Vine, vineyard

Wine glasses, photo by Lourdes Cardenal available through Creative CommonsIn countries where pure, uncontaminated water is hard to come by, brewed tea, ale, or wine, have often served as alternatives. In countries where vines grow readily, wine has historically been a central part of the family meal. It is not surprising therefore, that grapes, vines and wine are frequently referred to throughout the Bible.


Vineyards were an important part of the agricultural economy, and those who were wealthy enough to be in the possession of them are urged in the Bible to share at least some of their produce.

‘When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.' (Deuteronomy 24:21)

A vineyard was even considered to be so desirable that, according to the biblical account, it led to the queen, Jezebel, arranging for the owner of a vineyard to be murdered so that her husband, King Ahab, could take it over (1 Kings 21:1-29).

Israel as a ‘vine'

However, metaphorical references to vines and vineyards are even more significant than literal ones:

  • In the Old Testament, the Israelites whom God brought out of slavery in Egypt are often compared to a vine which he has planted, but which does not always bring forth good fruit, and which he consequently destroys
  • Psalms 80, for example, describes how God ‘transplanted a vine from Egypt … drove out the nations and planted it … cleared the ground for it', and how it consequently ‘took root and filled the land' (Psalms 80:8-9).

Vines and Vineyards in the stories of Jesus

In the New Testament, the same image of the relationship between God and his people can be found: vines and vineyards feature frequently in the parables which Jesus told his followers:

  • He compared the kingdom of heaven to a vineyard where those admitted and rewarded are not necessarily those who think they have done most to deserve God's blessing (Matthew 20:1-16)
  • Jesus also warned the religious authorities who spurned him that they were like the evil tenant of a vineyard who killed the son of the owner and would be turned out and punished (Matthew 21:33-45). The people of Jesus' time would have readily understood the use of such imagery, as vineyards were very common.

Jesus the ‘True Vine'

Perhaps even more significantly for Christians, Jesus metaphorically considers himself to be the ‘true vine', planted by God in order to grow good fruit. He uses this imagery to compare his followers to the branches of the vine, which, because they are attached to the true vine, will bear fruit (John 15:1-4).

This imagery is taken further at the last supper, where Jesus compares the wine to his blood in an allusion to his imminent crucifixion.

The ‘new wine' of Christ

In the New Testament, Jesus illustrated the effect that belief in him could have by using the metaphor of new wine, an Old Testament symbol of God's promised goodness (see Joel 2:19). To make the point that a person's whole life would need to change once they believed in him, he explained:

And people do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins. Mark 2:22

The Winepress

Winepress, photo by ד"ר אבישי טייכר available through Creative CommonsThe idea of the winepress where the harvested grapes are crushed into wine is associated with the anger and judgement of God in Isaiah 63:3 and Revelation 14:17-20.

The concept of the winepress also appears in the Battle Hymn of the Republic written by Julia Ward Howe - ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord / He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored' - and in the title of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath.

George Herbert

Several of the poems of the seventeenth-century metaphysical poet George Herbert pick up the imagery of the vine, especially the poem The Agony where, using a double entendre on the word ‘vice' (a pressing machine / a sin), the suffering of Christ is compared to a wine-press ‘which forceth pain ... through every vein' but which also reveals the love of Christ,

‘Love is the liquor sweet and most divine
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.'

Related topics

Big ideas: Blood; Last Supper, communion, eucharist, mass; Cross, crucifixion; Redemption, salvation

Other cultural references

Ward Howe's Battle Hymn of the Republic

Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

Herbert's The Agony

Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.