Did Jesus Drink Beer?

A while ago, I was asked by a group of friends during a bull-session, "Did Jesus Christ drink beer?"

I think it is good to talk about Jesus for whatever reason. (Philippians 1: 18 seems to be a precedent.)

We have no direct evidence from the Bible. Thankfully, a major scholar who is also my internet friend helped me find the pertinent information.

A Christian, or other admirer of Jesus, who concludes that He DID NOT drink beer honors His call to good living, and to avoid things that can lead to misbehavior and/or health problems.

A Christian, or other admirer of Jesus, who concluded that He DID drink beer honors His essential humanity, and the theological truth that He was like us in every way except for our sinfulness.

Here are the facts as best I have been able to determine.

  • Wine was in widespread use, and used ceremonially, for example during the passover feast. Nazarites (people who temporarily or permanently had special abstinences including alcoholic beverages) would not drink it, and John the Baptist did not, a fact for which he was criticized. However, Jesus did drink wine, and was criticized for this. The impossibility of pleasing everyone is very true-to-life.
  • Fermented grain beverages were widely available in ancient Palestine. My cyberfirend Michael M. Homan has done a scholarly study in which he argues that the Hebrew word often translated "strong drink" was fermented barley, which he think is reasonably considered beer. (A purist might require that "beer" contain hops, and that other such beverates be called ales.) His work is very detailed and paints a vivid and extensive picture of fermented grain beverages in the ancient Near East. After reading this article, I decided that it was clear that such beverages were popular in Jesus's community. Click here to read his article on the subject, and here for his article on the actual meaning of casting bread on the waters.
  • Wine is fruit juice, which is tasty. It is only thanks to pasteurization and refrigeration that we can enjoy fruit juices unfermented. Though I am not an expert, I would conclude that wine was drunk for its flavor as much as (or more than) for its intoxicating properties.
  • However, we must think that beer was prepared for its alcohol content, since no one will want to eat soggy bread or barley mush simply because it tastes good. Beer must have been less expensive than wine, since barley is much more plentiful than grapes. It seems to me that beer must have been the party drink for people who wanted to get a buzz.
  • Actually, the ancient Near East's beer sounds horrible, at least by today's standards. Even Professor Homan's appreciation and scholarship don't really make it sound like something I would want to drink myself. It lacked hops, and could not be enjoyed really cold the way we like it. It seems reasonable to think that many people, even those who wanted the intoxicating effect, did not actually like the warm, flat drink.
  • In summary, fermented grain beverages that might reasonably be called beer were available in Jesus's community. However, I can find no reason to believe that everybody drank the stuff.

    You can decide for yourself whether to believe that Jesus did, or did not, drink beer.

    History of Beer
    Did Jesus Turn Water Into Beer?
    Ancient Egyptian Beer
    Ancient Egyptian Beer
    Wine and Beer in Ancient Times, book.

    The land of Israel in ancient times played a central role in the production, rituals, and customs of the age old traditions of wine and beer, and the archeology of the Holy Land and its neighbors has left us a richly illustrated history of this subject.

    Ed F.
    Lent 2006