Was Jesus a teetotaler?
A dentist's invention 133 years ago changed the way millions of Americans worship. He was Thomas Bramwell Welch, an abstemious Methodist who lived in a New Jersey town named, appropriately, Vineland. He cooked up grape juice to make it perma...
A dentist's invention 133 years ago changed the way millions of Americans worship.
He was Thomas Bramwell Welch, an abstemious Methodist who lived in a New Jersey town named, appropriately, Vineland. He cooked up grape juice to make it permanently nonalcoholic, applying the pasteurization process that Louis Pasteur had invented four years earlier to sterilize wine, beer and milk.
Son Charles Welch, promoting the product at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, said unfermented grape juice was born "out of a passion to serve God by helping his church to give its communion (as) 'the fruit of the vine' instead of the 'cup of devils."'
Welch's juicy product hit at the right time. American Protestants were just going flat out in their crusade to outlaw the manufacture and sale of all alcoholic beverages, so it seemed unseemly to use alcohol in their own worship.
Today, Welch Foods Inc., of Concord, Mass., sells $650 million a year in juices and other products. One steady segment of its market is U.S. Protestant churches, the majority of which continue to use grape juice in Communion services, continuing the purpose of Thomas Welch's innovation.
Even grape juice isn't safe enough for the zealously anti-alcohol Mormon religion, which requires that water be drunk during Communion to avoid even the slightest risk of fermentation.
Roman Catholics are equally strict but in the opposite direction. Section 924 of the church's law code requires that in Mass "the wine must be natural," meaning it must be alcoholic, not grape juice. (Typically, Catholic parishioners receive only bread and not wine at the altar, which became an important area of dispute with Protestants in the 16th-century Reformation.)
Yet Jesus Christ himself was a teetotaler, according to claims from some dry Protestants. That remarkable phenomenon is discussed in an article in Bible Review magazine by Mark Gstohl and Michael Homan, who teach theology at Xavier University in indulgent New Orleans.
"The faulty notion that Jesus drank nonalcoholic grape juice simply places the cultural baggage of the modern temperance movement on first-century Israel," they write.
After all, they note, Jesus not only served wine at the Last Supper but performed his first miracle by turning water into wine during the wedding reception at Cana (John 2:1-11). By their count, wine is mentioned 185 times in the Old Testament and 26 times in the New Testament.
But regarding the Last Supper, Davis Huckabee's pro-dry tract for Baptist Trumpeter Publications of Granbury, Texas, notes that the Gospel accounts speak only of the "cup" and the "fruit of the vine" and never use the word "wine."
One early Protestant proponent of a teetotaling Jesus researched various ways the ancients might have preserved nonalcoholic grape juice. Another developed the "two-wine theory," compiling biblical and historical support for the idea that "wine" in the Bible referred to two different beverages, either the fermented alcoholic drink or unfermented grape juice.
That theory is applied to the Cana wedding story by Churches of Christ partisan Chuck Northrop, whose article "Did Jesus Turn Water Into Wine?" is posted on the Web site, http://www.churchesofchrist.net .
Northrop figures that the Cana celebrants drank grape juice, because John's Gospel recounts that Jesus produced the day's best beverage. Northrop figures if alcohol had been served they would have been too drunk to know the difference.