“In vino veritas” is a Latin phrase suggesting that people are more likely to say what they really feel under the influence of alcohol. It means, “There is truth in wine.” Really, perhaps the “The good, the bad and the ugly” a Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western is another metaphor for a sweeping generality of brutality and violence on screen encapsulated in the title. But actually, throughout history, wine has played a major role, not just in drunkenness but calming and healing as well.
Wine is the most consumed drink after potable water in the world. It sometimes is the only thing drinkable that is available. It has multiple medicinal purposes as well. Recall the Apostle Paul advising his young protégé Timothy saying, Stop drinking just water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23). Actually, the Bible uses wine some 240 times, expressing its purposes, practical, ceremonial and spiritual as well as improperly when leading to drunkenness. Perhaps the latter reference is most dramatically expressed in Scripture with, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Yes, a life in the Spirit is life and health, but a life in wine generally does not lead down the right path.
My mother was an alcoholic with Alzheimer’s and mental illness. She loved wine of any kind. She traveled the world with my father trying new vintages from the East to the West finding French their favorite. Their were always memories attached to the bottle.
I was once a member of the Confreries des Chevaliers du Tastevin, an ancient societe gastronomique started in France dedicated to promoting better understanding of great wine and food, particularly from the Cote d’Or or Burgundian region of France. Well really it is an exclusive and very expensive Bacchanalian “drinking club” throughout the world. My father was a national Commander Generale and my brother is now a member. I resigned in order to not be hung-over at work running hospitals the next morning. However, I did learn quite a bit of history and it enhanced my interest in such things. My own travel and work in France was even more greatly enjoyed because of great wine and food. Interestingly, many men in my family were members of German Pudel Club here in the Milwaukee area in the late 1800s and turn of the 20th century. We still have several very ornate drinking goblets and steins to commemorate the era.
But let me return to wine more broadly. When you think of wine you might think France, Italy and the United States. Yes, these countries are major producers and drinkers. But interestingly, per capita, Vatican City is first followed by Andorra and then, Luxembourg, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Portugal and Switzerland. The Vatican consumes some 54.78 liters per person with Italy at 42. The U.S. is at about nine liters comparatively. I think one of the big reasons is that we have had good sources of drinking water, particularly the Great Lakes from the beginning.
This essay now returns to Biblical usage of wine. I love the admonition that we must not be filled or controlled by wine or anything else other than the Holy Spirit. But starting with Genesis we read stories of wine leading to drunkenness and begetting of sons and daughters for good and not good purposes. The drunken Noah of Ark fame had to be covered up by his sons in his drunken state. In Genesis 19 we read of Lot’s daughters getting their father drunk so they could lie with him and become pregnant to carry on the family lineage.
In Exodus and Leviticus we read of wine as a sacrificial drink offering to God. Numbers first treats the idea of abstention for purity in a Narzirite. New wine in Deuteronomy is a sign of blessing at harvest for sustaining the people. In Judges we read of Samson who was to abstain as a Nazirite, who got sidetracked by women along the way. Also, the winepress ironically is where Gideon hid from the enemies, when God found him to empower him to become a warrior for God.
I find it fascinating that in 1 Samuel, Elkanah a drunken father himself, found his daughter Hannah, a godly woman in prayer to be drunk on wine. David was sent with wine as a gift for Saul and later Abigail used it as a gift for David to keep him from murdering her bad news husband. Traveling on to Nehemiah we find a leader who was allotted bounties of food and wine, giving it all away to the people who were laboring for the good of Jerusalem. He was a rare leader indeed.
The Wisdom books of Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes speak of wine gladdening the heart or bringing ruin. Yes, wine is a mocker and too much is a brawler.
Moving to the Prophets we find Isaiah speaking of wine in laudatory and degrading terms. Often they spoke of the harvest as a good and redeeming time of restoration and prosperity. But yet abstaining from wine was a command for some. Yes, it was a sacrificial gift as well.
The New Testament again speaks of wine and wineskins likened as to the Holy Spirit. We must use new wineskins when the power of the Spirit will expand them as Matthew writes. Jesus did not drink the putrid wine offers on the cross. But He turned water into wine in John 2 as His first miracle, celebrating abundance and joy represented through His gift of His life and death for us. He saved the best until last. In Acts people made fun of the Spirit-filled disciples thinking them full of wine. In Romans we are reminded not to let wine become a stumbling block to another brother or sister. We already read how in Ephesians Paul commands us not to be filled with wine but the Holy Spirit of God. Titus reminds us not to be addicted to too much wine, a regular theme of Scripture.
Revelation sadly brings us to wine and the winepress of God’s wrath to be poured out in the tribulation on a disobedient human race that will be destroyed for their own folly. He will tread the winepress and the wine and blood will flow. But let’s also pause and remember Christ today as we take the bread and the wine of Communion. The wine is the cup of the blood of New Covenant shed for the forgiveness of sins of all. We are to drink it in remembrance of His life, death and resurrection until He returns. The wine represents His blood poured out for us that we might live as forgiven. As we drink the cup we celebrate Jesus Christ. In a very minor way, when we lift a glass in a toast of celebration, we are doing the same thing. But it is only His blood in wine that purifies and cleanses us of all unrighteousness. Drink yea, all of it.