PedanticDan  Dansplaining The Bible

June 15, 2006

Wine Distinct From Strong Drink

Filed under: Booze In The Bible — Tags: , , , , , — PedanticDan @ 11:14 pm

In Robert Stein’s article mentioned previously, he said “The ratio of water might vary, but only barbarians drank it unmixed, and a mixture of wine and water of equals parts was seen as ‘strong drink’ and frowned upon.” A bit later he says, “In several instances in the Old Testament a distinction is made between ‘wine’ and ‘strong drink.'” This, he suggests, supports the idea that perhaps even in Old Testament times wine was diluted.

He is correct that the Old Testament distinguishes between wine and strong drink. They are clearly two different things, and Stein provides scripture references in which wine and strong drink are mentioned together, establishing that they are, in fact, two different things. The reader is left to conclude that wine is diluted and acceptable; strong drink is not diluted and unacceptable. But in the passages in which both appear in distinction, they are both treated exactly the same. There is no verse that mentions both that gives any hint that one is permitted and the other is not. To make my point I’d like to look at three such passages.

Deuteronomy 14:26

Wine and strong drink are both equally acceptable choices to buy and consume as part of the observance of the tithe. They are distinct, but are equally acceptable beverages.

Leviticus 10:8-9

Again, wine and strong drink are clearly distinct things, but are not treated distinctly in the prohibition. The Levitical priests were forbidden to drink either beverage while serving in the Tent of Meeting. There is no moral distinction at all. Since the prohibition is specifically limited to the Tent of Meeting, it seems logical to conclude that either was an acceptable beverage outside the Tent of Meeting.

Numbers 6:3-20

And yet again, wine and strong drink are clearly distinct things, but both are equally forbidden to the Nazirite during the period of their vow. After the vow is completed, the Nazirite is allowed to resume all the practices that were forbidden during the time of the vow.

In careful study of each passage that distinguishes wine and strong drink as being two different things, we see that they are yet treated equally. Both are capable of producing drunkenness, both require caution, and both can be consumed as beverages with gratitude to the God who made them.

May 30, 2006

Weak In Faith

Filed under: Romans 14 — PedanticDan @ 10:13 pm

So, what does Weak in Faith mean? At first, it appears obvious. It’s similar to weak in math. It carries the idea of having trouble with something. Compare weak in math with strong in math. What thoughts come to mind? One makes us think of someone struggling with math – not being very good at math. The other evokes the image of someone who finds math easy and who is very good at math. But is this the correct interpretation of Weak in Faith?

One approach might be to study the use of the word weak in the Bible – particularly the Greek word ασθενέω, which is the word translated weak in Romans 14. From identifying the sick in Matthew 10:8 to the poor in Acts 20:35, ασθενέω always has a meaning that conveys an undesirable condition – sick, feeble, poor, powerless – weak.

But even if we’re satisfied that the obvious meaning of weak is the correct one, how does our understanding of weak in math help us make sense of Weak in Faith? I think the answer can be found by looking for other occurrences of the phrase Weak in Faith. It turns out that there is only one other instance of the phrase in scripture, and it is also in Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

In Romans chapter 4, Paul describes the history of Abraham’s justification and how it was the result of Abraham’s faith alone. Instead of looking at the circumstances he understood (his age, Sarah’s age and barrenness), trusting these circumstances, and becoming weak in faith, Abraham was fully persuaded that God was able to do what He had promised, and Abraham became strong in faith. In Romans 4:19-21, strong in faith is equivalent to belief and weak in faith is a synonym for unbelief.

My opinion is that the phrase Weak in Faith refers to someone who still has trouble believing that their old ideas about earning salvation are completely false. They struggle with their faith. They accept salvation by grace through faith, but they can’t quite shake the idea that they must also abstain from something (meat) or observe some ritual (celebrate special days).

There is one more thing that I think supports my opinion on this: Paul admonishes the not weak to protect the weak, but nowhere makes a plea for the reverse. The poor are never asked to take care of the rich. The sick are never asked to care for the well, nor the blind to care for the sighted. The weak are never asked to help the strong.

All this to say, I believe that the phrase Weak in Faith means what it first appears to mean, and identifies an immature Christian having difficulty letting go of man-made traditions.

Wine Drinking in New Testament Times

Filed under: Booze In The Bible — Tags: , , , , , — PedanticDan @ 9:44 pm

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.

May 25, 2006

Twenty To One

Filed under: Booze In The Bible — Tags: , , , , , , , , — PedanticDan @ 11:00 pm

Homer’s The Odyssey is referenced by some prohibitionists to show that wine was diluted by as much as twenty parts water to one part wine. This is part of the evidence that wine was so diluted in biblical times that it bore no resemblance to modern wine. This mention of The Odyssey is misleading.

In Book IX of The Odyssey, Ulysses is telling King Alcinous how he bested the Cyclops, Polyphemus. As part of this tale, Ulysses tells of a fabulous wine he was given by a priest of Apollo that was irresistible even when diluted with twenty parts water. Ulysses uses this wine to get Polyphemus drunk, then gouges out the Cyclops’ eye.

Perhaps now would be a good time to point out that The Odyssey is Greek mythology. The wine is just as fictitious as the Cyclops. The wine was made up by Homer as a plot device for the purpose of providing Ulysses with a means to defeat the Cyclops. Homer’s The Odyssey tells us no more about Greek wine drinking practices than the Grimm Brothers’ Hansel and Gretel tells us about German home construction materials.

May 22, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

Filed under: What, You Didn't Know That? — PedanticDan @ 11:40 pm

It’s fiction!

What, you didn’t know that?

May 7, 2006

Romans 14:1

Filed under: Romans 14 — PedanticDan @ 9:12 pm

Romans 14 begins with the imperative, “accept the one who is weak in faith” [NASB]. The first thing to notice is who this command is given to. This command is given to those who have authority to decide who is accepted into the church and who is not, i.e., the leaders of the church. Paul is telling the church leadership to accept the one who is weak in faith into church fellowship. This tells us something else about those who the command is given to: they are not weak in faith. Notice, also, that there is no command addressed to the weak in faith to accept the one who is not weak in faith.

Paul’s instruction in Romans 14 assumes that church leaders are not weak in faith and that those who ARE weak in faith will not be in positions of church leadership. I think this conclusion is strengthened by Paul’s admonition to those who are not weak in faith to refrain from activities that might harm someone who is weak in faith. The weak in faith are never given a complementary admonition. The weak in faith are to be protected, taken care of, etc.

In my opinion, whatever weak in faith means, those who are in that category should not be in positions of church leadership.

April 28, 2006

Habakuk 2:15

Filed under: Booze In The Bible — Tags: , , , , , — PedanticDan @ 11:00 pm

Sometimes, this is quoted from Habakuk 2:15:

“Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink”

This is presented as prooof that it was even forbidden to give an alcoholic beverage to a neighbor – so clearly, all drinking is sin.

But, if we bother to crack open our Bible and read the entire verse, we would see that it says this:

“Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!”

When we read the entire verse, instead of hacking out only the introduction to the thought it expresses, we can see that the verse quite cleary decries the practice of getting someone drunk and taking advantage of their helplessness!

April 12, 2006

Not Enough Time

Filed under: Booze In The Bible — Tags: , , , , , — PedanticDan @ 9:00 pm

This one’s a hoot:

Jesus must have turned the water into grape juice (NOT wine) because it didn’t have time to ferment! It could not possibly have been wine!

Jesus transformed hydrogen and oxygen atoms into different elements! He circumvented the natural processes for producing grape juice — no seed, soil, cultivation, irrigation, weed control, fertilization, pruning, harvesting, nor grape squeezing — He went from water to grape juice with less effort than it takes me to blink my eyes. By doing his, He revealed Himself as the Creator. Yet, prohibitionists would have us believe that the same almighty Savior has no power to circumvent the natural processes of yeast on sugar.

As we mentioned before, Jesus made bread on two separate occasions. He bypassed all the processes of growing wheat, making flour, producing dough, yeast converting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, and cooking the bread. This proves that Jesus did, in fact, have power over fermentation and most certainly could have transformed water in to wine.

April 5, 2006

Something Rotten

Filed under: Booze In The Bible — Tags: , , , , , — PedanticDan @ 2:23 am

Perhaps my favorite proof that Jesus turned water into grape juice (NOT wine) is this:

Jesus never could have made something dead and rotten!

This argument is based on the mistaken idea that fermentation is a process of death and decay. This might have been understandable 150+ years ago, but now we know that fermentation is actually the result of the life process of yeast. Fermentation serves to preserve much of the nutritional value in fruit juices — i.e., it prevents decay.

But just for fun, let’s go ahead and call fermentatation decay. The interesting thing is that the same process of fermentation that transforms sugar into alcohol makes bread rise. Yeast digests carbohydrates and gives off carbon dioxide and alcohol. That makes wine alcoholic, and creates the little voids in bread that makes it fluffy. Why is that interesting? Because on two different occassions, Jesus made bread to feed a multitude (5,000 the first, and 4,000 the second). That’s right — Jesus made something fermented. In fact, he made something that had been fermented, and then cooked. And if that’s no bad enough, He made dead fish on both occasions as well.

If Jesus would make something dead and something fermented in Matthew 14 to feed 5,000 people, and do it again in Matthew 15 to feed 4,000, why in the world should we believe that He could not have made something fermented in John 2?

March 19, 2006

No Good Reason

Filed under: Booze In The Bible — PedanticDan @ 6:45 pm

This morning, folks attending my church were treated to a bulletin insert that explained why it is wrong for Christians to go to the cinema. Basically, since the author of the article could think of no “good” reason to go to one, it must be sinful to do so.

This argument is frequently put forth by prohibitionists to condemn any practice they dislike, but they typically fail to apply it evenhandedly. There is no good reason to drink coffee, yet many prohibitionists do. There is no good reason to eat cake, yet many prohibitionists do. There is no good reason to eat pie, yet many prohibitionists do. There is no good reason to eat ice cream, yet many prohibitionists do. How can such scandalous behavior be justified as acceptable for a Christian when such things are clearly unnecessary? No one needs coffee, cake, pie, or ice cream, so how can the sincere Christian continue such carnal indulgences?

I think the clearest answer can be found in Deuteronomy 14:22-29 in which God dictates the manner in which His people were to observe the tithe. Those who had to travel too far with their produce were instructed to sell it and bring the money instead. Once they arrived at “the place which the LORD thy God shall choose”, the instruction in Deuteronomy 14:26 was “and thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household” There are others, but this passage establishes that one can worship and bring honor to God by thankfully eating and drinking things that one enjoys simply because one enjoys them. According to Deuteronomy 14:26, the only “good” reason one needs to justify eating cake, pie, or ice cream is that “thy soul desireth” it.

Prohibitionists have no problem understanding the principle when it is something they enjoy. The “no good reason” argument is entirely void of merit.

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