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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, changing the molecular composition of 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 Josephus, the New Testament, and the rabbinical texts would indicate that the village was Jewish, near the Sea of ​​Galilee, and in the region of the lower Galilee. 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. 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

The idea behind the two-wine theory is that two different kinds of wine are represented in the Bible. The first, which is what most of us understand as wine today—fermented grapes and alcohol, and the second, essentially unfermented grape juice.

In the 1920s, William Patton wrote a book called Bible Wines, largely based on those two contrasting options, and it became popular with the fully developed churches. The belief that the wine in the Bible is mostly non-alcoholic is completely influenced by Patton or 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 essays. In His paper, “Bacchus and Anti-Bacchus,” published in two parts by The Princeton Review, he showed that authors of both temperance essays had misquoted ancient writers and taken information out of context, thus misunderstanding the science of wine. One of the claims of the temperance essays was that grape juice was often boiled into syrup to prevent fermentation. However, McLean demonstrated the truth using documents written during or before the time of Christ. The “must” was 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. This is the wine that 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 promoted the consumption of a substance tainted by sin. The belief that Jesus created alcoholic wine is more consistent with the context and use of the word ”oinos.”

The primary reason for interpreting the wine Jesus made as grape juice is the belief that alcohol is inherently sinful or that the creation of alcohol would have encouraged intoxication. However, these reasons are unbiblical and invalid. There is no scriptural reason to understand John 2 as anything other than Jesus performing an amazing miracle by turning water into real wine.

Everything from the context of a wedding feast to the use of ”oinos” in 1st century Greek literature—both in the New Testament and beyond—argues that the wine Jesus created was wine by today’s standards that contained alcohol. 5


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