"A Little Wine for Thy Stomach's Sake"
By John Henry

The Apostle Paul wrote Timothy, "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities." (1 Timothy 5:23) Many refer to this passage during their attempts to justify drinking intoxicating or alcoholic wine. But what's odd to me is that regardless of how much one intends to drink, he/she attempts to justify it by quoting what Paul told Timothy. How odd it is that they correctly quote Paul's advice, and then it is conveniently explained away, corrupted, and twisted to suit their own fleshly desires.

There are some questions for which we need answers.

First, Paul was talking to Timothy, not to people today. The conditions were such that Timothy could no longer drink water. I have been overseas, and the water in some places is not fit to drink because of the germs and bacteria it contains. If one drinks it, he will become sick to his stomach. This is probably what was happening to Timothy. Today, I take along medicine that the doctor gives me just in case I accidentally drink some contaminated water. In Timothy's day they had not made the medical advances we have today. Paul's suggestion to Timothy regarding the medicinal use of wine has nothing whatsoever to do with the practice of social (wine) drinking today.

Second, the wine was to be used for medicinal purposes, "For thy stomach's sake." How many people drink wine for their stomach's sake? We take medicines for our infirmities (diseases), but once the illnesses are gone, we stop taking the medicines the doctors prescribed for them. The same would be true in Timothy's case. Once the infirmity vanished, he probably ceased to take the wine as medicine, just as we would do today.

Third, LOOK at the word little. Vine tells us that this word means "small, of things with regard to size or quantity." How much medicine do we usually take when we're sick; perhaps a teaspoon or tablespoon full? Or maybe a little more? Do those of you who advocate drinking wine drink a little? And do you drink it as a remedy for some illness you have? If not, why do you drink it?

There's something else we need to consider: Two tablespoons, of 86-proof brandy or whiskey can raise the blood alcohol level to 0.04 almost immediately. One tablespoon of gin, vodka, rum, and some whiskeys causes the blood alcohol leve1 to reach 0.05. Six tablespoons (about one-third cup) of our modern fortified wine causes a blood level of 0.04 - 0.05. To give us an idea of how this compares with the wine drunk during Paul's day, it would require drinking approximately one gallon of the 3-to-6-proof fermented grape juice within one hour to attain a 0.03 blood alcohol level. Quite a feat, don't you think, for a man who is sick? (AA TCOG)

Fourth, look at Eve's deception. Satan deceived her by lying. Eve knew that God commanded them not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden, lest they die. But Satan told Eve, "Ye shall not surely die; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be like gods, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:4,5)

Satan got Eve to disobey God by telling her a lie and getting her to believe it. He convinced her that it was all right to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, even though God had forbidden it. Likewise, Satan convinces many today that it is all right to drink wine (other than for medicinal purposes), even though God forbids it. Notice what God said about fermented drink: "Wine is a mocker strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is NOT WISE." (Proverbs 20:1) Notice also the warning about the intoxicating effects of wine found in Proverbs 23:29-35. The passage clearly states that those who are "DECEIVED" into thinking it is all right to drink wine are "NOT WISE!" Could it be any clearer?

Since we are on the subject of deception, let's observe the marriage feast in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine, or did he turn it into booze? (John 2:1-11) Many believe, because of Satan's deception, that Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, turned water into an alcoholic beverage so the men could become drunk (immoral; Galatians 5:19-21). Do we really believe that Christ would go against His Father's teaching; that He used His miraculous power to produce about 120 gallons of intoxicating wine, which the Holy Spirit denounced as "a mocker" and as "the poison of dragons"? The burden of proving this lies with those who accuse Jesus of turning water into intoxicating wine. John said nothing about Jesus committing such an immoral act. To think that God's Son turned water into an intoxicating wine, so that men might become drunk, is not only ridiculous, it also shows ignorance of the Scriptures. Let's notice some things about the incident.

We learn that Jesus arrived on the third day of the wedding feast. In those days, a marriage feast lasted seven days, with guests arriving each day. Family friends who arrived during the seven days of festivity were served refreshments. If the family failed to provide adequately for their guests, it was considered a social disgrace, not to mention that someone might file a lawsuit against the bridegroom's family. Such a social error would never be forgotten and would haunt the newlyweds throughout their lives. That's why we hear the urgency in Mary's voice, "They have no wine." (2:3) Jesus' mother could not imagine Him allowing the newly wedded couple to undergo the humiliation of having an inadequate supply of wine to offer their guests.

I want to make one thing absolutely clear: the Jewish Rabbis condemned drunkenness and would have requited a very large amount from those who became drunk (assuming that this was fermented wine, but that is not a safe assumption, since the normal dilution method was three parts water to one part wine).

The guests, usually according to age and rank, would sit on the floor around bowls, with the most honored guests sitting nearest the bowls. After those in the first group, or circle, satisfied themselves, those next in rank, honor, or age sat down to eat, and so on until everyone had eaten. The meal consisted of a lamb stewed in rice or barley; and they served wine with the meal. After the honored guests finished eating, they would rise and sit in seats around the wall and gossip, listen to recitals, sing songs, or maybe ask each other puzzling riddles. They did not just sit there all day and drink wine. Yet, this is the picture many have of the marriage feast at Cana--that it was some sort of drunken orgy which the Lord attended. Not So. They needed much wine to accommodate the guests for a whole week. (CJ)

Obviously, the ruler wasn't drunk because he immediately recognized the difference between the before and after beverages.

Only the person with a perverse mind could imagine Jesus supporting drunken revelry and using His power to furnish men with a drink that would destroy their physical and spiritual well being. People today cannot use the Cana miracle to justify indulgence in any of the intoxicating beverages available to us (1 Corinthians 10:31-33; Romans 14:15-17,21; Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 13:12-14).

Fifth, the word wine, as used in John's account of the marriage feast (John 2:1-11), is the Greek word oinos, or grape juice. The "good wine" refers to the more potent. To the first-century man, the "good wine" was the freshest.

Albert Barnes wrote, "This shows that this had all the qualities of real wine. We should not be deceived by the phrase "good wine." We often use the phrase to denote that it is good in proportion to its strength and its power to intoxicate; but no such sense is to be attached to the word here. Pliny, Plutarch, and Horace describe wine as "good," or mention that as "the best wine," which was harmless or innocent-poculo vini inocentis. The most useful wine-utilissimum vinum-was that which had little strength; the most wholesome wine-saluberrimum vinum-was that which had not been adulterated by the addition of anything to the 'must,' or juice. Pliny expressly says that a good wine was one that was destitute of spirit (lib. Iv. C. 13). It should not be assumed, therefore, that the "good wine" was stronger than the other: it is rather to be presumed it was milder." (From Barnes Note)

"In classical Greek , usage may be cited to show oinos is the designation for the grape itself, the juice within the grape, the fresh pressed juice, and the unintoxicating drinks. A corresponding word in the Hebrew language is yayin. When the Hebrews scholars translated Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek language (known as the Septugaint), they used the Greek word oinos to express the meaning of the word yayin. The word oinos is used in the Septuagint as a generic term for wine-fresh, cooked, fermented juices alike (Cf. Numbers 6:4; Judges 13:4 where "wine" is used for the frappe itself)." (TGOJ)

Aristotle, Pliny, and Nicander spoke of oinos that does not intoxicate. No one should use Jesus' miracle at Cana to justify drinking today unless he can prove absolutely that the wine Jesus made is JUST LIKE the wine he is planning to drink!

Authority to Drink Today's Alcoholic Beverages

Many turn to the passages just sighted (John 2:1-11; 1 Timothy 5:23) as proof text for consuming alcoholic beverages. Friends, the authority for drinking today's beers, wines, and liquors is just not there! I cannot say that it is a sin for alcohol to ever pass one's lips. For if this is true, we can't take Nyquil, or any other medicine that contains alcohol, to help us feel better when suffering from colds or other ailments. Nor could we eat yeasty fruit tarts that are more than a day old, because they contain a certain amount of alcohol. Remember, the Holy Spirit was guiding Paul as he wrote in his letter to Timothy, "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities." And if the wine did not contain alcohol, which would take at least a year for maximum fermentation, it could never reach an alcoholic content above 14 percent (28 proof). You see, there is a limit to the amount of alcohol that can be produced by natural fermentation; God saw to that. But in order to exceed the natural limit, man adds sugar to boost the alcohol content.

Sir Humphrey Davy says of alcohol: "It has never been found ready formed in plants." (Bible Wines by William Patton, pg.92) That's why our liquors have such high alcohol content; it is induced by men. One cannot arrive at 100- or 110-proof alcohol content through natural fermentation. It just doesn't work that way. It's against the laws of nature that God put into motion at creation.

Albert Barnes wrote, "The wine referred to here is doubtless such as was commonly drunk in Palestine. That was just pure juice of the grape. It was not brandied wine, nor drugged wine, nor wine compounded by various substances, such as we drink in this land. The common wine drunk in Palestine was that which was simple juice of the grape. We use the word "wine" now to denote the kind of liquid which passes under that name in this country-always containing a considerable portion of alcohol not only the alcohol produced by fermentation, but alcohol "added" to keep it or make it stronger. But we have no right to take THAT sense of the word, and go with it to the interpretation of the Scriptures. We should endeavor to place ourselves in the exact circumstances of those times, ascertain precisely what idea the word would convey to those who used it then, and apply THAT sense to the word in the interpretation of the Bible; and there is not the slightest evidence that the word so used would have conveyed any idea but that of the pure juice of the grape, nor the slightest circumstance mentioned in this account that would not be fully met by such a supposition." (From Barnes Notes)

Peter said, "For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: (KJV) (1 Peter 4:3) This passage contains two words and a phrase that describe modern drinking practices. All apply to the life style of the old man of sin; that is, one who lived to satisfy the lusts of the flesh. Peter pleads with those who are endeavoring to follow God's will to leave buried the shameful practices of the past (see also Romans 6). The three occurrences we want to examine are: "Excess of wine," "Revellings," and "Banquetings."

"Excess of wine" comes from a compound Greek word, which means drunkenness" (Thayer, pg.442). The idea then is to become intoxicated, inebriated, or drunk with alcoholic wine because one has spent a period of time drinking. God said, "Drunkards shall NOT inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:10)

"Revellings," is used generally of feasts and drinking parties that are practiced till late at night and indulge with revelry" (Thayer, pg.367). This refers to the wild behavior arising from uncontrolled passions or minds incapacitated by strong drink. Trench (226) observes that the term embraces both riot and revelry.

According to Arndt and Gingrich, "Banqueting is a drinking, esp. a drinking party, or a carousal" (pg.702). This refers to social drinking and/or cocktail parties. The idea is to participate in a drinking party, not necessarily to excess, of alcoholic beverages. Such drinking is sinful in God's sight, regardless what society tells us. We MUST obey God rather than man or our own passions (Acts 5:29; Galatians 5:19-25; Colossians 3:5-10).

God condemns unbridled lusts or desires. They are contrary to His will, and offensive in His sight. Those who fail to bridle their passions and lusts will not inherit the kingdom of God. Sadly, they will be lost in Hell.


The God-breathed Scriptures teach us that wine is "a mocker," "bites like a serpent," and "stings like an adder," as "the poison of dragons," "the cruel venom of asps," and is the emblem of the wrath of God Almighty (Proverbs 20:1; 23:32; Deuteronomy 32:33; Jeremiah 25:15). Anyone with common sense can surely see that they are being deceived by the devil himself if they think for one moment that God approves of social drinking or drunkenness.

Resource Material with Abbreviations:
Commentary by Dan King (CJ)
Bible Wines by William Patton (BW)
Alcohol and the Child of God by Jeffery Kingry (AATCOG)
Social Drinking Demythologized by Ron Halbrook (SDD)
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclessiastical Literature by McClintock and Strong, Volume V (COBTAEL)
The Gospel of John by Paul T. Butler (TGOJ)
Flesh and Spirit by Ferrell Jenkins (FAS)
Commentary on 1 Peter by Clinton Hamilton (CP)

Where I thought it was needful, I used abbreviations to cite my source of information. Otherwise, the above works were all consulted for this article.

Brother Henry has done a masterful job of exposing the false teaching used by many in the Lord's church to justify social drinking. Please allow me to add one more thought to this excellent article. What about the Christian's influence and example? How can we honestly believe that participating in social drinking does not destroy our influence and example?

"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:13-16)

How can our lights shine and glorify the Lord when we are consuming a substance that can take control of our lives, kill our brain cells, and fog our ability to reason and judge? During my tenure in Las Vegas, a brother told me he could go into a bar after work, drink a cold beer with a co-worker, and discuss with him the need for salvation in his life. I find this unbelievable! Yes, we must go into the world to reach the lost, but we can't join in their sin and then expect to convert them. How can we teach another person to be sober-minded (serious and clear-thinking) while both of us are drinking a beverage that will destroy our ability to be sober? Two problems exist:

Could it be that we are not more successful in converting the lost because we talk like them, think like them, and participate in the same activities they do? We have all witnessed personally the destruction, despair, misery, heartache, and eventual death caused by alcohol addiction. I know some believe it's okay to drink in moderation. A person who never takes the first drink cannot become addicted. Are you willing to take your first social drink and thereby encourage another brother, who may not be able to control his drinking, to start? (KMG)