1 Timothy 5:23

Saturday, 3 February 2018

No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities. 1 Timothy 5:23

The addition of this verse by Paul brings with it a wonderful note of authenticity concerning the epistle itself. It is a spontaneous thought which would not have been included by someone forging the letter. In other words, for those who claim that this epistle is a later writing by someone who was aware of a more developed hierarchy within the church than that which would have been seen at this early stage, they are actually shown to be wrong by verses like this. The flow is spontaneous and natural, and it demonstrates an affection between Paul and Timothy which is born out by the other times in the New Testament when the two are mentioned in connection with one another.

The words in the Greek are more purposeful than this translation. It is more precisely rendered, “Be no longer a drinker of water.” The word “only” is implied in here though. It tells us that Timothy probably kept a rather strict diet, including only drinking water. Paul is giving advice that is meant to correct the very thing which seems to be the cause of Timothy’s ailments. In having too strict of a diet, he is probably doing more harm to himself than good. To correct this, Paul says, “but use a little wine.”

The degree of lunacy which is provided by tee-totaling scholars concerning this verse is beyond the pale. Some insist (without any biblical support at all) that this means wine “mingled with water.” Some go so far as to provide the ratio of water to wine, such as 3:1. This is wrong on the surface. Paul had just told Timothy to not drink only water. It would be pointless to drink wine after cutting it down to where it was 75% water. The word oinos means “wine.” The Bible never mentions cutting wine with water.

Others say that this is merely “grape juice.” Note: Grape juice doesn’t lead to inebriation. The word oinos comes from the Hebrew word yayin. Both indicate fermented drink containing alcohol content. A 15 minute study on this is sufficient to figure that out. The Bible has two specific times in the Old Testament when drinking alcohol was forbidden. Neither of which apply today, nor could they apply because the law is annulled in Christ.

Rather, and correctly analyzed, Paul is telling Timothy to drink a little wine. He doesn’t say how much “a little” is, and other than telling Christians to not be drunk with oinos (or wine) in Ephesians 5:18, no amount is set for the believer. At one time, Paul even acknowledges that those in the church were drunk, and he doesn’t rebuke them for it (1 Corinthians 11:21). Instead, he tells them to conduct such affairs at home, not at the Lord’s Supper.

Understanding that abstinence from alcohol is not biblical, and understanding that Paul is admonishing Timothy to not be an ascetic to the point that it actually harms his health, he then explains why he should drink a little wine. It is “for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.” It can be inferred that Paul actually believes Timothy’s abstinence from wine is what is causing him the stomach troubles he has. In order to correct this, he gently recommends that he drink wine in order to take care of this issue.

The “other infirmities” are not explained, but Paul believes that the wine will help with those things as well. He had been around Luke the physician for many years, and he had probably learned to give advice about things like this by watching how Luke handled them. Whether this is the case, or whether it was simply Paul’s understanding of the benefits of wine from having grown up in the Jewish culture, he imparts his note of wisdom to Timothy here in a gentle, caring, and loving manner.

Life application: If someone tells you that the Bible promotes abstinence from alcohol, ask them which Bible they are referring to.

Lord God, thank You for the many grains which rise from the earth to nourish us, and for the fruit of the vine which gives our hearts joy and delight! You have provided us with blessing in abundance, and we are satisfied by the bounty You give. Help us to be grateful for all such things, and to always reflect on how good You are to us. Let us never be unappreciative of Your open hand of blessing. Amen.

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