Of Water & Wine
A Study of 1st Timothy 5:23
C. W. Fincher
How many of you when talking to your unsaved friends and family or those who only have a very limited knowledge of the Bible and the subject of whether or not it acceptable for a Christian to consume alcohol comes up don’t know how to respond? Often the verse that they quote in defense of their use of the product is 1st Timothy 5:23.
I would like to look for a moment into this verse through an imaginary set of tri-focal eyeglasses. For you younger ones, back before we had the technology to make progressive eyeglasses that took your eye prescription that the optometrist wrote and made it into one lens so that you could see without any lines blocking your vision. On a tri-focal lens, you have three distinct pieces of glass of varying strengths to help you see.
The lenses that I will be looking through today are medicine, ancient sanitation and theology.
Let’s look through the top lens at the verse in question and quickly move on. I will give you the King James Version which I read and study from and the Idios Para phraseďn which is a new paraphrase that I am working on based upon the Hebrew and Greek Lexicon that I use in my studies. The numbers in the KJV verse are taken from the Strong’s Greek Lexicon and can researched in any lexicon or online website.
1 Tim. 5.23 KJV (1)
Drink 5202 no longer 3371 water 5202 , but 235 use 5530 a little 3641 wine 3631 for 1223 thy 4675 stomach's sake 4751 and 2532 thine 4675 often 4437 infirmities 769.
The joy for me is that this verse has two natural sections build into it. This is a verse where it is imperative to look at the historical and cultural context of the verse in order to see what the author, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was telling its recipient of this letter, in this case, Timothy.
We are now roughly 1,948 year since the penning of these words to Timothy. Much has changed during that time, in fact too many to mention at this setting, but one thing that effects us all is clean drinking water and a functioning sewer system!
When reading these words to Timothy we must remember that the sanitation system had not developed to the state that we now have. In conjunction to this, the ancients did not tie together that polluted water was a key factor for sickness and disease.
Because of the improper disposal of human and animal waste, it often would pollute the drinking water that the masses would use in their day-to-day lives.
Many diseases are spread by water; here are just a few that I have found. (3) The water that Timothy and the rest of his society were drinking was probably polluted and unfit to drink; therefore, he most likely had stomach problems as based upon the internal structure of the verse and the historical, cultural context of the verse.
* Cholera: A single cell organism that is spread through poor sanitation conditions, most always fatal. Remember that aftermath of the recent Haitian earthquakes. Thousands died because of cholera caused by drinking contaminated water and eating food washed in contaminated water. I have spent three months in Haiti (not during this time period), I have witness first hand their sanitation issues.
* Typhus: A type of illness characterized by headache, chills, fever, generalized stupor and vision problems. Cause is by poor sanitation conditions. In English speaking countries, it is called typhoid fever.
* Dysentery: Any number of disorders marked by inflammation of the intestines, especially the colon, with abnormal pain, caused by poor sanitation conditions.
* Montezuma’s Revenge: Travelers dysentery, often when one goes from a county with high sanitation standard and travels to a country with poor sanitation standards. I have personally experienced this as well as many of you that have traveled abroad. (4)
Now we cast our gaze through the middle lens, what does the word “wine” mean in scripture? Is it unfermented grape juice that some say is mentioned or is it the fully fermented beverage that will give you a hangover if you drink too much? It’s time to get our feet dirty as we stomp on a few grapes in our journey of discovery. Anyone thirsty yet?
“Wine”, as defined in the Encarta Dictionary: English (North America) is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting the juice of grapes. (5)
The Eerdmans Bible dictionary goes into great length explaining what wine is and is not. Here are the key points it makes. (6)
“All wine mentioned in the Bible is fermented; “new wine” was the first stage of the wine making fermentation process. As the wine was processed, it became clear and the fermentation stopped and it became sweeter. . . It was used for special occasions, religious as well as civil. . . . The average person’s daily diet consisted of bread, salt and water, even though the water was impure. . . Paul warns in Romans 14: 21 about abstaining from wine and its intoxicating effects. . . There is no Biblical evidence that wine was ever unfermented grape juice.”
From my studies using the internet, and how to make homemade wine, the sites that I found support what the authors of Eerdmans Bible Dictionary conclude. Also, keep in mind the lack of refrigeration. It would be next to impossible to keep the fresh grape juice cool enough to avoid it fermenting from the heat. (7)
We have at last arrived to the point where we can gaze though the last of the three lenses. We have established that poor sanitation of that period of time caused illness and disease, hence the words given to Timothy, we have looked briefly at what wine is and now we need to spend some time looking at one area that affects us all, our Christian liberties that we have in Christ.
The apostle Paul goes into great lengths to let us know that we have liberty, under grace given to us by Christ to live as we want to, but there are guidelines that we should follow in order to keep from offending a brother or sister in the faith.
Romans 14 gives us some ideas as to what he was thinking. Verse 21 is to me the key verse of this chapter. 1st Corinthians 10:23 goes on to explain the matter even further! Lastly, Paul in the book of Ephesians chapter five, verse eighteen, gives us a command, “And be not drunk (intoxicated) with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;” If the wine of that time period was not intoxicating, why mention it?
Timothy was told to drink a little wine to help ease his ailments, but as he well knew from his time with Paul, don’t drink so much that he got drunk! Use your head! Any number of us before our salvation know all too well what it is like to drink too much!
Though we have the right under grace to do this, when is it suitable to do so at the risk of offending a brother or sister in Christ? I can think of no occasion for this type of behavior!
God does not condone drunkenness, examples can be found within the pages of scriptures. The names of Noah, David and Solomon come to mind. The Psalms and Proverbs are filled with the negative effects of drinking too much wine.
In our modern world of proper water and food sanitation, do not use your liberty when taken out of context to do what is definitely an evil thing when taken to excess. Do not take these liberties and do what you want, thereby causing another brother who has a weaker faith than you to question his own beliefs.
Likewise, the world system, though they will not follow after the ways of God and Christ know that it is not right to become intoxicated if you name the name of Christ! They take a dim view of those that do! You are no different than they are, so why should they listen to your message?
I will leave you with these two verses in closing. It is up to you to follow your own conscience; to drink wine or other alcoholic beverages or not to, there is the possibility that you would offend a brother in Christ or maybe bring reproach to the name of Christ, all in the sake of doing it “my way”. The choice is yours! Chose wisely! A watching world is waiting to see what you will do if given the choice!
Rom. 12.10, [Be] kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;
1 Timothy 5:21, I charge [thee] before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.
1. All scripture is taken from Hebrew - Greek Key Lexicon Study Bible, Spiros Zodhiates and AMG International, Inc., Fifth Printing 1988, used without permission
2. IPP, Idios Para phraseďn is published by Captains Study Media Group, 2011
3. Dorland’s Pocket 28th Edition Medical Dictionary, published by Saunders/ Elsevier, pp 165, 878, 270
4. Assorted internet sites
5. Encarta Dictionary: English (North America), Microsoft Word 2007
6. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987, p 1058
7. Assorted internet sites