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Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, known as Erasmus, depicted by Hans Holbein in 1523

One of the most startling Biblical references to wine occurs in chapter two of the Acts of the Apostles. At Pentecost following the crucifixion the apostles were gathered together when "suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."

Once filled with the Holy Spirit, the apostles are able to speak in their own several languages to all the "devout men, out of every nation under heaven" who were then collected together in Jerusalem. The  responses of these pious strangers to the apostles were divided.  All were amazed; but some sceptics responded with mockery, and saw a carnal cause at work in this spiritual event: "These men are full of new wine," they said.

When Erasmus wrote his Paraphrases on the New Testament (1517-23), his imagination took fire at this episode. Peter begins the impromptu sermon he gives in response to the imputation of drunkenness with a blunt denial: "These are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day." But Erasmus considered the allegation of drunkenness more carefully, and found a partial truth hidden within it — albeit a truth unsuspected by the scoffers. 

He began by allowing that "great dronkenes is not muche vnlike to fury, for it chaunceth peraduenture, that some in a fury shall speake diuerse wordes of sondry languages which they neuer learned." (I am quoting from the contemporary translation thought to be by diverse hands, including Catherine Parr.) But then he focused on an important difference between the events at Pentecost and the common experience of listening to drunks: "But no fury wil this vndertake, that all men shal vnderstand that that thou doest speake." 

However, those who mocked the apostles were nevertheless not entirely wide of the mark. As Erasmus noted, "a man maye sometime tell the truth although he spake in a skoffyng wise." When the apostles spoke in tongues, this was a kind of drunkenness, although one very different from the intoxication of which they were accused. 

Here Erasmus made a crucial link with another part of the New Testament. In Luke, chapter five, when Jesus is asked why he and his disciples do not abide by the law and fast, he replies in the form of a parable:

No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old: if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.

This was the text which sprang up in Erasmus's memory as he pondered the narration of the events at Pentecost in Acts 5:
For a suerty full wer they of ye new wine, which ye lorde would not haue in any wyse put into olde bottels. For the olde wine of Moyses lawe had lost his strength and vertue, when Christe was firste insured by mariage to his churche, and the colde & unsauery sence of the lawe was turned by Christe into newe wyne.

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