Baptist History Homepage

What Was the "Fruit of the Vine" Which Jesus Gave
His Disciples at the Institution of the Supper?

by Professor Alvah Hovey
      The writer has decided to lay before his brethren the results of considerable study of this question, though with much reluctance. For his sympathies are heartily with the active friends of temperance, and it is natural to fear that some of them will count him an enemy for stating to them what he believes to be the truth. But a course of painstaking inquiry extending over several years, has brought him at last to conclusions which, it is hoped, may be explained without offence to any just man.

      First, then, does the fact that Jesus did not use the word "wine," but spoke rather of "this cup" and "this fruit of the vine," favor the idea that the liquor used was unfermented? By no means, when all the facts are considered. Luke and Paul report Jesus as saying to His disciples, "this cup is the new covenant in My blood." Matthew and Mark do not say that Jesus employed the word at all, but they relate that "He took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it." Evidently the cup here signifies what was in it, just as a man says to the boy at a Saratoga spring, "Give me a glass," meaning a glass full of the water. The language is perfectly natural and well nigh universal. When necessary the liquid filling the cup is named, otherwise not (See Psalm 16:5; 23:5; 116:13; Jeremiah 16:7; 25:15, 17, 28; 49:12; Matthew 20:22-23). To suppose that the expression was chosen by Christ or by the evangelists for the sake of avoiding the term "wine," is gratuitous. Why should that term have been avoided, if it signified unfermented grape-juice whenever the use of wine was required or approved? [F]or this is the doctrine of those who advocate the two-wine theory. Besides, the Mishna testifies that at the Paschal supper "four cups" were drunk at four stages of the meal, and that they were called "the first cup," "the second cup," "the third cup," or "cup of blessing," and so on. This was a customary abbreviation, a settled form of speech, known to all the people.

      But is "the fruit of the vine," or "this fruit of the vine," a perfectly suitable designation of wine? Must it not rather mean the fresh juice of the grape? Usage is the law of speech, and it may be said without fear that both scholars and common people, from the time of Christ until the nineteenth century, considered "fruit of the vine," a very beautiful and suitable synonym for wine. Only since it began to be believed that fermented grape-juice is poisonous, and should always be eschewed, was the discovery made that wine is not "the fruit of the vine." Chrysostom, opposing a sect that used water instead of wine in the Lord's Supper, says: " A vine produces wine, not water," and he must have meant by wine fermented drink which was rejected by that sect, at the Lord's table. Indeed, it can easily be shown that the Christian fathers always meant by the word wine, unqualified by other terms, the fermented juice of grapes, yet that juice mixed with water when employed at the Lord's supper. The customary forms of blessing used by the Jews at the Paschal supper were, according to the Mishna, "Blessed be He that causeth bread to grow out of the earth," and "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, who hast created the fruit of the vine" (See Lightfoot and Gill on Matthew 26:26-27). Still further: the same words of blessing were daily employed by devout Jews, especially at their social entertainments, whether dinners or suppers. To bless God for "bread that grows out of the earth" was their habit before eating bread, and to bless Him for "the fruit of the vine" was no less their custom before drinking wine. And as certainly as their bread was commonly leavened, so certainly was their wine commonly fermented. If it be said that unleavened bread, not leavened, grows out of the earth, one finds it difficult to imagine the declaration serious. For, speaking strictly, no kind of bread grows out of the earth. John C. Calhoun, criticising that sentence in the Declaration of Independence which affirms that "all men are born free and equal," said: "Men are not born at all; it is babes that are born." But such criticism, though in a certain sense true, is puerile. As language is used and understood, all men have been born, the man of eighty as truly as the boy of fifteen or the babe of one; and in the same sense all the bread that men eat, whether leavened or unleavened, has come from the earth. Whether all the wine that men drink is "the fruit of the vine" is indeed more doubtful, but not on account of its age or fermentation. When God is praised in the 104th psalm, 14th verse, as "bringing forth bread out of the earth," is it not evident that bread is said to be brought forth out of the earth, because the materials from which it is made have that origin? And would it not be absurd to argue that the Psalmist must have been thinking of unleavened bread, "the bread of affliction," which was eaten but one week in the year, instead of leavened bread which was a staple viand all the rest of the year? In the next verse it is written that "with bread He strengtheneth man's heart" and that "with wine (yayin) He maketh glad the heart of man." Both the noun translated "wine" and the verb translated "maketh glad" show that the Psalmist had in mind an exhilarating drink, the ordinary wine of the period. And if proper wine was meant, or was included in the meaning, then was it God's gift and not man's perversion of God's gift. Properly used, as every gift of God ought to be used, it was a blessing, not a curse. Alas, men do not use it properly, and therefore we feel constrained to insist upon total abstinence as the only safe course.

      If then Jesus, in giving thanks for the cup, made use of the customary expression, "the fruit of the vine," to denote its content, it would surely have been most natural for Him to say, a moment later, "I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's Kingdom" (Matt. 26:29). The word here translated "new" refers to quality rather than to age. "In that new kingdom founded on the New Covenant, He will meet them again, and drink with them a new kind of wine" (Luther, quoted by Broadus). It is clear, from what has been said, that the expression "this fruit of the vine" proves nothing at all as to the qualities of the wine used, unless we bring to it knowledge from other sources concerning the liquor which Jews were then accustomed to drink. It does not distinguish [P]assover wine in any respect from that which was ordinarily used as a beverage. The same expression was applied to wine every day of the year, when it was received by devout Jews at their meals.

      Secondly, does the fact that the Jews were forbidden to use leaven in any form during the Passover prove that fermented grape-juice could not have been given by Jesus to His disciples in the cup? This question has been answered in the affirmative on the ground that ferment is leaven, and was therefore banished from every Jewish house during the Passover. On the correctness of this answer very many who object to the use of wine in the Lord's Supper rely with perfect confidence. But it seems to the writer of this article incorrect:

      (a) Because no passage of Scripture names wine, or any kind of wine, as forbidden to Jews during the Passover, nor does any passage speak of pious Jews as abstaining from it at that time. Yet Palestine was so much of a wine-producing country that we should have expected to find some trace of abstinence from it, in the form commonly used, if it was thought to be leavened. Somewhere in the Old Testament, in the Apocrypha, or in the New Testament, some allusion to this important fact would have been discovered. But none has been found. And Josephus is equally silent.

      (b) Because Jews were commanded to remove all leaven from their borders during the Passover week (Exodus 13:7; Deuteronomy 16:4), and the word "border" (Jebul) is never applied in the Old Testament to a mere house or house-lot; it means in these passages the whole land of Israel. No "sojourner" in that land was to be suffered to eat anything leavened (see Ex. 12:19-20). Is it credible that midway between one vintage and the next all fermented juice of the grape was destroyed in Palestine? and that this destruction is never expressly mentioned? The loss of property in destroying leaven and leavened bread would have been inconsiderable; but the loss in destroying all the wine of the land would have seemed enormous. But even if "thy border" was understood in the time of Christ to mean the homestead of every Jew, it appears from the Mishna (Pesachim I.1) that this included whatever ware-houses or wine-cellars any one possessed, for "into these," it is said, "leaven is sometimes carried." The search for it was made by candlelight in the evening of the 14th of Nisan, and whatever was found "was to be burned at the beginning of the sixth hour," or, "as the sages say, must be crumbled into small particles, and cast forth to the wind, or thrown into the sea." Yet this part of the Mishna, "which treats of the removal of leaven from Jewish houses, or places under Jewish control, defining what constitutes leaven and how to banish it before or during the festival," nowhere intimates that common wine was thought to be leavened or was destroyed. It generally speaks as if dough was the only material of leaven, and grain, meal, flour, or bread the only leavened substances. The alleged exceptions are only apparent, for it was supposed that the excepted articles might contain particles of meal or flour.

      (c) Because the use of the terms leaven and leavened in the Old Testament does not warrant the statement that they were ever applied to the principle of vinous fermentation on the one hand, or to wine as the result of such fermentation on the other. The Hebrew noun (seõr), translated "leaven," occurs in five places only (viz., Exodus 12:15, 19; 13:7; Leviticus 2:11; Deut. 16:4), and never in apparent connection with wine, strong drink, or any other beverage. The meaning of the verbal stem is said to be to expand, to swell up, to ferment, and the material of leaven is represented as being commonly "sour dough."

      Again the adjective (chämetz), meaning "leavened," occurs ten times (viz., in Exodus 12:15; 13:3, 7; 23:18; 34:25; Leviticus 2:11; 6:10 (Eng. 6:17); 7:13; 22:17; Am. 4:5), and is everywhere to be understood as "leavened bread' or leavened meal. In six of the ten passages it is spoken of as that which is eaten; in three it is spoken of in relation to sacrifice where it could not be eaten; in the other it is spoken of as baked.

      A participle, from the same root as this adjective, occurs twice (Exodus 12:19-20), "Seven days shall there be no leaven (seõr) found in your houses; for whosoever eateth of that which is 'leavened,' that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel... Ye shall eat nothing 'leavened.'"

      The verbal stem is said by Gesenius to signify "to be sharp, pungent, [1], of the taste, to be sour, acid, and [2], of the sight, to be bright, splendid," and is found in six places (Exodus 12:34, 39; Psalm 71:4; 73:21; Isaiah 63:1; Hosea 7:4). They read as follows: in Exodus: "And the people took their dough before it 'was leavened,' their kneading troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders"... "And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened;" in the Psalms (71:4): "Rescue me, O my God, out of the hand of the unrighteous and 'cruel.' (i.e. 'sour' or 'bitter') man," and 73:21: "For my heart was 'grieved' (i.e. 'soured,' 'embittered'), and I was pricked in my veins;" and lastly in the prophets, Isaiah 63:1: "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with 'dyed' (or 'crimsoned') garments from Bozrah?" and Hosea 7:4: "He ceaseth to stir (the fire), from the kneading of the dough until it 'be leavened.' " In three of the above cited passages the verb (hamets) is connected with dough; in two it is used figuratively of a man's temper, and in one it is employed to denote a sharp color, probably crimson.

      Finally, we have from the same root a noun which signifies vinegar, and appears in four passages: (Numbers 6:3, 22; Ruth 2:14; Psalm 69:22; Proverbs 10:26; 25:20). Vinegar was of course a liquid, but the word is nowhere found in such connections as to imply that it was a common beverage. It was sour, sharp, and useful only as a relish. And this is the single derivation from the verb which signifies a liquid. Hence there is no allusion to vinous fermentation in any passage where this verb or any of its derivatives is found, and, as far as the present writer can see, the late revisers of the Old Testament, as well as their predecessors in 1611, have given the sense of the adjective correctly as leavened bread in every place where it is prohibited during the Passover. Moreover, if it had been the intention of the Passover laws to exclude all ferments from drinks as well as from food, the fresh juice of the grape would have been first prohibited, for the principle of fermentation is present already, in the freshly expressed juice of the grape, while it is almost or entirely wanting to proper wine, that is, when the vinous fermentation is completed.

      (d) Because, according to the plain sense of Scripture, wine (yayin) was presented to the Lord daily, morning and evening, the year around, as a drink offering (Exodus 29:38-42; and Numbers 28, passim). "Now this is that which thou shalt offer upon the altar; two lambs of the first year, day by day, continually. The one lamb thou shalt offer in the morning, and the other lamb thou shalt offer at even; and with the one lamb a tenth part (of an ephah) of fine flour mingled with the fourth part of an hin of beaten oil; and the fourth part of an hin of wine for a drink offering. And the other lamb thou shalt offer at even, and shalt do thereto according to the meal offering of the morning, and according to the drink offering thereof, for a sweet savour, an offering made by fire unto the Lord." And that this drink offering of wine was not omitted during the Passover we learn from Numbers 28:24, where, in the writer's account of the seven days of unleavened bread, it is said: "After this manner ye shall offer daily, for seven days, the food (lit. bread), the offering made by fire of a sweet savour unto the Lord: It shall be offered beside the continual burnt offering and the drink offering thereof." It is for those who believe in the two-wine theory to account for the fact that yayin, a word which they admit to be equivocal in sense, is used in every passage but one to denote the wine of the drink offering, while in that one passage shekhar, a word which must be equivocal according to their theory, but which really signifies "strong drink," is employed. If the sacred writers meant to require the use of unfermented grape-juice for the daily drink offering, and if they knew of any noun (e.g. asis or tirosh) which denoted this "pleasant and nutritious" beverage, it is passing strange they never selected one of these names for it, but were satisfied to call it yayin or shekhar, though these nouns commonly, if not always, denoted a fermented liquor.

      But did not the priests eat the Paschal supper? And, if intoxicating wine was drunk to any extent at that supper, could they have partaken without breaking the rule laid down for them in Leviticus 10:9, 10? The words of this rule are: "Drink no wine or strong drink, thou, nor they sons with thee, when ye go into the tent of meeting, that ye die not," etc. This prohibition follows the narrative of the sin of Nadab and Abihu in offering strange fire before the Lord, and their sudden death for their sin. It is natural to suppose that their sin was committed while they were stimulated, if not intoxicated, by wine or strong drink. If so, the words wine and strong drink here denote intoxicating liquors, and the drinking of such liquors by priests when about to go into the tabernacle to offer sacrifice was strictly forbidden. But the priests did not partake of the Paschal supper until their service at the altar was completed for the previous day, and from the time of eating the Paschal lamb until that of the next morning offering must have been ten or twelve hours. So the drinking of a little wine, diluted with water, could not have been regarded as breaking the rule of action prescribed in Leviticus 10:9. They did not drink it when they were going into the tent of meeting.

      (e) Because Jesus was crucified on the first day of the Passover week and partook of vinegar on the cross, though vinegar is a product of fermentation. For John writes (10:29) that when he cried "I thirst" "they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and brought it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar he said, 'It is finished.' " If the law of the Passover forbade the use of fermented drink it was broken by Jesus only a moment before his death.

      (f) Because of the testimony of scholars as to the number of cups drunk at the Paschal supper, and as to the nature of their contents. In Ugolino's Thesaurus (vol. xxx., p. 1535f) is a treatise by D. G. Werner on the "Blessing of the Cups," in which the passages from the Mishna relating to wine in Jewish feasts, and especially in the feast of the Passover, are given with Latin translations. Werner's statements are founded on those passages from the Mishna, and one of them is as follows: "It was their custom to dilute their wine with three parts of water; not more for the sake of sobriety than on account of the vehement nature of the wine which their lands produced, in order that they might render its taste milder and more agreeable." (Italics in this quotation by the present writer.) And he quotes the saying of a certain Rabbi that "no wine whose one part is not mixed with three parts of water is wine." The size of the "cup" used at the supper is also carefully discussed, and the conclusion reached from Rabbinic testimony that it held a quarter of a log or sextarius, while a log held six eggs. Each cup then would contain an eggful and a half of wine, and a sextarius or log six eggfuls. According to the article in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible a log measured either about a pint or about a half pint, and a "cup" either about a gill or half a gill.

      Again, the Buxtorfs, father and son, in their work on the Jewish Synagogue (c. xviii. p. 408 fn.) say that

"the Rabbins require four cups to be poured out for each person, and to be emptied by each one, in order that remembrance may be declared of a fourfold benefit and deliverance;" ....also, "that whoever is abstemious or in any way injured by wine is bound to drink these four cups though nature reluctates." "That after the first cup they partake of a salad dipped in vinegar, eating a little because vinegar stimulates the appetite." "That care must be taken at the second cup that no one fill his stomach with too much food and wine, lest he may eat the next loaf with disgust or nausea, or may fall asleep intoxicated, and so be unable to finish the hymn with the rest." "That after the fourth cup no more wine must be tasted that night, unless, perchance, one may be sick or suffering from weakness of stomach; for in that case a fifth cup may be poured out, and the great Hallel be recited." "That this number of cups is not to be exceeded, because the participants ought to be engaged all the night in observing the rites of the Passover lawfully, in recalling to mind the deliverance from Egypt, in celebrating the miracles which God then wrought for their fathers, until slumber overtake them. But if anyone should drink more he might easily become intoxicated and forget some of those things, or do others irregularly." "That every Israelite is bound by all means to provide for himself the four cups which the Rabbins require, because their precepts are equivalent to divine laws. But if anyone can in no way procure this, he shall procure for himself dried grapes (uvas siccas) and soak them in water until they have the taste of wine. If he has not even this means, he may substitute bread and use the blessings prescribed for the cups with the other rites."
      But how shall this be reconciled with another passage in the same chapter of Buxtorf's work (p. 403) in which he uses the following language?
"So scrupulously do they observe this precept not to eat anything leavened in the Passover... that they abstain from all things in which there may be any leaven; as from honey, because this is apt to be adulterated with meal; from sugar, because meal is sometimes mixed with it; from figs, because they are commonly sprinkled with meal; from raisins (uvis passis), because they are often in contact with figs; from saffron, because, if it loses its color when carried from one region into another, its color is wont to be restored by adding leaven. Some abstain even from salmon, because it is cut up with the same knives used in cutting bread. They abstain from vinegar, which is generally preserved in bath-rooms in casks or jars, because through the whole year it is filled with the residuum of wine from drinking-cups, and in it therefore there may easily be some crumbs of bread."
      The statements of Buxtorf are perfectly consistent; for he does not mention wine among the articles from which the most scrupulous Jews abstained. And knowing what we do about "the Hedge around the Law" we cannot be surprised that orthodox Jews who bowed to the authority of the Mishna should have been just as particular as this passage affirms. Nor can we be much surprised that the scrupulosity of Rabbinic Judaism at the time of Christ should have led, by-and-by, to the practice of using unfermented grape-juice in the Passover. Not however because the Jews regarded the use of "fermented wine" as forbidden, but because they were afraid it might contain some particle of leavened meal or flour. But no speck of evidence has been discovered that the Jews at, or before, or long after, the time of Christ objected to drinking fermented grape-juice at the Paschal supper. Most contradictory language is now quoted from living Rabbis as to the wine used at their Paschal feast; perhaps the statements just made may contribute something towards an explanation of their language.

      In his Life of Jesus, the Messiah, Edersheim does not refer at the proper place to the contents of the cup which Jesus gave to His disciples; but in his 2d vol., p. 208, he testifies that the Jews of our Saviour's time were in the habit of drinking wine at their social dinners; that is, wine mixed with water. His words are:

"The wine was mixed with water, and indeed some thought that the blessing should not be pronounced till the water had been added to the wine (Berachoth, 50a). According to one statement, two parts (Nidd. ii., 7), according to another, three parts of water (Pesachim, 108,b) were to be added to the wine."
      In proof of his statement he appeals not to modern usage but to these treatises on the Mishna, one of which is entitled "Blessings," and another "Passovers" (Berachoth, Pesachim). Observe, too, that Edersheim gives this account of the wine used at a Jewish supper as illustrating the kind of suppers at which Jesus was sometimes a guest. His statement is drawn from the same sources as those of Buxtorf and Werner, who describe "the cups" used at the Paschal supper. If their historical evidence is worth a straw, it is morally certain that the cup which Jesus gave to His disciples contained fermented grape-juice, or the drink known through the ages as wine -- "the fruit of the vine," mixed with water.

      Thirdly, does the symbolism of the cup show that its contents must have been unfermented? This question also has been answered in the affirmative, on the ground that ordinary wine is "the corrupted blood of the grape, and does not fitly represent the untainted blood poured out freely on the cross." The skill with which this position has been recently defended is worthy of admiration. If evident sincerity, beauty of diction, and aptness of illustration were sufficient to establish a theory, this might be accepted in silence. But a cloud may be entrancingly beautiful, though a half-hour of steady sunlight will dissipate it forever.

      Among other passages Deuteronomy 32:14, which reads in the common version: "And thou didst drink of the pure blood of the grape," is referred to as if "the pure blood of the grape" could not have been a fermented drink. But there is no ground for this inference. The expression "the blood of the grape" occurs in one other place, viz. Genesis 49:11, where Jacob says of Judah: "He hath washed his garments in wine, and his vesture in the blood of grapes; his eyes shall be red with wine and his teeth white with milk." This evidently is a case of poetic parallelism, the expression "blood of grapes" in the second line being synonymous with "wine" (or yayin) in the first.

      Probably this fine expression, found only in poetry, was suggested by the resemblance of wine in its color to blood. But what of the word "pure" in the passage "Thou didst drink of the pure blood of the grape"? It is rendered more accurately in the Revised Version: "And of the blood of the grape thou drankest wine," and also in the Speaker's Commentary: "And thou didst drink the blood of the grape, even wine." The early Greek translation, called the Septuagint, renders the word "wine" oinos. But the word is used in other passages. In Isaiah 27:2, the common version reads: "In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine," and the Revised Version: "In that day, A vineyard of wine, sing ye unto it," while Dr. Alexander translates, either "In that day afflict for her the vineyard of wine, or "As a vineyard of wine afflict her." Thus all agree that the Hebrew noun in question means "wine." Alexander states that it "strictly denotes fermentation, then fermented liquor, and is used as a poetic equivalent of yayin." The same thing is affirmed by Gesenius, First, De Wette's German translation, the Speaker's Commentary and others. In Ezra 6:9 it is used by Darius the King in his decree ordering Tatnai and others to provide out of the King's goods "both young bullocks and rams and lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the word of the priests which are at Jerusalem." And in Ezra 7:22 it is said that the contribution should amount "unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine," etc. But we know that the wine for thank-offerings was yayin. Here it is called chemer, a name that signifies a fermented liquor. If now we turn to Daniel 5:1, 2, 4, 23, the same word in its Aramaean form (chamro) is used four times to denote the "wine" which Belshazzar and his thousand lords drank from sacred cups at his "great feast;" and it is not to be denied that it was a fermented drink. These are all the passages of the Old Testament where the noun which is rendered "pure" in the common version of Deuteronomy 32:14 is found, and it is clear from an inspection of them that "the pure blood of the grape" is a mistranslation which no scholar will defend. Indeed, the very passage which by mistake has furnished the expression proves that "the blood of the grape" was a fermented drink, and yet was considered a blessing along with "the increase of the field," "honey out of the rock," "oil out of the flinty rock," "butter of kine," etc. And as the word "wine" is in apposition with "the blood of the grape" it confirms the interpretation given above to Genesis 49:11 that "the blood of grapes" signifies ordinary wine, the fermented juice of grapes. It is impossible to justify the statement quoted by Dr. Read that the word chemer "conveys the notion of foaming or ebullition, and may equally well apply to the process of fermentation or to the frothing of the liquid freshly poured out, in which latter case it might be unfermented liquid." Not only the use of this noun in the Old Testament but the use of essentially the same word in Syriac, Arabic, and Persian, shows that it signifies a fermented liquor.

      But, according to chemical and microscopical science, is not the process of leavening identical with that of fermentation? Leavening is doubtless a kind of fermentation, but the latter word has a broader sense than the former. Walking is a kind of locomotion, but all locomotion is not walking. The materials subjected to the process of leavening are not all of them the same as those subjected to the process of vinous fermentation. If they were, men would be as ready to eat dough fully leavened as they are to drink grape-juice well fermented. But is not the process of fermentation, as well as the process of leavening, always one of corruption and death? This question must be divided. Is then the process of leavening one of death? Certainly meal and fine flour are already dead before they are permeated by the leaven, as really so as when they have been kneaded and baked and prepared for eating. If anything dies in the process of leavening it must be the leaven itself -- the yeast germs -- for nothing else is alive when the process begins. Much less is vinous fermentation a process of death or dying. For, properly speaking, grape-juice is no more alive before than it is after fermentation. Pour it on the earth and it will not grow. The life-preserving germ is not in it. It is really no more alive than an elm block on which the writer has been splitting wood in his cellar almost daily the last twenty-five years. Now, as fermentation operates on tissues or substances already dead, there is no manifest propriety in calling it a symbol of death.

      Yet bread in the Lord's supper is a symbol of the Lord's body broken for us, and the wine a symbol of his blood shed for us. Neither the bread nor the wine represents life; both of them testify of death suffered in our behalf. "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord's death till he come," (I Corinthians 11:26); and, "except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone, but if it die it beareth much fruit" (John 12:24). There is properly no life, but simply nutriment for life, in bread. So, too, Christ crucified, and as to human flesh and blood dead, is the life, that is, the spiritual nutriment and refreshment of the life of believers.

      But is not the process of leavening a process of putrefaction after death? Certainly, if by putrefaction is meant certain chemical changes involving the decomposition and recomposition of the elements in meal or flour. But the results of those chemical reactions must be regarded as good or bad according to the use which can be made of them, while the sensible aspects of the process may be suggestive of a pervasive energy, changing the character of the mass and fitting it for a higher use, or of such an energy penetrating the mass and rendering it more or less repulsive and unclean.

      On the other hand, vinous fermentation does not in its process or result render the material in which it operates repulsive. It rather clarifies it in appearance; and there is no passage of Scriptures which uses wine as suggestive of physical uncleanness, or associates it with the idea of putrefaction. (But see Revelation 16:19; 17:2; 18:3; and 19:15.)

      Why, then, were the Jews forbidden to have leaven in their houses or to eat anything leavened during the Passover? Not because the people were to be taught that leavened bread (or fermented grape-juice) was a "fallen angel," a kind of food unwholesome and unfit to be eaten; for such a reason would have prevented its use, if possible, through the year. Such a reason would have forbidden its use in peace offerings (see Leviticus 11;13), and its presentation at Pentecost with lambs of the first year, without blemish (Leviticus 23:17). "The object of this offering," says the Bible Commentary, "seems to have been to present to the Lord the best produce of the earth in the actual condition in which it is most useful for the support of human life." But leaven was forbidden during the Passover: (a) Because unleavened bread was a memorial of their haste in escaping from Egypt (Exodus 12:39; and Deuteronomy 16:3). "They baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt; because they were thrust out of Egypt," etc. And "Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt, all the days of thy life." Leavened bread was unsuitable for that commemorative feast. Unleavened bread was set apart, consecrated, for that occasion, and therefore leavened bread was pronounced common or unclean; not because the latter was less wholesome for food, but because it could not serve the higher and religious purpose of the feast. (b) Another reason may have been associated with this, either at the time or afterwards, though it is never mentioned in the Bible, viz., the qualities and appearance of the dough under the influence of leaven. For it is then so sticky, unsightly, and repulsive to most people, that only extreme hunger would lead them to eat of it. On this account it may have been excluded from a great part of the temple service, and may have been pronounced, in a ritual sense, unclean.

      These two circumstances, without regard to the mysteries of chemistry or hygiene, account for the fact that leaven became at length a common symbol of moral evil, though it was sometimes made a symbol of the gospel itself. But the Scriptures furnish no explanation of this symbolism, save the one first named, (see under a); every one is therefore entitled to show his opinion, but not to insist upon it as a part of revealed truth. Mine may appear to the reader insufficient; but when he remembers Peter's vision of a sheet let down from heaven, in which were the "fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of heaven," and the voice rebuking Peter's scruples by the words, "What God hath cleansed make not thou common," he may be disposed to believe that rules as to things clean and unclean under the Mosaic economy were not founded on chemistry, or meant to teach men what are the best articles of food, but were founded on certain sensible qualities or historical associations which adapted animals and things to be used as signs of spiritual truth.

      Moreover vinous fermentation as a natural process was more likely to suggest clarification than corruption. It is acetous fermentation, not vinous, which goes directly before putrefaction. The yeast germs of which so much is now said, and on which the process of fermentation depends, were always at hand on the grapes, or vines, or elsewhere, though invisible, so that as soon as the sweet juice was expressed in the warm weather they began their work. By this work everything visibly impure or offensive was expelled from the liquor, and when the process of vinous fermentation was complete the flavor of the juice was improved, while the small per cent of alcohol in it served to keep it from change for a long time with slight care on the part of man. If the average amount of alcohol in wine was nine parts in a hundred, and if by uniform practice two parts of water were mingled with one of wine, there would be true wine with but three percent of alcohol. If again the average amount of alcohol was eight parts in a hundred, and if, as most authorities testify, three parts of water were mingled with one of wine, there would be true wine with but two percent of alcohol, a teaspoon of which would have small intoxicating power.

      But it is not the clearness, or odor, or color, or taste, or slightly exhilarating quality, or comparative freedom from yeast germs, or stability of composition, by reason of which it is easily preserved and carried without change to any part of the world, which leads me to call in question our right to substitute any other drink for wine in the cup of the Lord, but rather my conviction that what Christ gave to his disciples, saying, this cup (not something else) is the new covenant in my blood, was proper wine, the fermented juice of grapes. For I seem to myself to have shown: (1) that there is no biblical foundation for the two-wine theory; (2) that there is no biblical proof of Christ's giving simple grape-juice to his disciples in the cup; and (3) that there is strong extra-biblical evidence of "this fruit of the vine" being wine mingled with water. It is then easy for me to honor the intention of those who have put grape-juice, or raisin-juice, or some other liquid into the cup to represent the blood of the Lamb, but it is not easy for me to perceive the soundness of their reasons for so doing. I heartily wish they would re-examine the case, and if they find the evidence against their practice, yield to it promptly and without fear. There is no body of Christians that is under more sacred obligations to ascertain and follow the law of Christ in this matter than the one to which we belong. But the writer's principal object will be accomplished if his brethren are led to act with full intelligence in observing the holy supper, whether they do or do not agree with him.
           Newton Theological Seminary
                     ALVAH HOVEY

[From THE BAPTIST QUARTERLY REVIEW, Volume IX, No. 35, July, 1887, pp. 285-303; via Northern Kentucky University Library, Microfilm Section. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More on Baptist Controversies
Baptist History Homepage