The Argument for Excluding Wine from the Lord’s Supper

Silena Moore Holman (1850-1915) was a remarkable women in the early history of Churches of Christ. Her father was killed in the Civil War and she began teaching at the age of 14. She married Dr. T. P. Holman in 1875 and mothered eight children.

She exchanged multiple articles on multiple occasions with David Lipscomb in the pages of the Gospel Advocate as she argued for a wider role for women in the church.  Many of their exchanges are available at Hans Rollmann’s website.

She also served in the Tennessee Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement for 35 years, 15 years as President. In this capacity she argued for the exclusion of wine from the Lord’s table.

She articulated her argument in the Gospel Advocate (5 March 1903) 146-147. “We who plead for the use of unfermented, nonalcoholic wine at the Lord’s Supper should be read to give a reason for the faith that is in us”–and she does in thirteen points.

1. “The Lord’s Supper was instituted on the night of the feast of the passover, with the same elements as those used at that feast. We think that unleavened bread and unfermented wine were used at this feast.”

2. “Nowhere in the Bible is the drink used at the Lord’s Supper called ‘wine’.”

3.  “‘The consistency and beauty of the sacramental symbols demand the absence of all fermented drinks’.”

4. “Our Savior spent his life in doing good.”

5. “We are warned repeatedly int he Bible against the use of wine.”

6. “It is a temptation to reformed drunkards.”

7. “Sometimes people who have been trained to habits of total abstinence seem to have an hereditary longing for alcoholic liquors.”

8. “It encourages the liquor traffic and the saloon.”

9. “It gives encouragement to the moderate drinker.”

10. Paul does not speak of drunks at the Lord’s table in 1 Corinthians 11, but it refers to excess as with gluttony.

11.  “In the literature of the early centuries there are numerous references which show that unfermented wine was used at the Lord’s Supper in those day.”

12. “Some have thought it would have been impossible for the early Christians to secure the unfermented wine out of the vintage season, but this is a mistake. I have in my possession four recipes–used before, during, and after our Savior’s time–by which wine was preserved in an unfermented state.”

13. “‘Where are we to get the unfermented wine?’ asks a half-converted church member. It can be preserved, like any other canned fruit, in an ordinary fruit jar, by heating it and making it air tight, as other fruit is kept.”

She concludes: “I believe that when church members unite to drive this agent of evil from the inmost sanctuary of the churches the day will have arrived for ridding our country forever of the legalized liquor traffic; but as long as we foster its use in one of the most sacred institutions of religion, just so long will the evil remain to blight our land and ruin the lives of our people.”

Interestingly, the extended argument was needed and pushed by the Temperance Movement because churches generally, until very recently, had all used wine in the Lord’s Supper.

27 Responses to “The Argument for Excluding Wine from the Lord’s Supper”

  1.   Jeff McVey Says:

    One of the elders of the church where I attend now insists that “grape juice only” is the teaching of the New Testament regarding that part of the Lord’s Supper…

    This ignores the rather obvious meaning of John 2:1-11, where the steward of the feast says to Jesus, “Usually people serve the good wine first, and then, after everyone has become drunk, they bring out the inferior wine. But you have saved the best wine for last !!!”

    However, it must be said that the argument against using wine in the Lord’s Supper because it may tempt a brother or sister who has a weakness for alcohol is a very powerful argument, indeed.

    •   Clark Coleman Says:

      I don’t understand the connection between John 2:1-11 and the Lord’s Supper.

      •   Dennis Celsor Says:

        One of the stock arguments is that Jesus never drank fermented wine, and therefore we should not have wine in the communion service. According to the comments of the steward recorded in John 2, it was typical of feasts of the day that people would get drunk. Nothing in the text shows that this feast was an exception. In fact, it shows just the opposite. This makes a strong case that at least in this instance the Savior did indeed drink wine capable of making people drunk.

      •   Clark Coleman Says:

        I see. The “stock argument” does not sound very convincing to me, because little is recorded about what Jesus ate and drank. The gospels do not focus on such details, hence I do not have the kind of expectation of such details that makes an argument from silence valid.

        On the other hand, I fail to see in John 2 where it says that Jesus ate or drank anything at the wedding feast. For all I know, he dropped in to see his mother at the end of the feast. Arguments based on supposition and speculation are weak. I conclude that any connection between John 2:1-11 and the wine vs. grape juice issue, either pro or con, is very weak and is exactly the kind of exegesis we should avoid at all costs.

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        A key text, I think, is that “the Son of Man has come eating and drinking” in contrast with John the Baptist. John came “eating no bread and drinking no wine,” but the Son of Man came eating (bread) and drinking (wine). That is why they called him a “glutton and drunkard”. If would be hard to call anyone a “drunkard” who did not drink wine but only grape juice. Jesus came into his ministry feasting and in festive meals with Israel, and that included wine. Luke 7:33-34.

  2.   Jr Says:

    I admire her confident fervor(!); but this is yet another example of human tradition and opinion trumping the Scriptures. Numbers 2, 5, and 10 are simply untrue (no.10 blatantly so); and numbers 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, and her conclusion are opinions.

    She can have her opinions and human traditions, but as the weaker brother in this case, has no right to demand its imposition it on others.

    But hey, different time, different issues, I suppose.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Jr, remind me…where is “wine” used for the drink at the Lord’s Supper in the NT?

      Mostly, I agree. It is tradition/opinion. I was simply interested in the historical curiosity of the movement from wine to grape juice at the turn of the century. The Temperance Movement had a powerful impact on that move.

      •   Jr Says:

        I know you were just reflecting on history. It is an interesting nugget indeed! Always appreciate these things.

        I included number 2 because while it never says “wine” – any knowledge of what a Passover was and what it involved would identify the beverage appropriately as wine. Also, it is clear, contrary to her no.10, that Paul was speaking to those getting wasted (as he continually wants to contrast them to the pagan practices during religious meals and parties in Corinth), and not simply over-indulgence of unfermented beverage. So while technically it never says “wine” – historically it is understood as such.

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        OK I see your point. While it is true that “wine” is not the word used, the assumed practices of the Passover in the first century included the use of wine as the drink. Thanks for the clarification.

      •   rich constant Says:

        IS ALSO a false statement!
        think i am right .
        yes john mark?

        was NOT” the night of the feast of the passover”

        1. “The Lord’s Supper was instituted on the night of the feast of the passover, with the same elements as those used at that feast. We think that unleavened bread and unfermented wine were used at this feast.”

      •   rich constant Says:

        “…The holy Fathers are agreed in teaching that Christ was sacrificed on the Cross on the actual day and hour when the Passover of the Law was sacrificed, so that according to the holy Fathers Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper before the beginning of the period of unleavened bread.” [8]

        There is much more but this gives a sense of the flavor of the discussion . . . the Greeks insist that artos means ordinary bread. They also insist that the institution was not on the Jewish Passover. They may be mostly correct on one and mostly wrong on the other. (We do recognize there is at least a conflict between John and the Synoptics on the chronology of the last days of Jesus life. I believe that John is making a theological point rather than an historical point).[9]”…

  3.   David Himes Says:

    Goes to show that poor Bible study is not gender specific!

  4.   dholman Says:

    I agree with those above. I never knew of another “Holman” in restoration history… its kind of exciting. Danny Holman

  5.   rich constant Says:

    pardon me john mark…
    this is to me just so much crap….
    although well intentioned.

    my mom would say to me,RICHARD,”the pathway to hell is littered with good intentions.”
    NEEDLESS TO SAY I HEARD THAT QUITE A NUMBER OF TIMES. and that is putting it lightly.
    bobby wrote a long post on the bread and the drink.
    there seems to be no unleavened bread used and all the drink was fermented.
    i don’t even want to speak to the way we address the table, staring a the back of each others head. remembering death and no joy in overcoming death.
    anyway blessings
    i wish bobby would speak to this,as far as i am concerned sophistry.

  6.   Terry Says:

    My family and I visited Redeemer Community Church (a non-denominational Bible church in Little Rock, Arkansas) while on vacation last summer. I found it interesting that during the weekly communion time, we were able to choose between two sets of communion cups at the table. One set had a sign above it which read “Juice”, while the other had a sign above it which read “Wine”. It’s the only congregation of which I’m aware that serves both grape juice and wine in its communion service. It seemed like a good application of the principles of Romans 14-15.

    •   A. W. Says:

      It may be a good application of Romans 14, but at the same time it is a truly sad commentary on our moment in Christian history when people are so inappropriately concerned with the chemical composition of the liquid and neglect the meaning and function of the sacrament.

  7.   rich constant Says:


    ” …Friday, January 09, 2009
    Beer & The Bible: What the Bible Really Says about It

    Ok I had no intention of producing another contribution on the topic of wine, beer or alcohol and Christians. Yet there has been a great demand both in the comments of the previous two posts and a number of private emails that suggest a deeper survey of the materials (I do recommend reading my comments near the bottom of the long list of yesterdays post). I have received a number of notes suggesting that my post was way off base and that any alcoholic beverage is simply sinful. That is the view I grew up with and received from my own beloved parents. But I believe this position is simply incapable of biblical defense. So here is what I put together for one brother and have decided to put it on my blog …

    “Beer” and the Bible

    Greetings my beloved brother. There is no doubt that I am swimming up a river of contrary thought, especially the received tradition of Southern Churches of Christ, but for the sake of truth I must stay the course. Rarely do I see a greater abuse of the the term exegesis than when it comes to sermons and tracts on wine and alcohol in the Bible. In what follows I summarize my study of the subject primarily through the use of Hebrew words. I begin with an examination of the frequent claim that wine in the bible is not really “wine” (i.e. alcoholic) but basically grape juice. Such a view is totally anachronistic.

    Let me summarize my own studies at this point: 1) I do not believe any responsible reading of Scripture can demonstrate that “wine” was not really “wine” (that is alcoholic) and; 2) I believe Scripture on numerous occasions not only allows wine but even commands its use, thus for me to conclude wine (in itself) was/is “sinful” would be a serious stretch of imagination. I will try NOT to repeat what has been said in previous posts on my blog — but I believe those posts basically have proven my position.

    Yayin is the most common Hebrew term translated “wine.” Not only has the standard resources confirmed that this word is ordinary wine unless the context shows otherwise it is plainly so in numerous examples (Noah, Lot , etc). In my library I have a very helpful set called New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, edited by William A. VanGemeren. This work is a 5 volume dictionary of Hebrew words. In volume 2, pp. 439-441 yayin is studied in considerable detail and there is no doubt that it refers primarily to alcoholic wine. The passages that follow use yayin.

    1) God commanded Israel to come before him with drink offerings of “wine” (Exodus 29.40; Lev. 23.13; I do not need to list ALL the references — one should be sufficient). There is nothing in the contexts of any of these references to make one believe that this yayin is somehow different.

    2) Related to the last statement in #1 it should be noted that in Lev. 10.9 priests were forbidden “yayin” (with no modifying adjective to suggest anything but plain old vanilla yayin) during the course of their duties. It is quite clear that this wine in Lev 10 is the kind that can get you drunk. Likewise the Nazarite was forbidden this “yayin” during the period of his vow, Num. 6.3 (we will return the Nazarite in a moment since it was an important point in your note to suggest God’s “real attitude”). This proves that wine was really wine.

    3) Drunkeness is to be avoided by God’s people. But yayin was allowed to God’s people for it “gladdens the heart.” Wine is a gift of grace from God. Note the following Scriptures, all use yayin,…”


    “….Concluding Remarks

    It is the consensus of historical scholarship that the Christian church (East or West) did not ordinarily use unleavened bread in communion until the 9th century A.D. The only exceptions to this are the Ebionites and the Armenian Church who introduced unleavened bread in the 7th century. The Greeks were right. The received liturgical tradition was in the form of common leavened bread.

    The question remains, Why the change? John Erickson argues that the introduction unleavened bread to the Table parallels the rise of views of the Supper as something as other than “ordinary,” something beyond the ordinary experience of worshippers. The unleavened bread fit the mystery the mass. It was sacred and different so the bread was to be different. About this time the chalice would begun to be with held from the laity and the host was beginning to be seen in near idolatrous terms.

    The debate regarding “bread on the table” has been lost to the dustbins of history … and even there primarily to footnotes … unless you delve into specialized materials. Yet this debate altered the way ordinary Christians experienced the Table every week. For a thousand years the western church for the most part used plain ordinary bread in communion. I would argue that the Greeks are correct that in the NT (in Corinth) the first century church used ordinary artos as well. One truth has emerged from my study … even when we think we are simply reading the New Testament we are often imposing meanings that simply are not there rather what is there is our tradition that we do not realize is a tradition. “…

  8.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    It’s interesting that for her, in 1903, the prohibition of alcohol seems to be the most pressing issue facing Christianity and the wider culture at large.

    Her argument reminds just how much we all can be products of our time. For her, the issue was alcohol. For another, it’s abortion. Yet for another, it’s war. Certainly all are important issues but…

  9.   Paula Nicklaus Harrington Says:

    Thanks for the article. Had never heard of Mrs. Holman before. I don’t have a problem using wine in the Lord’s Supper but would never advocate it. My mother, a preacher’s daughter and preacher’s wife, was an alcoholic. I remember her telling the story of her uncle giving her a beer when she was a young teen. She would lay awake at night and crave the taste for years. Once grown, she went to great lengths to hide her addiction. I can’t imagine her being able to focus on Christ knowing that small cup of wine was coming down the pew.
    So even though we’re allowed to use it, I don’t think it’s a good idea. Too many struggling and sometimes it’s the ones you would least suspect. Just my thoughts. Thanks again.

  10.   Greg Fleming Says:

    Clearly our earliest Christian sisters and brothers used wine, not grape juice, in Lord’s Supper, though the standard practice was to dilute the wine with water, as mentioned by Justin (Apology I, 65). As I understand it, the water that was turned to wine in John 2 may have been there, at least in part, for the purpose of diluting the wine being served. Regarding the question of whether 1 Cor.11:21 refers to being “full” or “drunk,” I think that the answer is “yes.” Because the wine was diluted with water, a participant had to drink to the point of “fullness” to be drunk.

  11.   Tuck Says:

    There was a church in our area that fractured when an elder decided that wine was required. He quoted a Jewish rabbi who argued that the only way that yeast could completely be removed from the house at Passover was to use fermented wine; grape juice would still have the natural yeast that is destroyed in fermentation. Others in the church reasoned like sis. Holman, so the battle lines were drawn… Another case of the very thing that is to draw us together being used to divide.

  12.   Mark Thiesen Says:

    In Malawi, Africa, where I grew up and later served as a missionary, the churches always used fermented wine for the Lord’s Supper because almost no one had a refrigerator to preserve juice from week to week. Also juice was not widely available. I’m skeptical that grape juice can be preserved without refrigeration. A few years ago new missionaries arrived and went on a campaign to rid the churches of fermented communion wine, telling the churches that it was outrageous to use wine. It would be interesting to see if Holman’s views had somehow filtered down to these missionaries. The result of their campaign is that today many rural Malawian churches no longer have access to fruit of the vine of any kind. Some do not have communion at all on Sundays. Others substitute different types of drinks at the Lord’s Supper like tea, berry juice, or Coke.

  13.   Ralph Williams Says:

    We encountered a group of short-term missionaries who made a practice of carrying grape koolaid in their suitcases, for use in the Lord’s Supper. In nearly everything else, they had an absolutely literal interpretation of scripture. When they discovered that the local church was using wine, they were quite upset.
    One of the local Christians had a counter-argument; that we should use fermented wine, which was more “spiritual,” because sometimes it was referred to as “spirits.”
    I thought his argument was at least as valid as theirs.

    •   Dewey L. Pepper Says:

      I have studied this subject of wine or grape juice in the Lord’s Supper more than any other teaching in the Holy Scriptures, i entered into this study with an open mind & willing to look at this from both sides of the aurgerment. howerver i must say their is much more evedience for the use of wine than their is for grape juice.i cannot expound on all the scriptures i have studied but will give 2 i think makes a strong arugerment for wine. the first is found in the old testament, in Numbers-28-7 where it speaks of the strong wine to be poured unto the LORD for a drink offering. this offering in picture & type represents the body & blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. i cannot believe STRONG WINE means grape juice. secondly i point you to the new testament Luke-10-34. if you will study this the oil represents the Holy Spirit & the Wine represents the Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, i believe the Wine best pictures the blood of Christ & it’s healing us from our Sins.
      i have many more scriptures but not enough space, may GOD use this for his glory.

  14.   Jim Gore Says:

    Sister Holman made some points based on personal beliefs not on fact. The quotes from the ancients of preserving ‘unfermented’ wine had nothing to do with wine but with ‘sapa’ and ‘defruitum’ which were jelly like substances and were NOT considered by definition as ‘wine’ by the ancients. Unfortunately, William Patton purposefully copied from ‘Bacchus’ and ‘AntiBacchus’ which themselves misquoted Pliny, Columella, and others on early wine making practices. Pathetic scholarship, really. In point 11, Sister Holman says that the literature of the early centuries shows that unfermented wine was used on the Lord’s Supper. That is patently false. I have dozens of quotes from the Patristic Witnesses, ALL of them stating that wine can be consumed in moderation, that Jesus made fermented wine at the Wedding of Cana, and that Jesus himself drank fermented wine, both in public and at the Last Supper. Simply go to a site with a searchable Ante-Nicene Fathers and you can do the research for yourself. I would be more than happy to copy and paste the material, here but it would take up far too much space (as would all the quotes from the Restoration Movement leaders). I appreciate what the temperance movement was trying to do, but even the early restoration leaders were against this change of wine to grape juice. It is a pity that that society was able to change the church when in fact we in the church are commissioned to change society!! It is even more of a pity that we are afraid to study history for fear that we might uncover an inconvenient truth to our ‘beliefs’ of today.

  15.   Jeffrey Yelton Says:

    Anyone who is interested in this subject should study my website, which is devoted to this very subject. Until then, I will make only two remarks. First, drinking wine is not a sin. Second, “the fruit of the vine” is a term used by the Jews of Jesus’s day for wine.


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