The Elements of the Lord’s Supper

What Kind of Bread and Fruit of the Vine Are We to Use?
part 4

Peter Ditzel

2. Could the fruit of the vine in the Lord’s Supper have been grape juice?

As mentioned earlier, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper at the time of the Passover. This feast was celebrated in the first month, sometimes called Abib and sometimes Nisan. Hebrew months do not exactly correspond to the months on our calendar, but Abib/Nisan occurs in the spring, around MarchApril. Grapes are harvested in summer. At the time Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, no fresh grape juice would have been available.

But could not grape juice from the last summer’s harvest have been preserved until spring?

The proponents of grape juice for the Lord’s Supper insist that the ancients knew how to preserve grape juice, but the evidence they present is flawed. There is often a reference to the Roman statesman, Cato, saying in De Agri Cultura CXX, “If you wish to have must [grape-juice] all year, put grape-juice in an amphora and seal the cork with pitch; sink it in a fishpond. After 30 days take it out. It will be grape-juice for a whole year.” But Cato’s De Agri Cultura is not the inerrant Bible. In CLX of this same book, we can read how to cure any dislocation: “Any kind of dislocation may be cured by the following charm: Take a green reed four or five feet long and split it down the middle, and let two men hold it to your hips. Begin to chant: ’motas uaeta daries dardares astataries dissunapiter’ and continue until they meet. Brandish a knife over them, and when the reeds meet so that one touches the other, grasp with the hand and cut right and left. If the pieces are applied to the dislocation or the fracture, it will heal. And none the less chant every day, and, in the case of a dislocation, in this manner, if you wish: ’huat haut haut istasis tarsis ardannabou dannaustra.’” (See http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cato/De_Agricultura/L*.html  .) Is Cato truly a source to be trusted?

Several other ancient methods of being able to have unfermented grape juice are usually given, such as making juice from raisons or from boiled-down concentrate. Perhaps some of these methods would have some success. But does the Bible give us any reason to believe that Jesus was using raison juice or reconstituted concentrate or a drink made from any of the other methods? No. As we have already seen, wine—even strong wine—is what pictured Jesus’ blood in the Old Testament sacrifices. The extra-biblical data cited by the advocates of grape juice for the Lord’s Supper simply cannot stand up to the plain biblical evidence.

Critics also say that grape juice, and not wine, must be the fruit of the vine because wine is too many steps distant from the vine to be called its fruit. These critics should then criticize God for inspiring Psalm 104:14-15, which says, “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.” Does bread come directly from the earth? No. There are several steps of processing by humans between the grain harvest and the loaf of bread. Yet, these verses say that food and wine and oil and bread are brought forth out of the earth. If God can say this in Psalm 104, why cannot Jesus call wine the fruit of the vine?

Deuteronomy 7:13 is similar: “And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he swore unto thy fathers to give thee.” Notice that wine is specifically listed as one of the fruits of the land.

For some reason, the proponents of grape juice in the Lord’s Supper usually assert that the bottled wines available today are much stronger than the fermented wines of Bible times. They usually wind up saying or hinting that modern wines are fortified. The facts about wine are easily found both in print and electronically (on the Internet, for example, see the Wikipedia articles on wine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wine and fortified wine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortified_wine ), but some people have continued to perpetuate this myth. Fortified wines are wines to which additional alcohol has been added. This raises the level of alcohol in these wines to 14 to 20%. These are, however, specialty dessert, liqueur, apéritif, or appetizer wines. These include sherry, port, marsala, Madeira, vermouth, and muscatel, as well as such cheap wines as Ripple and Thunderbird. But the vast majority of wines, the common red and white table wines, are naturally fermented without fortification. Their alcohol content is from 8 to 15.5%, but is usually in the range of 10 to 14%. Since these wines are naturally fermented, they are not much different from the naturally fermented wines that have been made for millennia.

Objections to the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper are almost unheard of before the nineteenth century. Dr. Benjamin Rush (b. 1745 d. 1813), a Founding Father of the United States, might be said to be the father of the American temperance movement. Rush had many ideas that we would never accept today. For example: He advocated bleeding for almost any illness long after it had lost popularity with other physicians, he concocted laxatives that he made with more than 50% mercury, his favorite method of psychiatric treatment was to tie the patient to a board and rapidly spin it until the blood went to the head, and he believed that being black was a hereditary illness that he called “negroidism.” But he had one idea that caught on. Rush started the idea of addiction, and he believed that abstinence is the only cure for addiction. Influenced by Rush’s ideas, temperance movements began to spring up around the United States.

The temperance movement was especially popular among feminists and Methodists (feminists, because they saw women as the victims of violence and broken homes caused by drunkenness; Methodists, because they saw alcohol as a temptation hindering people from attaining what they call “entire sanctification” or “Christian perfection,” a completely unbiblical idea).

One such Methodist was Thomas Bramwell Welch (b. 1825 d. 1903). Welch was a physician and dentist in Vineland, New Jersey. He was also the communion steward in his church. In 1869, Welch developed what he called “unfermented sacramental wine,” and was, in fact, the first person to successfully pasteurize grape juice for commercial purposes. His work was based on that of Louis Pasteur (b. 1822 d. 1895).

Four years before, Pasteur had found that wine fermentation was the result of the activity of yeast (before this, it had been thought to be the result of purely chemical processes). He showed that it was the yeast microorganisms that collected on the skin of the grapes as they grew that then caused the fermentation when the grapes were crushed. If the grapes were grown under wraps, or if the juice was drawn out of the skins with sterile needles, the juice would not ferment. Also, if juice that had been sterilized with heat was put into a flask with a swan-shaped neck, so that air could get to it, but not dust, it would not ferment. But when the flask was tipped so that some of the juice went into the neck and picked up some dust and was then allowed to drip back into the flask, the juice began to ferment (see the article here http://pyramid.spd.louisville.edu/~eri/fos/interest1.html ).

What Welch did was to quickly heat the grape juice to kill the yeast cells in it, and then vacuum bottle it to prevent any more yeast from getting to it. His son, Charles E. Welch, who was also a dentist, successfully promoted "Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine" to other churches. Charles promoted the product at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. He is quoted as saying that unfermented grape juice was born “out of a passion to serve God by helping his church to give its communion ‘the fruit of the vine’ instead of the ‘cup of devils’” (Michael M. Homan and Mark A. Gstohl, "Jesus the Teetotaler: How Dr. Welch put the Lord on the wagon," Bible Review 18 [April 2002] 29). Besides keeping the "cup of devils" out of the church, the Welches may have had additional motives. Their home town of Vineland, New Jersey, had been started as a utopian community by Charles K. Landis, who outlawed the sale of alcohol but encouraged grape farming. But what to do with all the grapes? Thank you, Dr. Welch, for inventing “unfermented sacramental wine”! Eventually, Welch’s Grape Juice was also sold as a general beverage.

One reason I point out this information about Rush, Pasteur, Welch, and the temperance movement is to show that the questioning of wine in the Lord’s Supper is indeed the result of an eighteenth-century medical theory (addiction and, hence, abstinence) and a nineteenth century social movement, is not soundly based on the Bible, and was only able to be put into practice because of scientific advancements in microbiology. I will address another reason below.

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