Isaiah and SBC Resolution #5
your best wine mixed with water. (ESV)
Our Tuesday night Bible study finished Galatians a few weeks ago, and after taking a couple of weeks off, then doing a general OT history review last week, started Isaiah this week. We plan to cover roughly a chapter a week, and as with Galatians, I will likely be posting regularly on points in the text that we might have discussed, but likely on which we did not dwell.
This week, I want to briefly mention Isaiah 1:22 (see above). This verse struck me in part because SBC Resolution #5 has been in some of the SBC blogs again. In the debates that took place this summer after the resolution was passed, a number of people fell back on the argument that wine in Biblical times was diluted, that is, mixed with water. Others used the argument that fermentation of wine is like yeast in bread, both are symbolic of an "unpure" life in which sin is present.
Isaiah in the first chapter is reporting God's anger and judgment on the nation of Judah. In v.22 he provides a metaphor of what the nation has become. Isaiah reminds them that Jerusalem had once been faithful, now she is a whore (v.21). This may be a reference to making alliances with foreign nations, rather than trusting God to deliver them; or it may be a reference to following after gods other than Yahweh. In either case, the city which had once been "pure" is now mixed.
In v.22, Isaiah uses two metaphors to drive this point home. The first is very familiar - that of metal with dross in it. What is required in this situation is refining to remove the dross so that the pure metal remains (v.25). Isaiah is telling the people that affliction is coming (later he will specifically identify the Babylonians, but at a chapter a week, we have a ways to go before we get there).
It is the second metaphor that caught my eye. In previous reads of Isaiah it had not stood out to me. Isaiah is here saying that it is unmixed wine that represents purity. This rejects the two arguments I mentioned earlier which were used by proponents of SBC Resolution #5. The best wine was unmixed wine, indicating that not all wine was diluted. I think this linked with John 2:6-11 makes a strong case against the "required abstinence" position, as Isaiah's "best" wine should inform our understanding of the "good" wine in John 2.
This passage also says it is not fermentation that symbolizes sin in the Bible. In case of bread, yeast is the symbol of impurity. In the case of metal, dross is the symbol of impurity. In the case of wine, it is water that symbolizes impurity (at least in this passage; if people could find other references either supporting or showing a different metaphor, I'm opening to growing in my understanding).
But Is It Wine?
Some versions (NASB, for one) do not say "best wine" but "drink" in v.22. Other translations say beer. What is clear from the other two OT references that have the word (Hosea 4:18 and Nahum 1:10) is that it is some form of alcoholic beverage. The word is close to the Arabic for wine and the Akkadian for wheat beer.
Again, my caveat is that I'm not saying you should drink. What I'm arguing is that it is a matter of conscience, and we should not be binding the consciences of others to requirements that are not in the Bible. Paul clearly tells Timothy to take wine for health reasons (his stomach). There has been a recent study saying wine reduces the risk of stroke. Since the SBC resolution specifically calls out use as a beverage, many a Southern Baptist will be like Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies drinking for "medicinal purposes."
Colossians 2:16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. (ESV)