When Jesus turned water into wine, was the wine alcoholic?
The gospel of John gives a brief description of the first miracle performed by Jesus – changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John1:1-10). The actual site of Cana is contested, but it is no more than a half day’s walk north of Nazareth. The extended family of Joseph and Mary may have included, say, a cousin who lived at Cana or possibly it was a sister of Jesus (Matthew 13:55-56) who was being married to a man of Cana. In any case, the Jewish wedding was essentially a family affair and could have lasted several days.
During this time and between the feasts there were games and riddles and vigorous dancing to music – not as couples but as groups – while throughout, it was an opportunity for the two families to get to know each other. The legal aspects of the marriage included the exchange of vows, the bride price and the blessing – all before witnesses. The first feast then began, and at this point the groom took his bride to the Chuppah – or wedding canopy – after which they returned to the feast as man and wife. Of course, as the gospel account tells us, wine was served throughout the occasion and, while we are not told, some Christians vigorously insist that it was unfermented (i.e., grape juice).
Scripture does speak about certain godly people who abstained from drinking fermented wine or “strong drink” – those who had taken a Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:2-21), Hannah in prayer (I Samuel 1:15), the wife of Manosh (Judges 13:2-4), the Rechabites (Jeremiah 35:2), and finally, John the Baptist (Luke 1:15). However, while this may be good advice for Christians, it does not mean that the miraculous conversion of the water by Jesus produced unfermented wine.
In the first place, this was not a Christian wedding – no one yet believed in Him, including His own brothers (John 7:1-50), while, of course, He had not yet been to the cross. No, it was a Jewish wedding in a hot country where some alcohol is necessary to preserve the flavor of the grape. The remarks of the master of the feast – “The good wine has been kept until now” – are unfortunately not helpful. Either the first natural batch of unfermented grape juice was deteriorating in flavor, then replaced by the supernatural batch, or the first batch was fermented and so was the second but was of better quality. Bottom line: We do not know.
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