Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Little Wine

1 Timothy 5:23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)

23 Μηκέτι ὑδροπότει, ἀλλὰ οἴνῳ ὀλίγῳ χρῶ διὰ τὸν στόμαχον καὶ τὰς πυκνάς σου ἀσθενείας.

This is one of those verses that seems to vex a number of people.  How can we be teetotalers if Paul tells Timothy to οἴνῳ ὀλίγῳ χρῶ?  He's not saying that Timothy should be getting drunk, but that a little wine is good for his stomach.  What to do with this?

One explanation I've heard is that we should translate οἴνῳ as grape juice here.  However, I looked at 3 lexicons and they all translate it as "wine."  Friberg writes, "iterally, of the juice of grapes, usually fermented."  So it is remotely possible that Paul could be telling Timothy to drink grape juice and not fermented wine.  The person who gave me this theory also said that the admonitions not to drink much wine are about fermented juice, but that Jesus actually just made grape juice.  The argument from John 2 is untenable because of the word μεθυσθῶσιν in verse 10 which refers to getting drunk.

Another explanation is a bit more nuanced.  It says that this actually defends abstaining from wine because that's what Timothy was doing.  Timothy was so concerned about his purity that he did not drink wine and Paul had to encourage him to do so.  That makes a certain amount of sense.

However, I think that the most reasonable way to read this is that Paul told Timothy to drink wine and, therefore, wine is not a bad thing by itself.  The abuse of it certainly is, but the wine is not the problem.  As Christians we can enjoy alcohol in moderation.  This is not something that we flaunt in front of others, particularly those who cannot partake in good conscience.

My goal with this as with any other passage is to make a reasonable exegesis not bound by cultural presuppositions.  I hope that I have accomplished that here.

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