creating alcoholic wine, Jesus would have been promoting drunkenness, which the Bible clear identifies as sinful. This is not a valid argument. Was Jesus promoting gluttony when He multiplied the fishes and loaves far beyond what the people needed? Of course not. Creating a substance that can be abused does not make one responsible when another person foolishly chooses to abuse it. Jesus creating alcoholic wine was in no sense encouraging drunkenness.
The belief that Jesus created alcoholic wine is definitely more in agreement with the context and the definition/usage of oinos. The primary reasons for interpreting it as grape juice, that alcohol is inherently sinful or that the creation of alcohol would have been encouraging drunkenness, are unbiblical and invalid. There is simply no good biblical reason to understand John 2 as anything other than Jesus performing an amazing miracle by turning water into real wine. Is drunkenness sinful? Absolutely! Is addiction sinful? Definitely. Would Jesus turning the water into alcoholic wine in any way violate God's standards regarding the consumption of alcohol? Absolutely not!
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