Teetotaler Timothy

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist) 

In our world, many teach that is acceptable for children of God to socially drink.  

One good friend of mine had told me that for years he had a problem with the Bible because he did not see how Jesus could truly be God and teach (by example) that it is alright to use drugs recreationally.  

This was after I had told my friend about a conversation that I had overheard one day at a local restaurant where several priests of a prominent denomination were sitting around talking about which kind of beer to order for their church’s upcoming festival. Shame on these priests!

I would like for you to consider with me the fascinating role that Timothy has in this discussion.  

Paul had left Timothy at Ephesus, in order to preach and teach the Word of God to the people (2 Timothy 4:2-4). It was very important that Timothy not allow others to proclaim false doctrines unchallenged (1 Timothy 1:5). Paul expresses his admiration and confidence in Timothy on several occasions. Timothy was a “true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2, 18; 2 Timothy 1:2; 2:1). Indeed, Paul declared that Timothy was one who would sincerely care for others, and that he had served with Paul as a son with his father (Philippians 2:19-22). He was a brother and minister of God, and a fellow laborer with Paul and others in the Gospel of Christ (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Timothy had known Paul’s teachings, and the Apostle exhorted him to pay careful attention to hold the pattern of sound words that he had heard from him (2 Timothy 1:13), and to commit the Word of God to faithful men who would be able to teach it to others (2 Timothy 2:2).  

With these things in mind, it is fascinating to notice that Timothy was a total abstainer from alcoholic beverages; for Paul tells him: 

1 Timothy 5:23-No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.
Several things about this passage are worthy of notice.  

First, please observe that Timothy completely abstained from “wine.”

It is, of course possible that the “wine” here was simply unfermented grapejuice; after all, the recommendation of grapejuice for stomach ailments was well known in the ancient world.  For example: 

“It is generally assumed that the wine Paul recommended to Timothy was alcoholic. But this is by no means certain, for two reasons. First, because the term oinos (“ wine”), as we have shown, was used in a generic way to denote either fermented or unfermented wine. Second, because there are historical testimonies attesting the use of unfermented wine for medical purposes. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) recommends the use of a sweet grape juice, called glukus in Greek, because, he says, “though called wine [oinos], it has not the effect of wine . . . and does not intoxicate like ordinary wine.” 7 Athenaeus, the Grammarian (A.D. 280), specifically counsels the use of unfermented “sweet wine” (glukon oinon) for stomach disorders. He writes: “Let him take sweet wine, either mixed with water or warmed, especially that kind called protropos, the sweet Lesbian glukus, as being good for the stomach; for sweet wine [oinos] does not make the head heavy.” 8 Here we have advice which sounds strikingly similar to that of Paul, with the difference that Athenaeus qualifies the kind of wine recommended, namely, the sweet wine, called “lesbian” because its alcoholic potency had been removed. A similar advice regarding the medical use of wine is given by Pliny (A. D. 79), a contemporary of Paul and author of the celebrated Natural History. He recommends using a boiled, unfermented wine called adynamon for sick persons “for whom it is feared that wine may be harmful.” 9 He also recommends to avoid the side effects of alcohol by using wines whose alcohol content had been removed through filtration: “Wines are most beneficial when all their potency has been overcome by the strainer.”” (Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine In The Bible: A Biblical Study On The Use Of Alcoholic Beverages, 920-935 (Kindle Edition))

My personal belief is that Paul here is talking about fermented wine, due to his  encouragement to Timothy to take a “little” wine. Why would he offer that encouragement if this was not alcoholic wine in content? Either way, however, it becomes clear that the Word authorizes the use of alcohol (and by implication other drugs) for legitimate medicinal reasons (see below).  

Second, Paul’s encouragement to Timothy is to take a “little” wine as a medicinal remedy. Speaking of the use of this phrase, one author informs us:

“This verse is a personal word to Timothy about his stomach and his frequent ailments that follows after the previous direct word to him (v. 22). It may have been prompted by Paul’s knowledge that Timothy was drinking only water (the implication of the first part of v. 23), so that he might not become addicted to wine (3:3), as part of his attempt to keep himself pure (cf. Lk. 1:15; he might also have been influenced by the Nazirite vow of Nu. 6:1-4). Paul does not criticize his practice per se, but does encourage Timothy not to forego a little wine for medicinal purposes….Uiyos means “little” in terms of quantity. Paul carefully qualifies his recommendation of wine here by this word so that neither Timothy, nor any one, may misunderstand or misuse this statement (see Calvin); three of the other four Pauline occurrences of olvos (see above) have the same spirit of caution, and the fourth, Rom. 14:21, says that not drinking wine is better than causing one’s fellow Christian to stumble.” (George W. Knight III, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Pastoral Epistles-A Commentary On The Greek Text, 4143-4155 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) 

Third, Paul pointed out that for Timothy to drink a “little” wine for his stomach’s sake was acceptable. The Bible has always authorized the legitimate medicinal use of drugs (cf. Isaiah 38:21-22; Luke 10:34; Colossians 4:14). Evaluating the commentary of the ancient Christians on this passage is beneficial.  

Chrysostom-“If one who had practiced fasting to such an extent and used only water, so long that he had brought on “infirmities” and “frequent infirmities,” is thus commanded to be chaste and does not refuse the admonition, much less ought we to be offended when we receive an admonition from anyone.… Paul does not however allow him to indulge freely in wine, but as much as was for health and not for luxury.”  (Homilies on 1 Timothy 16. [NPNF 1 13:464-65*. See also. ( Chrysostom Homilies on the Statues 1.5 (NPNF 1 9:332)

Amnbose-“And is not temperance in harmony with nature and that divine law which in the beginning of all things gave the springs for drink and the fruits of trees for food? After the flood, the just man found wine a source of temptation to him. [Gen 9:20-21.] Let us, then, use the natural food of temperance, and would that we all could do so! But, because not all are strong, the apostle therefore says, “Use a little wine for your frequent infirmities.” We must drink it not for our pleasure but for our infirmity, sparingly as a remedy, not excessively as a gratification.”  (Letters 59. [FC 26:330-31.])

Fourth, it is when people use drugs for recreational reasons that the Word of God offers strong rebuke. This has always been the case (cf. Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-35; Titus 2:11-14).

An interesting passage in this connection is found in the Book of Ephesians. The Apostle Paul declared:

Ephesians 5:18-And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,

Recently, I have been blessed by a renewed study of this passage. The phrase “do not be drunk,” translates the Greek word methusko. Vine notes that this is an example of what is known as an incentive verb in the Greek New Testament.  

He writes: 

“methusko (3182) signifies “to make drunk, or to grow drunk” (an inceptive verb, marking the process or the state expressed in No. 1), “to become intoxicated,” Luke 12:45; Eph. 5:18; 1 Thess. 5:7a.¶” (W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 29568-29576 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers)

Now, what is the significance of the use of the incentive verb in this passage? 

“2. Ingressive (Inceptive, Inchoative) Aorist…The aorist tense may be used to stress the beginning of an action or the entrance into a state.” (Daniel B. Wallace, The Basics Of New Testament Syntax: An Intermediate Greek Grammar, 5263 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)  

“The inceptive imperfect expresses the initiation of an action in the past (‘I began to loose’).” (David Alan Black, Learn To Read New Testament Greek,1145 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; B&H Academic)  

“inceptive…Giving emphasis to the beginning of the verbal action (Lat. inceptivus, ‘starting’). This term often appears in connection with the aorist (see 2 Cor 8:9) or imperfect-tense verbs (see Mt. 3:5). Also called inchoative, incipient or ingressive.” (Mathew S. Demoss, Pocket Dictionary For The Study Of New Testament Greek, 779 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, Illinois; InterVarsity Press)  

Thus, by using the incentive verb, Paul is telling the brethren, “Do not even begin the process of becoming intoxicated!” Or (as we might say), “Don’t even take the first drink in beginning the process of getting drunk!” 

One author has explained it this way:

“The phrase, “be not drunk,” is translated from the Greek root methusko. This word means: 1) “to begin to be softened,” Young’s Analytical Concordance; 2) “to moisten, or to be moistened with liquor, and in a figurative sense, to be saturated with drink,” S. T. Bloomfield; 3) “to grow drunk” (marking the beginning of methuo), E. W. Bullinger. Methusko is an inceptive verb. 9 It is a word that marks the process of becoming drunk. What Paul is actually saying in Ephesians 5 is, “Do not begin the process of becoming drunk.” When a person consumes alcohol, he is beginning to be softened and intoxicated. That’s why social drinking is condemned in the words drunk or drunkenness. The implication is that people begin to be drunk when they begin to drink….Science and medical studies also bear out the fact that when a person begins to drink, he is drunk to some degree. How much alcohol does a person have to consume in order to be affected? As early as the 1960s, the Journal of the American Medical Association stated, “There is no minimum (blood-alcohol concentration or BAC) which can be set, at which there will be absolutely no effect.”” (Don Blackwell, The Truth About Moral Issues, 399-405 (Kindle Edition); Maxwell, TX; World Video Bible School) 

Some people may argue that no one in the first century world would have so understood this prohibition.  

Yet then there is Timothy!  

The young preacher (a careful student of the Apostle Paul) was a total abstainer from alcohol-so much so that Paul had to encourage him to take a “little wine” for his stomach sake (notice-this allowance was for medicinal reasons, not recreational). 

Some may ask, “But isn’t it the case that the ancients didn’t know how to keep wine from fermenting?”  

In fact, the ancients had extremely detailed knowledge of how to keep wine from fermenting.  

“”Professor Donovan, in his work on Domestic Economy, mentions three methods by which all fermentation could be prevented: “1. Grape-juice will not ferment when the air is completely excluded. “2. By boiling down the juice, or, in other words, evaporating the water, the substance becomes a syrup, which if very thick will not ferment. “3. If the juice be filtered and deprived of its gluten, or ferment, the production of alcohol will be impossible”—Anti-Bacchus, p. 162. Dr. Ure, the eminent chemist, says that fermentation may be tempered or stopped: “1. By those means which render the yeast inoperative, particularly by the oils that contain sulphur, as oil of mustard, as also by the sulphurous and sulphuric acids. “2. By the separation of the yeast, either by the filter or subsidence. “3. By lowering the temperature to 45°. If the fermenting mass becomes clear at this temperature and be drawn off from the subsided yeast, it will not ferment again, though it should be heated to the proper pitch”—Anti-Bacchus, p. 225. Baron Liebig, in his Letters on Chemistry, says: “If a flask be filled with grape-juice and made air-tight, and then kept for a few hours in boiling water, the wine does not now ferment”—Bible Commentary, xxxvii. Here we have two of the preventives, viz., the exclusion of the air, and the raising of the temperature to the boiling point. The unalterable laws of nature, which are the laws of God, teach these stern facts: 1. That very sweet juices and thick syrups will not undergo the vinous fermentation….2. That the direct and inevitable fermentation of the sweet juices, in hot climates with the temperature above 75°, will be the acetous. 3. That to secure the vinous fermentation the temperature must be between 50° and 75°, and that the exact proportions of sugar and gluten and water must be secured. 4. That all fermentation may be prevented by excluding the air, by boiling, by filtration, by subsidence, and by the use of sulphur….Augustine Calmet, the learned author of the Dictionary of the Bible, born 1672, says: “The ancients possessed the secret of preserving wines sweet throughout the whole year.” If they were alcoholic, they would preserve themselves. The peculiarity was preserving them sweet. Chemistry tells us that the juice loses its sweetness when, by fermentation, the sugar is converted into alcohol. Preserving them sweet throughout the whole year meant preserving them unfermented. Chemical science instructs us that by reason of the great sweetness of the juice and the heat of the climate at the vintage, the vinous fermentation would be precluded, and that, unless by some method prevented, the acetous would certainly and speedily commence. Four modes were known and practised by the ancients which modern chemical science confirms.” (William Patton, D.D., Bible Wines Or The Laws Of Fermentation And The Wines Of The Ancients, 19-21 (IBooks Edition)). 

This is especially interesting when we consider the common argument that social drinking must be authorized by the Word of God since “Jesus Himself made wine in John 2!”

Of course, both Roman and Jewish tradition shows that the general custom was to use unfermented wine at festive occasions:

“The second assumption that the wine Jesus provided was pronounced “the good wine” (John 2: 10) by the master of the banquet because it was high in alcoholic content, is based on the taste of twentieth-century drinkers who define the goodness of wine in proportion to its alcoholic strength. But this was not necessarily true in the Roman world of New Testament times where the best wines were those whose alcoholic potency had been removed by boiling or filtration. Pliny, for example, says that “wines are most beneficial (utilissimum) when all their potency has been removed by the strainer.” 1 Similarly, Plutarch points out that wine is “much more pleasant to drink” when it “neither inflames the brain nor infests the mind or passions” 2 because its strength has been removed through frequent filtering. The Talmud indicates that drinking to the accompaniment of musical instruments on festive occasions such as a wedding was forbidden. 3 The latter is confirmed by later testimonies of rabbis. For example, Rabbi S. M. Isaac, an eminent nineteenth-century rabbi and editor of The Jewish Messen-ger, says: “The Jews do not, in their feasts for sacred purposes, including the marriage feast, ever use any kind of fermented drinks. In their oblations and libations, both private and public, they employ the fruit of the vine—that is, fresh grapes—unfermented grape-juice, and raisins, as the symbol of bene-diction. Fermentation is to them always a symbol of corruption.” 4 Though Rabbi Isaac’s statement is not quite accurate, since Jewish sources are not unanimous on the kind of wine to be used at sacred festivals, it still does indicate that some Jews used unfermented wine at wedding feasts.” (Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine In The Bible: A Biblical Study On The Use Of Alcoholic Beverages, 632-646 (Kindle Edition))

Friends, the simple truth is, Christians have no business in the recreational use of any drug.

Timothy was a “teetotaler,” and (except in cases of legitimate medical Need like Timothy), we should be also!

In fact, instead of trying to justify recreational drug use as children of God, we should instead “be filled with the Spirit,” as Paul encourages (Ephesians 5:18)! This is much better then the alternatives the world offers!  

Jesus Christ, the Son Of God, died for your sins, was buried and arose again the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). One day, He is coming back (Acts 17:30-31). Those who do not know God and who do not obey the Gospel of Christ will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

Why not today turn to the Lord and be saved?

Acts 2:38-Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

If you are a Christian who has turned from the Lord, He invites you to come back to

Him in repentance and prayer.  

Revelation 2:5-Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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