Medicinal Wine

Looking at Timothy and Paul’s Wine Command

In First Timothy 5:23, Paul writes to Timothy, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” Occasionally, I hear people say, “Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine for his illness. Therefore, it is all right for me to drink a little wine once in a while, it is all right for me to drink a little alcoholic beverage every once in a while, or it is all right for me to drink a little beer every once in a while, because Paul instructed Timothy to do that.”

there is no question that wine is not always alcoholic

There is no question that wine is not always alcoholic.

However, let us notice the context. Friends, Paul was writing to a man whom he described as his “son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:12), and on this occasion, Timothy was a sick individual, physically speaking. The indication is that he had been drinking water, and many scholars suggest to us that there was something wrong with the water that Timothy had been drinking [i.e., cholera outbreak]. Because it was bad water, Paul says to him, “Do not drink any more water, because the water is not helping your condition any more. Drink a little wine.”

Of course, it was not wrong to drink all “wine,” because this biblical term also referred to non-alcoholic, non-fermented grape juice. In this issue, please read about the process of fermentation and see the differences between taking grape juice and deliberately creating a fermented beverage that is intoxicating and would actually make one drunk. Obviously, I have never heard of a man who was addicted to Welch’s grape juice, but I know of many who are alcoholics and drink the intoxicating kind.

It is still difficult to be convinced that Paul recommended alcoholic wine to Timothy; it is not a foregone conclusion that this refers to inebriating wine, since the evidence from antiquity exists to suggest that he was referring to the addition of grape juice to his drinking water for medicinal purposes. However, let us grant that it was for just a moment. Please note the following: (1) Timothy had been abstinent up until this point—are we going to overlook this important trait of faithfulness in this godly young man? (2) The apostle Paul said, “…a little wine,” which ought not to endorse the type of socialized drinking for which people are searching for justification; (3) he would probably dilute the juice with water (or vice versa, mixing juice in with his water); (4) he gave the specific reason for doing so, which was medicinal in nature—not social, casual or recreational. In fact, one must not automatically assume that the wine itself possessed medical properties. The wine may have simply been the antiseptic means of purifying polluted water that Timothy had been drinking by killing germs and bacterial organisms. If so, then Paul was not commending wine, but commending a method of cleansing contaminated water; (5) it took the directive of an apostle for Timothy to introduce it into his life. If Timothy had been a drinker and had been involved with drinking in the past, Paul would not have had to tell him to do so. One ought to wonder if the Christian lifestyle that Timothy chose to follow would have been patterned in a similar fashion as the Nazarite vow, in which one would “separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk” (Num. 6:3-4).

Therefore, Paul said, “…take it for thy stomach’s sake and his infirmities.” People say, “Preacher, this passage gives me the right to drink wine, because Timothy did it on this one occasion for medicine, and I need a lot of medicine!” Friends, this passage does not legalize or endorse drinking alcoholic beverages. In fact, Paul goes on to say in First Thessalonians 5:22, “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” which Timothy was sure to do—so much so, that it took a directive from his mentor to aid him in overcoming his sickness. How we need more Christians who are as concerned with their influence in public! Should this be the case, I cannot think of anyone who would want to mislead anyone concerning the dangers that alcoholic beverages poses in our society!

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