Robert Stein’s article Wine Drinking in New Testament Times was published in the June 20, 1975 issue of Christianity Today. Some prohibitionists consider Stein’s article an important source establishing that wine in biblical times was so diluted that it bears little resemblance to modern alcoholic beverages. The article can still be obtained easily through inter-library loan. I had a copy less than a week after submitting my request to my local public library.
“It Bears The Three Parts Well”
The article never mentions that wine in the time and culture discussed was concentrated. The wine was a thick syrup that was too sweet to drink without first diluting it. After dilution it was closer to what we think of as wine today. Although this is not mentioned in the article, it is hinted at by a couple of quotes contained in the article. First, a character from a play by Aristophanes is quoted to say, “Zeus! But it’s sweet and bears the three parts well!” Second, in a discussion about the Talmud the article states “One tractate (Shabbath 77a) states that wine that does not carry three parts of water well is not wine.” Both of these indicate that a concentrated syrup is under discussion. After being diluted three parts water to one part wine it THEN was a drinkable beverage. Before dilution, it was too thick, sweet, and strong. A wine that was not concentrated, or insufficiently concentrated, would not “bear the three parts well.”
Try an experiment. Go to the grocery store and buy one eight ounce can of concentrated orange juice and one half-gallon of ordinary orange juice. Take them home and get down two pitchers. In the left pitcher, mix one can of concentrated orange juice with three cans of water. In the right pitcher, mix one can (using the now empty concentrated orange juice can) of ordinary orange juice with three cans of water. Pour yourself a glass from each pitcher, and take a drink from each. Which one do you think bears the three parts well?
I have other issues with the article which I may address in the future.