Wine, Water, and Grape Juice in the Eucharist – A Historical Introduction

Note: For all Biblical quotations, the NKJV is used, unless I am citing the Greek Old Testament (LXX), for which the NETS is used. The italics in Biblical quotations are from the translators to note words added for clarity that are not present in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

In many protestant traditions grape juice rather than wine is used in communion. A number of arguments are used to support this practice, but historical and pragmatic analysis renders such arguments entirely invalid. On the other hand, the mixing of water and wine in communion is a historic practice of the church.

A Brief History of Grape Juice

It should be obvious to the reader that while the modern fermentation process as we know it was not known until the 1800s, fresh squeezed grape juice has been around since grapes were first pressed for juice. In the Old Testament, the word “tiyrowsh” is used to refer to this “new wine” or “sweet wine” as it is often translated, and it occurs 38 times. It is repeatedly used in the context of God providing it (often alongside oil or corn) as a blessing to His people. Juice will stay relatively unfermented for a short time, but primary fermentation is completed in 3-7 days, so it wouldn’t have been a common drink as it would need to be drunk soon after being pressed, which is time consuming.

We do know fresh juice was consumed on some occasions despite the time required to get the drink. Josephus in Antiquities Book II Chapter 5.2 (AD 93-94) writes, “He therefore said, that in his sleep he saw three clusters of grapes hanging upon three branches of a vine, large already, and ripe for gathering; and that he squeezed them into a cup which the king held in his hand; and when he had strained the wine [oinos], he gave it to the king to drink, and that he received it from him with a pleasant countenance.” In this context, drinking fresh squeezed grape juice is fitting as the king has servants to bring it to him.

The first evidence of some method of pasteurization is found in Aristotle in his book Meteorologica (384-322 BC). He writes, “For some kinds of wine [oinos], for example must [gleukos], solidify when boiled.” And later in the book, “Though called wine [oinos], it has not the effect of wine, for it does taste like wine and does not intoxicate like ordinary wine.” The word “gleukos” (meaning sweet/fresh wine) comes from “glukus” (meaning sweet or fresh). Aristotle uses the term here to refer to what seems to be a wine that is preserved, perhaps as a primitive jelly, by boiling, which is the same idea as pasteurization.

Athenaeus, the grammarian (about AD 200), explains in his book Banquet that “the Mityleneans have a sweet wine [glukon oinon], what they called prodromos, and others call it protropos.” Later on in the same book, he recommends this sweet, unfermented wine (protropos) for the dyspeptic: “Let him take sweet wine, either mixed with water or warmed, especially that kind called protropos, the sweet Lesbian glukus, as being good for the stomach; for sweet wine [oinos] does not make the head heavy.” Here the unfermented sweet grape juice is called “lesbian” (read “effeminate”) because the potency or fermentable power of the wine had been removed. It’s unclear exactly what protropos is in this occasion, but it seems that in some cases it was warmed, perhaps boiled, to achieve a sweet drink that lacks alcohol. On another occasion in this work, Athenaeus records the juice being drunk directly from the field: “At the time of festivals, he [Drimacus the General] went about, and took wine [oinon] from the field and such animals for victims as were in good condition.”

Usage of Gleukos and Oinos

The Greek word for wine is “oinos.” This is the obvious translation in almost all contexts of the word, but as shown in examples above, there are exceptions. Aristotle, Josephus, and Athenaeus all use “oinos” to refer to grape juice/sweet wine. In the Bible, out of the 38 occurrences of the word “tiyrowsh” in the Old Testament, 36 times it is translated into the Old Greek LXX as “oinos.” This shows that “oinos” is used broadly to refer to liquid from grapes.

Gleukos is seen only twice in the Bible. Once it is seen in Job 32:19 in the LXX in which it is a translation of the Hebrew word “yayin,” which translates directly as “wine.” This translation choice is used as the wine is still new: “Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent; it is ready to burst like new wineskins” (NKJV, from the Hebrew). “And my belly is like a bound wineskin of new wine in ferment or like a burst bellows of a blacksmith” (NETS, from the Greek). It is clear in this case, however, that gleukos is referring to “sweet wine/new wine” rather than grape juice as the bursting is a result of gas release from bacteria, which suggests that fermentation is occurring. The other place that gleukos appears is in Acts 2:13: “Others mocking said, ‘These men are full of new wine.'” This is directly after the men had begun speaking in tongues. In verse 15 Peter tells the people, “For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.” It is clear then that here gleukos also refers to sweet/new wine rather than grape juice as the men are thought to be drunk yet are not.

The argument from some for the use of grape juice is that since “oinos” can refer to grape juice and since primitive pasteurization is from antiquity, using pasteurized grape juice is permissible for communion, but this argument does not follow as will be demonstrated.

The Last Supper Narrative

The last supper narrative records Christ refers to drinking wine as drinking “gennēma ampelos” (lit. fruit of the vine). This would seemingly be support for the validity of using grape juice, as it is equally as fruit of the vine to wine. The phrase “gennēma ampelos” is absent from outside texts, so the use of the phrase offers no help to the reader, but historical context plays a large role in answering whether or not the fruit of the wine in the last supper fits the normal use of “oinos” as wine or the alternative “gleukos” as sweet wine/grape juice. We know from Mishnah Pesachim 10:1 that the Jews used fermented wine (yayin as opposed to tiyrowsh) specifically for the Seder meal, and, while this is source is later than the Gospel accounts, there is no reason to assume that this practice changed from grape juice to wine at some point. The Mishnah was written in the first and second centuries, finally being set in stone in the third century. Mishnah Pesachim is thought to date to 190-230 AD, but the intention of the Mishnah is to put into writing the ancient oral Torah, which dates far earlier than the Gospel accounts. Some will point out that yayin sometimes refers to mixed wine (cut with water) as opposed to “shekhar,” which refers to unmixed wine, but this only further emphasizes the use of fermented wine over the use of gleukos. Wine need not be cut with water lest it has already fermented. Mixing wine with water was common in the ancient world to reduce alcohol content, mitigate the poor vinegary tastes of some batches, and extend the drink. In addition to this, yayin comes from a root word that means “to effervesce,” which necessitates fermentation.

If the Mishnah is not to be considered reliable, it should be noted that while grape juice was found as a drink in Greco-Roman and Jewish culture, the overwhelming abundance of wine over grape juice in this period necessitates that “fruit of the vine” be taken simply as wine lest otherwise specified.

Water with Wine in Communion

As Mishnah Pesachim 10 records, yayin, which often means mixed wine, is used for the Seder meal. While there is debate over whether the last supper was a Seder meal, the Eucharist is certainly a replacement of the Old Testament Seder. Should communion wine then be mixed with water?

The practice of mixing wine with water is abundant in the church fathers. It can be seen in Justin Martyr’s First Apology 65 (~150 AD), Irenaeus Against Heresies IV.33 (~180 AD), Clement of Alexandria The Instructor II (~200 AD), Cyprian Epistle 62 (~250 AD), Liturgy of St. James (~370 AD), Ambrose On the Sacraments V (~375 AD), Gregory of Nyssa The Great Catechism III.37 (~375 AD), Apostolic Constitutions VIII.12 (~380 AD), John Chrysostom Divine Liturgy (~400 AD), Council of Carthage Canon 37 (419 AD), Augustine On Christian Doctrine IV (~420 AD), Council of Trullo (692 AD), and various others.

Notably, Aquinas (1225-1274 AD) writes in Summa Theologica 3:74, “Water ought to be mingled with the wine which is offered in this sacrament. First of all on account of its institution: for it is believed with probability that our Lord instituted this sacrament in wine tempered with water according to the custom of that country: hence it is written (Proverbs 9:5 [Come, eat of my bread​​ and drink of the wine I have mixed]). Pope Alexander I [107-115 AD] says (Ep. 1 ad omnes orth.): ‘In the Lord’s chalice neither wine only nor water only ought to be offered, but both mixed because we read that both flowed from his side in the Passion.’ Thirdly, because this is adapted for signifying the effect of this sacrament, since as Pope Julius I [337-352 AD] says (Concil. Bracarens iii, can. 1): ‘We see that the people are signified by the water, but Christ’s blood by the wine. Therefore, when water is mixed with the wine in the chalice, the people is made one with Christ.’ Fourthly, because this is appropriate to the fourth effect of this sacrament, which is the entering into everlasting life: hence Ambrose says (De Sacram. v): ‘The water flows into the chalice, and springs forth unto everlasting life.'”

Conclusion

It is demonstrated then that the mixing of wine and water together is found in the foreshadowing of the Eucharist in the Seder in the Old Covenant, in the earliest days of the church as early as 107-115 AD, and throughout the entire history of the church from thenceforth. The use of gleukos in communion is absent from the history of the church entirely and contradicts the practice of mixing water with the wine as well as mirroring of the Old Testament Seder meal. Furthermore, there is scriptural support for the practice of mixing wine with water in that both water and blood flow from Christ’s side, and also in Proverbs, in which Wisdom (which is Christ) calls us to eat of His bread and drink of the wine He has mixed. In following the teaching of scripture and the historic church, proper practice for communion should be to use wine mixed with water.

Some will say that is necessary to have grape juice for alcoholics, but this is easily resolved by adding a drop of the consecrated element to water instead. Considering that part of the practice of cutting wine with water was to reduce alcohol content, it is only fitting that this be the method for which alcohol content is cut to a negligible amount for those who cannot consume any alcohol. Introducing grape juice into communion, especially pasteurized grape juice which has been intentionally changed so that it may not become wine, should not be practiced as it introduces doubt in the validity of the sacrament for the recipient. Wine mixed with water has always been used, so we can know that it is most certainly valid, so there is no need ever to deviate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s