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.

Water into Wine

Many well-meaning people will point to the miracle where Jesus turns water into wine as their justification to drink alcoholic beverages (Jn. 2:1-11).   They correctly conclude that Christ would not have made wine if He did not approve of its consumption.  However, they err by assuming the wine which Jesus made was fermented.

The generic Greek word for wine (oinos) does not imply either a fermented nor unfermented beverage.  We have already covered this point in many passages in others articles on wine.  We have also emphasized the necessity to determine the meaning of the word wine by considering the context in which the word is found.  The key to determining the inebriating effects of the wine Jesus made from water is found in this manner.

The master of the wedding feast makes an observation that the wine made by Jesus was “good” as compared to the wine being drank which he describes as inferior (Jn. 2:10).  In order to appreciate his statement, we need to know what people in the first century consider good wine versus inferior wine.  Albert Barnes in his New Testament commentary has an excellent discourse on the nature of the good wine.

“We should not be deceived by the phrase “good wine.” We often use the phrase to denote that it is good in proportion to its strength and its power to intoxicate; but no such sense is to be attached to the word here.  Pliny, Plutarch, and Horace describe wine as good, or mention that as the best wine, which was harmless or innocent–poculo vini innocentis. The most useful wine — utilissimum vinum— was that which had little strength; and the most wholesome wine– saluberrimum vinum— was that which had not been adulterated by “the addition of anything to the must or juice.” Pliny expressly says that a “good wine” was one that was destitute of spirit (lib. iv. c. 13). It should not be assumed, therefore, that the “good wine” was stronger than the other: it is rather to be presumed that it was milder. The wine referred to here was doubtless such as was commonly drunk in Palestine. That was the pure juice of the grape. It was not brandied wine, nor drugged wine, nor wine compounded of various substances, such as we drink in this land. The common wine drunk in Palestine was that which was the simple juice of the grape. We use the word wine now to denote the kind of liquid which passes under that name in this country–always containing a considerable portion of alcohol –not only the alcohol produced by fermentation, but alcohol added to keep it or make it stronger. But we have no right to take that sense of the word, and go with it to the interpretation of the Scriptures. We should endeavor to place ourselves in the exact circumstances of those times, ascertain precisely what idea the word would convey to those who used it then, and apply that sense to the word in the interpretation of the Bible; and there is not the slightest evidence that the word so used would have conveyed any idea but that of the pure juice of the grape, nor the slightest circumstance mentioned in this account that would not be fully met by such a supposition.”[i]

The wine that Jesus made was good because it did not ferment.  The fermentation process converts the sugar in the grape juice into alcohol.  If there is no sugar, the flavor is not good.  It is believed that this wedding feast took place months after the vintage.  Fresh grape juice would not be available during this season.  It appears the inferior wine was likely grape juice that was reconstituted with water from must.  However, the wine Jesus provides must have been fresh grape juice.

The Greek word that was used to describe the goodness of the wine that Jesus made is quite revealing.  The common Greek word for good is agathos.  However, the word used by the master of the feast was kalosKalos carries the idea of moral goodness.  The master of the feast was not only talking about the good flavor of the wine; he was also stating the moral goodness of the beverage.  He is implying the wine is non-intoxicating.

Further, it is ludicrous to think that Jesus would in any way encourage or facilitate the means by which people could sin.  Jesus was well aware of the condemnation given to the drinking of intoxicating wine in the Old Law (Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35).  He would tempt no one with sin (Jas. 1:13; Matt. 6:13).  However, He made enough wine to get the whole wedding party drunk if it were fermented.  Nor should we overlook the fact that wedding parties had many small children that also drank from the same wine.

[i] Albert Barnes’ Commentary on the Bible.
 
By Steve A. Hamilton
shamilton@rap.midco.net

Strong Drink

Most English versions of the Bible consistently translate the Hebrew word “shekar” as “strong drink.”  “Shekar” literally means “drink.”  It is used 23 times in the Old Testament.  The vast majority of the times when it is used in the Old Testament are in contexts where its use is condemned (ex. Lev. 10:9-11; Num. 6:2-4; Judg. 13:3-5; Prov. 20:1; Isa. 5:11).  Incidentally, our English word “sugar” is derived from it.

Shekar is a sweet beverage produced primarily from palm or dates. It may include beverages made from grains, fruits or honeycombs.  It is an unfermented beverage while it remains sweet.  As the sugar in “shekar” breaks down into alcohol, it becomes bitter.  It is the bitter “shekar” that is an intoxicating beverage.  Perhaps this is the reason Isaiah alludes to the wicked as those “Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isa.5:20).

Isaiah gives us another passage that defines this word.  In Isaiah 24:9, it simply states, “Strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.”  As translated into English, this statement sounds rhetorical.  In Old Testament times, intoxicating beverages were all bitter.  However, “shekar” which is translated into the words “strong drink” is not always bitter.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  “Shekar” is known as a sweet beverage unless it is allowed to spoil and become fermented.  Leon Fields in his book, Oinos: A Discussion of the Bible-Wine Question (1883),  “correctly observes that “the contrast between ‘sweet’ and ‘bitter’ in Isaiah 24:9 (literally, ‘bitter shall be the sweet drink – shekar – to them that drink it,’) shows that shekar was valued on account of its sweetness, a quality which decreases in proportion to the amount of alcohol present.  The fact that it was commanded to be consumed ‘before the Lord’ (Deut. 24:26), and to be offered in sacrifice (Num. 28:7), indicates that it included unfermented forms of fruit juice.”[i]

“Shekar” does not inherently mean strong or intoxicating.  The word “strong” is an added word imposed by the translators.  It can only be assumed that the original English translators must have incorrectly thought that since “shekar” is so frequently found in a context where it is condemned, that it must always be intoxicating and therefore “strong.”  In some of the more recent versions of the Bible the word “strong” has been replaced with the word “similar.”  The New King James Version of the Bible is one such translation to make this correction.

Those who defend the moderate use of alcohol like to point out Deuteronomy 14:26 as a divine sanction for the use of alcohol.  In this passage, a special ordinance for the use of “strong drink” (KJV) is allowed when the journey to the annual harvest feast is logistically preventative. The spurious position relies upon the premise that no error was made in translation.  If this premise be true, then the ordinance would allow a distant traveler to the feast to drink alcoholic beverages from the Lord’s tithe.  Yet, those in close proximity to the feast must drink new wine (Deut. 14:23).

A proper understanding of the harvest feast would prevent such an erroneous understanding of the ordinance.  The context of Deuteronomy 14:3-21 calls for God’s people to abstain from anything unclean.  Those instructions are immediately followed by the instructions for the harvest feast.  Sacrifices such as those prepared and consumed during the harvest feast could not contain leaven (Lev. 2:11; Deut. 12:5-7).  Fermented wine was leavened and considered unclean (Lev. 10:9-10).   In order to allow the distant traveler to drink alcohol at the feast, it would have to be an exception to God’s laws. Yet, no exception is necessary when we understand new wine (tirosh) or similar drink (shekar) is being specified.

Another passage that is called into question is Proverbs 31:6-7.  It states, “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those who are bitter of heart. Let him drink and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.”   This passage sounds like approval to drink alcohol for the purpose of burying one’s problems.

In context, this advice is given to a young king that is being admonished by his mother not to drink intoxicating beverages because it impairs thinking and results in injustice (Prov. 31:1-5; Isa. 5:22-23).  The mother affirms that alcohol is not for responsible people.  In contrast, the mother asserts that alcohol is for the irresponsible.  It is for people who find the remedy to their problems at the bottom of a bottle rather than seeking justice.  Sarcastically, she is saying alcohol is only fit for those who relish in their misery.  This is not a passage that condones alcohol but one that condemns it.

By Steve A. Hamilton


[i] Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, (Michigan, 2004) p. 229.

Tirosh and Gleukos

The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of “wine,” but unfortunately it does not specify what kind of ”wine” it is talking about. There are several words from different languages that get translated into the word ”wine.”  Yayin and tirosh from the Hebrew, oinos and gleukos from the Greek, and vinum from the Latin are all words that were translated into “wine” in the Bible. The word tirosh and gleukos refers to the grape itself, a newly finished product of grape such as grape juice, boiled grape juice (which is called must), or a cluster of grapes. The other three words have a dual meaning. They can refer to grape juice or to fermented grape juice whereas tirosh and gleukos never refer to an alcoholic substance. Even though by definition tirosh and gleukos cannot mean an alcoholic wine, we are going to look at some verses translated “wine” and prove that they cannot possibly be referring to an alcoholic beverage .

Tirosh

Since the word tirosh has no alcoholic meaning behind it, yet is translated “wine,” it should be pretty easy to see why the verses we are about to look at do not refer to alcoholic “wine.”

The first mention of tirosh is in Genesis 27:28. The verse is talking about Isaac’s blessing to Jacob and says, “Therefore may God give you … plenty of grain and wine.” The typical person who does not want to see that this is clearly grapes or grape juice would jump to the conclusion that God wants us to have plenty of food and alcohol. Besides, God wants us to be happy and alcohol makes me happy, right? If we look at the context of the verse Isaac is blessing Jacob with natural blessings such as grain, dew, and the fatness of the earth. Besides the fact that tirosh doesn’t refer to alcoholic beverages anyway, we can see that Isaac is blessing Jacob with the bounty of the earth which God provides; not something that is fermented and manmade.

Another great example of the word tirosh is found in Isaiah 65:8. It says, “Thus says the LORD: ‘As the new wine is found in the cluster … ‘” How can there be alcoholic “wine” in the cluster of a grape while still on the vine? Once again it is very evident that tirosh, though translated ”wine” does not refer to an alcoholic beverage.

One last look at the word tirosh is found in Deut. 11:13, 14 which talks about gathering ” … in your grain, your new wine, and your oil.” The verse is once again referring to natural God given blessings of rain, grain, oil and grape juice or grapes. It is important to note that grapes and grape juice were a very large part of the Old Testament economy. Wealth was determined by how well your crops and animals did each year. Certainly, it would be a great blessing of the Lord’s to be given plenty of rain which in turn bears grain, grapes, and oil.

Other verses that have the word tirosh in them are Deut. 33 :28; Hos. 2:8; Joel 1:10; 2: 18, 19, Jer. 31:10-12; Micah 6:15; Num. 18:12; and Psalm 4:7. It is important to note that tirosh is never given a negative connotation [as being fermented] or is frowned upon in scriptures. This shows God’s approval and blessing in grapes and grape juice.

Gleukos

Gleukos is the Greek equivalent to the word tirosh. Unfortunately, it is very rare to find the word gleukos in the New Testament. When the Old Testament was being translated into Greek (known as the Septuagint) they did not translate the Hebrew word tirosh into the equivalent word of gleukos. Instead they translated several uses of the word tirosh into oinos. This fact alone is evidence that you cannot believe the word “wine” in the Bible is always referring to an alcoholic beverage. You need to look at the context of the verse and apply common sense to determine the meaning of the word “wine.”

One example of the Hebrew word tirosh being translated into the Greek word oinos is in Proverbs 3:10 ” … And your vats will overflow with new wine.” The King James Version translates vats into presses. Clearly, we can see that tirosh was the correct word to be used for this verse, and should have been translated gleukos in the Septuagint, since it is referring to a freshly pressed grape.

Other verses that translate the Hebrew word tirosh into the Greek word oinos are Psalms 4:7; Is. 65:8; and Joel 1:10; 2:24.

As mentioned earlier, it is hard to find the Hebrew word tirosh translated into the Greek word gleukos, but it is even harder to find the Hebrew word yayin translated into the Greek word gleukos. One such rare occurrence is in Job 32:19 which reads, “Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent; it is ready to burst like new wineskins.” The word gleukos is fittingly used here since it is referring to grape juice that has not yet fermented.

Our last look at the word gleukos comes from Acts 2:13, which reads from the NKN as “Others mocking said, ‘They are full of new wine. ‘” It is Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit had been poured out on Peter and other devout men from several places. They were all given a variation of the gift of tongues which allowed them to speak to several men all with different languages and they all heard each other in their own language. Some other men who were there began to mock the group that had received the Holy Spirit saying that they were filled with gleukos? We have previously established that gleukos is the equivalent to tirosh, both which mean grape juice. It is safe to assume that these devout men were well known, and not partakers of alcoholic beverages. The mocking men knew that these devout men did not drink alcoholic beverages, yet these devout men were acting strange to them. So what better sarcastic insult is there but that these devout men were drunk on grape juice? I suppose this argument may not be the best, but one thing is sure, the mocking men accused the devout men of being drunk on grape juice (gleukos).

By Jason Hamilton

Introduction to the Study of Wine

          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 affects 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.

Habakkuk suggests that drinking alcohol reveals a character weakness (Hab. 2:5). Pride seems to be a drinker’s nemesis.  A humble person would be willing give up alcohol (Rom. 14:21).  Christians would not be insensitive to the conscience of others (1 Cor. 10:31-33).  Christians would not cater to their lusts (Rom. 13:13-14).  But the pride of a drinker won’t allow that to happen.  Hence, we have the need to discuss this topic in detail (Heb. 5:13-14).

In this study we will establish the sinful nature of alcoholic beverages regardless of the quantity a person may consumed.  We will prove that the notion of moderation in the consumption of alcohol is not justified in scriptures.  We will observe the abstinent conduct with regard to wine of many New Testament characters.  Simply put, we will learn that the New Testament does not condone, sanction, permit or in any way allow a person to drink alcoholic beverages.

By Steve Hamilton
shamilton@rap.midco.net