What was Jesus offered to drink while being tortured during His crucifixion and why does it matter?
Matthew 27:34 (KJV)
34 They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
Matthew 27:34 (NKJV)
34 they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.
Vinegar or Sour Wine?
The Greek word is ὄξος oxos. vinegar,in other words sour wine. The Greek Textus Receptus New Testament has this word appear 7 times and each time the KJV translates this word as vinegar.
According to the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States, “Sour wine, a staple in the Roman soldier’s diet commonly used by poor people, was certainly considered unpalatable for the Jewish and the Roman upper class to partake of. The sour wine, offered to the Lord Jesus Christ during His crucifixion, has been frequently referred to as vinegar. Vinegar was a drink consisting of wine or a strong drink generally turned sour. In the Old Testament Holy Book of Psalm, vinegar is associated with poison, “They gave me gall for my food, and they gave me vinegar for my drink” (Psalm 68:22; LXX).” (Coptic Orthodox).
John MacArthur gives us further information based on Mark’s account of the substance that was mingled with the vinegar in his study bible,
“Mark 15:23 identifies (this substance) as myrrh, a narcotic. The Jews had a custom, based on Pr 31:6, of administering a pain-deadening medication mixed with wine to victims of crucifixion, in order to deaden the pain. Tasting what it was, Christ, though thirsty, “was unwilling to drink,” lest it dull His senses before He completed His work. The lessening of physical pain would probably not have diminished the efficacy of His atoning work (see notes on 26:38, 39). But He needed His full mental faculties for the hours yet to come. It was necessary for Him to be awake and fully conscious, for example, to minister to the dying thief (Lk 23:43).
MacArthur, John F., Jr. The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006. Print.
The English word Gall is a translation of the Greek word χολή cholē. This word is “gall” or bile, in other words (by analogy) poison or an anodyne. The word only appears twice in the Greek Textus Receptus New Testament and both times it is translated in the KJV as gall. Strong’s give us more information on the definition of this substance that was mixed with the vinegar by giving us this added information: This substance was “bile, gall in the OT used of other bitter things wormwood, possibly myrrh” So, there we see the Myrrh that Mark referenced in Mark 15:23 that was offered to the Lord. Now, we understand that this substance was a mixture of poison and vinegar to dull the pain.
You will also note that what was happening here was a fulfillment of prophecy. It was prophesied in Psalm 69:21 that Jesus would be offered this gall (or myrrh) and vinegar (or sour wine) to drink on the cross. How did the KJV and NKJV translate that?
Psalm 69:21 (KJV)
21 They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
Psalm 69:21 (NKJV)
21 They also gave me gall for my food,
And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
The Hebrew word being translated as vinegar is חֹמֶץ ḥômeṣ and it means vinegar. The Hebrew word being translated as gall is רֹאשׁ rô’š; or רוֹשׁ rowsh (Deut. 32:32), roshe. It is a poisonous plant of an unknown origin.
The big point to see here though is that the NKJV doesn’t translate Psalm 69:21 as sour wine. It translates it as vinegar. Why didn’t they translate it as sour wine there too? I am not sure. I would assume that they were thinking that using sour wine would make this more “instantly understandable” but, I am afraid that it confuses the prophecy in Psalm 69.
Either way, isn’t it amazing how the words were chosen so specifically by people writing them down centuries apart from one another. What is even more amazing is that the Roman soldiers, who had no idea there was a prophecy that the Messiah was to be offered their drink and, yet, they offered it to Him… several times. You can’t plan events in your torture and execution to match prophecies about you. It just doesn’t happen. This is just more proof that Jesus fulfilled His claims to be the Messiah Who would pay for our sins upon the cross! Praise Him!
You also will notice that Jesus didn’t drink the vinegar wine then, but He did drink it later. The Scripture even says that He drank it to fulfill the prophecy!
John 19:28-30 (KJV)
28 After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.
29 Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.
30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. He knew that the Hebrew word for “give” in Psalm 69:21 meant that He was to take it, not just be offered it. The Hebrew word for give there is נָתַן nâṯan. It means to give, used with greatest latitude of application (put, make, etc.). In other words, it was to be pushed upon Him and received! He did this right before He “gave up the ghost” in order “that the scripture might be fulfilled!” That way He had His senses throughout the entire crucifixion feeling each pain for our sins and having the ability to minister to the crook that was being crucified beside Him! OH what a Savior!!!
Don’t tell me every word doesn’t matter when you study the Bible. Jesus certainly must have thought it did.