Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.
Today there is an issue within Christianity that many Christians are grappling with – “Should a Christian ever drink alcohol?” There are some Christians, such as myself, who believe that we should abstain completely from the use of alcohol. Then there are other Christians who believe that alcohol is permissible when used in moderation.
Those who support the use of alcohol in moderation often refer to such passages as 1 Timothy 5:23 where Paul tells Timothy to ‘…use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.’ At first it seems as though Paul was encouraging Timothy to drink wine; however, this is only part of the verse. Paul’s encouragement begins as – “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” Paul’s intent was not an encouragement for Timothy to begin drinking wine, but for him to drink water that had been purified through the adding of a small amount of wine to it.
Historical evidence shows that much of the wine used in ancient times was a mixture of water and wine. Several years ago, Robert Stein (associate professor of New Testament at Bethel College) published an article entitled ‘Wine Drinking in New Testament Times.’ In this article he stated that the wine used during ancient times was often heavily diluted with water, sometimes as much as 20 parts water to 1 part wine. At the very least, there was usually at least 3 parts water to 1 part wine. According to Stein, drinking wine that had not been diluted was considered to be barbarian. Even a mixture of 1 part wine to 1 part water was often called ‘strong drink’ and frowned upon. Therefore the alcoholic content of the wine used in the Bible was often so small that it was almost non-existent. Stein also states in his article the wine of the Bible was – “different from the wine of today.”
Why did they so heavily dilute their wine? Stein writes – “In ancient times there were not many beverages that were safe to drink. The danger of drinking water alone raises another point. There were several ways in which the ancients could make water safe to drink. One method was boiling, but this was tedious and costly. Different methods of filtration were tried. The safest and easiest method of making the water safe to drink, however, was to mix it with wine. The drinking of wine (i.e., a mixture of water and wine) served therefore as a safety measure, since often the water available was not safe.”
John MacArthur expresses this same thought in his commentary – “Water in the ancient world was often polluted and carried many diseases. Therefore Paul urged Timothy not to risk illness, not even for the sake of a commitment to abstinence from wine. Apparently Timothy avoided wine, (emphasis mine) so as not to place himself in harm’s way. Paul wanted Timothy to use wine which, because of fermentation, acted as a disinfectant to protect his health problems due to the harmful effects of impure water.”
To properly understand what Paul said and why, we must take into consideration these three facts:
1. Paul encouraged Timothy to use some wine for medicinal purposes and not for recreation
2. Paul encouraged Timothy to use ‘a little wine’, not embrace social drinking
3. Apparently Timothy’s conviction had been up to that point that he should abstain completely from wine
It is not my intent to judge those who choose to drink a glass of wine, however I do believe that as believers, we should carefully consider the warnings found in scripture.
Ephesians 5:18 CSB And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit:
Romans 14:21 ESV It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.
Luke 1:15 ESV For he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. (reference to John the Baptist)
Proverbs 31:4 ESV It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink,
1 Corinthians 8:9 ESV But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
Proverbs 23:29-32 ESV Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.