For Stomach Sake

Many people like to use 1 Timothy 5:23 as justification to drink alcohol. After all, Timothy is being told to drink wine by the Apostle Paul. To those who use this line of thought, it makes no difference how much wine is being drank or the reason for its use; all that matters is the sanction being given to Timothy to drink an intoxicating beverage.

First of all, we should point out again that the word wine as used in the English versions of the Bible does not necessitate the assumption that it is alcoholic. In fact, Paul recognizes that Timothy doesn’t even consume wine. Paul tells Timothy, “No longer drink only water…” (NKJV). Timothy apparently was abstinent in regard to wine. The same was true concerning John the Baptist (Lk. 1:15). Also, the apostle James “drank neither wine nor fermented liquors.”[i]

Timothy, like all Disciples of Christ, believed in keeping oneself pure in body and spirit (1 Tim. 5:22; Rom. 8:10-13; 1 Cor. 6:19-20; 1 Thes. 5:23). Timothy, as a protégé of Paul, would have been sensitive to the conscience of other brethren. Paul instructed the Romans in this regard by saying, “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.” (Rom. 14:21).   Further, if Timothy has any aspirations to become an Elder one day he is well aware of the restriction placed upon those who serve in that office (1 Tim. 3:2-3; Tit. 1:7).  Timothy didn’t drink wine!

It also makes little sense for Paul to instruct Timothy to violate his abstinence from fermented wine. Those of us who ardently restrain ourselves from alcohol would be highly offended at the suggestion to drink a glass of wine for some medical benefit. Paul knows Timothy well enough not to make such a blunder in his advice. Rather, Paul advices Timothy to “use a little wine for stomach sake…”  (1 Tim. 5:23). Paul doesn’t say “drink” wine but to “use” or “take” a little wine. That sounds very much like a doctor’s prescription. Paul is not sanctioning the drinking of an alcoholic beverage even if it was fermented. He says to take a little wine!

It happens to be recorded in ancient history that unfermented wine was used for medicinal purposes. Pliny, a Roman historian (A.D. 24-79), in his book Natural History, reports, “Ten quarts of white must and half that quantity of water are kept boiling till a considerable amount of water is boiled away… This drink is given to invalids [from aegris meaning the sick] for whom it is feared that wine may be harmful.” Later in his book he states that fermented wine was also used for medical purposes but makes this observation, “Wines are most beneficial when all their potency has been overcome by the strainer.”  Athenaeus (A.D. 280) specifically recommends the use of unfermented wine for the stomach. “Let him take sweet wine, either mixed with water or warmed, especially that kind called protropos, the sweet Lesbian glukus, as being good for the stomach; for sweet wine does not make the head heavy” (Athenaeus, Banquet, pp. 24).

Given these statements, it becomes painfully obvious that Paul was not and would not recommend an alcoholic beverage to Timothy for his frequent infirmities. Rather, Paul was recommending a little bit of unfermented wine (boiled must that is most likely mixed with water) for his stomach problems. Such a remedy for soothing heart burn or indigestion would be consistent with such a recommendation from Paul.

[i] Eusebius quoting Hegesippus, Ecclesiastical History, II, 23, 5.

“Not Given to Much Wine”

A favorite passage that is used to support the moderate use of alcoholic beverages is 1 Timothy 3:8. One of the qualifications for the office of a Deacon is “not given to much wine.” It appears the wine is not condemned but the quantity of wine consumed. However, abstinence from alcoholic beverages is required of the Eldership (1 Tim. 3:2-3; Tit. 1:7). Is this a sanction of intoxicating wine for Deacons as long as they never become Elders?

It certainly makes no sense to permit drinking of some alcohol for an office where deacons should be aspiring to become Elders. Under the Old Law, priests were not even permitted to be present in the tabernacle if they have drunk an intoxicating drink. If they were inebriated in the temple the penalty was death (Lev. 10:9). The purpose for that statute was to provide the people with the ability to distinguish between the holy and the unholy (Lev. 10:10). Using the same reasoning, it seems strange to think that someone in the position of a Deacon would have to be considered unholy if the consumption of alcohol is permitted at all. Given that all Christians are priests under the New Law, the distinction between the holy and the unholy should still be recognized by one’s use of alcohol.

It could also be easily argued that Paul is setting up a double standard if this phrase is an endorsement for the consumption of alcohol. Yet, Paul begins the qualification for Deacons with the acknowledgment that the qualifications between the two offices are similar. He says, Likewise deacons must be…” (1 Tim. 3:8). Since the Bible would never contradict itself, the phrase under consideration obviously does not sanction the use of alcohol.

Samuele Bacchiocchi, in his book entitled, Wine in the Bible, illustrates the absurdity of assuming this phrase condones the drinking of alcohol as follows. “If you are a bishop, you must abstain (nephalios) from wine and not even be near wine (me paroinon – 1 Tim. 3:2-3). If you are a deacon, you may drink wine moderately (me oino pollo – vs. 8). If you are a woman, presumably a deaconess, you must abstain (nephalious – vs. 11) from wine. If you are an aged man, you must abstain (nephalious – Titus 2:2) from wine. If you are an aged woman, you must drink moderately (me oino pollo – Titus 2:3). Now what would happen if a woman happened to be both aged and a deaconess? Would she be abstinent one day and moderate the next?” (Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, p. 250)

The absurdity can also be illustrated by evaluating other similar phrases found elsewhere in the Bible. The most striking passage is Ecclesiastes 7:17. It reads, “Do not be overly wicked…” (NKJV). Does that mean it is all right to be moderately wicked? When Paul said, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body…” (Rom. 6:12), does he imply that sin is acceptable as long as it doesn’t control us? When Paul wrote, “And do not be conformed to this world…” (Rom. 12:2), does that mean a little worldliness is acceptable provided conformance hasn’t been reached? Surely, Peter wasn’t implying that the Christians were riotous when he wrote, “Wherein, they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot…” (1 Pet. 4:4; KJV).

The literal translation of the phrase directly from Greek is “not wine to much being addicted” (Marshall, The Interlinear Greek – English New Testament, p.825). The New American Standard Version of the Bible translates it as “not addicted to much wine.” Obviously any amount of addiction is too much. Therefore, we can tell that the phrase in question is using a loose form of speech. The phrase should not be understood as permission to drink but as a prohibition against being intoxicated with any amount of wine.

By Steve A. Hamilton



Definitions of words change over time. For example, the word “gay” has always meant to be happy. However, its definition presently includes the relationship between homosexual people where half a century ago no such reference could be found in any dictionary. Ironically, according to the first edition of the Webster Dictionary that was published in 1828, the word “gay” use to be a term of derision for drunks. The third definition under the word “gay” in that publication reads, “Inflamed or merry with liquor; intoxicated; a vulgar use of the word in America.”[1]

Likewise, the definition of the word temperance has changed since the year 1611 when the King James Version of the Bible was first published. “Temperance” is defined as moderation but it used to include in its definition the idea of abstinence. “Philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1640) defines “temperance [as] the habit by which we abstain from all things that tend to our destruction; intemperance the contrary vice.’ ” [2]

In the first century, the Greek word “enkrateia” from which we get our English word “temperance” as translated in the King James Version meant abstinence as a form of self-control. Josephus wrote in The War of the Jews (2, 8, 2), “These Essences reject pleasures as an evil, but esteem continence [enkrateian], and the conquest over our passions, to be virtue.”[3]  Continence means the “total abstinence from sexual activity.”[4]  This is exactly how this word in its verb form is used in 1 Corinthians 7:9. It reads, “but if they cannot exercise self-control [enkrateuomai], let them marry” (NKJV). The idea of moderation for the exercise of self-control would certainly have been an inappropriate connotation for this verse. Obviously, the exercise of self-control in this passage is abstinence from fleshly desires.

Abstinence in the exercise of self-control should be the connotation that is carried with the Greek word “enkrateia” wherever it is found in the New Testament; not moderation. When the Apostle Paul reasoned with Felix over the exercise of self-control (“temperance”, KJV) in Acts 24:25, he was instructing Felix to control himself by abstaining from his fleshly desires. When the Apostle Paul instructed the Corinthians how to obtain the imperishable crown as an athlete in 1 Corinthians 9:25, he was telling them to be abstinent (“temperate,” KJV) from all fleshly desires. The same could be said in all the other passages where this Greek word is found (Gal. 5:23; Tit. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:6).

Jesus said the desire (lust) to commit adultery is to sin in one’s heart (Matt. 5:28). He said a very similar thing in regard to murder. The desire (anger) to murder is to sin before the act is committed (Matt. 5:21-22). Does it not follow that the desire (looking) to drink an alcoholic beverage is to sin before one ever gets drunk (Prov. 23:31-32)? Abstinence from all fleshly desires is commanded through the word “enkrateia” in the New Testament which includes abstinence from the fleshly desire to drink alcohol. “The works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery… murders, drunkenness, revellings [riotous conduct often associated with drunkenness], and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is… temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:19-23; KJV). Temperance in this passage means abstinence in the exercise of self-control from all fleshly desires; drinking alcohol included.


[1] Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, Facsimile First Edition, 1828.

[2] Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, (Berrien Springs 2004), pp. 210-211.

[3] Josephus, The Works of Josephus, translated by William Whiston, (Peabody, 1987), p. 605.

[4] Ed. Victoria Neufeldt, Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, (Cleveland & New York, 1988).

By Steve A. Hamilton

Drink No Wine

Many people contend that the Bible does not condemn the drinking of an alcoholic beverage; rather, it condemns drunkenness.  To them the drink is not wrong but the quantity of alcohol consumed.  In truth, the Bible does condemn the drinking of fermented beverages.

The warnings against the consumption of alcohol are found throughout the Bible.  A well-known passage in Proverbs 23:31-32 states “Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper.” The command given here is not to desire any intoxicating drink!  It is an admonition to abstain altogether from the use of wine.  In order to avoid the harmful effects of alcohol Solomon tells those who wish to be wise (Prov. 20:1) to refrain from looking at it.  Looking at it is the first step toward drinking it.  This is not merely a prohibition of drunkenness, but an explicit admonition against even one drink of an alcoholic beverage.  It is not only the abuse of alcohol that Solomon warns us about, but the use of it that is condemned!  Wine itself is a mocker (Prov. 20:1), irrespective of the quantity consumed.

The grace of God that brings salvation teaches us to live soberly!  “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:11-14).   Christians are a people who deny ungodliness and worldly lusts.  The lust for an alcoholic drink is certainly the kind of thing that prevents sobriety.  God wants a pure and special people.  He doesn’t want the kind of people that are indicative of worldliness; like those who drink alcoholic beverages.

A study of a few particular Greek words reveals that Christians are commanded not to drink alcohol.

The Greek word nepho literally means “drink no wine” (The Complete Biblical Library).  Vines Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words says it means “to be free from the influence of intoxicants.” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says it is the opposite of intoxication.  Liddell and Scott’s Lexicon says it means “to be sober, to live soberly, especially to drink no wine.”  Stephanus’s Thesaurus says “he who abstains from wine.”  Bretschneider defines it as “I am sober, I abstain from wine.”  The Greek Dictionary of Byzantius says nepho means “one who does not drink wine.”  The Greek-French Lexicon says “abstinence from wine, sobriety.”  Robinson’s New Testament Lexicon defines it as “to be sober, temperate, abstinent, especially in respect to wine.”  Younge’s English and Greek Lexicon says it means “without wine.”  Even Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries admit nepho means “to abstain from wine, keep sober.”

In a word, nepho means abstinence!  However, some of the above sources are quick to point out that metaphorically nepho means to think soberly.  The figurative meaning is derived from the fact that a non-intoxicated person is not mentally impaired.  It is the figurative and hence a more tolerant interpretation to the moderate use of alcohol that is preferred by many translators.

There is a different Greek word that is considered synonymous to nepho that literally means to think soberly.  It is the Greek word sophron which literally means “sound mind.”  It is the opposite of being under the influence of alcohol.  It means to be in one’s right mind.  It carries the idea of chastity.

The apostle Paul uses both nepho and sophron together in two passages (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 2:2).  Obviously, these two words do not have the same meaning.  Nepho places the emphasis on having a sound body where sophron places the emphasis on having a sound mind.  Therefore, when we consider the qualifications for Eldership where these two words are found sequentially, Paul is telling us that an Elder must be someone who drinks no wine (nepho) and has an unaltered mind (sophron) unlike those who are given to alcoholic beverages.

Not only must an Elder be abstinent from alcoholic beverages, but he is not even to be near it according to the qualification, “not given to wine” (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7).  “The Greek is mee-paroinon: mee, a negative particle, not; paroinon, compounded of para, a preposition governing the genitive (of, from, on the part of), the dative (at, by, near, with), the accusative (together, with, to, towards, by near, at, next to); and oinos, wine.  Literally, not at, by, near, or with wine.  [emphasis mine]  This looks considerably like total abstinence.  It applies equally to private habits and public conduct.  Notice the careful steps of the progress.  He must be neephalion, [from Vigilant, vs. 2] abstinent, sober in body, that he may be sophrona, [from Sober, vs. 2] sound in mind, and that his influence may be unimpaired, meeparoinon, not with or near wine.  We find in this passage no countenance for the moderate use of intoxicating wine, but the reverse, the obligation to abstain totally”. [i]

Nepho can and should be literally translated in any passage based on the context in which the word is found.  For example, four sentences later in 1 Timothy 3:11, Paul uses the same Greek word nephaleos (the adjective of nepho) again.  This time it is used in reference to wives of Elders and Deacons.  It likewise is in a list of qualifications.  A logical consideration of the literal definition in relationship to the qualification of Elders would dictate that this word also includes in its meaning abstinence from alcoholic beverages.

The Greek word nepho is found twice in 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8.  After Paul explains that the Lord will return unexpectedly, as a thief in the night, he writes, “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thes. 5:4-8, NKJV).  This passage contrasts light with darkness, sleeping with awake as it does sober with drunk.  Those in the light are exhorted to watch (vigilantly alert) and be sober (mentally awake).  Comparatively, Christians must be sober (physically abstinent) as opposed to drunks who are wasted at night.  Here we find the Greek word nepho being used both literally and figuratively.

The Greek word nepho is used in conjunction with sophron in 1 Peter 4:7.  “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7, KJV).   As noted earlier, sophron means to be mentally vigilant where nepho means to be physically abstinent.  Clearly, Peter is admonishing us to keep our head clear and abstain from wine (alcoholic beverages) for the sake of our prayers.  Physical abstinence in prayer doesn’t make much sense until it is observed that Peter is concerned about their past life style of “lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties” (1 Pet. 4:3), etc.  These vices are all associated with the inebriating effects of alcohol.  Certainly, we should all go to God in prayer with a clear mind both physically and mentally especially noting the evil times in which we live.

An interesting passage where the Greek word nepho is used is in 1 Peter 5:8.  Peter actually uses a play on words as he describes Satan’s desire to ruin people.  Again, the Greek word that is translated “sober” literally means “drink no wine.”  The literal Greek translation for the word “devour” means “to drink down.”  As Adam Clarke observes, “If you swallow strong drink down, the devil will swallow you down.”  In other words, Peter is telling us not to drink alcoholic beverages because Satan is looking for those he may swallow!

Given our understanding of the literal definition of the Greek word nepho, we find a discourse in 1 Peter 1:13-19 where we learn the necessity for sobriety.  Peter says, “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober [“Do not drink”]…” (1 Pet. 1:13).  Peter is concerned about conduct in this passage.  After he tells them not to drink, he encourages them to be obedient by not conforming to their lusts (1 Pet. 1:14).  He says, “you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Pet. 1:15); “conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear” (1 Pet. 1:17); “knowing that you were not redeemed… from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers” (1 Pet. 1:18).  Drinking not only impairs one’s ability to conduct himself faithfully to the Lord but it also impairs one’s ability to be holy.  Drinking alcohol will impair salvation!

The Greek word nepho seems appropriate to be figuratively applied in 2 Timothy 4:5.  The Apostle Paul warns Timothy by saying, “But you be watchful [nepho] in all things…”  Of course, being physically sober facilitates mental vigilance which seems to be the concern in this particular passage.

Christians are commanded to be sober (1 Thes. 5:6, 8; 1 Tim. 3:2, 11; Tit. 2:2; 1 Pet. 1:13; 4:7; 5:8).  The sobriety for which the Apostles Paul and Peter refer to in their language is abstinence.  Christians are forbidden from the drinking of alcohol.  Beloved, “drink no wine!”

[i] As quoted in William Patton, Bible Wines (Oklahoma City), p. 92-93, from the Lexicon Graeci Testamenti Alphabeticum, 1660 edition, s. v. “Paroinos.”

By Steve A. Hamilton