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 firstname.lastname@example.org