1. The purpose here clearly is medicinal. Timothy was obviously not in full health. In the absence of more advanced medications, this command is certainly understandable. Furthermore, in the case of no superior medication, wine might be justified as medication, but only if taken as “a little wine.”
  2. Furthermore, the clear case of religious abstinence from wine, i.e., total abstinence, is often overlooked. Timothy is drinking only water. Then Paul said, you need the wine for medical purposes. What is to be said of the reason for Timothy’s abstinence to this point?

Some Added Observations

-- In the accounts of the Lord’s Supper in the Gospels and in 1 Corinthians, the word wine (oinos) is mysteriously absent. The disciples took “the cup” and drank the “fruit of the vine.” The absence of the term oinos is curious, to say the least.

-- Wine has one, unqualified, good use in Scripture and that is as a metaphor for the wrath of God. This metaphor is utilized in both Old and New Testaments (see Revelation 19:15). The oinos of God’s wrath is unmixed or undiluted, fresh from the wine press, unhindered by fermentation of any kind. Hence, purity of judgment is emphasized.

-- The bishop (pastor) is to be free from wine (1 Timothy 3:3). One would presume that this admonition, at least in part, is for an example. If so, here again the ideal would be total abstinence for all who make up the body of Christ, i.e., the church.

-- For the believer to say, “Let me get as close to sin as I can without being guilty,” indicates a strange mentality indeed! The object should rather be to stay as far away as one can from even the appearance of evil, and as close to Christ as possible (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

The following conclusions may be safely drawn:

  1. Many of the most excruciating and debilitating events of history are associated with wine. The Bible has almost no good word about it and, in fact, usually associates tragedy and sin with the use of wine. For example, after a life of exemplary behavior, Noah became a stumbling block to his own children, necessitating a curse on his grandson, as a result of wine. This first mention of wine in Scripture is bad.
  2. To whatever extent wine was used by Jesus, clearly it was in small quantities and either at meals or for medicinal purposes. Certainly no tragic industry was supported by the selling and buying of wine. This latter point is crucial for the believer. A believer in no way can justify drinking if thereby he is contributing to the sustenance of an industry responsible for two-thirds of the violent deaths, two-fifths of all divorces, one-third of all crime, and untold millions of dollars in damage to private property. Such would violate all laws in the Bible, and especially the Corinthian principles outlined below:

    (a) The effect of your choices and actions on others.

    “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:13).

    (b) The effect of your choices and actions on you.

    “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful: all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

    (c) The effect of your choices and actions on the kingdom of God.

    “Therefore, whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Let us return to the three categories -- the prohibited, the acceptable and God’s ideal. God originally intended monogamy. For a while He tolerated polygamy, even working mightily through such men as Solomon and Abraham despite their polygamous marriages. But with the final revelation of God in Christ, polygamy was once again clearly prohibited. The noticeable absence of any mention of wine prior to Noah might indicates that men, in their pristine state, were not drawn to wine. In any case, the fuller revelation in Christ, plus the development of superior medications and purer drinking substances, render the whole subject passé for the believer.

Even if a Christian wished to demur from the idea that to take a drink is sin, strict biblical evidence establishes that imbibing strong drink is not God’s ideal for the believer. The question then becomes: Can it be anything less than sin for a believer who is genuinely grateful for the atoning power of Christ in his life to pursue anything other than the highest -- God’s ideal -- the best that he can be for Christ?

Paige Patterson is president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas
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