Q: The apostle Paul encouraged his associate Timothy to drink “a little wine” for the stomach and other infirmities (1 Timothy 5:23). So does the Bible condone the drinking of alcohol?
A: First, let’s take a look at the big picture. In the Old Testament, the prophet Aaron and his sons, the priests, were strictly forbidden to drink either wine or strong drink when they went into the tabernacle to minister before the Lord (Leviticus 10:9). Nazarites—those who had voluntarily taken a vow to God—were likewise forbidden to use wine while under their vow (Numbers 6:1-3, 20; Judges 13:4-7).
The Bible book of Proverbs is filled with warnings against indulging in wine and strong drink. Wine mocks those who use it (Proverbs 20:1) and rewards them with woe, sorrow, strife and wounds without cause (Proverbs 23:29, 30). “In the end [wine] bites like a snake and poisons like a viper” (verse 32). The prophet Isaiah declared, “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks” (Isaiah 5:22).
In the New Testament, Jesus likened His revolutionary teaching to new wine, which would burst the old bottles of tradition (Matthew 9:17). Paul warned believers against drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18) and declared that deacons should not be “indulging in much wine” (1 Timothy 3:8). He counselled Titus that older women should not be “addicted to much wine” (Titus 2:3).
Yet, Paul did recommend that his friend Timothy should “use a little wine” for relief from a digestive ailment (1 Timothy 5:23).
In those days, physical ailments, such as dysentery, were common occurrences—often due to contaminated water. Consequently, other ways of quenching thirst were often recommended. Some Bible students believe that in this verse Paul was advocating the temperate use of fermented wine for medicinal purposes while other Bible scholars say that Paul is referring to unfermented grape juice.
Since the Greek word translated “wine” can mean either fermented wine or unfermented grape juice, they believe Paul would not give advice inconsistent with the rest of Scripture, which warns strongly against the use of intoxicating beverages—and that he is, therefore, advising Timothy to drink pure, unfermented grape juice.
Obviously, Paul wanted Timothy to be healthy and physically fit for the heavy duties that rested upon him as administrator of the churches in Asia Minor. Mental and moral alertness are closely related to physical fitness, and the use of alcohol would not be helpful in this regard.
The Bible is clear that our bodies are temples of the living God via the agent of the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received of God? . . . . Therefore honour God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).
God is concerned with how we treat our bodies, including what we eat or drink. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The wise King Solomon said, “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). “Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper” (Proverbs 23:31).
Every month, our Discovery Bible correspondence school instructors, Wayne Boehm, Charissa Fong and Sharon Martin, delve into the Bible to answer some of life’s and Christianity’s deeper questions.
The answer this month has been adapted from BibleInfo.com.