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Wine in the Kingdom

Writing my last post on Papias made me think of something that is rather humorous even if it is only very tangentially related.   If you recall, Papias claimed that Jesus taught the following about the future utopian kingdom on earth:

 The days are coming when vines will come forth, each with ten thousand boughs; and on a single bough will be ten thousand branches.  And indeed, on a single branch will be ten thousand shoots and on every shoot ten thousand clusters; and in every cluster will be ten thousand grapes, and every grape, when pressed, will yield twenty-five measures of wine.

 When I was writing up that post, I was reminded of the story in the Gospel of John in which Jesus turns the water into wine.   Jesus appears to have enjoyed wine in great abundance.

The story in John is particularly interesting, and what is humorous to me is how I’ve heard it interpreted by well-meaning conservative Christians who were certain that Jesus would not ever encourage people to partake of alcoholic beverages.

In John 2 Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding.  (Contrary to what you sometimes here by creative interpreters, this could not be Jesus’ own wedding!  He gets invited to it by someone else.)   These wedding ceremonies could last for days.   After a while, the wine runs out.  That’s very bad indeed.   Jesus’ mother asks him to do something.  He rebukes her, but then does what she asks.  There are six large jars there, each large enough to hold over 20 gallons.  Jesus tells the slaves to fill them up to the brim.   He then tells the master of ceremonies to taste what is in them.  The master of ceremonies does so and to his amazement the water has turned into wine.  And not just any ole wine, but fantastic wine.  He goes to the bridegroom and praises him, saying that most people at long weddings serve the good wine first, and then when everyone has had a lot to drink, bring out the second-rate stuff (since no one much cares any more at that point).  But you, he says, have saved the best wine for last.

When I was a youth pastor of a conservative Christian church in Oak Lawn Illinois, back in the mid 1970s, a sincere and rather severe mother of one of my kids told me that this story in John could not really about Jesus turning water into wine.  (Since good Christians would not drink wine.)  No, she told me, the Greek word for “wine” in the passage means “new wine.”  And new wine is wine that has not yet fermented, so that it has no alcoholic content.

I’ve always found this interpretation highly amusing, and it has always struck me as a perfect example of how people will try to get around what a text says in order to make it mean what they want it to mean.

For one thing – something I didn’t know at the time – the word used for “wine” in this passage is not a special word meaning “new wine.”  It is simply the word wine.  That is, the stuff with alcohol in it.

For another thing, something that I *did* think at the time, but didn’t feel like I should tell this sincere woman who would have taken offense, the story simply makes no sense if the point was the Jesus turned the water into new wine.   Just imagine the scene.  People have been having a good time, hanging out, drinking good wine, enjoying themselves.  The supplies run low.  Jesus intervenes and performs a miracle.  And the master of ceremonies can’t believe it.  He goes up to the bridegroom and praises him.   Most people serve the best wine first and then bring out the second-rate stuff.  But you have outdone yourself!   At first we were drinking wine, but now you have given us GRAPE JUICE!!

As miraculous as this famous deed of Jesus is (recorded only in John 2), it pales in comparison with what will happen in the utopian kingdom according to Papias, who claims he is simply citing a saying of  Jesus.  According to that saying, each and every grapevine in the kingdom will have ten thousand boughs; each of those ten thousand boughs will have ten thousand branches; each of those branches will have ten thousand shoots; each of those shoots will have ten thousand clusters of grapes; each of those clusters will have ten thousand grapes; and each grape will produce 25 gallons of wine.

Now that’s a lot of wine!  Probably someone on the blog can do the math, and tell us how many gallons this one vine – presumably there are millions of them – will produce.  And it should be stressed: this won’t be the cheap stuff you buy at the supermarket.  This will be Chateauneuf du Pape.   And since this is the coming kingdom will have no suffering, there will be no downside of drinking it in abundance.  Now *that’s* a utopia!

Lecture: Jesus and the Historian
The Death of Judas in the NT



  1. Avatar
    VistanTN  June 6, 2015

    I too have heard the “new wine” (i.e. grape juice explanation) and have always asked the proponents to then explain the Acts passage of Pentecost where the disciples are thought perhaps to be drunk on new wine. I don’t know how much grape juice you have to drink to get drunk and speak in tongues, or how long you have to wait, but those two alone seem to negate the “new wine” = “grape juice” assertion.

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    VistanTN  June 6, 2015

    BTW Papias’ description ends up with 15 x 10^16 or 25 quintillion gallons.

    • Avatar
      gavm  June 24, 2015

      15 with 16 zeros after it!!!???? now thats just silly. after the first bajiollion litres im gonna be sick of wine and want a scotch and coke

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    Alfred  June 6, 2015

    The grapejuice thing might have worked. I recall how easy it was to convince already drunken friends that they were drinking gin when you have them water, or wine if you gave them apple juice. I should point out by way of confession that this was done not to sober them up, but for fun. I must have had a low fun threshold. Or maybe it was the alcohol…

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    rbrtbaumgardner  June 6, 2015

    This story is especially interesting the light of Luke 33-34 where Jesus admits he enjoys eating and drinking and doesn’t deny his drink contains alcohol when he is accused of being a drunkard:

    “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, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

    It’s an interesting tradition about Jesus.

  5. David
    David  June 6, 2015

    100 Quintillion grapes X 25 = 2500 quintillion gallons. A couple of sites I visited claim that the Pacific ocean contains approximately 187 quintillion gallons of water. So, 2500 divided by 187 gives you 13.4 Pacific Oceans full of really good Vino. And that’s just from 1 vine! Welcome to Heaven 🙂

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    Gib  June 6, 2015

    Rough calculation (I’m notorious for getting powers of ten calculations wrong though!)

    Each vine will produce 2.5 followed by twenty zeros ( 2.5 sextillion gallons) This is approximately 2.5 times the number of grains of sand in the world and is 11.3 thousand trillion litres of wine ( if Jesus works in Imperial gallons not US gallons)

    This is 450 years of wine consumption for the entire world in 2012!!

    Party time!

  7. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  June 6, 2015

    You started my day with a smile. But people do make the Bible say what they want it to say.

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    dragonfly  June 6, 2015

    Each grape will produce 25 gallons? Them grapes must be absolutely huge!
    Just curious, do we know of any forms of early christianity that were against drinking alcohol?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 7, 2015

      There were some groups that celebrated the Eucharist with water instead of wine, but they were very small and on the margins.

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    Judith  June 6, 2015

    This was fun reading. Thanks.

    Would Mary have prevailed upon Jesus to do something about the wine situation had she not already seen him do miraculous things? Maybe this wasn’t the first.

    As for miracles, your posting DAILY with all you have going on is beyond the capability of mere mortals. Do not let us make you kill yourself. We’ll be here when you get back from your trip even if you do not post again. At least I promise I will be.

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    Wilusa  June 6, 2015


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    jhague  June 6, 2015

    I do not believe the water to wine event actually happened but at a wedding reception such as this, why would Jesus’ mother had any concern with the wine running out? Wouldn’t there have been servers, etc. to take care of this? It seems odd that a guest would think she needed to be involved.

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    Jimmy  June 6, 2015

    According to my initial calculations each vine would yield 2,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of wine. That is 2.5 sextillion gallons. And as Dr Ehrman has pointed out this the cream of all time wine. Evangelicals for some reason do not promote this as a true saying of Jesus. They love Papias elsewhere.

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    MikeDavis  June 6, 2015

    Hi Bart,

    Couldn’t one say that since there are mainstream scholars who believe that the Gospel of John contains little historically accurate material, that anyone (Christian or otherwise) who says that Jesus turned water into wine is probably wrong? That one shouldn’t accept a later made-up story as indicating anything at all about the historical Jesus?

    I bring this up because I hear Christians saying that people should either drink wine because Jesus produced it, or drink grape juice because that’s what he produced. When actually, he probably didn’t do either. So why should we look to a made-up story as an authority for what we should do?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 7, 2015

      Yes, it’s a made up story. But made-up stories can convey truth! That’s the point of fiction, after all.

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    Lawyerskeptic  June 6, 2015

    My undergraduate degrees are in biology, not mathematics. I may have made a mistake somewhere, but I think each vine will produce a volume of wine a bigger than the planet Mercury and smaller than the planet Mars. Each vine would produce a sphere of wine about 5,620 kilometers in diameter. We can call this the planet Bacchus.

    If that number is correct, then another way to conceptualize the volume is that the yield from each vine should be approximately 76 times the volume of the ocean, enough to cover the earth with a alcoholic ocean approximately 180 kilometers above current sea level.

    STOP READING HERE UNLESS YOU WANT TO CHECK MY MATH. All numbers are rounded to three significant digits.

    Ten thousand is 10 to the power of 4. Unknown number of vines with 10 to the power of 4 branches/vine x 10 to the power of 4 twigs/branches x 10 to the power of 4 shoots/twig x 10 to the power of 4 clusters/shoot x 10 to the power of 4 grapes/cluster = 10 to the power of 20 grapes.

    Every grape will yield twenty-five measures. A translation by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson says five-and-twenty “metretes” of wine. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0125.htm. Wikipedia defines a metretes as about 37.4 liters. if that is correct, then:

    25 metretes/grape x 37.4 liters/metretes = 935 liters/grape. 935 liters/grape = .935 x 10 to the power of 3 liters/grape. .935 x 10 to the power of 3 liters/grape x 10 to the power of 20 grapes = .935 x 10 to the power of 23 liters.

    1,000 liters = 1 cubic meter. Therefore: .935 x 10 to the power of 23 liters x 1 cubic meter/10 to the power of 3 liters = .935 x 10 to the power of 20 cubic meters.

    The formula for the volume of a sphere is: v = 4/3 π r3. By rearranging this formula you can find the radius: where v is the volume. Plugging the volume into this formula is as follows.

    r = cube root of (3 x .935 x 10 to the power of 20 cubic meters) ÷ (4 x 3.14)
    r = cube root of (2.81 x 10 to the power of 20 cubic meters) ÷ (12.6)
    r = cube root of (.223 x 10 to the power of 20 cubic meters)
    r = cube root of (22.3 x 10 to the power of 18 cubic meters)
    r = 2.81 x 10 to the power of 6 meters
    r = 2,810,000 meters
    r = 2,810 kilometers
    diameter = 5,620 kilometers

    When I plug 2,810,000 into a Internet site that calculates the volume of a sphere, I get V ≈ 9.29×10 to the power of 19 which equals .929×10 to the power of 20. Therefore, I think my calculation for the size of the planet Bacchus is reasonably accurate. I guesstimated the depth of the alcoholic ocean by fiddling around with the same Internet site.

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    godspell  June 6, 2015

    Bart, did people living in Palestine in this era drink large quantities of wine diluted with water, as the Greeks famously did? Or did they drink it straight up? Is that something we have reliable information about?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 7, 2015

      That’s what I’ve always heard, but I don’t know the evidence for it!

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    zadojla  June 6, 2015

    “Millions” isn’t even close. It’s 2.5 sextillion (2.5E+21), or 2,500,000,000,000,000,000,000. And that’s one vine. Surely the kingdom will be a happy place!

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    jbjbjbjbjb  June 6, 2015


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    silvertime  June 6, 2015

    As a child growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, I remember being puzzled that the communion ” wine’ was actually Welch’s grape juice even though the bible speaks of wine. When I questioned this, I was told that Jesus would never drink real wine

    • Avatar
      BrianUlrich  June 7, 2015

      I got the line that people didn’t understand the effects of wine in Biblical times, and Jesus was special and could do what he wanted.

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    Ken  June 6, 2015

    According to wolframalpha.com, each vine would produce enough wine to fill the volume of 87 entire Earths:


  20. Avatar
    Epaminondas  June 6, 2015

    That would be 25,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of wine per vine,
    With approximately 40,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the observable
    and maybe one earth-like planed per 1,600 stars, that’s 1 million gallons per
    vine per earth-like stars. Assume these planets are all inhabited, and that there
    are 100 vineyards, each with 100 vines for some region similar in size as Israel.
    That yields 10 billion gallons of wine per year. Enough for a few weddings at least.

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