Index |  All Books - Introduction  |  Book 1 - TOC  |  Book 1 - L 1  |  Book 1 - L 2  |  Book 1 - L 3  |  Book 1 - L 4  |  Book 1 - L 5  |  Book 1 - L 6  |  Book 2 - Introduction  |  Book 2 - TOC  |  Book 2 - L 1  |  Book 2 - L 2  |  Book 2 - L 3  |  Book 2 - L 4  |  Book 2 - L 5  |  Book 2 - L 6  |  Book 2 - L 7  |  Book 2 - L 8  |  Book 2 - L 9  |  Book 3 - L 10  |  Book 3 - L 1  |  Book 3 - L 2  |  Book 3 - L 3  |  Book 3 - L 4  |  Book 3 - L 5  |  Book 3 - L 6  |  Book 3 - L 7  |  Book 3 - L 8  |  Book 3 - L 9  |  Book 3 - TOC  | 

Book 3, Lesson 9
The Use of Wine by Elders and Deacons

In this lesson about elders and deacons, as in other lessons, the basic text quoted in the lesson is from the King James Version of the Bible. To get to the original thought of the writers of the Bible, our study focuses on the Greek words the Bible uses. The KJV does not express as strongly as the Greek the standards God sets for elders and deacons regarding alcohol use. But neither does it do what many Bibles do—especially more recent versions—that is, use words that set God's alcohol standards so low that only heavy drinking, drunkenness or addiction to alcohol will disqualify the man seeking the office of elder or deacon.

The irony of the low standards for alcohol use is that the first qualification for an elder in I Timothy 3:2 is that he be blameless. Out of  22 Bibles we reviewed, (including the King James, New King James, New International Version, American Standard version, Revised Standard Version plus 14 others) only four watered down "blameless" to "man of good name or good reputation or well thought of." The rest said it meant "above reproach, free from blame, blameless, irreproachable." At the same time, out of the 22 Bibles, 14 said the standard for alcohol use was "not to be a heavy drinker, not to be addicted, not to get drunk or be a drunkard, or not to drink in excess." These Bibles teach that, in God's view, the "blameless" and "above reproach" elder may drink alcohol until his drinking reaches the level of excess, addiction, or drunkenness. The world is smarter than the God of these Bibles. It tells us most problems from alcohol come from the so called moderate drinkers the Bibles call "blameless".

What is the Bible standard for alcohol use by elders and deacons?  


A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant
      (temperate, nephalion), sober (sophrona), of good behavior, given 
      to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine (me paroinon), not
      violent, not greedy of filthy lucre, but patient, not a brawler, not
      covetous . . . .     I Timothy 3:2,3.    

Paul uses the titles of bishop and elder for the same person.  Titus 1:5 says that elders should be chosen in each city and verse 7 calls these same men bishops. They are shepherds (elders) and overseers (bishops) in the church. In I Timothy 3:2, 3, Paul names thirteen qualifications for a bishop or elder. In verses 4 to 7 he gives  three more.  

Three of the qualifications for the elders have to do with abstinence. They are vigilant (temperate in newer versions), sober, and not given to wine. God said through Paul, "A bishop (elder) must be . . ." and then gave His requirements. Except for a few like "apt to teach" and "not a novice" (a young convert), these qualifications should be the testimony of any Spirit filled man in the congregation.

Vigilant or Temperate and Sober  
Vigilant in the Greek is nephalion. Paul uses it just as he did in I Thessalonians to mean physical abstinence from alcohol. Sober is sophrona or mental soundness. Sophrona always carries with it the idea of physical abstinence because that is the basis for a sound mind. The two words used together make Paul's meaning clear; they require the translator to give the literal true meaning of nephalios as "abstinent from wine."1  

Adam Clarke was a moderationist, but he said nephalios in I Timothy 3:2 meant not to drink. "He (the elder) must be vigilant, nephaleos, from ne not and pino, to drink. Watchful; for as one who drinks is apt to sleep, so he who abstains from it is more likely to keep awake, and attend to his work and charge."2

Albert Barnes wrote, "This word (nephalios) occurs only here and in verse 11, and in Titus 2:2. It means properly, sober, temperate, abstinent, especially in respect to wine . . . ."3  

Not Given to Wine
Not given to wine in I Timothy 3:3 is me paroinos. The Revised Standard Version translates these words, "no drunkard." The thought behind the RSV translation is that me paroinos means "not addicted." The words "no drunkard" allow for moderate drinking—plus they weaken the meanings of nephalios and sophrona in the previous verse, I Timothy 3:2. Nephalios and sophrona, the moderationists reason, cannot mean abstinent since Paul only disqualifies a drunkard.  

Paul would not say an elder should be a total abstainer from alcohol in one verse and tell him he could drink in moderation in the next verse. What is the true meaning of me paroinos? In his word study of me paroinos, Jerome wrote that it meant total abstinence. He compared the New Testament elder or bishop to the priests in the Old Testament. Both must be totally abstinent "since," he said, "wine is debauchery (Ephesians 5:18)."4  

Dr. Bacchiocchi says the meaning of me paroinos goes beyond the thought of not being addicted to wine or drunken. It means not being near wine, or near a place where wine is drunk. Me is "not." Para is "near" and oinos is "wine."5 Dr. Patton gives the literal definition as "not at, by, near or with wine." In contrast, paroinos without "not" (me) and meaning "near wine" actually was a name applied to certain people. The ancient paroinos was a man accustomed to attending drinking parties. His reputation was linked to intoxicating drink.6  

Albert Barnes, in his commentary on Timothy, talks about this double meaning of paroinos.   
The Greek word (paroinos) occurs in the New Testament only
           here (I Timothy 3:3) and in Titus 1:7. It means, properly, by wine;
           that is, spoken of what takes place by or over wine, as revelry,
           drinking-songs, etc…. It means that one who is in the habit of
           drinking wine, or who is accustomed to sit with those who indulge
           in it, should not be admitted to the ministry. The way in which the
           apostle mentions the subject here would lead us fairly to suppose
           that he did not mean to commend its use in any sense; that he
           regarded it as dangerous and that he would wish the ministers of
           religion to avoid it altogether.7  

Ancient and modern Greek lexicons, says Dr. Bacchiocchi, support the meaning of paroinos as "near wine"or near a drinking place.8   When we understand the true meaning of me paroinos we can see that it does not weaken God's high standards in I Timothy 3:2. Instead, it makes the elders' stand against alcohol open and obvious. The elder not only refuses to drink alcohol, but he also does not attend places where alcohol is served. He does not take part in organizations where drinking goes on. In no way should his presence show approval of alcoholic drink. This position goes along with what Paul wrote earlier in I Corinthians 5:11; a Christian should not keep company with a brother who is immoral, greedy, or "a drunkard…with such a one not to eat."  

The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles is a collection of early rules for church leaders in the centuries soon after Christ died. One of the laws in this book is based on Paul's warning of me paraoinos not at, by, near or with wine:
           If any one of the clergy be taken eating in a tavern, let him be
           suspended, excepting when he is forced to bait at an inn (stop
          while traveling) upon the road.  

The Christians were concerned about the public testimony of an elder who was seen eating in a tavern where people often got drunk.9 They acted in agreement with Paul's teaching.  

The Testimony of an Elder
The qualifications for an elder in I Timothy 3:2 – 7 cover the elder's testimony at home, before the church and before unbelievers. Paul says the elder or bishop should be nephalios, physically abstinent, sophrona, mentally sound minded because he abstains from alcohol, and me paroinos, not present at drinking places or parties. In no way is he to sanction or show approval of the use of alcohol.  

When the translators of the King James Bible used the words, "not given to wine," they did not translate the Greek very strictly. Wine drinking was common in their day and this may have influenced their translation.  

The high standards God requires for his servants, (that really includes all of us), are summed up in a word He uses in I Timothy 3:2 and in Titus 1:6. It is "blameless."  


I Timothy 5:23 will help us understand what Paul says to the deacons in I Timothy 3. We will study I Timothy 5:23 first, and then go back to "Deacons . . . not given to much wine."  

A Favorite Verse for Drinkers
I Timothy 5:23 is a favorite verse for people who are looking for a way to justify their drinking. The verse says, 
Drink no longer water, but use a little wine (oinos) for thy stomach's sake . . .  

Alcohol drinkers say that oinos in I Timothy 5:23 is intoxicating. Some of them argue that Paul's words prove that alcoholic drinks are not harmful to health. Others say the main point is that Paul is recommending the moderate use of fermented wine.  

"Drink no longer water" correctly translated is "Drink no longer only water" or "No longer drink water exclusively . . . ."  

As we study I Timothy 5:23 we will see that this verse does not justify the use of alcohol. And we will find that it stands against the moderate use of alcohol.  

The Character of Timothy
Paul says Timothy drank only water.  Timothy, then, was a total abstainer from alcohol. But more than that, since he drank only water, he must have abstained from grape juice too. He evidently was careful to give  no appearance of evil.  

In Philippians 2:20 to 22, Paul spoke very highly of Timothy. 
I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For
        all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. But ye
        know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served
       with me in the gospel.  

Both Paul and Timothy understood that total abstinence from alcohol was required for Christian leaders. Paul practiced what he preached so faithfully that he could say in Philippians 4:9, 
. . . those things which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do, and the God of peace shall be with you. 

Timothy was certainly obeying carefully what Paul had written in chapter 3 to the elders. He was temperate, sober minded, and not given to wine—not with or near wine.  

Paul's Concern about Timothy's Health
Paul, in his letter to Timothy, his own son in the faith, had just written, "Keep yourself pure." Remembering Timothy's health, he added, "Use a little oinos for your stomach and frequent ailments." Timothy was to keep pure but not to let his concern about his strict example keep him from taking a stomach medicine. He did not have to drink only water; he could use some grape juice for his stomach problems and frequent ailments. If Timothy had been in the habit of using wine Paul would not have had to encourage him to take a little.  

Dr. Teachout translates I Timothy 5:23  this way: 
No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little grape juice
        (oinos) for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.10  

Dr. Teachout adds,"Since any value medically to wine is questionable at best in light of modern science, this advice would necessarily refer to a beneficial beverage—grape juice.  

In The Bible and Wine, 1911,  page 93,  Ferrar Fenton translated I Timothy 5:23 as, " No longer drink water alone, but use with a little wine for the stomach, because of your frequent infirmities."  The author comments that Paul's idea was that a little stomach wine would be mixed with  water. The wine was the thick syrup of boiled down grape juice used as a stomach tonic in cases of dyspepsia.  

Paul chose his words carefully. He spoke to Timothy because Timothy had health problems. He said "use" or "take;" he did not say "drink." He also said "little," and mentioned the particular ailment Timothy suffered from. Paul's advice reminds us of a doctor's prescription. In no way does it give the idea that Timothy was going to drink oinos freely or drink for pleasure.  

Even people who insist that oinos is always intoxicating cannot truthfully use this verse as proof that God backs the moderate use of alcohol for pleasure. The only claim they can make is that alcoholic wine might be used as a medicine.The text does not support the regular use of wine in any way.  

Common Knowledge about Alcohol Today and in Ancient Times
We know today that alcohol damages the lining of the stomach and affects the gastric acid secretion. It causes a change in the blood circulation in the intestines. Not just heavy drinkers suffer from liver problems. New studies show that small amounts of alcohol will cause trouble in the liver too.11  

Dr. Teachout quotes William B. Terhune, a doctor who wrote The Safe way toDrink: How to Prevent Alcohol Problems Before They Start, 1968. On page 25, Dr. Terhune says, "Of utmost importance . . . is the nervous system, for men drink alcohol solely for its effect on the brain. What it does to his metabolism, digestive system, circulation, musculature and sex glands is, from the drinker's standpoint, mostly an unfortunate by-product of which he is largely unaware or tries to forget."  

Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.) recommended grape juice, glukus, because, he said, it has not the effect of wine. Pliny, Columella, Philo and others who lived in Bible times stated that many of the wines of their day produced headaches, dropsy, madness and stomach complaints.  

The Kind of Oinos Paul Recommended
Oinos, we know, means both grape juice and fermented wine. Grape juice fits the context of I Timothy 5:23. Further proof that Paul counseled Timothy to take grape juice comes from ancient writers like Pliny, Columella and Philo. These men tell us that wines without any strength (unfermented) were considered wholesome and useful to the body. Pliny (A.D.24 – 79) names an unfermented wine with a good reputation, adynamon.  In his Natural History, he gives the recipe for this medicinal wine.  

        Ten quarts of white must (fresh juice) and five quarts of water are
         kept boiling till a considerable amount of water is boiled away.12 
        This drink was given to sick persons with many kinds of ailments. 

Athenaeus (A.D. 280) recommended a certain kind of grape juice. "Let him take sweet wine, either mixed with water or warmed, especially that called protropos, as being very good for the stomach." Protropos, Pliny said, was the must that flowed by itself out of the grapes.  

The Greeks and Romans recommended fermented as well as unfermented wine as medicine for the stomach. Fermented wine they said, also "dulls sorrows and anxiety" for those not too sick to take it. But the testimonies of Aristotle,  Athanaeus and Pliny show that unfermented wine was preferred  to alcoholic wine. Pliny says what we all know is true—alcoholic wine is absorbed more rapidly and goes "all the more to the head; this remark may be taken once and for all to apply to every other alcoholic wine."13 To avoid side effects from alcohol he recommends grape juice. "For all the sick," he writes, "wine is most useful when its forces have been broken by the strainer."14  

A Short Summary
Timothy's own testimony as a church planter and leader, the words Paul used, the context of the whole Bible's teaching against alcohol and the testimony of writers who explained the use of grape juice wine for sickness, all enable us to see that I Timothy 5:23 is not talking about alcohol. Paul would not tell Timothy to disobey God by using alcohol. This verse makes more clear than ever the truth that the early church practiced total abstinence.  


Many Bible translations seem to go out of their way to use I Timothy 3 to promote alcohol drinking. To do so these Bibles use words like "indulging in wine, addiction to wine or alcohol, drinking too much wine, heavy drinkers, getting drunk, not too free with the bottle" to show that the text can only be referring to alcohol. Then they present the qualifications for elder or deacon as limiting the amount they should drink. The tactics they use qualify alcohol drinkers for the leadership positions in the church. 

What does the Bible really say?  

Can Deacons Drink Moderately?

The qualifications for anyone who aspires to be a deacon in the church are listed in I Timothy 3:8 to 13, immediately after the qualifications for elders. Elders in the early church were spiritual leaders while deacons handled material matters.  

        I Timothy 3:8: "Likewise must the deacons be grave, not
       doubletongued, not given to much wine" (me oino pollo
), not greedy of filthy lucre.  

A careful translation of I Timothy 3:2,3, from the original Greek says elders (also called bishops) were to be strictly abstinent from alcoholic wine. Now, writing about the deacons, Paul, in I Timothy 3:8 says, "Likewise…", implying that the elders' standards also fit the deacons. Neither elders or deacons should drink alcohol. But Paul lists an additional requirement for deacons; he says deacons are "not given to much wine." Paul is not setting up a double standard of moral conduct for church leaders—elders can't drink alcoholic wine but deacons can. He is adding a prohibition about grape juice.    

Moderationists who want this verse to prove deacons drank alcohol say, "not given to much (pollo) wine," is clear proof that the Bible approves of the moderate use of alcohol. "The word much," they argue, "deals with the amount of intake. Paul only forbids abuse of alcoholic drinks." They ask, "Who could say Paul was commanding the church officers not to be devoted to much grape juice?" Then they claim,"No New Testament apostle ever commands anything along the lines of 'drink no wine at all'." Deacons should just not be heavy drinkers or heavily addicted.15  

Are the moderationists right when they say Paul is not speaking of grape juice? Does this verse really say deacons can drink but not heavily? Can they be addicted but not heavily addicted? Is it true that there is nothing along the lines of "drink no wine at all" in New Testament teaching? The answer is "no" to all these questions.  

If verse 8 teaches that drinking alcoholic wine with God's approval is governed by the amount you drink, it is the only verse in the entire Bible that does so. Should that interpretation make us rethink all we have learned about alcohol in the Old and the New Testaments?  

"No," say Dr. Teachout, Dr. Patton and Dr. Bacchiocchi. Dr. Teachout points out, first of all, that the idea that the deacons can drink in moderation cannot be supported in any way from the Old Testament. God says drinking alcoholic wine in any amount is wrong. I Timothy 3:8, then, cannot be talking about alcoholic wine in moderation. Instead it is a command to be moderate even in the enjoyment of or "devotion to" God's good gift, grape juice.16  

The Importance of I Timothy 3:8.
I Timothy 3:8 is a key verse in the eyes of moderate drinkers. It is important for us to understand the Scripture context of the verse in the chapter where it is found and in the larger context of the Bible in general. Also, we should know the translation of the verse that fits all contexts, and the customs of the times that show why Paul wrote as he did about grape juice.  

I Timothy 3:8 in Three Contexts
Context One: The Testimony of the Leaders of the Church      
Since it was well known that Paul condemned drinking by anyone in I Corinthians 6:10, Galatians 5:21 and Ephesians 5:18, what he wrote to the church leaders went beyond just not drinking alcohol. Elders, he says in I Timothy 3, not only do not drink, they do not go to places where drinking is going on.17  

Verse 8 in I Timothy 3 starts out with the words "in like manner," or "likewise." Like the elder, the deacon must be serious, have a clear or pure conscience and be found blameless. He should have the same stand toward alcohol as the elder. "God expects the leadership of the church to meet the high qualifications of self-control which results in moral purity of every kind—that dealing with sex, with use of the tongue, with use of money, with the exercise of one's temper, with restraint even in leadership, I Peter 5:3. Such high standards are summed up by . . . without reproach."18  

Albert Barnes questions if Christian leaders should be less holy than Jewish priests who did not drink and even heathen priests who did not use alcohol when they went into their temples?19  

Context Two: The New Testament Teaching on "Moderate Evil"      
The New American Standard Bible translates I Timothy 3:8 as, "not addicted to much wine." This translation, coming after I Timothy 3:3, where the NASB says elders or bishops must have no addiction to wine, leads the reader to think deacons can have a moderate addiction to alcoholic wine.  

Addiction to something evil in itself, little or much, is always morally wrong. To argue that "not addicted to much wine" allows for a moderate addiction to alcoholic wine is to adopt a danerous method of interpreting the Bible. It is false reasoning, a false assumption, to say that evil that is wrong in "excess" is right in "moderation". 20  

A Bible example showing that evil that is wrong in excess is still wrong in moderation is I Peter 4:4. That verse tells us people were surprised the Christians did not take part in the same excess of riot (immorality and shamelessness) that unbelievers did. Does that mean the Christians were taking part in moderate rioting (immorality and shamelessness)? No, the surprise was that Christians abstained from all such conduct.  

Dr. Patton brings up the final words in I Timothy 3:8, "not greedy of filthy lucre." Greedy of filthy lucre means wanting money for one's self with no thought of others. Does God approve a moderate  greediness—that somehow stops short of being totally greedy? 21  

Most people who believe in moderate drinking would agree that God wants total abstinence from rioting and greed. Rioting and greed are evil in themselves. Doing them in moderation would not make them good. Practicing evil in moderation does not make it less evil. In the same way intoxicating wine is evil in itself; drinking it in moderation does not make it good. Therefore in I Timothy 3:8, Paul could not, in obedience to God, tell the deacons to be given to alcoholic wine in moderation.  

The Bible teaches the moderate use of all good things and total abstinence from all evil things.22  

Context Three: Other Verses Paul Wrote in Timothy and Titus      
In I Timothy 5:23, Paul said to Timothy, "Drink no longer water only . . . ."  Timothy was a total abstainer, even from grape juice. Paul tells him to take a little grape juice oinos for his stomach's sake.  

Moderationists say oinos always means intoxicating wine. Even if the wine were alcoholic, as they claim, they must admit that this verse says "little," and only for a health problem. Paul's careful advice in I Timothy 5:23, a little for health reasons only, rules out the possibility that he told the deacons they could drink in moderation for pleasure in another verse.23 Those who call all oinos intoxicating find that I Timothy 5:23 stands against moderate drinking.  

If Paul's words, not given to much wine (me oino pollo), mean moderate use of alcohol, he contradicts the rest of the Bible and his own warnings against intoxicating drink. He also sets a double standard. An elder or bishop must abstain, (nephalios); a deacon may drink moderately, (me oino pollo). A deacon's wife in I Timothy 3:11 must abstain, (nephalios). An aged man in Titus 2:2 must abstain, (nephalios); an aged woman in Titus 2:3 may drink moderately, (me oino pollo).24  

Context Four: The Old Testament   
Moderationists who believe that "not given to much wine" allows some drinking of alcoholic wine should ask themselves an important question. "Isn't it strange that only I Timothy 3:8, of all the verses in the Bible, suggests that the secret of God's approval of alcoholic wine depends on the amount you drink?" If the amount is what shows whether wine is good or bad in God's sight, Dr. Teachout says, God should have made this clear in the Old Testament.25 Instead He said to drink no intoxicating yayin at all and He approved the drinking of as much grape juice as the heart desired, Song of Solomon 5:1 and Joel 2:18, 19. 

Context Five: The Use of Grape Juice in Moderation  
God, throughout the Bible, never approves of drinking any intoxicating wine. But why does He limit the deacons to a moderate amount of grape juice?  

All the qualifications for church leadership demand control over self. God wants the deacons to be a testimony and example to a society that lacks self-control in all areas. Advice from God to drink grape juice in moderation can be compared to what He says about honey in Proverbs.  
        My son, eat honey, for it is good, Proverbs 24:13.
        It is not good to eat much honey, Proverbs 25:27.  

Even a good thing should be eaten in moderation. God also says in Psalms 104:15 that food is good. But in Deuteronomy 21:20 and Proverbs 23:21, eating too much food, gluttony, is sin.26  

Context Six: Social Customs—Reason for Moderation of Grape Juice   

The members of the early churches were mostly converts from idolatry. They were used to pagan feasts where unfermented wine was drunk in great excess. Often the feasts lasted all night and those enjoying themselves would vomit the juice so they could keep on drinking. Lucian of Samosata (about A.D. 115 – 200) said, I came . . . as those who drink grape juice (gleukos), swelling out their stomach, require an emetic (causing vomiting).27  

One Bible Commentary says that excessive drinking, even of nonintoxicating wine, was a widespread vice in Paul's day. It was a form of gluttony. In I Timothy 3:8, Paul is instructing the deacons against a vice of the day. No one holding office in the church should have such a love for grape juice that he would drink too much of it. Neither should he take part in a feast where unfermented juice was drunk to excess.  

Context Seven: A Social Custom Related Directly to Deacons   
Another custom in the days of the early church, says Dr. Teachout, related directly to the office of the deacon. Deacons took assistance from the church to those in need and collected offerings from home to home. This meant home visitation on a large scale.  

I Timothy 3:8 has four qualifications for the deacon given by Paul for this ministry. The first quality is that he is grave or serious. He was an official representative and leader of the church, a sacred office. The second quality was "not doubletongued". He was not to tell different stories to different members to please everybody; he was to uphold the truth. The third quality was "not addicted to much wine". In visiting members in their homes, a deacon would customarily be offered unfermented wine to drink. The custom of offering visitors coffee, etc., or another drink continues today. Paul told the deacons to be moderate in drinking grape juice when visiting or he could become known for gluttony. The fourth quality was "not greedy for gain". Handling money can lead to temptation and the deacon was to have qualities that made him able to "hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience, I Timothy 3:9.  

The Translation of I Timothy 3:8 to Fit All Contexts
Dr. Teachout translates I Timothy 3:8, "not given to much wine" as "not indulging in much grape juice."28 This translation fits the meaning of oinos. It also fits the context of the testimony of the leaders of the church,the context of New Testament teaching on "moderate evil," the context of Paul's other writings,the context of the Old Testament, the context of the use of grape juice in moderation, the context of the social customs of the day,  the context of the deacons' ministry and the context of the whole Bible. The teaching about wine in both the Old and the New Testament shows that God's disapproval of alcohol is universal  

Summary of Bible Context of Not Given to Much Wine
In the phrase, "not given to much wine," the wine is grapejuice. In the case of the qualification for the office of deacon, the use of too much grape juice would exclude any person known to be much given to grapejuice—a practice of gluttony.    

Standards for Everyone
The standards in I Timothy are God's requirements for leaders. Leaders must meet these requirements. But God desires to see the same qualities in each one of us. We cannot all be leaders, but every born again believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit to enable him to live a life that meets God's high moral standards.  


"Wives, be sober (nephalios)." This is the same word that in I Timothy 3:2 is translated vigilant or temperate. It means physical abstinence from wine.  


        Every creature of God is good . . . or . . . All things created by God
        are good, and nothing is to be rejected if it be received with

This verse is not talking about drinks of any kind. It is talking about meat or food. In verses one to three Paul is writing about people who depart from the faith and make up rules prohibiting marriage and the eating of certain food or meat. He says all things God has created are good. Broma is the Greek word usually translated "meat" except once where it is called "victuals." It refers to solid food.  

Genesis 1:31 says that God saw everything He had made and it was good. God by His direct act did not make alcohol. Nature if left to itself does not produce it. The manufacture of alcohol is man's project. Some claim that alcohol is in sugar and God made the sweetness. The sweetness God put in plants is nutritious but when alcohol is made, sugar is destroyed.  

Dr. J. W. Beaumont of the Sheffield Medical School in England has said, "Alcoholic liquors are not nutritious, they are not a tonic, they are not beneficial in any sense of the word." In fact, the human body treats alcohol like a poison.  

In I Samuel 25:37, we read, "When the wine was gone out of Nabal . . . ." That is exactly what happens with alcohol. The intoxication passes off as the alcohol goes out of the body. The excretory organs expel it from the living house which God has fearfully and wonderfully made.  

The food God created and that we thank Him for is wholesome food which nourishes us. We do not like to eat rotting fruit or decaying meat. We cannot call alcohol good. It is the product of decay. It does not nourish the body.  

Ecclesiastes 7:29 says, "Lo this I have found, that God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions."  


But watch (nepho) thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work
        of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.  

We already know that the basic meaning of nepho is physical abstinence from alcohol. The definition given in Vine's Expository Dictionary is "to abstain from wine, to be free of intoxicants."29  

In their Life and Epistles of St. Paul, Conybeare and Howson say II Timothy 4:5 should start out, "But thou in all things be sober (nepho)," not "watch."30 Paul chose the word nepho when he wrote this last solemn letter to Timothy before he, Paul, was martyred. Certainly Timothy had to continue to abstain totally from alcoholic wine to carry out the serious charge Paul left him.  

1. Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, Biblical Perspective, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 1989, p.206.
2. Ibid., Clarke, The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
3. Ibid., Barnes. Notes, Explanatory and Practical on the Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon.
4. Ibid., p.207. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church.
5. Ibid., p.208.
6. Dr. William Patton, Bible Wines, Sane Press, Oklahoma City, p.105. 7. Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, pp.207,208.
8. Ibid., p.208.
9. Ibid., p.207. From The Ante-Nicene Fathers.
10. Dr. Robert Teachout, Wine, the Biblical Imperative: Total Abstinence, 1986, p.68.
11. "Sixth Special Report to the U.S. Congress on Alcohol and Health," from the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Rockville, Md., National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, January, 1987, p.60. 12. Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, p.244.
13. Ibid., p.245.
14. Patton, Bible Wines, p.113.
15. Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, p.247. Gentry, The Christian and Alcoholic Beverages, and Fred Gealy in The Interpreter's Bible, 1960, and Everett Tilson, Should Christians Drink? 1957.
16. Dr. Robert Teachout, The Use of Wine in the Old Testament, Doctoral Dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979, p.445.
17. Ibid., p.443.
18. Teachout, Wine…, p.69.
19. Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, p.249.
20. Ibid., p.248.
21. Patton, Bible Wines, p.115.
22. Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, p.248.
23. Ibid., p.249.
24. Ibid., p.250.
25. Teachout, The Use of Wine… p.444.
26. Ibid., pp.444, 445.
27. Bacchiocchi Wine in the Bible, p.253. From Lucian of Samosata, Philopatris 39.
28. Teachout, The Use of Wine… p.443.
29. William E. Vine, Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Old-Time Gospel Hour, 1952, pp.1057,1213.
30. Rev. W.J. Conybeare, M.A., and Rev. J.S. Howson, D.D., The Life and Epistles of Saint Paul, Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1883, p.778.  


Copyright 2005
Woman's Christian Temperance Union
of South Dakota