Friday, June 24, 2011

Jesus Is No Teetotaller

In that little Cana town, the word went all around. He turned the water into wine - er, I mean, grape juice. At least that's how Jesus' first miracle went according to the father of the bride on a recent episode of A Very Duggar Wedding. When Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding of Cana, and I quote, "That word really means grape juice. He turned that water into grape juice." How's that for a bouquet? How that was said with a straight face still escapes me. But here's the video; check it out for yourself. The quotation that got me all corked off is found at 1:26.

No dancing. No booze. That's pretty much what you would expect at a Baptist wedding; it's par for the course. Of course, it is entirely possible for one to have a smashing good time at a wedding without  dancing or booze present, provided Christians recognize the freedom of another to enjoy the fruit of the vine or the hops or the barley (or whatever your drink of choice is here and at the Lamb's banqueting table) in good conscience. The weaker brother (Romans 14:10) is a different matter altogether. When the freedom of a Christian is compromised, ultimately the Gospel is in jeopardy as well - read Galatians. And didn't David dance on his way into the Holy City? Scripture is pretty clear that there will be wine - and lots of it - in heaven, not to mention here on earth for us to enjoy. After all, Jesus did.

So, if someone demands - yea, threatens to impinge upon or deny my God-given freedom in Christ - I will put down the drink in my hand only to pick up three more. Legalism must be met with the freedom of the Gospel. And there is no better antidote to the tannin of the Pharisees than to eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners.

To be fair, I am not calling this man (whom I withhold judgment concerning his faith and presume that he is a dear Christian brother) a Pharisee. I am, however, free (in fact commanded by Scripture) to test his words about the Word to see if they are true or not. It's a classic case of turning wine into watery theology. Consider the following thoughts below:

1. The Greek word used in John 2 for "wine" is oinos (oinou, oinon and so forth). And it is used in 100s of citations between the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and the New Testament. A simple English concordance (but preferably a Greek one) will demonstrate this quite well. Now, there is a Greek word for grapes in the Bible: staphules. It appears in Matthew 7:16 among other places (Rev. 14 just to name another). But this word oinos means wine - not grape juice - just plain old, fermented fruit of the vine. And Jesus probably made some wicked good vintage, the likes of which would make Napa Valley jealous. Wine was one of the drinks of choice in ancient times. Water was not always potable, and when it was it caused diseases. Fermented wine, with the proper alcohol content reduces that risk (which is also why you shouldn't worry about contracting a disease from the chalice at communion; the little cups are far more disease prone).  This leads to the second point.

2. And this is not, strictly speaking, a Biblical argument. Any good FDA employee or nutrition expert will tell you that grape juice is impossible without two things: refrigeration and pasteurization. Both of which did not exist at the time of Jesus. The last time I read the New Testament, I don't recall hearing Jesus yell out: "Hey, Martha grab me a  nice glass of Welch's from the energy efficient refrigerator while you're in there running around preparing supper and then we'll sit down and have a nice devotion." Grape juice is no more a real fruit of the vine than Budweiser is real beer. Historically, theologically and viticulturally speaking, there is no way the house servant and the guests were drinking grape juice at Cana.

And as a sidebar, Thomas Welch loved the idea of pasteurization so much that he took Louis Pasteur's methods and applied them to grapes in order to halt the fermentation, making grape juice. Fermentation, however, is the normal course and process for the juice which flows from the pressed grape. Why would he do this you might  ask? Well, it had more to do with theology than good eating habits. Welch was a teetotaller (and a Methodist). But Jesus is not.

For, "John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds." (Matthew 11:18-19).

Clearly, some pruning shears are needed to cut back many of these theological assumptions...but let's just play along, for the sake of argument, and say that he is right. We're presented with a series of unfortunate biblical inconsistencies.

3. What about the Old Testament? You don't have to read too far into the prophets or the Psalms to find wine. Sometimes it's a mentioned in reference to sin (Noah had a few too many after the flood) and other times it gladdens men's hearts (Psalm 104), it is a messianic sign (Isaiah 55) and even a glimpse into the new creation that comes through Christ's suffering and death. For thus saith the Lord:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
   a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
    of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
   the covering that is cast over all peoples,
    the veil that is spread over all nations.

 8 He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,
   and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the LORD has spoken.
9It will be said on that day,
   "Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
   This is the LORD; we have waited for him;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation."

Amen! Now don't those words have a good finish on them? Let us, therefore, rejoice in the abundance of the earth, its fruit and food as true sustenance, joy and blessing. And let's keep moving on our wine-tasting through the Bible.

4. What about the Lord's Supper? Are we to extend this eisegesis into the rest of the New Testament as well? What evidence do we have to support grape juice as a legitimate translation? This is the biggie: if we can do this about Jesus' words with wine, why not anything else that might not fit in with our presuppositions, or theological assertions? When Jesus walked on water it wasn't really water it was ice or a rock just below the surface. When Jesus healed the lame it wasn't really a lame man, he was just faking it. When Jesus raised the widow's son at Nain, he wasn't quite dead yet. When Jesus was taken off the cross, he just fainted a little and so the heresy two-step goes. If this is our method of biblical interpretation what, if anything, is reliable and trustworthy?

5. This is very similar to Zwingli's method: alloeosis. This was his attempt at shuffling around the real presence. What Jesus really meant was, "this represents my body" for the flesh avails nothing. Also called the Bill Clinton maneuver: does is really mean is? Zwingli and Luther went back and forth on this. I highly suggest reading Luther's Marbourg Calloquy. It's like a well-aged wine. That was a good vintage year for Luther.

If Jesus' words about the Lord's Supper don't have anything to do with a real, bodily presence it's no surprise that wine and grape juice are interchangeable. In that vein, Jesus' words are fungible and malleable according to one's theological presuppositions. Errors in one article of doctrine frequently (almost always, in fact) show up in other teachings. At what point do we acknowledge that Jesus says what He means and means what He says? The Word is clear: "This is my body; this is my blood." Period. After that, changing water into wine is a piece of cake (wedding pun intended). Jesus is the true Vine - and the best vintner around - bringing His full bodied salvation in bread and wine for you. You are His branches. You can trust His Word. He is there for you in Supper just as He promised.

Let's keep the clear Word of God in teaching and keep the wine presses brimming. Sometimes a jar of wine is just a really good jar of wine. Cue the music, Johnny...

No comments:

Post a Comment