Semantic Gymnastics and Scriptorture – Is Dr. Patterson Guilty of Blasphemy?

The presidents of Southeastern and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminaries have each weighed in on the alcohol issue, both taking a total-abstinence stance, each from different positions. In his article in Baptist Press on June 30, Dr. Danny Akin, president of Southeastern came from a personal, anecdotal position, thus effectively denying the sufficiency of Scripture. I wrote about alcohol and the sufficiency of Scripture in my post, The Sufficiency of Scripture – I’ll Drink to That. Now, the July 7 issue of Baptist press features Dr. Paige Patterson’s approach to the alcohol issue, in which he attempts to stay a little closer to Scripture. The only problem with the article is, well, that it’s basically all wrong. Between Dr. Patterson’s knowledge deficiency in the biological sciences, and his atrocious hermeneutics, there is very little of value in this article, except to point out a fine example of Fundamentalism on steroids. Let me point out just a few examples of what I am talking about by citing a few examples from Dr. Patterson’s article.

The wines varied in kind and strength. However, four basic varieties may be distinguished, all of which are described indiscriminately by “oinos:”

If they are all indiscriminately described by one word, how is it that they are distinguished?

(1) Freshly pressed grape juice, which had been stomped out by the, hopefully, clean feet of a local family in their private wine vats, or else crushed in grape presses of stone. In the climate of Palestine, fermentation began within 24 hours, so pure unfermented grape juice was available only for a brief time.

The “four basic varieties” that Dr. Patterson speaks of is more of a bad description of the wine-making process. The grape is an amazing berry. In many ways it is quite unique. It has a low enough acidity, with a pH of about 3, to prevent spoilage bacteria from getting a foothold during the fermentation process. It also has a high enough sugar content to create a wine containing about 10 per-cent alcohol. There is one thing missing from the above description by Dr. Patterson. When a grape approaches ripeness, it begins to have a frosty look, the way a cold window pane looks when you breathe on it. You can see that frosty look on the grapes pictured above. That’s called the “bloom”, which is yeast. Now, the farmer doesn’t”t put that yeast on the grape. God puts it there. He has put it there ever since Genesis 1:12. We need to be very careful not to throw around the term “pure” when we are talking about what God has made. An amazing thing happens when the skin on a ripe grape is broken: the yeast takes the sugar on the other side of that grape skin and immediately begins to turn it into alcohol. Man doesn’t have to coax the yeast, or add some other “foreign” ingredient, to make it happen. It just happens. That is why man has been making wine for millennia. The grape was made to make wine. And Dr. Patterson is wrong: in Palestine fermentation doesn’t happen within 24 hours. It happens immediately.

(3) Sometimes the wine would be left on the lees to ferment still further. This provided a real knock-out punch, one evidently imbibed by only a few since it often turned insipid and unbearable. (Jeremiah 48:11).

One would get the impression from this paragraph that the lees somehow cause fermentation, which is not true. As I have pointed out the yeast takes the sugar and converts it into alcohol. When the sugar has been consumed the fermentation process stops. To leave wine on the lees, even in the time of Christ would be an act of sloth. The lees is nothing more than solid matter from the pulp, seed parts, and bits of skin. The resulting impact of such a practice would be to make the wine bitter, not insipid. It had no “knock-out punch”. The reference to Jeremiah 48:11 is ill placed. I cannot see why it is used at all. This is a example of terrible hermeneutics. Let’s look at Jeremiah 48:11-13:

“Moab has been at ease from his youth and has settled on his dregs [ or lees, KJV]; he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile; so his taste remains in him, and his scent is not changed. “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I shall send to him pourers who will pour him, and empty his vessels and break his jars in pieces. Then Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh, as the house of Israel was ashamed of Bethel, their confidence. (Jeremiah 48:11-13 ESV)

In this passage God is clearly using metaphor to describe Moab as having not experienced any chastisement from God, in spite of their gross wickedness. The punishment of Moab is being described in wine-making terms. Wine, after the initial fermentation period was poured off into new containers, leaving the lees, or dregs, behind. There is no stretch of the imagination that can make this mean what Dr. Patterson implies.

In strict fairness, one must acknowledge that the ancients, however noble, imbibed without reluctance. Evidently the prophets and the apostles did not view this as wrong, so long as it was a small glass of wine (see varieties Nos. 1, 2 or 4 mentioned above) taken with the noon or evening meal. These wines, of course, were locally produced.

From what source would Dr. Patterson conclude that the prophets and apostles did not view this as wrong? Scripture, maybe? I can’t think of any extra-scriptural documents authored by the prophets or apostles. So if they expressed in the Scriptures that there was nothing wrong with consumption of wine, then I would guess that is what God wanted them to express within the pages of sacred Scripture. And this qualifier of a small glass . . . taken with the noon or evening meal – I didn’t catch the reference to those passages of Scripture. But wait. It gets even more convoluted.

At this point, however, a significant difference exists between what is permissible and what is best for the child of God. In addition to the constant clear identification of drunkenness as a highly disreputable and debilitating sort of sin, please note the following:
— The Nazarite (one who was especially separated unto God) was prohibited from the use of wine altogether (see Numbers 6:3; Judges 13:4-7, 13-14).
— In Jeremiah 35:1-10, the Rechabites are highly commended by God and by Jeremiah for their total abstinence.
— John the Baptist, touted by Jesus as “the greatest born among men,” was a total abstainer. He was evidently patterning his lifestyle after that of the Nazarite Law, and thereby expressing God’s prescription for what is the best for a godly man.

I cannot read how Dr. Patterson can conclude that these instances show how total abstinence is the best for a godly man. Also consider the following problems with Dr. Patterson’s treatment of these passages.
1. The passages Dr. Patterson quotes from Judges are in reference to the to-be mother of Samson, who was a Nazarite. Now wasn’t he a fine example of a godly man? So I can be a womanizer and still be a godly man, just so long as I never drink wine.
2. The Numbers passage and one of the Judges passages also prohibits the consumption of grapes, raisins, and vinegar made from wine. Is it best for a godly man to abstain from these items as well? Do you think Dr. Patterson has never eaten a grape or a raisin?
3. If John the Baptist was the greatest born among men, simply on the basis of of his total abstinence, what does that say of Jesus, who did not abstain?

At this point in Dr. Patterson’s article he provides labels for a number of passages of Scripture that warn against strong drink. Many of these passages have to do with drunkenness and not merely the moderate use of alcohol. Here is just one example from this section:

— Another result of strong drink is overindulgence.
“Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may follow intoxicating drink; who continue until night, till wine inflames them!” (Isaiah 5:11).

Yes, I can see it. That strong drink pins you to the floor and pours itself down your throat until you have overindulged. The drink doesn’t make you overindulge. A man’s gluttony, which is sin, is what makes him to overindulge.

Now, look at how Jesus making the water into wine in John 2 is explained away:

In Jesus’ miracle at Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11), one can neither affirm with certainty that Jesus turned the water into a non-intoxicating wine nor that He drank no wine Himself.

I think we can safely say that the wine which Jesus made was alcoholic. As I have pointed out at the first, that is what wine is all about: the grape and the yeast getting together. Dr. Patterson creates a stage-one oinos that is a myth. There is no such thing.

But the following evidences cannot be easily bypassed:
— The text nowhere indicates that Jesus participated. Either way the argument is from silence.

Jesus didn’t participate? Heavens, he made the stuff. Silence under most circumstances is no argument. It usually indicates that something is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be mentioned. Of course Jesus participated. It would be rude not to.

— The governor of the feast obviously was able to identify “good wine” by tasting it, indicating that there was no intoxication on his part. On the other hand, by the governor’s own testimony, by the last stages of such a feast participants generally had their senses sufficiently dulled so that they could not differentiate between good and bad wine. Was this feast different? Is this why Jesus agreed to attend?

John 2 says nothing about senses sufficiently dulled. John 2 doesn’t indicate that the lesser wine comes out last because the participants can’t differentiate between good and bad wine. Bad wine isn’t even mentioned in this passage either. Dr. Patterson can’t even recount what is in the passage accurately.

— From a standpoint of logic, the “oinos” that Jesus produced was more likely pure, rather than fermented, grape juice, since that which comes from the Creator’s hand is inevitably pure. Also, there was no time for fermentation to take place subsequent to the miracle. Furthermore, the ancients always acknowledged that the best “oinos” was the unfermented “oinos,” i.e., that which came from the initial mixing of the grapes.

1. Logic and Dr. Patterson are not personally acquainted.
2. We have already dealt with this pure thing. I think I would be perfectly frightened of blasphemey if I kept talking about what came from the Creator’s hand when I didn’t know what I was talking about.
3. No time? Duh! Why do you think it was called a miracle? Duh, and double duh.
4. Where is the citation of these ancients always acknowledg[ing]?

— The accusation that Jesus, in contrast to John, was a socialite, a glutton, and a winebibber is manifestly void of foundation (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34). Because Jesus enjoyed social contacts and openly mingled with the people, some assumed that He had a propensity for food and drink. If Jesus had been a winebibber, He must have also been guilty of gluttony, which is clearly identified as a sin. In fact, Jesus was neither, and again there is no evidence that He drank “oinos” or anything other than the fresh, natural fruit of the vine.

Yes, it was void of foundation, but just because Jesus was not a winebibber, doesn’t mean He didn’t drink wine. In the Matthew 11 and Luke 7 passages, Jesus clearly states that The Son of Man came eating and drinking. Read between the lines. If Jesus was accused of winebibbing, then it’s probably because He was seen with a glass of wine in His hands, and He was drinking it. And here we go again with this fresh, natural and pure bit.

We can’t get away from this nightmare without “SOME ADDED OBSERVATIONS” to wrap things up.

— In the accounts of the Lord’s Supper in the Gospels and in 1 Corinthians, the word wine (oinos) is mysteriously absent. The disciples took “the cup” and drank the “fruit of the vine.” The absence of the term “oinos” is curious, to say the least.

Acne, bad breath, and ear wax are also mysteriously absent from Scripture, but that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t have them, and many other things I won’t go into. None of those things seem curious by their absence (to me, anyway). In this article there was just way too much arguing from silence.

— Wine has one, unqualified, good use in Scripture and that is as a metaphor for the wrath of God. This metaphor is utilized in both Old and New Testaments (see Revelation 19:15). The “oinos” of God’s wrath is unmixed or undiluted, fresh from the wine press, unhindered by fermentation of any kind. Hence, purity of judgment is emphasized.

This is simply not true. Why does he not cite the following two passages? And there are many, many more. You do the work on your own. Do a word search on wine.

Psalms 104:14,15
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

Proverbs 3:9, 10
Honor the LORD with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.

— The bishop (pastor) is to be free from wine (1 Timothy 3:3). One would presume that this admonition, at least in part, is for an example. If so, here again the ideal would be total abstinence for all who make up the body of Christ, i.e., the church.

Dr. Patterson must be referring to the King James here, where it says not given to wine, which is properly translated into modern English in most recent translations as not a drunkard, or not a brawler. Good grief, I am no Rhodes scholar, but I have enough grasp of Elizabethan English to know what not given to wine means. Come on, Dr. Patterson.

— For the believer to say, “Let me get as close to sin as I can without being guilty,” indicates a strange mentality indeed! The object should rather be to stay as far away as one can from even the appearance of evil, and as close to Christ as possible (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

What serious Christian ever says this? By this logic I need to stay as far away as possible from food, my wife, and my Ricky Skaggs CD’s. it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11, ESV)
The end is in site. Dr. Patterson concludes:

(1) Many of the most excruciating and debilitating events of history are associated with wine. The Bible has almost no good word about it and, in fact, usually associates tragedy and sinwith the use of wine. For example, after a life of exemplary behavior, Noah became a stumbling block to his own children, necessitating a curse on his grandson, as a result of wine. This first mention of wine in Scripture is bad.

By this logic, we should ban airplanes, since airplanes dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We should also ban firearms, since they commit murder. Let’s quit eating food, as it commits gluttony. Baptists need to become a monastic order, as sex causes adultery and fornication. We all need to become vegetarians, as meat clogs our arteries.

(2) To whatever extent wine was used by Jesus, clearly it was in small quantities and either at meals or for medicinal purposes. Certainly no tragic industry was supported by the selling and buying of wine. This latter point is crucial for the believer. A believer in no way can justify drinking if thereby he is contributing to the sustenance of an industry responsible for two-thirds of the violent deaths, two-fifths of all divorces, one-third of all crime, and untold millions of dollars in damage to private property. Such would violate all laws in the Bible, and especially the Corinthian principles outlined below:

Dr. Patterson does finally abandon the sufficiency of Scripture here at the last. After all, it is the industry that causes all of these evil things, and not the sinful heart of man.

There is much more that I didn’t touch on, but my time is limited. suffice it to say Dr. Patterson uses semantic gymnastics and scriptorture in his article, from first to last and everywhere in between. He may have stayed closer to Scripture than Dr. Akin, but he was never very close to the true meaning of the passages he cited. If I were a student at Southwestern, I would be embarassed.
As I have said in my previous post on this subject, the issue is not about wine, but about rightly dividing the Word of God. What we have here is a prime example of fundamentalism deluxe and a gross lack of true scholarship, which amounts to the same thing. I am really sorry. I didn’t intend to be mean. Believe me, I tried to hold back my sarcasm as much as possible. This kind of nonsense ought to make us weep, not laugh. I am not laughing. Your comments, please.

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