Two Wine Theory

A few large denominations in the US are tee-totallers.  This often puzzles others, who read that Jesus turned water into wine in the New Testament story of the Wedding at Cana and thus, not illogically, conclude that Jesus was not offended by wine-drinking.  This is what the world of Christendom at large believed, up until the temperance movement created and promulgated the Two Wine theory (there were a couple of exceptions early on, but since they had nothing like grape juice, their practice was to replace wine in communion with water).  The idea is that there are two different kinds of wine in the Bible, one for wine that is what most of us understand by wine, and one for what is essentially grape juice, or unfermented ‘wine.’

There is an interesting history behind the Two Wine theory.

In the mid 1800s an American temperance movement organization offered a prize of one hundred sovereigns “for the best Essay on the Benefits of Total Abstinence from All Intoxicating Drinks.” Two articles, called Bachus and Anti-bachus, won the prize. Bacchus was written by Ralph Barnes Grindrod, and Anti-Bacchus was written by Rev. B. Parsons.  They were the original proponents of the 2 wine theory.

In the 1920s William Patton wrote a book called Bible Wines, which was largely based on those two essays.  It gained huge popularity with the teetotalling churches, and countless articles, sermons, essays, Bible classes, even workbooks have been produced from Patton’s work or derivatives of it. His book is still in print.

What Patton and his disciples either did not know or did not care about is that in 1841, Dr. John MacLean, Professor of Ancient Languages at the College of New Jersey published a devastating criticism of those two essays.  His article was published in two parts by The Princeton Review, Volumes 13 and 14
Bacchus and Anti-Bacchus, Part 1
Part II

He demonstrated that authors of both the temperance essays  had misquoted ancient writers, taken things out of context, poorly understand the science of wine-making, and just plain gotten it wrong on almost all counts.

Patton presents quotes that Parsons and Grindrod took from authors such as Pliny, Columella, Aristotle, and others who lived contemporarily with the Apostles or earlier. McLean shows that some of these quotes were taken out of context, and that these ancient authors actually provide ample proof that the Two Wine Theory is false.

One example is the claim that grape juice was frequently boiled into a syrup, in order to prevent fermentation. The truth (as shown by McLean from documents written during or before the time of Christ) is that the must was boiled into a syrup prior to fermentation in order to improve, not prevent, fermentation. It had the effect of producing a concentrated wine (similar to our concentrated orange juice) that was both extremely sweet and extremely alcoholic. This is the wine we read about that was “always diluted with water” (i.e., reconstituted).

[it was still alcoholic when diluted, just not as powerfully so as the concentrate]

Another example is the claim that Pliny describes a process for preventing fermentation by allowing the must to settle. McLean shows that Parsons mistranslated the word “deferbuit” and that it really referred to the cessation of fermentation (i.e., not “when it has settled” but “when it has ceased to ferment”).

McLean also shows that during the first century, and well before, the words we associate with wine and strong drink were not used unmodified to refer to unfermented beverages. Any time an unfermented beverage was mentioned, it was always by some other term. He also shows from ancient documents that there was no concept of “two wines”, but only one that was always fermented. ”

Maclean, according to his own explanation, was motivated by his zeal for accurately understanding the Bible. From his article:
“But when they invade the sanctuary of God, and teach for doctrine the commandments of men; when they wrest the scriptures, and make them speak a language at variance with the truth when they assume positions opposed to the precepts of Christ, and to the peace of his church; when, in reference to wine, which the Saviour made the symbol of his shed blood, in the most sacred rite of his holy religion, they assert that it is a thing condemned of God and injurious to men, and use the language of the Judaizing teachers in the ancient church, “touch not, taste not, handle not,”* when Christ has commanded all his disciples to drink of it in remembrance of him, we cannot consent to let such sentiments pass with¬out somewhat of the rebuke which they so richly deserve. “

His work had fallen into obscurity when in the midst of the 1920s era Prohibition fervor in America, William Patton relied heavily on the previously debunked Bacchus and AntiBachus articles and revived the false 2 wine theory in his book Bible Wines or the Laws of Fermentation and Wines of the Ancients, which is still being published and misleading people today. I do not know if he was ignorant of the fact that those two articles had been debunked, or if he was dishonest. At any rate, his ideas influenced the religious world, including authors of commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and other materials, and so this false information was disseminated throughout American denominations, and often from here, elsewhere.

One interesting thing to me is that when I have shared this background information with people who still believe in the two-wine theory, they always  hasten to assure me that they reached their two-wine theory conclusion entirely independently, studying out the issue for themselves without relying on any outside study, just the Bible.  The reason they believe that wine in the Bible is mostly nonalcoholic is entirely uninfluenced by Patton or the Temperance Movement.  This is, frankly, impossible. They sincerely believe in the independence of their research.  They may well be ignorant of America’s temperance movement and have never heard of Patton or the articles he relied on, and so they think this proves that their conclusions were clear of such outside influences.

However,  if we are able to have a civil conversation about what they believe and why, I always learn this is not accurate. They will make an extra-biblical historical claim (which is not correct, and the error will be the same as Patton’s), explain the process of fermentation in a way that is both scientifically false and also clearly traceable to the errors in the Temperance essays, or they define a word in a way that could only have come from one of the links in the two wine theory arguments started in the Bachus and Anti-Bachus essays and widely spread by William Patton.  Again, these are honest errors, but the influence is clear to those who have read both Patton and McClean.

But, it is not even necessary to search archives of nineteenth century literature to expose the false statements in Patton’s book. All you have to do is use your favorite internet search engine and look for things like “anaerobic fermentation” or look up “fermentation” in an encyclopedia. For example, Patton says that one method of preventing fermentation was to bury containers of grape juice in order to exclude air. He says excluding air will prevent fermentation. That’s demonstrably false. Vinous fermentation is an anaerobic process that works better when air is excluded. In addition, excluding the air prevents acetous fermentation, which is what turns wine into vinegar. Another benefit to burying a container of must, is that it would stay nicely in the middle of the 50-75 degree range necessary for optimum vinous fermentation (which Patton says would be impossible in Palestine two thousand years ago). Patton also says that adding sulfur to the must was for the purpose of preventing fermentation. However, sulfur was (and sometimes still is) added to prevent the acetous fermentation of wine into vinegar. The purpose is to ensure that the finished product will be an alcoholic beverage.”

Another interesting point for those who, like me, find these historical details fascinating- Welch’s Grape Juice was first introduced to the public as non-alcoholic wine, and was marketed specifically to churches as a replacement for communion wines.

welch's grape juice

From “Principles of marketing; a textbook for colleges and schools of business administration” published in 1921

All churches, including those groups who are now known for their staunch opposition to all alcohol use,  used real wine in communion (a few may have used water) because there really wasn’t a readily available alternative until Dr. Welch, a staunch Methodist and strong supporter of the temperance movement, patented his process for pasteurizing grape juice and marketed it to churches. Some of the grape juice only for communion groups didn’t even make the switch until Prohibition.

From the 1925 The Story of a Pantry Shelf: An Outline History of Grocery Specialities: “Thus the Methodist Church in the little village of Vineland was the first church to use unfermented wine for communion. It was called “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine.” The home kitchen continued for several years to be the only factory.”




To be continued.

Also: Bible verses on the blessing of wine

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