I received the following question:

The pastor of the church I attend mentioned that there is nothing wrong with drinking wine. I know what he thinks, and I’ve seen what God’s word says about wine, but I remember hearing somewhere and I’m not sure where, (I hesitate to say it, but perhaps I once heard someone quote you on this) that the wine they drank for passover did not have the same potency that wines commonly consumed today have. Do you have an article¬†written about this topic? It’s just an awkward topic, and no one really knows anything, and it’s hard to find the truth on it. Anything you could give me would be much appreciated.

Okay. Thanks for the question.

First of all, did you ever read my series on “Alcohol and the Believer”?

Secondly, you ask about the wine they drank for Passover. I do not believe they drank wine for Passover. Wine is never connected with the Passover in the Scriptures. Check it out, and you’ll find that I’m right.

The elements of the Passover that are set forth in the law are laid out in Exodus 12:8. “Then they shall eat the flesh” (of the lamb or kid) “on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.” So the first element was the fire-roasted flesh of the lamb or kid. Yes, you could have a Passover kid instead of a Passover lamb…see Exodus 12:5. In Hebrew, there is one word that means both “lamb” or “kid,” and our translators have usually rendered it “lamb.” But verse 5 shows that either one was acceptable for Passover. Then, there was the unleavened bread. Finally, there were the bitter herbs. Yet a check of the Hebrew will show that “herbs” is not in the text, but our translators have added it in as an ellipsis. The text merely says “bitters.” The translators have taken this as if it were a spice put on the lamb, but I would suggest that the “bitters” was actually the Passover cup.

What is my evidence that Passover was eaten with a bitter cup? Well, consider the fact that, when we read of Christ and His disciples keeping the Passover, we read of Christ giving Judas a morsel of the bread after He had dipped it. (John 13:26-27) What was He dipping the bread in? I believe it was the bitter cup of the Passover.

At any rate, there is no mention of any other drink to go along with the Passover, least of all wine. The only evidence for wine that anyone could bring forward is that Christ called the cup the “fruit of the vine” in Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25, and Luke 22:18. Yet there are many things that are the “fruit of the vine.” I would suggest that this could have been “sour wine” or vinegar, which is certainly the fruit of the vine. Or it could also have been regular wine soured with wormwood. In any case, it was nothing like the sweet wine or grape juice that men today attach to this ceremony. Initially, this symbolized the bitterness of the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt. In Christ’s case, it symbolized the bitter cup that He drank on our behalf. So the cup was not really wine at all, at least not sweet wine. (I would assure your pastor I have no problem with him drinking all the vinegar he wants.)

Finally, regarding the strength of wine back then. Understand that finding something pure to drink was, at that time, no easy task. The water supply was often not good, being full of microscopic creatures. Without refrigerators, things like milk or fruit juices would have spoiled quickly. Water needed to be their staple, and yet they could not trust it. Alcohol was the only preservative, and the only purifier, they really knew how to make. Not only could it be kept at room temperature for long periods of time, but it could also be used to purify water and kill off all the microorganisms. So we might say their water was purified with wine. You could still drink wine straight, of course, but in that hot climate, if you wanted to have enough to drink and yet not be drunk all the time, you had better just use the wine to purify the water, and that is what most did. Whether or not the wine was cut with water before it was even fermented is a matter of opinion. That they used wine to purify their water is, I believe, a statement of fact.