What does "fruit of the vine" mean?

I was reading a booklet put out by one of the "Churches of God", and noticed that they use grape juice for their Lord's Supper service.

Since most Christian churches use wine, this raises the question of what should we use for this most solemn service.

Wine or grape juice?

From the booklet, the reason they use grape juice seems to be that Jesus just referred to the drink He shared with the disciples during the Last Supper, as "the fruit of the vine", and did not specifically state that the drink was "fermented" grape juice (wine).

Mat 26:27-29 NET.  And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you,  (28)  for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  (29)  I tell you, from now on I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

What did Jesus mean by the expression "fruit of the vine"?

Figures of speech.

Every one who studies the Bible needs to be aware of "figures of speech", because the people who "wrote" the Bible use them frequently.

It is profitable to remind ourselves of some of the words from the second and fourth paragraph of Appendix 6 of the Companion Bible.

"A ""Figure of speech"" relates to the form in which the words are used. It consists in the fact that a word or words are used out of their ordinary sense, or place, or manner, for the purpose of attracting our attention to what is thus said. .... ."

"Figures are never used but for the sake of emphasis. They can never, therefore be ignored. Ignorance of Figures of speech has lead to the grossest errors, which have been caused either from taking literally what is figurative, or from taking figurative what is literal."

The Companion Bible identifies "fruit of the vine" as a "Peristasis" or when a description is used instead of the name.

Another example of when Jesus used a Peristasis is found in Matthew.

Mat 26:64 NET.  Jesus said to him, "You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand  of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven."
 
"of the Power" is a description or a circumlocution (WebWord - an indirect way of expressing something) for God the Father (see First Edition Net Bible). The fact that Christ will return at God's right-hand is prophesied in the Psalms.

Psa 110:1 NET.  Here is the LORD's [God] proclamation to my lord [Christ]:
    "Sit down at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool!"

It emphasizes what?

OK - we know from what the Companion Bible has to say that a point is being emphasized by the phrase "fruit of the vine" - now we have to do some work to find out why.

It can either mean freshly crushed grape juice, or it can mean  grape juice that has been allowed to ferment - yeast turning the natural sugar into alcohol.

Certainly Jesus drank alcoholic drinks.

Luk 7:33-34 NET.  For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon!'  (34)  The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look at him, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'

The Jews of His day took the fact that Jesus drank wine, to the extreme, in an attempt to paint Jesus in a poor light. I have no doubt that Jesus never got "drunk", but from this verse it is obvious that He did drink alcohol beverages.

The Corinthians, when they were celebrating (some of it in a wrong way) the Lord's Supper, also had wine present.

1Co 11:20-21 NET.  Now when you come together at the same place, you are not really eating the Lord's Supper.  (21)  For when it is time to eat, everyone proceeds with his own supper. One is hungry and another becomes drunk.

While the above two verses allow for wine to be involved at the Last Supper, we still need further proof for what Jesus was trying to emphasize for us.

Availability.

If we want to buy some grape juice today, we basically have three options (I am ignoring frozen, and canned grape juice as it is not very common).

Room temperature: The grape juice for sale at room temperature has a seal on the top, and has been heat treated to kill all the bacteria - including yeast - in the juice. Once the seal has been broken it needs to be stored in a refrigerator. Clearly heat treated grape juice was not something available in Jesus's day.

Refrigerated:  By keeping grape juice cold, you can delay the growth of bacteria and yeast for a few weeks. The law in Australia is that it must be kept at 5 C (41 F) or below. Again, as best as we know,  those sort of cold temperatures were not available in Jesus's day.

Freshly crushed: If you buy some bunches of grapes and crush them, then filter out the juice, you will have fresh grape juice to suit your need.

However, we should remember that fresh grape juice left at room temperature will be fermenting (producing gas bubbles of carbon dioxide, and some alcohol) within 24 hours.

If Jesus did in fact use fresh grape juice at the Last Supper, then the only means available almost 2000 years ago, was by crushing some grapes - and no more than a few hours before drinking it.

The problem that solves the question.

We need to understand a bit about the Biblical calendar.

The Feast of Tabernacles (or Feast of Ingathering) was to be kept after the Summer produce had been gathered in, and after the "turn of the year" (Ex 23:16) - a Hebrew  way of saying after the Autumn equinox.

To ensure that this always happens, the Biblical new year can not start until after the Spring equinox. To put it another way, the time we should keep the Lord's Supper will always fall in the end of March or the beginning of April.

The point I am trying to make is:- the time between the bunches of grapes being taken off the vine (late September?) and Jesus needing some to crush for fresh grape juice (late March?), is about six months apart.

How do you keep bunches of grapes fresh enough to crush for juice, for six months without refrigeration?

The simple answer is - you can't.

If you try and keep the grapes in dry conditions they will turn into raisins, and if you try to keep the grapes in a moist condition, they will get mildew  and rot.

With no fresh grapes available to turn into juice, it is obvious that Jesus is pointing us to "wine" as the "fruit of the vine".

"This is my blood"

Mat 26:27-28 NET.  And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you,  (28)  for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Red wine fits much better as a type of Jesus's blood.

Wine has healing properties (Luke 10:34, 1 Tim 5:23), and will keep for a long time. Grape juice spoils very quickly. Red wine also has the red colour of Blood.

John (2:9) records that Jesus's first public miracle was turning water into wine - and lots of it - so He was not adverse to having wine available.

Not obvious, but there if you are willing to look.

What was in the cup that Jesus gave to His disciples at His Last Supper, is not spelled out in a straight forward way, but understanding God's Holy Day calendar allows us to come to the right conclusion.

The cup that we use during the Lord's Supper Memorial, if we are going to follow Jesus's example, should contain red wine.

Was a Jewish tradition involved?

The Bible does not tell us so we can not be sure, but apparently the tradition in Christ's day for a man and a woman to marry, was that the man and his father went to the "bride to be's" home and negotiated the "bride price" with her parents. If that was successful (in Christ's case - His blood) then the "husband to be" would offer the "bride to be" a glass of wine. If she drank from it, she was saying "yes" to the marriage proposal. She would then hand the glass back to her "husband to be", and he would drink from it to seal the contract.

Christ asked the disciples to drink from the cup (and hence accepted His marriage proposal), but when the glass came back, He may have not sealed the contract at that time, because He said He would not drink of "the fruit of the vine" any more until the Kingdom. This leaves the number in the "bride of Christ" open till the First resurrection has taken place, and additional people will then also be offered to drink from the cup before Christ seals the contract.

Since the wine we drink is only a type of what Christ may well yet offer us in the future, it is fine to have small individual glasses/cups, that are much more hygienic than a common cup.

Bob Orchard Feb 2011

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