Early Christian Women and Wine

What first comes to mind when you think of Christianity and wine? If you have been brought up in modern-day America, puritanism and teetotalism might come to mind. You might think of the minor role played by women in many variants of organized Christian religions. In Christian tradition, you likely do not imagine a culture where wine is revered both spiritually and domestically by men, women, and theologians.

The early Christian women were not only leaders and integral to the spread of the new religion of Christianity, but they also drank wine for both religious and entertainment purposes.

In this article, we explore the role women and wine played during the early days of Christianity.

Early Christianity and Wine

Early Christians consumed wine and other alcoholic beverages regularly. According to many studies, most of the Bible took place in Palestine, a location ideal for grape growing. During the times of Jesus Christ, the Jews had a strong wine-drinking culture, as did the Romans. Hence, the Early Christians were no different.

The Old Testament mentions wine as a symbol of God’s blessings in Genesis 27:28, Deuteronomy 7:13, Amos 9:2.

The New Testament reports that Jesus’ first miracle was about turning water into wine. Similarly, the Last Supper and the sacrament of communion cemented wine’s role in Christianity as not only a pleasurable pastime but also an integral part of a religious ceremony.

Early Christians believed that wine was a creation of God and, therefore, it is good. The only time drinking wine was considered bad was when it was drunk in excess quantities.

It is evident that none of the early church theologians forbade the consumption of wine. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Clement of Rome sums up how Early Christians viewed drinking. He died in 100 AD. He states, “It is fitting, then, that some apply wine by way of physic, for the sake of health alone, and others for purposes of relaxation and enjoyment. For first, wine makes the man who has drunk it more benignant than before, more agreeable to his boon companions, kinder to his domestics, and more pleasant to his friends. But when intoxicated, he becomes violent instead.[1]

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The Role of Early Christian Women

Women played an essential role in the society of Early Christianity. As missionaries, women would routinely travel with their husbands and brothers (Romans 16:3, 7, 15). It is thought that many notable Early Christian apostles were women.[2]

Christianity was illegal in Rome, and any religious ceremonies were often held at homes in private settings. Since the home was the domain of women, they would often take the leadership role in these House Churches according to Acts 16:15 and Colossians 4:15. In fact, there is evidence that women-led early Christian ceremonies, and men were in the background.[3]

According to an early Christian woman, Perpetua’s prison diary, women could easily enhance their spirituality and identity outside of their traditional roles of wives, mothers, and daughters. Such an account of Christian women is in stark contrast to Roman Law, which stated that women were non-citizens with no legal rights.

Early Christian women savored the drinking of wine and played essential roles in society, unlike women in many other ancient cultures.

Early Christian Women and Wine

The early Christian women consumed wine regularly. Whether they were allowed to drink wine in public depended on where they lived – not on their religion.

Wine played a prominent role in biblical tradition and early Christian history, whether for ceremonies or entertainment. From late August to September in Palestine, the grapes ripened, and the harvest was a time of celebration for all the members of society including men, women, and children. This often included drinking.

Most Early Christian women were of Jewish descent. It implies that they were used to drinking wine on almost every Jewish holiday, especially for Passover Seder. Passover required that all present drank four cups of wine.[4] The wine was also drunk for weddings, circumcisions, and other ceremonies. It was not surprising to enjoy a glass of wine even when there was no special occasion.

Therefore, we can observe that Early Christian women did not have many of the rules or roles of ancient societies. They were free to drink wine, preach their religion, and lead congregations – even if, at the time, their religion was under persecution.

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This Day in Wine History

November 23, 99 AD (approximately): Clement of Rome, one of the first popes and an Early Christian theologian, died. Clement supported the consumption of wine for pleasure as long as it did not lead to intoxication.

March 7, 203 AD: Perpetua was martyred on this day. Perpetua’s prison journal is one of the few surviving documents written by a woman in the ancient world. This document is evidence of the role of women in Early Christianity as well as how Christians were persecuted in ancient Rome.

Sometime in March or April every year: Jews celebrate Passover on these months. Seder is usually celebrated on the first or second night. Jesus and his apostles celebrated this feast at the Last Supper. Wine is an integral part of this extremely important occasion in the Christian tradition.

A 14th-century Fresco from the Visoki Dečani monastery. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Reference

[1] Clement of Rome, The Instructor — Book II, Chapter II: On Drinking.

[2] Women In Ancient Christianity: The New Discoveries. Accessed: May 11, 2022. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/first/women.html

[3]Were the Earliest Christians Sipping Psychedelic Wine? Tom Rapsas. Accessed: May 11, 2022. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/wakeupcall/2021/12/were-the-earliest-christians-sipping-psychedelic-wine/

[4] Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 99b

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