BOOK & DRAM
In 2020, nobody seems to doubt the idea that Prohibition on alcohol is forever gone in the United States. However, at one time, Christian religion was used as a determining factor for the Temperance Movement.
Historically, Christians opposed to alcohol have struggled with the fact that Jesus consumed wine, as did numerous other Biblical heroes. In the 1880s, Evangelicals came up with the “Two Wine Theory” which posits that the Bible speaks of both fermented and unfermented grape juice. If you’re interested in learning more about the original language in the Christian Bible regarding alcohol, might I suggest Jim McGuiggan’s “The Bible, the Saint, and the Liquor Industry.”
McGuiggan was a prominent theological scholar when he authored this book in the 1970s. It is without question that McGuiggan is a master of Biblical languages and goes through every single mention of the wine and alcohol in the Bible. Not only does the author look at Biblical use of wine, but also consults historical literature from before, during, and after Biblical times in reference to alcohol. McGuiggan presents indisputable evidence that ancient Greeks and Romans did in fact consume unfermented grape juice, as well as wine from which the alcoholic content had largely been removed. The fact is in addition to the reality that they drank alcoholic wine as we know it today. This evidence comes from contemporary sources such as Plato and Aristotle.
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McGuiggan examines every single Biblical passage in which alcohol is mentioned. The issue that we run into is that the English translation for the word “wine” is broad and generic. The English word “wine” was actually multiple words and phrases in the original languages. In almost all cases where wine and alcohol is spoken of positively in the Bible, there is some degree of question whether or not the original Biblical language was referring to alcoholic or non-alcoholic wine. In many of these cases, the author’s bias shows as he takes a somewhat unclear passage and wants it to mean non-alcoholic, whereas most readers would definitely take it to mean alcoholic. Despite lack of 100% clarity in these cases, the Biblical context seems to indicate alcoholic, but McGuiggan focuses on the modern principal of “beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt.” Context strongly indicates alcoholic wine, but there is still some shadow of a doubt.
McGuiggan definitely set out with a biased agenda when he wrote the book. His entire thesis is that since we cannot 100% confirm that Jesus drank alcohol and the Bible did promote alcohol with 100% certainty, Christians cannot support the liquor industry. The author did prove his claim that the English Bible does use a lot of vague words for alcohol, but context seems to give us a pretty clear understanding that alcoholic wine was indeed consumed by Jesus and many other Biblical heroes. McGuiggan’s research is thorough and well-done, but I simply disagree with his biased conclusion in regards to what he did with the excellent research.
This book is an excellent look and academic approach to an aspect that was very important in the Temperance Movement that eventually lead to the 18th Amendment. If you are interested in American booze history, this book provides excellent insight into how so many Christians reconciled their Bible with a ban on alcohol. I trust that most of you will see the errors in the author’s logic and conclusion, just as I did, but it will still open a window of insight for you.