II.3. Does the Bible Teach Temperance; or, Abstinence?


Question: Does the Bible Teach Abstinence; or Temperance?

Answer: The Bible Teaches Abstinence; Not Temperance!

God’s Word does not contradict itself.  It does not tell us not to drink fermented wine in one part of the Bible; and in another part only to drink a little alcohol. Here are three types of New Testament references that people think are saying it is all right to drink a little fermented wine, beer, etc.

Excuses! Excuses!

Excuse 1.  Ephesians 5:18, where the word "excess" is used.

 "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;" Ephesians 5:18

This is not saying it is OK to drink a little. It is pointing out that when you are drunk, you are "controlled by" the alcohol. "Excess" means "rioting," which goes right along with drunkenness. (Titus 1:6; Romans 13:13). It is urging Christians to be "filled with," meaning "controlled by" the Holy Spirit.

Excuse 2.  In 1 Timothy 3:2,3 and Titus 1:7, we have the phrase, "not given to wine."  This is taken by some to mean, "not to be addicted" to alcohol. But in reality the Greek word used here is, "mee-paroinon," and literally means, "not at, by near, or with wine (alcohol)." This is total abstinence! In other words, do not get anywhere near the stuff!

Excuse 3. 1 Timothy 3:8 and Titus 2:3…"not given to much wine."  In order to understand these verses we will need to understand a popular vice of that time. That was to drink a lot of unfermented wine. They used various methods to promote thirst. This is the sin of "gluttony."

These drinkers might continue drinking all night at their feasts, using the vomiteurs, similar to the Bacchanalian feasts of the Romans. Excessive drinking, even of non-alcoholic drinks, corresponded to gluttony--the excessive use of food. (Proverbs 23:20) The deacons, or any Christian, should not participate in this vice. It would be similar in our day to "bulimia" (eating or drinking to the point of being gorged and then vomiting). This is unbecoming behavior for a Christian in the First Century; or the Twenty-First Century!

Excuse 4.  John 2:1-11. What our Lord did at the wedding in Cana, was a miracle; wherein He created in a few seconds, from the life-giving water, fresh grape juice.  This is just the same way as when water sinks into the soil, is drawn up through the root to the vine; then to the branches, where the grape clusters form from which we get the "fruit of the vine" or grape juice. The miracle is...our Lord did this in an instant of time!

Why? This was not as if Christ was saying, "Hello, World, I Am Here! My ministry has begun," type of miracle. It was more or less "semi-private," and perfect for a wedding.  As a result of this miracle, the faith of His first disciples was strengthened, and in manifesting His glory, He showed He was God in Human flesh, more than just a mere man. The miracles were always to validate His message.

"And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: (30) But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." John 20:30-31

"This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him." John 2:11

Our Lord would not contradict Scripture.

  1.  Alcohol is as the bite of a deadly snake.

"Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder (tzephoni)."  Proverbs 23:31-32

"This may have been the yellow viper, the Daboia xanthina, the largest and most dangerous of the vipers of Israel." (Easton's Bible Dictionary - pictured below )


2. The Bible says fermented wine is "poison" and the "venom" of snakes.

 "Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps (peten, pronounced pehthen)." - Deuteronomy 32:33

"It was probably the Egyptian cobra (Naja haje), which was very poisonous" (Easton's Bible Dictionary- pictured below).


This verse is even stronger. It does not say "like them." It says "is them."

Note: Isn't it interesting that, when withdrawing from alcohol, a condition known as Delirium Tremens, or the DTs occurs; and  includes intense perceptual disturbance such as visions of insects, snakes, or rats.

Although it is certainly no laughing matter, seeing snakes during Delirium Tremens occurs with enough frequency to generate an anecdote on the matter.

 "An inquisitive old broker noticed a queer bundle upon the lap of a man sitting opposite him in the horse-car. He looked at the bundle, in wonder as to what it might contain, for some minutes; finally, overmastered by curiosity, he inquired:— “Excuse me, sir; but would you mind telling me what is in that extraordinary bundle?” “Certainly, a mongoose,” replied the man. “Ah, indeed!” replied the broker, with unslacked curiosity. “But what is a mongoose, pray?” “Something to kill snakes with.”  “But why do you wish to kill snakes with a mongoose?” asked the broker. “My brother has the delirium tremens and sees snakes all the time. I am going to fix ’em.” “But, my dear sir, the snakes which your brother sees in his delirium are not real snakes, but the figments of his diseased imagination, — not real snakes sir!” “Well! this is not a real mongoose.”  (www.worldwidewords.org)

However, let me quickly say again, this is NO laughing matter! Did you know that Delirium Tremens is one of the ways Alcoholism can kill you?

For an illustration of  "the poison of dragons, "one immediately thinks of the Komodo Dragon, whose bite is completely septic. All they do is bite their intended victim somewhere on the hindquarters; then, simply follow them until they collapse from the infection coursing through their bloodstream. Of course, "chow time" is not a pretty picture, as these ferocious beasts do not wait until death occurs. Can we truly say the end-result of alcoholism is any different?


3. Alcohol is a toxic, mind-altering drug.

"Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived (had their mind altered) thereby is not wise." (Proverbs  20:1)

  1. The word "raging" means "to make a loud sound  (like English “hum”); by implication to be in great commotion or tumult, to rage, war, moan, clamor:- Strong's  Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. This certainly describes many drunks I have known; which I will not elaborate upon!
  2. Toxicity: Alcohol causes ill effects on the digestive, muscular, skeletal, nervous and circulatory systems. It causes cirrhosis of the liver, jaundice, pancreatitis, and blackouts along with many other sicknesses.

Please note that the snake venoms described in Scripture are of both venom categories: neurotoxin, "pehthen," or Cobra; and hemotoxin, "tzephoni," or "Yellow Viper." In the old-time western movies, when the villain "bellied up to the bar"; and the bar tender said, "Name your poison, Boys," he wasn't kidding!

We need to trust God's Word, which does not lie. The misunderstanding about the word "wine" in the Bible is with us; because in our culture all wine is fermented, but not so in the Bible. We determine what beverage is meant by the context.

Excuse 5.  1 Timothy 5:22,23.  Some people also think the Bible encourages drinking of a little alcohol because Paul told Timothy, "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your often infirmities." Paul was telling Timothy to drink grape juice, for medicinal purposes. Remember the Bible does not use the word "grape juice," but always the word "wine" which can be either fermented or unfermented depending on the context.


News Flash! Grapes and Grape Juice Are Good for You! See 1 Timothy 5:22,23

Health Benefits:  ...Red grape juice,... has high concentration of a compound called resveratrol, which is not found in white wine, mainly because of how the wine is made. This compound has anti-aging, anti-cancer, anti-inflammation and anti-viral properties. Grape seeds contain rich flavonoids that are powerful in fighting and protecting against many diseases. When juicing grapes, juice the seeds and all.

Nutritional Benefits:  Although most variety of grapes are very sweet, its glycemic index is still at a very safe level of 50. In fact, grape juice is an excellent stimulator of your body metabolism in helping to burn excess food and waste. It supplies heat and energy to the body in a short space of time after drinking.

Here are some of the many health benefits of grapes or their juice:

  • Anti-coagulant: The juice from this tiny fruit can help prevent blood clotting and in the process, help improve blood circulation which would generally improve on overall health.
  • Anti-inflammation: The anti-inflammatory agents in grapes greatly help reduce the risks of inflammatory problems like rheumatism, gout and asthma.
  • Atherosclerosis: Resveratrol in grapes is a good scrubber of arterial deposits, thus it effectively helps reduce the risk, or even reverse atherosclerosis.
  • Bladder: Highly cleansing to the bladder, cleaning out the stones and improving urination, improves bile flow and elimination of waste materials.
  • Cancer: The rich and high content of anti-oxidants  are superb for the prevention of cancer.
  • Constipation: Grape juice is a mild laxative and helps clear up the bowels. Take about 200 ml twice daily for chronic constipation.
  • Eyes: The flavonol compounds in grape seeds are effective for the treatment of night blindness, retinal disorders and vision improvement.
  • Fever: Drink grape juice consistently to reduce fever. It would also help relieve fatigue and provide energy to the body.
  • Heart disease: Grapes are beneficial in toning up the heart, reduce heart pains, and can normalize heart palpitations. To enjoy the benefits, go on a grape diet for a few days.
  • Indigestion: A gentle and natural home remedy for indigestion.
  • Mouth and throat infection: Drink juice of unripe grapes to help clear infections in the mouth and throat.
  • Migraine: Certain compounds in grapes make this miracle juice powerfully effective in relieving headaches and migraine.
  • Kidney: Grape juice is diuretic and is excellent for cleaning out the kidney and may help remedy kidney stones.
  • Liver: The abundance of minerals in grapes stimulate the cleansing activity in liver, helps to detoxify.
  • Skin: The highly cleansing properties of grape juice and the high vitamin C content is very beneficial for the skin and helps reduce acne.

Caution: Individuals with a medical history of calcium oxalate kidney stones should avoid the "Concord" variety of grapes that contain high levels of oxalates.

Grapes are one of the few fruits which have glucose, the fast releasing sugar, making it a high glycemic index food. Still drink grape juice for its numerous health benefits, but dilute it with water or other less sweet juices. If you are normally healthy, drinking grape juice should not pose any problem. (www.deltapacking.com)


Dr. Paul's Prescription:

Conclusion: Grape juice is good for you.

That is why, in 1 Timothy 5:22,23, the Apostle Paul was recommending either grape juice; as in the New Testament, all were referred to by the generic word "oinos"; or "wine." What Paul was recommending was definitely not fermented wine; as revealed by the context of the phrase he preceded it with...

...neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep thyself pure. (5:22)

What Paul was recommending for Timothy was not a sin, and would be "pure," not an alcoholic beverage, or "unclean," as forbidden in Leviticus 10:8-10.

Drink no longer water (only), but use a little wine (oinos) for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities. (5:23)

"And the Lord spake unto Aaron, saying, (8) Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations: (9) And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;" - Leviticus 10:8-10

Recommended Reading:  Bible Wines or Laws of Fermentation and Wines of the Ancients, by William Patton. Books can be purchased through the Publications Ministry of Tabernacle Baptist Church. To order, contact us by phone 806.744.4443 or by e-mail.  Tabernacle Baptist Church ♦ 1911 34th Street ♦ Lubbock Texas 79411 ♦


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