In studying the topic of wine in biblical times – and comparing to the teetotal viewpoint of many Baptist in the United States – I wondered what story that church history told about wine.[i] My conclusion is similar to that presented by Edward H. Jewett in The Two-Wine Theory Discussed by Two Hundred and Eighty-six Clergymen. The “two-wine” theory (and its companion idea that any positive biblical references to wine must actually mean fresh grape juice instead of fermented juice) is a mere youth in church history, a quirky child born out of the Prohibition movement. This is not to say that views of temperance or even abstinence are new – but this odd way of supporting them is.
Initially the modern temperance movement was a stand for moderation, and in particular targeted the distilled liquors with high alcohol content. Eventually it moved to total abstinence. The slogan of the women of the Anti-Saloon League became “lips that touch liquor shall not touch ours.”[ii]
The evolution of the views of England’s “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, mirror the evolution of the views of many a Baptist on the temperance/abstinence question. In 1865 he clearly states he is not a teetotaler (though he recommends that children be “brought up to abstain from alcoholic liquors”).[iii]
In 1877, Spurgeon reviewed The Wines of the Bible: an Examination and Refutation of the Unfermented Wine Theory by A. M. Wilson in his paper The Sword and the Trowel.[iv] Wilson’s book refuted the new-fangled idea that there could be any such thing as “unfermented wine.” Spurgeon recommended the book and agreed with Wilson. Spurgeon writes,
“‘UNFERMENTED wine’ is a non-existent liquid. Mr. Wilson has so fully proved this that it will require considerable hardihood to attempt a reply...Mr. Wilson has written the thick volume now before us to settle the matter, and we believe that he establishes beyond reasonable debate that the wines of the Bible were intoxicating, and that our Lord did not ordain jelly or syrup, or cherry juice to be the emblem of his sacrifice.”[v]
Nevertheless, within ten years Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle was using “unfermented wine” at the Lord’s table! In response to the question raised as to what they used at their communion services, Spurgeon wrote in June of 1887,
“We use Frank Wright’s unfermented wine at the Tabernacle, and have never used any other unfermented wine…Mr. Wright’s is the pure juice of the grape…So far as we are concerned, we use no wine but that produced by Messrs. Frank Wright, Mundy, and Co.”[vi]
Because of this evolution, various isolated citations may be used to show that Spurgeon supported the drinking of wine and its use in communion – or that he opposed it both as a beverage and in communion! Church history shows us some interesting information, but the Bible is our sole rule of faith and practice. To attempt to prove temperance and especially total abstinence by odd twistings of the Bible is both weird and shameful. Reasons to abstain from the use of beverages containing alcohol may be biblically supported without resorting to eisegesis.[vii]
[i] I shall hope to later put together some of that evidence in a blog post.
[iii] As cited in Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers by Lewis A. Drummond (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1992), p. 449. Drummond says that in his early years Spurgeon “enjoyed a pint of ale or a glass of wine in the evening” (p. 439) but “later in life Spurgeon did ‘take the pledge’ and became a teetotaler.” (p. 449)
[iv] London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1877
[vii] For example, our concern for weaker brothers and sisters (1 Corinthians 8:13; Romans 14:2), wisely-applied caution (Proverbs 20:1), avoiding the power and subjugation of this element (1 Corinthians 6:12), and in all these deferring the minor concern of what we drink to the greater issues of life (Matthew 6:25). My interpretation of the facts scattered throughout the entire Bible is that drunkenness is absolutely condemned but any restriction against drinking wine is not absolute.