Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Can Grape Juice Be Substituted for Wine in The Lord's Supper?

Quoting from the article "Opinion of the Department of Systematic Theology: The Fruit of the Vine in the Sacrament of the Altar" (Concordia Theological Quarterly, January - April 1981), in which they leave no doubt that there can be no substitute for wine in the Sacrament of the Altar.
The Scriptural texts leave no doubt that Christ was celebrating the Passover meal with His disciples. Among the foodstuffs on the table would have been unleavened bread and wine. As regards the latter, it was without question the fermented product of the grape vine, in view of the fact that this was the spring of the year, probably April. Moreover, wine was the customary drink of the Jews at solemn festival meals, the peri haggephen (liturgical Hebrew for "fruit of the vine"). There can be no doubt then, as Lenski points out, that this fruit of the vine" - with emphasis on the this - which the Passover cup contained "shuts out any and all other products of the vine save actual wine and thwarts all modern efforts that speak of unfermented grape juice, raisin tea, or diluted grape syrup" (Commentary on Matthew, p. 1028). The point is that "fruit of the vine" is a technical term which in the stated contexts can have no other meaning than wine. The church has never, from that day forward, felt at liberty to alter the solemn testament given by Christ in  conjuction with the bread and the wine of the Sacrament (cf. Matt. 28:20; Gal. 3: 15). Whenever such altering or substitution was introduced, it was promptly repudiated, lest any doubt be cast upon the validity of the sacrament as Christ instituted it.

photo credit: Vainsang


gundogman said...

No scholar here, but in Ancient Christian writings find:
In chapter 65, I will copy and paste the text.

But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to genoito [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

This is presumed to have been written in 150-160 A.D.

I have followed your blog for over a year, and enjoy reading your Confessional Lutheran perspective. Just wanted to read your take on this apparently ancient practice of diluting the wine with water for the Sacraments.


Scott Diekmann said...

Thanks for your comment gundogman, and thanks for the compliment. I can't say that I've studied the practice of diluting the wine with water thoroughly enough to have an informed opinion. I understand it was a common practice of the Jews in Jesus' day to dilute the wine with water, and that may have been done when Jesus instituted Holy Communion, although no one knows. Since it isn't noted in the Gospels that this was done, I'd think it best not to dilute the wine with water, unless you had a specific reason to do so, such as for someone who "can't" drink wine. In the paper quoted above, it says this: "While he considered it an adiaphoron whether water was mixed with the wine, Luther's personal emphasis was on natural wine, without additional diluting or mixing with water (St. L. 19, 258)." So at least as far as Luther was concerned, he considered the practice neither commanded nor forbidden.

Anonymous said...

I agree, of course,but the question is how to eliminate an unscriptural practice that has crept in to the church. Using white rather than red wine may be a first step, as it makes it clear that we are not to use something that "looks like" wine.

Chris Johnson ... (thanks for publishing this, BTW)

Matt said...


What makes it clear that we are not to use something that looks like wine? I guess I don't follow. I don't get that from the Justin Martyr quote above.

I think it is perfectly appropriate to use red wine as that reminds us of the reality of the blood of Christ. Not that there is anything wrong with using white wine in the sacrament; but the symbolism here is useful, in my opinion.

Furthermore, we see at Cana that our Lord produced copious amounts of excellent wine for no better reason than to protect the reputation of the host at a party. My read on this is that Jesus is no pietist. I think the church should use the most excellent wine that it can afford for communion. When I take it from the common cup, I take as big a swig as I decently can and I'm not ashamed to enjoy it. Scripture speaks of this great gift being "poured out" for us.

Even with the biggest gulp from the common cup, drunkenness isn't really an issue. I don't think there is any merit in using weak, cheap, or tasteless wine nor in driving oneself to misery while taking it.

curious said...

what about alcoholics who cannot drink? Are they sinning by drinking grape juice?

Scott Diekmann said...

Curious, that the question can be realistically asked certainly illustrates that the practice is problematic. I would suggest for them mixing the wine with water, or if that is unsatisfactory, abstain from the wine/blood and take the bread/body only. In giving grape juice, one would be altering the practice in a way that Christ didn't command it. By taking grape juice, you wouldn't be receiving Christ's blood but just grape juice.

Anonymous said...

What I was (less clearly than possible) was trying to get to, was that the important thing is to use grape wine; whether red or white does not matter; however, one of the reformers (it could been Dr. Luther himself) said something to the effect that if you are _required_ by someone to use Red, then you must by conscience use White.

In this case, I surmise that the reason "grape juice" is used to substitute for wine is the idea that the appearance is all that matters. This of course reflects a Calvinist understanding of the Lord's Supper, in which the elements merely "represent" our Lord's Body and Blood.

So, as a first step, start using white wine (and, if you want, white grape juice). The idea is to emphasize that it only needs to be _wine_ used in communion, nothing else.