The Elements of the Lord’s Supper
What Kind of Bread and
Fruit of the Vine Are We to Use?
3. Which is purer, grape juice or wine, and is grape juice a proper picture of Jesus’ blood?
Advocates of grape juice in the Lord’s Supper maintain that, because it does not contain yeast, grape juice is purer than wine and, therefore, is the more fitting symbol of our Savior’s blood in the Lord’s Supper. Is this so?
Before continuing, I want to say that I do not know of anything in the Bible that indicates that the presence or absence of yeast in the fruit of the vine Jesus used is of any significance. God told the Israelites to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. He said nothing of unleavened drink, and the Bible does not even say that a drink can be considered leavened or unleavened. Remember, there is no real sin inherent in yeast. We are dealing with symbols that God instituted. One such symbol is leavened bread. Leavened bread symbolized the sin in our lives. Unleavened bread indicated sinlessness. In Bible times, bread was made by the sourdough method, so leavening was not thought of apart from its effects upon dough and bread. The children of Israel knew nothing of yeast, which, by the way, is a microbe that is all around us all the time. Since God did not introduce symbols of leavened or unleavened drink, then we need not be concerned about these nonexistent symbols. A drink with yeast in it would have no symbolic significance because God did not give us a symbol concerning it. Nevertheless, because some people on both sides of the issue think the question is significant, I will address it.
The information I gave above about the work of Pasteur and Welch show that the idea that grape juice is purer than wine is wrong. Yeast cells are in the air all the time and settle on the skins of grapes as they grow on the vine. Freshly squeezed grape juice has these yeast cells in it. When the grape juice is pasteurized and bottled, the yeast cells are killed. So, grape juice is not inherently pure, but when it is bottled, it is sterile.
What about wine? Again, when the grapes are crushed, the yeast enters the juice. The yeast then causes fermentation. Alcohol is produced as a result of this fermentation. But when the alcohol content reaches about 10 to 14%, the yeast cells are killed and the fermentation stops. The dead yeast cells settle to the bottom as lees, and the clear wine is drawn off and bottled. If there were still live yeast in bottles of table wine, the bottles would blow their corks because of the gases given off in fermentation.
So, the question of whether grape juice or wine is pure is answered as follows: Unpasteurized, unfermented grape juice contains yeast. The same is true of juice made from raisons as raisons also have yeast on their skins. On the other hand, pasteurized grape juice and wine are both free of live yeast, and are, in that sense, pure.
What is most important, however, is what the Bible says or does not say. God never forbade the use of wine during the Passover season. If God considered it to be leavened with yeast, it would have been forbidden at this time. But the Bible does not forbid it. Wine was a perfectly acceptable drink during this festival and, hence, has God’s stamp of approval.
Although, as I pointed out, the question may not even have real significance, we have now settled that grape juice and wine are both “pure.” Next, we will ask which of them properly pictures Jesus’ blood. The answer to this question is found in the Bible.
I have already pointed out that the drink offering of Numbers 28 and Exodus 29 pictured Jesus’ shed blood and was undoubtedly fermented, alcoholic wine. In Numbers 28, God specifically orders it to be “strong wine.” God also commanded wine to be used in other offerings (see, for example, Leviticus 23:13 and Numbers 15:5, 7, and 10), where it also pictures the blood of Jesus.
I think we would all agree that the color of the fruit of the vine in the cup of the New Testament in Jesus’ blood was red. No other color would do in representing Jesus’ blood. But is color the only link between the liquid and Jesus’ blood?
Read Isaiah 25:6-8: “And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.”
The definition of “lees” in Unger’s Bible Dictionary says, “’Wines on the lees’ are wines which have been left to stand upon their lees after the first fermentation is over, which have thus thoroughly fermented, and have been kept a long time, and which are then filtered before drinking; hence wine both strong and clear; in which case it was used figuratively for the full enjoyment of blessedness in the perfected kingdom of God (Isa. 25:6).”
Earlier, in another connection, I quoted Psalm 104:14-15. It 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.” Can we not see here the oil representative of the Holy Spirit, the bread a figure of the body of Christ, and the blood symbolic of the blood of Christ? As wine in moderation physically gladdens the heart (I am not at all here speaking of drunkenness), so the blood of Christ shed for our sins is to gladden us.
We know that King David was a type of Jesus Christ. At David’s coronation, the celebration included “…wine, and oil, and oxen, and sheep abundantly: for there was joy in Israel” (1 Chronicles 12:40).
In John 6:53-55, Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”
In John 2, we read of the marriage in Cana of Galilee. A full explanation of this, the first of Jesus’ miracles, would need its own article. But I want to point out that it was a marriage feast, and the guests attended by special invitation (vv. 1-2). This should remind us of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), which is attended only by God’s elect. The wine at the marriage in Cana was not sufficient; they needed wine (John 2:3). The elect need Christ’s sacrifice, His shed blood. Jesus orders that waterpots—significantly, the type used for purifying—be filled with water. They are filled to the brim, indicating sufficiency. He tells the servants to draw some out of the pots and bring it to the governor of the feast. It is now wine. The Greek word oinos, which means wine, is used. Water could not picture what was needed here. The strength of wine, picturing the powerful blood of Jesus Christ, was needed. The governor of the feast then calls the bridegroom and tells him, “Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now” (v. 10). The Old Testament types of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ could not really remove sin; they were inferior to the real thing, the blood of Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 10:4, 14). The good wine, the blood of Jesus, came after the Old Testament types and shadows.
Those who argue that Jesus would not have made the water into wine because so much wine would have made the guests drunk are arguing from ignorance. The Bible does not say how many guests were there, and it does not say how long the feast lasted. Such feasts could sometimes last for days.
I do not want to belabor this point, and I do not want to turn this article into an article on what the Bible says about the proper use of wine. That is another topic. But if you will search the Scriptures, you will find wine used in connection with joy, gladness, abundance, prosperity, and communion. The very fact of its potency makes it the proper symbol of the power of Jesus’ blood to cleanse us from unrighteousness. Calvin, in his Genevan Catechism, wrote in answer to why the blood of the Lord is figured by wine, “As by wine the hearts of men are gladdened, their strength recruited, and the whole man strengthened, so by the blood of our Lord the same benefits are received by our souls.” To those who still want to do away with wine in the Lord’s Supper because of its potential abuse, I’ll quote Luther: “Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object that is abused. Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we prohibit and abolish women?” (as quoted on this page: http://www.allsaintspresbyterian.com/WineStudy.htm ). Even better, I will point you to 1 Corinthians 11:18-34. Paul heard that some in the Corinthian church were getting drunk when the church came together to eat the Lord’s Supper. He chastens them for their sinful behavior, but he does not tell them to stop using wine.