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Issue and Interchange

Gentry Responds

As I begin my response to my worthy opponent, I must express sincere appreciation for Dr. Reynolds' impressive linguistic credentials and his noteworthy resume, which he has generously shared with us as a major point in his argument. Though I wholeheartedly disagree with him on this issue,[1] I am thankful for this gifted linguist's work in other areas.

A Major Frustration

Despite such credentials, formulating a response to Reynolds is more frustrating than difficult. He holds so tenaciously to his view that he must dispute every major English translation of scripture, discount the value of virtually every major lexicographer, and cast doubt on the majority of modern commentators. He writes: "[A]lmost all later translators, commentators and dictionary writers accept the error as correct." Such plays a large role in his presentation.

Regarding translations: "God never granted inerrancy to... translators."[2] "A new translation of both the Old and New Testament is urgently needed." A rendering by the NIV translation committee is "only a bad guess." "It is certain that we must dig deeper than either the KJV, the NIV or other translations." "A better Bible translation is needed." While working on the NIV translation, Dr. Reynolds felt obliged to engage an entire "translation team" in debate over what he feels was their "following a false tradition" regarding a translation relevant to the alcohol question.[3] "[T]he error of the NIV..." "[T] he NIV without warrant..." "I feel called by God to press on to do all I can with God's help that a new translation be given to suffering mankind." In short, we need "a purified Bible."

Regarding lexicons: "This should be done not so much by consulting Hebrew and Greek dictionaries...." "[A]lmost all later...dictionary writers accept the error as correct."

Regarding commentators: Of E.J.Young's exegetical conclusions on Isaiah 25:6, we learn that they were based on "`insufficient evidence." "[A]lmost all later...commentators... accept the error as correct."

The strong impression is left that as Reynolds cuts himself off from the world of evangelical scholarship, he inadvertently sets himself as the standard of truth: "I have not cited many human uninspired authors." "We should not be prone to follow human authority even when it is enshrined in tradition."[4]

Let us turn now to consider Reynolds' two basic texts.

Proverbs 23:29-35

Reynolds argues that Proverbs 23 forbids "each and every human being" to partake of wine. He writes that ki yith'addam, the words following yayin ("wine"), "are no doubt put in Holy Writ to distinguish the forbidden yayin from other yayin which is not forbidden." This passage is so important that it "establishes a principle, one to which all the rest of the Bible must conform...." "Drinking even a little of this beverage is a sin because it is forbidden to every individual person." "What is certain is that Proverbs 23:31 prohibits alcoholic wine, and no passage in any part of the Bible inspired later can possibly abrogate it ...."

There are major problems with his employment of this passage. In the first place, what he neglects to tell the reader is that this is the only place in all of Scripture that uses the phraseology yayin ki yith'addam.[5] If the Scripture is so unalterably set against the consumption of alcoholic beverage, as Reynolds imagines, why is this phrase not used elsewhere, especially since it is employed here especially "to distinguish the forbidden yayin from other yayin which is not forbidden"? I have shown in my first paper that there are ample evidences for the alcoholic content of Biblical "wine."

Second, the text before us clearly issues a warning to a particular class of individuals. These are described as ones who have "woe," "sorrow," "contentions," "wounds without cause," and "redness of eyes" (v.29). These physiological phenomena are not associated with moderate consumption.

In fact, it is expressly stated that they are "those who linger long over wine" (v.30), just as those who rise early and linger late merely to drink (Is. 5:11). In both Proverbs 23:30 and Isaiah 5:11 the Hebrew root achar is used, which means "to remain, tarry, delay." It is found in the pi'el form in both places, which indicates a more intensive action than the simple qal. Under such conditions, the wine brings on all sorts of alcohol-induced sequelae (vv.33-35).

This explains why there are commands to avoid inordinate consumption of wine rather than prohibitions against partaking wine altogether. For instance, I Timothy 3:3 and Titus 1:3 employ the Greek paroinos, which indicates one who sits long beside (para) his wine (oinos). I Timothy 3:8 reads in the Greek: me oino pollo prosechontas. Notice the word pollo, which indicates "much" and prosechontas, which with the dative here means "occupied with."

Ephesians 5:18 commands: "be not drunk with wine." It does not say: "Do not drink wine." The Greek word is methuskesthe, which commonly indicates intoxication. In fact, the intoxicated state, which comes by taking too much wine, is contrasted with another form of intoxication: "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled." The "be filled" here is plerousthe, which is in the same verb form as methuskesthe (present, passive, imperative). We are, as it were, to be filled up with the Spirit, not with wine.

Isaiah 16:10

Isaiah 16:10 is an absolutely crucial passage for Reynolds to use in his attempt to undermine the lexicons, translations, and commentators. He feels this verse proves yayin does not have to have alcoholic content: "Here the immediate product of treading grapes is called yayin," thus, it must mean "grape juice." Of this verse he adds: "This is all the evidence needed"! Later he adds that oinos (the Septuagint rendering of yayin here) "could not possibly be alcoholic" and "this establishes beyond doubt" the non-alcoholic content of that beverage.

As usual, his argument here is unconvincing. It is quite clear that Isaiah 16:10 is found in the midst of a poetic passage, with its familiar parallel structure. Poetry often exaggerates for artistic beauty. This is evident in this very passage: The vines of Sibmah are said to reach "as far as Jazer," to "wander to the deserts," and to "pass over the sea" (v.8). The poetry speaks of a weeping that drenches (the Hebrew here means to saturate with moisture) Heshbon and Elealeh (v. 9).

So likewise, those who tread the grapes are said to tread out yayin. This yayin ("wine") is the end product sought in treading. The statement is an effecto pro causa, a substituting of the ultimate effect for the cause, which is not uncommon in Hebrew poetry.[6] In fact, there is probably an indication of the failure of the production of wine here in the taking away of "the gladness and joy" mentioned in 10a, because yayin is associated with "making glad the heart."[7]

Closing Observations

I am almost out of space, but let me quickly mention the following.

Reynolds uses question-begging as a tool for sorting out good (non-alcoholic) from bad (alcoholic) wine: "Wherever Yayin is praised in the Bible it should be translated grape juice." "When the evil nature of the drink... is clear we should understand it as alcoholic. Where it is approved we should understand it be nonalcoholic." This is tantamount to arguing: (a) The Bible forbids the drinking of alcoholic oinos and yayin. (b) We know that oinos and yayin are alcoholic if they are forbidden.

Elsewhere Reynolds complains "if Jesus made a large quantity of alcoholic wine for a wedding party in a small village He was not teaching a lesson in moderation." (Jesus apparently made about 120 gallons of wine [John 2:6]). How can Reynolds know this was too much wine? How many people were present? We know of Jesus, His mother, the disciples (John 2:1-2), the wedding couple, the servants (v. 5), and the headwaiter (v. 9). Surely there were many more. And how long was this wine to last? Wedding feasts generally lasted a few days. And who says they had to all drink it at that time? Was there never anything left over after a wedding?

[1] In my The Christian and Alcoholic Beverages, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), I interact with Reynolds due to his stature.

[2] I might add that neither did He do so for independent scholars, such as Dr. Reynolds.

[3] He admits the futility of his efforts to alter the translational consensus of these numerous evangelical linguistic scholars: "I tried to get this team to correct the obvious error but to no avail." It is sad that a noteworthy team of evangelical scholars could make such an "obvious" error!

[4] Thankfully he accepts the "reformed standpoint: (sc., tradition) of the inerrancy of the autographa of Scritpure.

[5] His lexical point, which I grant for the sake of argument, is that the highpa'el verbal construction (which is the reflexive of the pi'el, having a long [i.e., dagesh bearing] middle root consonant) of yith'addam suggests 'makes itslef red' more than merely 'when it is red'. This, to Reynolds, is indicative of its alcoholic nature, for alcohol tends to redden the nose and face in an alcoholic.

[6] In Job 3:3 a geber ("mighty man") is said to be "conceived" in the word. In Job 10:10, Job refers to his father's sperm as if it were Job himslef, because he eventually arose from it.

[7] II Sam. 13:28; Est. 1:10; Ps. 104:14-15; Eccl. 9:7; 10:19; Zech 9:15; 10:7.

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