You say oinos, I say oenos

A reader recently posed this question:

At 10:08 PM, Trailady said…
You seem to be an expert on wine, so I must ask…. Was the wine in the wedding miracle of Jesus (in the Bible) fermented wine or unfermented grape juice? This has been a long raging debate in some circles. Just thought I’d ask.

Thanks Trailady but it seems more like a Bible question than a wine question. That being the case, I asked José Gonzalez, a classics scholar formerly at Harvard and now at the University of Oregon who reads the New Testament in its original Greek (and is a wine zealot), for a reply. He said that the question of fermented/non-fermented is one that is only confronted in American religious circles and offered this reply. –Dr. Vino

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For what it is worth: the Greek word, “oinos”, is used for fermented drinks, generally from the grape, but also from barley, palms, lotus plants, etc. That it can be used to refer to fermented drinks not of the vine follows precisely from its being the common word for “fermented must”.

As to the passage itself: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the guests have drunk freely, then that which is worse. You have kept the good wine until now.” You need not be a Greek scholar to realize that “to drink freely” (“methuomai” or “methuskomai”) must mean “to get drunk” or “to drink excessively” (as in fact it does). What other rationale would there be for the host to bring out the “worse” wine later, except to make sure that by then the guests are intoxicated enough not to be able to tell the difference between the good and the bad? Once you grasp the logic of the headwaiter’s comment it necessarily follows that the “good” wine served first (and, consequently, the one Christ created) must be fermented: it would be a miracle indeed to find the guests intoxicated with grape juice!

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3 Responses to “You say oinos, I say oenos”


  1. So, what did beome of the supreme court decision in June (by June) to limit direct distribution by wineries? And to Trailady… you’re missing the whole gist of the miracle. Christ’s first words were in the form of a command, “Fill the vessels to the brim”. We are the earthen vessels. He is the (living) water (love). When we fill our life with him everything is transformed into a new existence..the changing of water into wine is a parable to show how the love of Christ can make old things (water is 6.1 ph or right in the middle of the acid/basic scale) pass away and all things become new (new wine). Enjoy!


  2. Your references to christ’s love are correct beyond question. That the miricle at cana was a parable is bizarre. Scripture say’s He was at a wedding, He did the miricle. vs 2:11 says “this was the beginning of His miricles”, and His desciples believed in Him.


  3. […] And for those who were wondering about pairing wine and the Bible, check out our archive post on Jesus, oinos, and the marriage at Cana. […]


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