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What About the Text That Says Drink in Moderation?

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What about the text that says drink in moderation?


Steve Answers:

Here's the text: "Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses" (1 Timothy 5:23).

What do you think that means? Maybe I should ask, "What do you want it to mean?"

Those who want to drink alcohol zero in on this verse, for obvious reasons. But they stay away from a verse like "Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise" (Proverbs 20:1).

Let's look into why Paul wrote that advice to Timothy.

Most North Americans are familiar with the advice "Don't drink the water!" when they go to other countries. Young people who go on mission trips sometimes learn this the hard way by getting diarrhea.

We're so accustomed to getting drinking water from the tap, we forget how common it was for people in Bible times to carry some wine with them to purify water for drinking. They would mix two or three times as much water as wine for their drinks. That purified the water and watered down the wine.

Timothy wasn't making it with the water-only routine. He'd get sick. So Paul told him to drink a little wine to help his stomach.

Is your drinking water safe? If not, you could easily get sick unless you do something to purify the water. That's the reason for this text.

By the way, I've noticed that those who emphasize this text want to go drinking, sometimes even feeling that the Bible justifies their desire. It reminds me of how the media have led the general public to think that according to scientific studies, drinking wine makes people healthy (by reducing the likelihood of heart disease).

But researchers like Dr. Yano write, "Reports of our work in the lay press have, unfortunately, implied that a judicious tipling is a good preventative health measure. This distortion of our conclusions is not justified by the data."

Here's my paraphrase: "If you think drinking alcohol is healthy, get a clue!"

It's usually not wise to base your beliefs on only one text of Scripture. Get a concordance and check out some of the other 200-plus wine verses in the Bible to get a more accurate picture. And get the book Shall We Dance (written by . . . me!) and check out the section on alcohol.



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