What Does Vinegar Symbolize in the Bible?

Vinegar is mentioned several times throughout the Bible, often carrying symbolic meaning or significance. In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the various biblical references to vinegar and examine the deeper spiritual truths being conveyed through this common household item. Whether you are a pastor seeking to better understand vinegar’s role in Scripture or a layperson looking to gain new insight into familiar passages, this post will walk through key vinegar mentions verse-by-verse and unpack their greater meaning for believers today.


Vinegar appears in both the Old and New Testaments, being associated with thirst, mockery, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and other important moments. While we often pass over casual references to food and drink in Scripture, a closer look reveals the wisdom God intended to convey through even simple details like vinegar. When studied carefully, vinegar contains lessons about human nature, the world’s treatment of holy things, and God’s mercy triumphing over evil.

Key Takeaways:

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  • Vinegar is often connected with thirst and dryness, symbolizing human desire and need.
  • When used mockingly, vinegar represents the world’s contempt for spiritual things.
  • At the crucifixion, vinegar was a cruel jest but also allowed prophecy to be fulfilled.
  • God can transform sour experiences, represented by vinegar, into something refreshing.
  • Followers of Christ may face mockery for their faith, but like Christ can overcome it.
  • The vinegar and gall offered to Jesus speaks to the coming Messiah’s sufferings.

With these truths in mind, let us explore the significance of each biblical reference to this common, yet surprisingly meaningful, liquid.

What Does Vinegar Symbolize in the Bible?

Old Testament References

Vinegar as Thirst Quencher – Numbers 6:3

The first mention of vinegar in Scripture comes in Numbers 6:3, where God gives instructions about the Nazirite vow:

He shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. (NKJV)

Here, vinegar is referenced almost in passing, grouped together with wine and grape products which the Nazirite vow prohibited. The key detail is that vinegar, while not alcoholic, is derived from wine through fermentation. Thus, it is forbidden under the vow’s strict guidelines.

On a symbolic level, this establishes vinegar as a drink connected to thirst and desire. While not intoxicating, it emerges from wine, linking it to the need for refreshment. The vinegar prohibition reinforces that the Nazirite vow was one of deep spiritual commitment, requiring ascetic self-denial for a sacred purpose.

Mockery and Contempt – Psalm 69:21

The next significant mention of vinegar comes in Psalm 69, a Messianic psalm speaking prophetically of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion:

They also gave me gall for my food, And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalm 69:21 NKJV)

Here, vinegar takes on an additional symbolic meaning of mockery and contempt. The psalmist’s enemies give him vinegar, not to quench his thirst, but to taunt and abuse him in his affliction. This paints vinegar as a cruel jest, offered in a spirit of malice rather than compassion.

The passage also foreshadows Christ being given vinegar to drink while on the cross (Matthew 27:34; John 19:28-30). Vinegar becomes a means of humans mocking that which is holy and righteous, with the psalmist’s sufferings presaging Christ’s own mistreatment. The spiritual is downtrodden by the worldly.

Vinegar as Judgment – Proverbs 10:26

Proverbs 10:26 presents another unflattering reference to vinegar:

As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, So is the lazy man to those who send him. (Proverbs 10:26 NKJV)

Here, vinegar is paired with smoke as metaphors for annoyances and irritation. The imagery suggests the sour unpleasantness of vinegar, stinging the eyes and teeth if exposed too long. The proverb suggests that a lazy messenger causes similar vexation to those waiting on him to complete his task.

This vinegar reference adds the dimension of it being an irritant, something unwanted. It highlights the sour and pungent nature of vinegar, even in small amounts. There is a sense of judgment and rebuke in the metaphor—the lazy man’s sloth earns him the stigma of being as unwanted as vinegar splashed on the teeth.

New Testament References

The New Testament contains the most significant vinegar mentions, connecting it firmly with Jesus’ crucifixion. We find vinegar repeatedly at the cross, along with deeper symbolism tied to prophecy, mercy, and redemption.

Vinegar as Mockery – Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:23

Matthew and Mark’s gospel accounts both describe vinegar being used to mock Jesus before his crucifixion:

They gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink. (Matthew 27:34 NKJV)

Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. (Mark 15:23 NKJV)

Though different liquids are mentioned, both include the symbolic vinegar tied to earlier mockery and contempt for righteous sufferers like the psalmist. The vinegar and gall cocktail was likely intended to dull Jesus’ senses and pain, allowing his execution to proceed dispassionately. However, Jesus rejects this bitter, mocking drink, facing death with resolute sobriety.

Here, vinegar represents the worst of human nature—taking a petty pleasure in the suffering of others, seeking to humiliate and degrade holy things. Jesus overcomes this slanderous human impulse, staying true to his purpose and mission.

Vinegar as Prophecy Fulfilled – John 19:28-30

John’s account includes an additional detail following Jesus’ refusal of the mocking vinegar drink:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30 NKJV)

Though Matthew links the earlier vinegar drink to prophecy, this passage makes the fulfillment explicit. Jesus accepts this late offering of vinegar to complete the Scriptural record, not as mocking abuse but as a last bittersweet drink before declaring his work on earth finished.

The hyssop branch recalls the hyssop used to paint lamb’s blood over Israelite doorframes during Passover (Exodus 12:22). This links the vinegar to the blood of the ultimate Passover sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). What was meant in contempt becomes a vehicle for redemption instead.

This completes vinegar’s symbolic journey—from despised irritation to life-giving fulfillment. What the world intends for evil, God transforms into salvation.

Vinegar as Mercy – Luke 23:36

Luke’s gospel includes an additional scene where vinegar is offered to Jesus on the cross:

The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.” (Luke 23:36-37 NKJV)

Though meant mockingly, this vinegar gives Jesus a drink during his slow execution by crucifixion. While the world still offers vinegar in contempt, God’s purposes turn even this to mercy. Out of this suffering, Jesus secures eternal salvation.

This offers hope that God can transform life’s sour moments into sources of sustaining sweetness. Believers must look beyond surface pains to perceive God’s deeper purposes. Just as vinegar quenched Jesus’ thirst amid mockery, God works redemption in life’s bitter trials.

Lessons for Believers Today

Having surveyed the Bible’s references to vinegar, we are left with many takeaways for modern believers:

  • Life often leaves us thirsting for meaning and hope. Vinegar represents desires that can only be filled by a deep relationship with God.
  • The world mocks holy things it cannot understand, treating the sacred with contempt. Christians should expect similar scorn for their faith.
  • God’s mercy shines brightest in the darkest moments. When filled with bitter sorrow, trust God to sweeten it into joy.
  • Christ suffered mockery and pain to redeem our fallen world. When facing trials, unite your sufferings with His.
  • No matter how bitter your circumstances, believe God will work them for your good and His glory.
  • On the cross, Jesus transformed vinegar—a symbol of wrath and judgement—into an act of redemption. Let Him likewise transform your heart.

May this survey of vinegar deepen your spiritual life, enhancing your understanding of Scripture. Let its symbolism inspire perseverance and hope, stirring you to see life through God’s perspective. Though the world may offer bitterness, trust in Christ who turns life’s sour vinegar into the sweet wine of salvation.

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