This is a question that has been debated by Christians for many years. Some believe that when Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-11), it was actual alcoholic wine. Others argue that Jesus would never create alcoholic wine, so it must have been unfermented grape juice. What does the Bible tell us about this event? Let’s take a closer look.
The meaning of “wine” in the Bible
The first thing to understand is that the Greek word used in John 2 for wine is οἶνος (oinos). This is a general term that can refer to either fermented or unfermented grape juice. Context determines which is meant. Sometimes, the Bible makes it explicit by adding modifiers like “new wine” or “sweet wine.” But often no modifier is used, and we must look at other factors to determine if alcohol is in view.
In ancient times, fermented wine was the most common type. Unfermented grape juice spoils quickly, so it was far less common. However, we do have examples of its use (e.g., Isaiah 65:8 refers to “new wine” that still has the fresh grape flavor). So oinos itself does not settle the debate; we must look at the surrounding context and other biblical evidence.
Immediate context of John 2
Looking at the immediate context of John 2, some argue that the “good wine” implies alcohol because people tend to serve the best wine first when palates and judgment are unspoiled. However, others say this assumes too much. The text does not specifically state alcohol was involved at all. “Good wine” could simply mean high quality grape juice, especially considering Jesus’ divine power in the miracle.
Some also point to John 2:10, where the master of the feast is surprised that the good wine was “kept until now.” He thinks the hosts deviated from the normal custom of serving the best wine up front. But again, this does not conclusively prove alcohol. “Good wine” here could still refer to the superior taste and quality of the grape juice Jesus created, without any intoxicating properties.
So the immediate context of John 2 does not definitively settle the debate. We need to broaden our search for biblical evidence about the nature of this wine that Jesus made.
Jesus and wine in general
What was Jesus’ view and use of alcoholic wine in general? Did He ever partake of it Himself or serve it to others? We find no clear evidence that Jesus drank any wine or alcohol in any form. Some point to accusations that He was a “glutton and drunkard” (Matthew 11:19), but such slanderous language was clearly false, as Jesus’ response makes clear. Nowhere do we actually see Jesus drinking intoxicating wine.
Jesus did partake of wine at the Last Supper with His disciples, but this was likely “new wine,” the unfermented juice of the grape. Fermented wine would not be ready yet at this time of year during the grape harvest. The Passover wine was to reflect the “fruit of the vine” (Matthew 26:29), meaning fresh grapes. It being unleavened also implies lack of fermentation.
While Jesus did not forbid all drinking of alcohol, He strongly warned against drunkenness (Luke 21:34). He likened it to folly and darkness, not godly living (Proverbs 20:1; Isaiah 5:11). Jesus would have no interest in contributing to drunkenness by miraculously producing alcoholic wine at this wedding.
Miracles of Jesus
What was the purpose and nature of Jesus’ miracles in general? As manifestations of God’s power and glory, they were always benevolent and for people’s good (John 2:11; Acts 10:38). Miracles testified that God’s kingdom had come upon them (Matthew 12:28). Producing large quantities of intoxicating wine to increase drunkenness would not align with the benevolent purpose of Jesus’ signs.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, His miracles consistently met legitimate needs – such as healing sickness, creating food, providing fishing catches, or controlling nature. Providing alcoholic wine for celebration does not seem to fit this pattern. Creating clean and pure grape juice would be more consonant with the nature of His power.
Principles from Proverbs and other Bible passages
The book of Proverbs, in particular, reinforces the idea that alcoholic wine does not fit with Jesus’ character. Wine is portrayed negatively as a mocker, producing drunkenness and violence (Proverbs 20:1). Rulers and kings are warned not to crave it (Proverbs 31:4-5). And there are clear prohibitions against even looking at fermented wine (Proverbs 23:31).
Other passages continue this theme. Priests were forbidden from drinking wine before entering God’s presence (Leviticus 10:8-11). The Nazirite vow prohibited wine to achieve special holiness (Numbers 6:3). And drunkenness is listed repeatedly among the sins and vices that can forfeit entrance to the kingdom of God (Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
While the Bible acknowledges that alcoholic wine itself is not sinful in moderation, the overall weight of Scripture leans strongly against it being something Jesus would make in excess and contribute to drunkenness. The warnings against it, especially in Proverbs, support unfermented grape juice being the likely substance.
Purification rituals in Jesus’ day
In Jesus’ day, there were specific Jewish traditions about ensuring the wine at purificatory rituals was non-alcoholic. Given the ritual water pots and the background of ceremonial washing also mentioned in John 2 (v. 6), this event probably had religious significance. Making large quantities of unfermented juice fit the tradition of purificatory wines being non-intoxicating.
For example, the Mishna (oral traditions of Judaism) prescribed that no alcohol was to be used in purificatory rituals during the Passover season. Grape juice for ritual cleansings was to be carefully monitored for any fermentation before use. Multiple rinses of vessels with water would likewise ensure no trace of fermentation, fitting exactly the description in John 2 of the pots being filled to the brim.
Given the immediate context of John 2, Jesus’ wider views on alcohol, the benevolent purpose of His signs, and biblical principles about wine’s dangers, it seems unlikely the “wine” Jesus miraculously produced was actually alcoholic. The term wine itself does not demand alcohol. Unfermented grape juice fits better with the setting, the purification traditions, and Jesus’ moral perfection.
At the same time, we cannot be 100% definitive from this passage alone. John does not directly state whether this wine was fermented or unfermented. But the collective biblical evidence points strongly toward it being a miraculous production of high quality, unfermented juice of the grape. This would provide refreshment and joy for the wedding guests, while still aligning with Jesus’ holiness.
Regardless of the nature of this specific wine, the passage clearly shows Jesus’ glory as He performed miraculous signs that revealed His identity as the Son of God. His disciples saw this sign and believed in Him (John 2:11). As we seek to understand the Bible’s meaning, our ultimate goal should be to know Christ better ourselves.