The Wine at Cana
People of the Christian faith have always held Jesus’ wine miracle in high regard. In John 2:1-11, Jesus performed an amazing miracle by changing water into wine. “So He manifested His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him.”
Although Jesus does not intend to perform a miracle at the feast, he was faced with the urgent need to make wine available when his mother requested that he intervene in the situation. So, he made wine available to satisfy his mother’s request and glorify God. When studying this passage, one must ask: Did Jesus turn the water into wine, a fermented alcoholic drink, or grape juice, a non-alcoholic drink? 1
While there was no full description of the type of wine, there are some context clues from other witnesses that we can use to answer the question. The governor of the feast, unaware of what had happened, commented that it was the best wine out there. Jesus spotted six large stone water pitchers, each holding 20 to 30 gallons, and requested that they be filled to the brim with water by the slaves. Since a normal bottle of wine is 750 ml, this quantity of water would theoretically yield a total of 600-900 bottles of wine.2
The exact location of Cana, where the miracle occurred, has long been debated by biblical scholars. For hundreds of years, pilgrims have believed that the miracle site is Kafr Kanna, a city in northern Israel. But now, archaeologists believe that Cana could have been a dusty mound five miles to the north. The reference to Cana in biblical text indicates that the village was Jewish and close to the Sea of Galilee in the lower Galilee region. They believe that ‘Khirbet Qana’ was the precise location, as it meets all the criteria.3
Some think that the whole story was a hoax because of a device designed by Hero of Alexandria in the 1st century. Using this instrument, magicians could alternate between pouring water or wine from the same vessel; therefore, they believed Jesus tricked the people.
Bacchus and Anti-Bacchus
In general, people who believe the story take one of two sides. One group believes in the two-wine theory and claims that the wine was non-alcoholic, whereas the other group believes it was indeed alcoholic wine.4
This two-wine theory was developed in the mid 19th century, when the tempest movement began gaining ground in the USA. During this period two articles, called Bacchus and Anti-Bacchus were published in an attempt to explain that some of the wine during this time was actually non-alcoholic, including the wine Jesus created.
In the 1920s, a man named William Patton wrote a book based on these two articles called, Bible Wines. This book quickly became popular with churches that didn’t believe in drinking alcohol. This belief that the wine in the Bible is mostly non-alcoholic is completely influenced by Patton and the Temperance Movement.5
In 1841 Dr. John MacLean, professor of Ancient Languages at the College of New Jersey, offered a scathing critique of those two articles and Patton’s book. The Princeton Review published a paper of his critique, also entitled, Bacchus and Anti-Bacchus. In it he showed that temperance authors had changed quotes of ancient writers, taken information out of context, and had a complete misunderstanding of how to make wine. One of the claims of the temperance essays was that grape juice was often boiled into syrup to prevent fermentation.
However, McLean proved this idea false by using documents from and before Christ’s time. These documents explained the grape juice was at times boiled into a syrup before fermentation to enhance, not prevent, fermentation. As a result, a concentrated wine, like today’s orange juice concentrate, was produced and was extremely sweet and alcoholic. Therefore this wine was “always diluted with water.” 5
Those who oppose drinking alcohol in any amount claim that Jesus did not turn water into wine because he would not have promoted the consumption of a substance tainted by sin. The belief that Jesus created alcoholic wine is more consistent with the story in the Bible. Further proof comes from the original Greek text that uses the word, ‘oinos’. This word translates directly to wine, not grape juice.
Those who interpret the story as Jesus creating grape juice rather than wine, do so to strengthen their belief that Christians should abstain from alcohol. However, this belief is not found in the Bible. There is no reason to interpret John 2 as Jesus turning water into anything other than wine.
Everything from the context of a wedding feast, to the use of the Greek word ‘oinos’ argues that the wine Jesus created was alcoholic. 5
Want to read more? Try these books!
- “Did Jesus Change the Water into Wine or Grape Juice?” n.d. GotQuestions.org. Accessed August 15, 2022. https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-water-wine.html.
- “How Much Wine Did Jesus Make and Was It Real Wine?.” 2021. Winemissionary.com. October 15, 2021. https://winemissionary.com/2020/06/05/how-much-wine-did-jesus-make-and-was-it-real-wine%E2%80%8B/.
- Ngo, Robin. 2022. “Where Did Jesus Turn Water into Wine?” Biblical Archaeology Society. March 31, 2022. https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/biblical-archaeologyplaces/where-did-jesus-turn-water-into-wine/.
- ellis. n.d. “Hero of Alexandria and His Magical Jugs.” Www.ancient-Origins.net. Accessed August 15, 2022. https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-technology/hero-alexandria-and-his-magical-jugs-001852.
- “Two Wine Theory | the Common Room.” n.d. Thecommonroomblog.com. Accessed August 15, 2022. http://thecommonroomblog.com/2015/02/two-wine-theory.