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Voices from History

While the Holy Scriptures alone are our rule for faith and practice, we can gain much insight by studying the opinions of the best teachers and theologians on the question of whether wine or grape juice should be used in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Here are a few. [Readers in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America will be especially interested in the article by RPCNA minister William Slater, which is found on another page of this website.]

Cyprian (c. 200 A.D.-258 A.D.)

Know then that I have been admonished that, in offering the cup, the tradition of the Lord must be observed, and that nothing must be done by us but what the Lord first did on our behalf, as that the cup which is offered in remembrance of Him should be offered mingled with wine. For when Christ says, “I am the true vine,” the blood of Christ is assuredly not water, but wine; neither can His blood by which we are redeemed and quickened appear to be in the cup, when in the cup there is no wine whereby the blood of Christ is shown forth, which is declared by the sacrament and testimony of all the Scriptures.

And the cup of the Lord in such wise inebriates, as Noe [Noah] also was intoxicated drinking wine, in Genesis. (Epistle LXII [to Caecilius])

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

When somebody inquired whether, when a sick person wished to have the sacrament but could not tolerate wine on account of nausea, something else should be given in place of the wine, the doctor [Martin Luther] replied, “This question has often been put to me and I have always given this answer: One shouldn’t use anything else than wine. If a person can’t tolerate wine, omit it [the sacrament] that no innovation be made or introduced. (Martin Luther’s Table Talk: Abridged from Luther’s Works, Volume 54, Winter of 1542-1543)

John Calvin (1509-1564)

M. But why is the body of our Lord figured by bread, and his blood by wine?
S. We are hence taught that such virtue as bread has in nourishing our bodies to sustain the present life, the same has the body of our Lord spiritually to nourish our souls. As by wine the hearts of men are gladdened, their strength recruited, and the whole man strengthened, so by the blood of our Lord the same benefits are received by our souls. (“Catechism of the Church of Geneva”, Calvin’s Selected Works, edited by Beveridge and Bonnet, Volume 2, page 89)

First, the signs are bread and wine…just as bread and wine sustain physical life, so are souls fed by Christ…his blood was once so shed for us in order to be our perpetual drink (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter XVII, 1, translated by Battles).

Charles Hodge (1797-1878)

By wine as prescribed to be used in this ordinance [the Lord’s Supper], is to be understood ‘the juice of the grape;’ and the ‘juice of the grape’ in that state which was, and is, in common use, and the state in which it was known as wine. The wine of the Bible was a manufactured article. It was not the juice of the grape as it exists in the fruit, but that juice submitted to such a process of fermentation as secured its preservation and gave it the qualities ascribed to it in Scripture. That oinos in the Bible, when unqualified by such terms as new, or sweet, means the fermented juice of the grape, is hardly an open question. It has never been questioned in the Church, if we except a few Christians of the present day. And it may safely be said that there is not a scholar on the continent of Europe, who has the least doubt on the subject. Those in the early Church, whose zeal for temperance led them to exclude wine from the Lord’s table, were consistent enough to substitute water. They were called Tatiani, from the name of their leader, or Encratitae, Hydroparastatae, or Aquarii, from their principles. They not only abstained from the use of wine and denounced as ‘improbos atque impios’ those who drank it, but they also repudiated animal food and marriage, regarding the devil as their author. They soon disappeared from history. The plain meaning of the Bible on this subject has controlled the mind of the Church, and it is to be hoped will continue to control it till the end of time. (Systematic Theology, Volume III, page 616)

A. A. Hodge (1823-1886)

What is the meaning of the term oinos, wine, in the New Testament, and how does it appear that wine and no other liquid must be used in the Lord’s Supper? It is evident from the usage of this word in the New Testament that it was designed by the sacred writers to designate the fermented juice of the grape.—Matt.ix.17; John ii. 3-10; Rom. xiv.21; Eph. v.18; 1 Tim. iii.8; v. 23, Titus ii.3. This is the established testimony of all competent scholars and missionary residents in the East. (Outlines of Theology, page 633)

As to the elements. These are—(a.) Bread. This is essential, because it is in the command; and because bread, as the staff of life for the body, is the proper symbol of that spiritual food that nourishes the soul…(b.) Wine; that is οἶνος, the fermented juice of the grape. Matt. ix. 17; John ii. 3-10; Rom. xiv. 21; Eph. v. 18; 1 Tim. iii. 8; v. 23; Titus ii. 3. This is made essential by the command and example of Christ, and by the uniform custom of the Christian Church from the beginning. (The Confession of Faith: A Handbook of Christian Doctrine Expounding The Westminster Confession, page 358, emphasis in original)