The Lord’s Table: The Meaning of Wine

As with bread, we are tempted to impose our own personal meaning on wine. Wine means excess and wild parties and losing control; wine means your drunk father who beat you; wine means scandal and appearing like a sinner; whatever. But no.

Wine means what God says it means. Lack of wine is either a form of fasting or a curse from God. God says wine is our labor blessed by His hand—which is to say it is the result of man having dominion over the earth, which is fulfilling his role as the image of God. It is God’s blessing. It is the gift with which Jesus blesses a wedding, the drink served by Wisdom, part of the Ascension offering lifted to God in the morning and evening sacrifices, the drink that Melchizedek the royal priest brings to Abraham and the drink that Christ serves to Abraham’s children by faith at His Table. Wine is rejoicing and fellowship.  Good lovemaking is better than wine—but not much else is.

As with any blessing, wine can be abused, and Scripture is filled with warnings about that; it is a wicked mind that turns God’s blessing into an occasion for sin. It’s an equally wicked, pinched, joyless mind that thinks rejecting God’s good gift is a holy thing to do. Both of these sins stem from a lack of gratitude.

My charge to you is to think of wine in this way, and to behave as Moses and Solomon instructed: Go and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has accepted your labor. Do this that you may learn to fear God and keep His commandments, because that is your whole duty.

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17 Responses to The Lord’s Table: The Meaning of Wine

  1. Bobby Grow says:

    Do you guys serve wine from your communion table at your church? 😉 Why or why not, given your take on wine?

  2. Tim Nichols says:

    Not yet. We’re discussing the practical/pastoral considerations next week.

    For what my $0.02 is worth, Welch’s at the Table is a mistake at very best, if not an outright sin; Scripture is brutally clear that wine is what Jesus and the early church used. They did that for a reason, and it matters. On the other hand (for a preview of next week) Scripture is equally clear that it is wrong to divide the body in the way that you practice the Supper–and God kills over that (1 Cor. 11). If adopting wine divides the body–or the way you go about adopting wine in this flock at this time creates division–then that is most certainly sin.

    The exegesis is simple: it was wine–fermented, alcoholic, possible-to-get-drunk-on wine. The ideal case application is equally simple: serve wine at the Table. How we get from the “temperance” movement/fundamentalist/pietistic/pinched-souled morass in which we find ourselves to where we belong–and get there without losing sheep in the process — is not at all simple. It calls for great wisdom in the actual execution. Sometimes it just can’t be done in this lifetime, and there’s nothing for it but to wait a generation, or a century.

  3. Bobby Grow says:

    Interesting, from what I understand not all “wine” in 1st cent Judea was the same relative to the degree of alcoholic. In fact as I understand it the “good wine” was very close to grape juice, according to Craig Skeener’s Bible Background Commentary. Don’t you think it’s going a little far to say that not drinking wine at communion is sin?

  4. Tim Nichols says:

    Bobby,

    Please note that I did not say that not drinking wine at communion is sin–although it certainly can be. I said it is a mistake at best, if not an outright sin. I think the difference between mistake and sin here has mainly to do with motivation and specific circumstance. Someone who has given it no thought and is merely doing what their church has always done in living memory — that’s one thing. Someone who says “Yes, I know that communion wine was alcoholic in the first century, but we know better than to do that now, lest we cause someone to stumble into drunkenness” — I’m sorry, but that’s sin. Drunkenness is not just a modern problem; they had it then and they drank wine in communion anyway. This person is saying, in effect, “Never mind what the Bible prescribes; we now know that our way is better.” There’s no brakes on that car: “Paul said homosexuality was wrong, but we now know….”

    If you don’t like me calling Welch’s at communion a mistake or a sin, what would you call it? It is not the practice of Jesus or Paul, or the rest of the first-century church; you’d be hard-pressed to defend it as a good idea.

    As to what they drank in the first century, I don’t have Keener to hand, so I don’t know his sources (and if you can post them, I’d be much obliged). If I recall, one of the chief problems with that commentary was its lack of citations. For someone who does give credible primary-source citations, see this article.
    Meanwhile, one can consider the biblical source material. Not all wine is the same alcohol content, true enough, but the repeated biblical warnings against drunkenness plainly show us that there was enough alcohol in it to get drunk on. To posit that wine was different from the wine at communion — well, it’s certainly an idea, but try proving it. The biblical documents give nary a hint that communion wine was non-alcoholic. In fact, 1 Corinthians 11 clearly indicates the opposite. And Paul doesn’t tell them that they’re using the wrong kind of wine–he tells them to share!

    Throughout her history, the Church has accepted wine at the Table, following the practice of the apostles without argument — except for occasional splinter sects of maddened ascetics and the violent sentimentalism of the so-called temperance movement (and hence, American evangelicalism). In Russia, even the Baptists serve wine at communion. I know, because the first time I had wine at communion, I was in a Russian Baptist church.

    There is a difference between drinking grape juice and drinking wine; it is the same as the difference between eating wheat grains and eating bread. Grape juice and wheat are raw; bread and wine are processed, the fruit of the field formed into something new by the hand of man carrying out the dominion assigned to him. This matters enormously in the typology of the Table, and its rejection matters enormously as well.

    …and again, as with all liturgical change, please don’t take anything here to be advocating rapid, violent change. Getting from where we are to where we should be is a matter of care and incremental change. You have to do it without losing anybody; that’s what a good shepherd does.

  5. Bobby Grow says:

    Hey Tim,

    I wasn’t really trying to start a debate here. I didn’t say the wine was “grape juice,” but almost like grape juice relative to its alcoholic content. No doubt the wine used at churches in the 1st cent. was alchoholic, Corinth is a good example; but there are also cultural distinctions that should be noted as well — which your Russia example illustrates quite well as well.

    Thank you for the clarification on “sin.” I don’t know, I won’t be drinking wine anytime soon; I’ve had a conviction and commitment to the LORD to not drink alcohol since I’ve been a kid . . . and I would not appreciate having to drink wine at communion.

    What you don’t seem to be taking note of is that we have “description” going on in the text, not “prescription” in regards to wine and communion. Just because they used it in the 1st cent. in church history doesn’t mean we must now use wine in the 21st. To me the issue is is there a cultural parallel that captures the sense of what communion is intended to convey in regards to remembering the death, burial, resurrection, and second coming of Jesus Christ. Wine is not the sacrosanct thing, the blood of Jesus is — the rememberance is, the koinonia is — Anyway, we might disagree here.

  6. Tim Nichols says:

    Bobby,

    At my church, you’d be given the option of grape juice; it’s a matter of deep conviction to us that we not divide the Body by the way we observe the Table. I discern Christ in you, and I do everything in my power to see that Christ’s people are welcome at Christ’s Table; your presence at the Table is of the first importance. I would hope that you’d feel the same way, and if you should find yourself in a church that serves only wine, that you’d have the good grace to come to the Table for the very same reason. I certainly come to the Table in churches that serve only grape juice, problematic as that is to my conscience–rightly discerning the (corporate) Body is an overriding consideration.

    Regarding description and prescription: I’m certainly aware of the distinction, but you’re wrong here. The relevant command is “Drink from it, all of you;” the “it” in question was a cup of wine; Q.E.D.

    In a prison camp, I’d serve communion with potato chips and kool-aid if I really had to, ask God to bless it, and expect that He would. Still and all, it’s supposed to be bread and wine, and we’re not in a prison camp; what’s our excuse? Everybody gets this with the bread. Here’s an experiment you can try at your local Baptist or nondenom church: next time they serve communion, put Frosted Mini-Wheats in the tray instead of bread, and see what happens. Won’t that be cause for comment? Won’t the elders of the church insist upon bread in the future? Why? Because that’s what Jesus used, you say? Well…

    We do differ on the ‘cultural parallel’ thing; the Church is a culture, the culture of the coming Kingdom that transforms and subverts all other cultures. It is a kingdom where the mountains will drip with sweet wine, the hills will flow with it, the plowman will overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed. Like all other cultures, our culture has its own rituals, which include the eating of bread and the drinking of wine. The body and blood of Jesus are sacrosanct; the koinonia of the Body at the Table is sacrosanct; obedient observance of the ritual Christ actually delivered to us is sacrosanct. The reason we miss this point is that we don’t know the first century well enough to see just how little contextualization was happening then. We think the way we observe the rituals is an artifact of our own recent culture, and so when the culture changes we’re free to change the ritual to match. But this is exactly backwards. Christian ritual cut across and subverted the pagan cultures of the ancient world and replaced them with Christendom; the reason the culture and the ritual were so close for so long was because the ritual drove the culture, not the other way around. That was an enormous blessing, and we ought to be on our knees in thanksgiving; instead we’ve wickedly and ungratefully forgotten what happened.

  7. Bobby Grow says:

    Don’t be throwing those QED’s around to freely now, 😉 . But you didn’t show how that command isn’t simply “descriptive” in the sense of the wine per the context of the 1st cent. In other words, there is also the issue of particularity and universality; is drinking “wine” (or whatever) universal or particular to the culture? I think it’s cultural and thus particular given the cultural context in which that command was given; not the communion, but the wine, but maybe I’m wrong. I’ll have to think about it further when my mind clears up; I’m at the tail end, just today, of my 5th day of chemo — which can make me a little cloudy 🙂 .

    So are you going to re-institute “holy kisses” and usage of wine for stomach ailments as well? It seems if you’re going to be consistent with your arguement on culture and “artifacts” then you should.

    There is no doubt that Christianity plundered the spoil of the pagans, even in re. to usage of certain grammar offered by certain philosophical frameworks (like Platonism) for the purpose of articulating things like the homoousion and Trinity, etc. No arguement on your points in the last paragraph. But I would like to also see you substantiate your point on ritual driving culture, that’s a pretty strong claim, and at this point is at the level of assertion or a thesis statement w/o arguement.

  8. Tim Nichols says:

    Aw, man, lemme have my Q.E.D. I only took a week of Latin — I gotta use the little I’ve got.

    I’m not sure I’m following your further “descriptive” argument. I’m curious about what you would recognize as valid evidence. If Jesus handing them a cup of wine and saying “Drink it” doesn’t fly, what would it take? (Not rhetorical — I really do want an answer to that.)

    I’m going to do my best to answer what I think you’re saying, but please tell me if I’m talking past you.

    Regarding particularity and universality, two points. First, they had drinkable water. It’s not as though there were nothing else to drink. Second, the culture was formed by God, for nigh on 1500 years before Jesus showed up. Wine was an integral part of sacrifice (Ex. 29:38-42) and feasting (De. 14:22-27) under the Law; if it was universal to festival meals in first-century Jewish culture, this is not a fact we can blow off as an accident of history. God deliberately, visibly caused it to be so by legislating it a millenium and a half earlier, and He has preserved that legislation so that we could know that He did it that way. If, after 15 centuries of divinely orchestrated typology, Jesus fulfills that typology in the Lord’s Table, who am I to go mucking around with the details as He instituted them? You might as well have told Aaron to substitute a tofurkey for the ram in the evening sacrifice. The details are what make the typology work, and the typology matters.

    …which is part of what sets communion apart from holy kisses and wine for stomach ailments. I don’t see that consistency requires treating the central ritual of the Christian experience in the same way that we treat a casual greeting or an ad hoc remedy for an upset stomach. They’re just not the same thing at all. Details matter in ritual; they’re all there for a reason. It’s a whole other level of formal particularity.

    But just to be talking about it… As to the kiss, if you can do it and be holy, then go ahead; you won’t hear me arguing for no kissing in church–at least not on principle. If it’s not working out, well, that’s different; you have to get there without losing anyone, just like I’ve been saying all along. But the Spanish and the Middle Eastern folk seem to manage okay. I’ve got a Pakistani friend, guy old enough to be my Dad. Greets me with a kiss on each cheek every time I see him; I return them. It’s all very holy. I did the same in the more traditional areas of Spain when I was there back in the early 90s. As to the wine, if it settles your stomach and water doesn’t, then take some — no problem. A $2 Chardonnay goes great with Pepto; they both taste terrible.

    And I might ask you again — where are the brakes on your interpretation? If you can’t tell the difference between medicating an upset stomach and the core ritual of the Christian church, then at what point do you stop saying “Oh, that’s just cultural?” Wives submitting to husbands? Oh, that’s just cultural. (I mean, really–try your universality vs. particularity test there.) Rejecting homosexuality? Oh, it was a holdover from the old Jewish culture. Now that we’ve assimilated with the pagans, we’re not so straight-laced. By what standard are you going to draw the line? (Again, not rhetorical. I really want to hear an answer to this question.)

    As always, a pleasure to talk with you; take your time responding if you need to rest up a bit first. I’ll be praying for your healing and recovery.

  9. Bobby Grow says:

    1). Given the nature of “narrative” how does Jesus giving them a “cup of wine” mandate that we also have “wine” in our cups? Like I said, and you should know this, you’ve taught herm., narrative is by nature, in the first place, “descriptive;” I’m not saying it’s not necessarily didactic, but that Jesus giving them wine and then saying we should necessarily drink wine to preserve the continuity of the typology seems artificial (esp. when we don’t know the alcohol content of the wine in the 1st cent. — in other words how do we know that our “grape juice” might not be closer than our wine, the text says “fruit of the vine” which could be idiomatic for wine [I’ll have to check that]).

    2). It seems like you’re appealing to a “causal preservationist” argument for your continuity of wine argument — which is alot like the arguments I’ve heard for the preservation of the “majority text,” but that’s another issue — I wonder how the Recabites partook in “festivals” that required wine, the LORD didn’t seem to have much to say about that in Jeremiah (if in fact drinking wine was required). I just don’t think your argument works here, wine in the NT is symbolic for blood; I don’t see where “wine” is symbolic in the same way in the OT, do you (you must)?

    3). Your point on your Pakastani friend only really establishes or illustrates my point on culture; the issue is what serves as a “cultural parallel?” Americans don’t greet with kisses, it’s hugs or handshakes.

    4). Actually you’re trying to shift the burden of proof on your “wine-medicine” reductio, but it’s still on you. But to answer your question I let the context determine the “brakes.” This really gets to my point, the issue under consideration is the “principle” that is communicated within particular boundaries. If the particular makes no sense in the 21st cent. (like taking wine for stomach ailments or engaging in holy kisses in America [although this could change]), then its at this point that the “principle” [universal] needs to take precedence in our interpretation.

    So is alcohol a necessary component for the ritual of communion to be fully captured? This seems to be the emphasis of your point. Or is “what” is being symbolized by the wine — given its physical characteristics, like its “redness, liquidity, etc.,” — more important. It seems to me that wine and grape juice, when looked at superficially both capture what is of most importance typologically/symbolically, and that is that they are both red and liquid. Isn’t this what is important here? Or is it the need for alcohol to be present? To me your argument just does not follow, given what is really under consideration — the symbolization of the blood of Christ.

    In the end, Tim, I appreciate the conversation too, but this is not one I’m willing to die over. I disagree with your logic, so I’ve been willing to engage, and I remain unconvinced.

    Thank you for the prayers, brother, can’t wait to be better (clean bill).

    Peace in Christ!

  10. Dodi says:

    Bobby (and Tim),

    The commands in Scripture, directly from God, abound. A command is an imperative and an imperative is a requirement. Right? Or am I missing something. We are repeatedly required throughout Scripture to take and drink alcohol *as a means of delighting in God* and knowing that he is pleased with us.

    I am confident that you are well aware that the Bible itself doesn’t address alcohol percentages. Why? I have no clue. I can speculate though that perhaps, just perhaps, YHWH is above such pettiness and trusts those who walk with him to use their own discretion in that regard.

    As a brief aside: trying to justify your adolescent vow through the exegetical silliness of “descriptive –v– prescriptive” and then imposing it the life of the church is, in my personal opinion, quite sad. But somewhat understandable given the prohibitionist hermeneutic you have employed.

    Furthermore, from the Pentateuch to the Gospels there are many, MANY commands to drink fermented and STRONG drinks. It doesn’t seem like you take the plethora of imperatives from Yahweh and Christ very seriously. Trivializing a command from God is no small matter! Regardless of your hermeneutic, pomo, critical realist, classical dispy, etc… it’s a pretty plain teaching is Scripture.

    That said I commend you for being man of integrity. Few men today know what it means to keep their word. Yet I can’t help but wonder if it is an honorable vow. Perhaps abstaining from theatrical entertainment, indulgent technologies (such the internet), or even something sexual like masturbation I believe would be honorable.

    But abstaining from wine?

    And is *this* is why I genuinely feel sorry for you. What an impoverished Christian life you lead. And indeed you “must” lead because of this vow. You are missing out on so much! Wine is indeed more than fermented grape juice. It is a means of grace – a precious, life-giving gift – from the Triune God who lives.

    Psalm 15 assures us that a man that swears to a hurt will have access to the dwelling place of God. And for that (and that alone) I commend your fidelity to the vow you made as a child. And *HERE* in lies the problem. When you enter THE house of God – there is going to be a lot of wine. What are you going to do then?!?!?!

    My encouragement to you is this: God can forgive you. He will gladly forgive the sins of your youth. There is nothing he won’t forgive. .. this vow very much included. And beyond that he can bless you richly.

    In my opinion, you and Tim are addressing an interesting subject, but as it pertains to you, Tim is asking the wrong question. If I were Tim, I would be asking you about a biblical pattern for vows. That, I believe, is the problem with your hermeneutic.

    As I believe that such a vow is an ungodly vow – I would say that *this* is a vow worth breaking. Lean on the Lord and his mercy and come, see, TASTE (literally) and know that our Lord is good.

    – Dodi

  11. Bobby Grow says:

    Dodi,

    Rather dramatic comment, I must say.

    Give me the passages in the OT where we are commanded to drink wine. I can give you plenty that command just the opposite. I brought up the Recabites, in jest, but they are a real example whom the LORD actually lifts up for maintaining the same commitment as I hold per alcohol.

    When I enter THE house of God I won’t be drunk on wine, but filled with the Spirit.

    Please don’t put yourself in the place of God by saying I’m in sin because I don’t drink alcohol; talk about reverse psychology. Btw, I don’t recall saying I took a vow; I said that I’ve been convicted in this area ever since I was a kid, ever since I saw what alcohol can do to people’s lives (destroy them). This isn’t about vows, at all; you’re dead wrong!

    My Christian life has been fine w/o wine; you realize most of your argument here is ad hominen, right? You need to provide substance instead of accusation and assertion.

    Anyway, Dodi, enjoy your wine . . . don’t get drunk though! Seriously . . .

  12. Jim Reitman says:

    I too have been following this exchange with interest and would go further than Bobby to aver that Dodi is not only wrong about Bobby (whom I do know)…he comes across as unkind.

    As someone with a little background in hermeneutics, I would only add at this point in the discussion that Dodi’s statement, A command is an imperative and an imperative is a requirement., is confusing at the least—or worse, a bald overstatement—for both the Greek and Hebrew “imperative.” For most Hebrew verbs the morphology of the imperative is identical to that of the imperfect stem, so the distinction between the force of the imperfect and that of the imperative may be blurred, such that the “imperative” does not always or inherently imply what we are calling here a “command.” Some imperatives in both Greek and Hebrew do indeed carry the force of a “suggestion” (“this is for your [nonmoral] good”), rather than the morally explicit “Thou shalt [or not]…on pain of death” sense that we often derive from a labeled mitsvah or entolē (“commandment of God”) in Scripture. The context is determinative, so I would say, yes, Dodi, you are missing something.

    My concern has to do with the pressure I sense from Dodi (whom I don’t know) to “reverse” what he sees as excessively rigid adherence to a proscription (“you should never drink wine for communion because it contains alcohol, which is dangerous”) by applying an equally rigid prescription (“you must drink wine, because the Lord commanded it”). We see the “letter of the law” speck in our brother’s eye but do not see the quite analogous log in our own. To be sure, Bobby’s distinction between “descriptive” and “prescriptive” begs further clarification, but to call it “exegetical silliness” only makes matters worse: such a judgment is hermeneutically ill-advised and, from my vantage, sounds downright uncharitable in this exchange.

  13. Bobby Grow says:

    Good points, Jim!

    I’ll leave to the Hebrew to you, since I only have one semester under my belt. Your points on the Greek (which I have much more time with) are well taken as well. I just don’t think Dodi understands how the language or grammar works.

    Indeed, “descriptive” and “prescriptive” do beg further comment. Let me do so quickly. I would think, though, that this is a rather simple distinction, esp. within literary studies, to follow. Either something is intended to prescribe, like a command or a teaching (i.e. don’t engage in sexual immorality, like masturbating); or describe (i.e. Abraham took his son Isaac up on the hill to sacrafice — my paraphrase). When we see drinking of wine in the OT I can’t think of any instance wherein it is presecriptive (like a command, even in the English). This is the nature of “Narrative” literature, it’s primary feature is that it “tells” stories (or it describes things). Given the special nature of scripture there are certainly principles to be gleaned from Narrative; but the burden of proof then becomes to say that something gleaned from Narrative is cohortative or something that is a mandate for all to universally follow.

    My point, then, has been that all instances of drinking wine in the OT fit into this descriptive pattern; and thus to say that it necessarily carries prescriptive force is a burden that must be met — and I don’t think that burden has been meet — esp. by Dodi.

    In fact the parallel to the eucharist or communion in the NT, is circumcision in the OT (cf. Col 2) [and this in fact is an asymmetrical parallel given the nature of the Covenants]. I don’t see any necessary correlary between drinking wine in the OT and celebrating the eucharist in New T.

    I simply think the point of celebrating communion is to remember the LORD’s death, burial, resurrection, until He comes again. Why did Jesus use wine? Certainly not because of the alcoholic content, He was not going to tempt people to get drunk; instead it’s because it what was available. It was common, culturally, and it represented beautifully His shed blood (given the color and liquidness). Today He might just as have used grape juice (I really don’t see the big deal, given the point of what’s really going on in communion).

    To say, as Dodi does, that “wine” is a means of grace is very presumptive. Presumptive in the sense, if this is what you hold, that all people hold to a view of grace that is shaped by Thomist substance metaphysics; so that grace is seen as a tangible substance that confers grace when ingested. I say this is presumptive because this reflects a Roman Catholic view of grace and when applied to the eucharist a transubstantionist view of grace that is completely at odds with a Protestant understanding (whether that be ‘consubtantial’ ‘mystic’ or ‘Zwinglian’). I am Protestant, so this assertion has no theological purchase with me, whatsoever. God’s grace is Jesus Christ subjectified by the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers (thus Eph 5:18); so in other words grace is sacramentalized in Christ, not wine.

    You’ve said other things, Dodi, that are clearly driven by emotion and not well thought out formulation; I would just suggest that you sit down and really think through principles of biblical interpretation. You clearly haven’t, and unfortunately what you illustrate is how bad hermeneutics result in bad attitudes and bad ideas — in short, bad theology.

    peace.

  14. Tim Nichols says:

    Bobby,

    Since I know Dodi, I’ll vouch for him — he will enjoy his wine, as God has told him to do (e.g., Ecclesiastes 9:7), and he won’t get drunk. Don’t try to hang Thomism on him either; it won’t stick. He wasn’t a Thomist before he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy; he’s certainly not one now. (By the way, what is it with you finding a Thomist behind every bush lately?) Regarding the vow thing though, you said “a conviction and a commitment to the Lord to not drink alcohol” (emphasis mine). I read it as a vow of some sort as well; I wouldn’t know how else to describe ‘commitment to the Lord.’ Do you see a difference?
    To point at your commitment as a factor in the discussion is certainly ad hominem in a sense, but it’s not irrelevant. When a drunkard argues that it’s biblical to drink and quotes Prov. 31:6-7 to justify himself, it is certainly ad hominem to say “Don’t listen to him, he’s just a lush trying to justify his sin.” Still and all, it may very well be true, and on point, and just the right thing to say. Logic is not the measure of all things. A man’s lifelong vow of abstinence, and his corresponding lack of godly experience with alcohol, might well color his understanding of Scripture and cause him to miss the positive things God says about alcohol, might it not?

    Re. our continuing discussion: I’m having trouble pinning down the point at which we diverge, and I don’t think we’ll be able to proceed productively unless we can figure it out. We aren’t down to the nub yet; the difference is hermeneutical, and it feels to me like it’s way down under the surface as we talk. I’m going to do my best to move in that direction and see if between the two of us, we can drill down to it.

    Regarding burden of proof — I’ll cheerfully answer for myself and expect you to do the same. Nobody gets to assume the center here and assign all the homework to someone else. This is God’s world we’re discussing, and God’s Word; anyone who lives in it or talks about it has to give an account of what they do. On the specific question you asked, you already had my answer: ritual is different from casual social greeting or an ad hoc prescription for an upset stomach. Your answer in turn — “context” — could use a little elaboration, I think. “What makes sense in the 21st century” doesn’t help much; proscribing homosexuality and maintaining the headship of the husband don’t seem to make much sense in the 21st century, as far as most folks are concerned. Using that approach you can “principlize” anything you don’t like; the arbiter becomes “what makes sense to me” — and that’s just not good enough. I know you wouldn’t knowingly head in that direction, but that’s where you’re headed, as far as I can see. Can you help me to see how you’re not?

    Regarding the descriptive/prescriptive thing and its relation to burden of proof, I think Jim’s comment about further clarification is the understatement of the week. Much more discussion is called for, and you’ve not gotten very far. Let me try to stimulate further discussion thus: narrative is prescriptive. That’s why the pomo-types get all het up about somebody telling stories. When you tell someone the story that they’re living in, you are framing their world, which makes certain choices natural and others strange, certain choices good and others evil. Indirectly, narrative prescribes practically everything. Contra certain simple-minded hermeneutics texts, you not only can, but must, get your theology from narrative, because this is what the biblical authors teach us to do. Paul does — look at Romans 4, or Romans 6, or 1 Corinthians 15. What is Paul’s theology based on? Read Deuteronomy — what are the commands based on, if not the narrative?

    The question is, how is the narrative prescriptive? Not in the simple-minded “anything in the narrative is fair game to emulate” manner, certainly. Simeon and Levi sacking a city to punish a rape is not justification for similar behavior. But to react to that abuse of narrative by diving off the other side of the bridge into “narrative is descriptive, not prescriptive” is hermeneutical insanity. We live in continuity with the story, and that continuity matters. We are disciples of Jesus. We maintain that the Lord’s Table ritual we perform is the ritual that the early church performed, and that Jesus Himself set in motion at the Last Supper. We do this — as He commanded — as a memorial to Him. It would seem important, then, that the this which we do be the this that He commanded. Communion with bread and wine is what He did; communion with bread and Welch’s is not. The one needs no justification, being exactly what He did; I question whether any justification is good enough for the other, being a departure from the story that we claim to be living in.

    Which brings me to the issues underlying how the physical presence of alcohol in the cup could possibly matter so much. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be operating from the position that the physicality of the ritual doesn’t matter very much, as long as the heart is in the right place. Your account of what matters about the contents of the cup — red, liquid — seems focused on it as a reminder of Christ’s blood. So far, so good, but we can do better than Welch’s if what we’re after is fake blood. Cornstarch, water, and red food coloring is much more realistic, and all ingredients are commonly available in our culture.

    Why did Jesus use wine? You say “Certainly not because of the alcohol content” — justify that, please. Why not? Why certainly not? You’re very sure of yourself, and you’ve set forth no reason I can see for such certainty — which makes Dodi’s ad hominem approach look pretty reasonable. If the biblical reasons you’re setting forth aren’t adequate to fuel such certainty, what is fueling it?

    Communion is much more than just a mental exercise in gnosis; it’s an embodied physical experience, and there’s wine in it for a reason. To steal a quote from James Jordan, “Wine has shalom in it.” When you haven’t eaten in a while and you take a good slug of wine, it has an effect on you, even if you’re a pretty big guy (which I am). It is physically restful; it provokes relaxation; it gladdens the heart — which, by the way, is what the Holy Spirit says it’s for (Psalm 104:15). Not having ever drunk it, you won’t understand this, and you’re not really in a position to say that you aren’t missing anything — you couldn’t know, could you? Dodi is right here — you can taste and see that the Lord is good.

    Then there is the typology, which I’ve mentioned before and which we’ll have to come back to. But first we’ll probably have to talk about why typology is important at all, and this comment is long enough.

    I look forward to hearing from you; please know that I continue in prayer for your recovery and good health.

    Shalom aleichem

  15. David Wyatt says:

    Bro. Tim,

    I come late to this discussion, but I have been following it with interest. Admittedly I haven’t read every word of all the responses but have gleaned from them, if that’s a correct term. I just have one thought to add, & I may be wrong. Since the bread of the Communion is to be unleavened to represent the purity of Christ’s broken body for us, wouldn’t the cup also need to be “unleavened” or unfermented to represent the purity of His shed blood for us as well? Certainly bread with yeast tastes far better than that without it, & fermented wine may have more of a pleasing effect than simple grape juice, but would not the symbolism be important, since it was so much so in the passover? Just wanting you to know I’m not attacking, just asking. Bro. Bobby, I also pray for you & your health. God Bless.

  16. Tim Nichols says:

    David,

    Thanks for joining in. I’ve heard the leaven argument, and I see how it could look that way. I think there are a couple of things you’re missing.

    1. Wine is, from time out of mind, an integral part of the Passover celebration. Leavened bread was banished, but never wine.
    2. Among the things offered by fire on the altar, leavened bread is *never* offered. Leavened bread is used as a wave offering, but leaven is pointedly forbidden in the grain offerings that are offered on the altar. Wine, however, is used repeatedly, morning and evening, with no such prohibition ever expressed.

    Taken together, these things show us the Bible doesn’t consider wine in the same category as leavened bread, for whatever reason. Not sure I have a reason off the cuff, although I would suggest, as I did above, that part of the importance of wine is that it is a processed food, which grape juice is really not. To those considerations I would add a direct reference to the Table in the NT which is most informative.

    3. The Corinthians were obviously using wine, since some of them were getting drunk at the Table. Can you imagine if some independent Baptist pastor were writing 1 Corinthians? The very first thing he’d say is “Get the booze away from the Lord’s Table! What’s wrong with you people!” When Paul sets them straight in their practice of the Table, he doesn’t tell them they’re drinking the wrong thing; in fact, he tells them to share.

    I would suggest that’s pretty determinative. It is interesting, though, that the leavening in the bread is important in a way that the presence of yeast in the wine is not. I’m not really sure what to make of that, but I’ll give it some thought.

  17. David Wyatt says:

    Hey thanks for the response & the interplay bro. Tim. Interesting thoughts, & I’ll give it some thought as well. But of course, I’m thankful our focus as His children is on Christ & not the wine or juice! God bless.

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