1 Timothy 5:23—Was Paul recommending wine-drinking for Christians?
Problem: The Bible repeatedly warns against abuse of strong drink and drunkenness (Prov. 20:1; 31:4–5; Isa. 24:9; 1 Cor. 6:9–10; Eph. 5:18). However, here Paul tells Timothy to “no longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.” Doesn’t this commend wine drinking?
Solution: Once the entire context is understood, there is no basis here for Christians to engage in the social drinking of wine (or other alcoholic beverages). First, Paul says “a little,” not a lot. Paul elsewhere urges Christian leaders to be temperate (1 Tim. 3:3, 8).
Second, it was “for his frequent infirmities” not for pleasure. In other words, it was recommended for medicinal purposes, not for social purposes.
Third, the Bible speaks often of the evil of wine drinking. It pronounces woes on those who drink in excess (Isa. 5:11; Amos 6:6; Micah 2:11). All are warned that too much alcohol will lead to disgrace and judgment (Amos 6:6–7).
Finally, the wine that was used in the biblical times was mixed with three parts water to one part wine, thus diluting it to a relatively harmless amount of alcohol. When this was taken in this minimal amount in conjunction with a meal, there was little chance in a non-alcoholic society for it to be personally or socially harmful. The same is not true today, since the wine, beer, and whiskey being imbibed is by biblical standards “strong drink.” And this is even more problematic in an alcoholic culture where one out of ten persons who begins to drink becomes a problem drinker. In this context it is better to follow the advice of Paul elsewhere when he said, “it is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak” (Rom. 14:21).
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.