Answer by Steve Stranghoener
In John 2:1-11 we’re told how Jesus’ mother, Mary, asks him to help after the wine runs out, an event which in Jewish circles could have been very embarrassing for the wedding party. Jesus then proceeds to turn ordinary water into wine instantly by the power of his spoken word. The servants then serve the wine, and the governor of the feast comments on how good this late arriving wine is, and how surprised he is since normally, the best wine is served first and the worst later when the guests under the influence of the beverages well known alcoholic effects, are usually far less discerning. The host’s comments alone provide sufficient evidence to tell us that the wine Jesus produced was alcoholic and not just grape juice, which would have been just as miraculous.
But before we go into more detail we need to make two vital points:
Jesus did not start with grape juice, but with simple clear water, H2O, and he turned it into C2H5OH plus a whole lot of much bigger and more complex organic colouring and flavouring molecules found in wine. To do this He made carbon and other atoms on the spot, as well as putting them into many differing chemical arrangements.
Secondly he didn’t take any time to do this. The simple reason for this information is to remind us who we are talking about here. This Jesus is the Creator of the heavens and the earth who on the third day of creation commended the earth to bring forth plants which included the grape family. That would have been much harder than turning water into wine, but then He didn’t take any time then either! In both cases all He did was speak.
Now let’s look into some more details. Before proceeding, I must offer this caveat. Before switching careers to writing in 2010, I spent 24 years in the beer industry rather than as a vintner and, the truth be told, I was mostly involved in procuring supplies and materials rather than the brewing process, but I was blessed to learn a few things along the way. I’ve provided a link to an excellent article below if you’d like to delve into this fascinating process in painstaking detail. With that said, here is a very basic representation of the chemical process involved in wine fermentation so you can understand just how much clever chemistry Jesus had to do.
Grape juice contains fermentable carbohydrate sugar compounds that, when exposed to living yeast cells, are converted to alcohol and C02 gas bubbles. This can be summarised in chemical formulae:
C6H12O6 (sugar) → 2 C2H5OH (alcohol) + 2 CO2 (carbon dioxide)
At this rudimentary level, the science seems fairly simple, but don’t be fooled. Besides the basic elements of water, carbohydrates and alcohol (e. g, ethanol), there can be a wide variety of other compounds present such as acids (e. g, acetic, citric, etc.), phenols (e. g, tannins for bitterness and colour), various proteins and minerals (e. g, calcium, potassium, sulphates, etc.). There are a multitude of complex processes involved in producing just the right taste, aroma, colour and other characteristics of fine wines.
Beyond the chemistry, there is so much more, because it’s just as much an art as it is science. It’s also critical to find just the right grapes, at the right time and place. The name usually says it all. There are thousands of types of grapes but you need Chardonnay grapes to make the Chardonnay wine. The same holds true for Merlot and Cabernet grapes. And, while they can be grown in many places around the world, the French and Germans will insist that to make the best Riesling and Cabernet wines you must harvest the grapes of the same name not just from those geographic regions, but at just the proper time.
Next you find that how they are processed makes all the difference in the world too. Take fermentation for example. Longer fermentation will produce a dryer wine with less sugar and higher alcohol content. Then there’s the yeast. There are many different strains and they are living organisms. The most common yeast for wine making is called Saccharomyces cerevisiae but if, for example, you want Port wine you could use Saccharomyces bayanus which can tolerate higher alcohol content. Once you find the right culture, you must maintain that particular strain through controlled reproduction. Whether for wine or beer, it’s a natural process that can’t be duplicated exactly by men. If the strain dies out, so does your particular variety of wine. When I worked at Anheuser-Busch, this was considered so critical that Budweiser yeast was maintained in cryogenic chambers that reminded me of the dinosaur embryos in the movie Jurassic Park.
I can hear some of you out there protesting; hold on Mister, you’re discounting the marvels of modern technology. Yes, I agree that we can make synthetic alcohol where we just pour powder into a glass of water and … voila … instant cocktails. Is that what Jesus did and can our modern powdered alcohol pass muster with a master brewer or sommelier? I don’t think so. Take August A. Busch III for example. In my experience he has the most God-gifted taste and olfactory senses of anyone on the planet. He could take a small sip of beer and, through a sensation he called “head-feel”, detect the minutest impurities. The only way to prove he was right and validate what his senses automatically told him was to conduct lengthy laboratory tests using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry that could discern offending compounds like, for example methyl ether, found in a few parts per billion and after all the expensive testing, the only thing you established was that you didn’t need to spend the time and money to do the test because August’s nose did it ‘naturally’ for free. Even those of us with more normal taste buds possess fantastic sensory powers from our Designer that can barely be duplicated by the best equipment our brightest engineering chemists can build.
Talking about synthetic alcohol beverages makes me think of an old, but for its time futuristic 1966 movie starring then King of Comedy, Jerry Lewis, as an astronaut on the moon who gets plastered trying to keep pace with a Russian cosmonaut drinking synthetic vodka in a spoof aimed at the “space-aged” powdered orange drink, Tang. That scenario about powdered drink mixes is now a commonplace reality which raises a good question among skeptics and Bible doubters. Could Jesus have pulled a fast one at Cana using a little chemistry and sleight of hand?
The answer is no on two counts. First, while it’s very possible that human technology was very advanced from Adam’s time before eventually degenerating after the fall into sin, there’s no indication in Scripture or secular history that this type of technology existed in 1st Century Palestine or anywhere else. Besides, even if there would have been wine powder, it couldn’t have fooled the governor of the feast who marvelled at the quality of the wine Jesus created (John 2:10). Second, and most importantly, to attribute Christ’s miracle to a clever parlour trick would deny his deity and the inerrant, inspired authority of the Holy Bible.
Please go back and look at the text of John 2:1-11 and it will be abundantly clear that this was not a chemistry experiment. Jesus didn’t serve up inferior wine with the hope that no one would notice because they had already imbibed freely of the good wine. No, the Master of the ceremony pronounced it the best … Jesus produced a good and perfect wine. He did this in the blink of an eye rather than taking years as was required by natural processes. This should not surprise us since the Bible teaches that this same Jesus whom created the entire universe and everything in it in six literal days. And don’t forget he accomplished that feat simply by speaking, through the power of his word.
Do you remember what happened when Aaron contended with Pharaoh’s sorcerers and his serpent swallowed up those conjured by the magicians (Exodus 7)? Do you remember what happened when Elijah battled the Prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18)? Or how Jesus responded when his critics claimed he was in league with Beelzebub in driving out demons (Luke 11)? In every case, it was the power of God that prevailed ; his miraculous, supernatural power. Such was the case at Cana too. All Jesus did was speak in power. The Almighty God, our Lord and Saviour, used his same divine, creative power that had commanded ground to turn into grapes in Genesis 1: 11, and he used it to turn water into wine in the blink of an eye. Just as the grapes in Eden were pronounced very good, so did the host of the party pronounce Jesus wine as also ‘very good’. This Jesus never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
More on the wine making and fermentation process at http://nzic.org.nz/ChemProcesses/food/6B.pdf
VITAMIN C GENE? Humans share the same broken vitamin C gene as apes. Doesn’t this prove evolution? Answer here
Other question answered by Steve Stranghoener:
POLITICS? Evolution is pure science, so how can it have anything to do with politics and morality? Answer here
Image: Jesus making water into wine, Wieliczka Salt Mine. Public domain
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