A man asked me the following question who lives in Africa.


1 Timothy 3:8-13 says that the deacons are not to be given to much wine, does this mean that they can drink little wine without getting drunk, or are they not permitted to drink alcohol at all?


The first thing we must realize is that the meanings of words change through out time. When we think of wine, we think of an intoxicating drink. If you look up wine in a modern day dictionary it will define it as a fermented drink. But, the further you go back in time you will find that the word wine was defined as having two meaning.


1. It was simply fruit of the grape.

2. It was intoxicating.


In the Bible, the Greek Word for wine (oinos) simply means fruit of the vine and has a dual meaning. It could mean grape juice or intoxicating wine. The same thing is true for the word wine in the Hebrew language. Most of the time, we can determine from the context of the verse if the wine being spoken of is mere grape juice or intoxicating wine. A  NT example of wine not being intoxicating is found in:


Matthew 9:17 "Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."


New wine is freshly squeezed grape juice.


An OT example that clearly shows the wine being fermented comes from:


Genesis 9:21 Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent.


Then we have some verses where you cannot tell whether it is referring to fermented or unfermented such as:


1 Timothy 5:23 No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities. 


There is no way of knowing from this context if he was referring to intoxicating or non-intoxication wine because grape juice fermented or unfermented is good for the stomach.


Atheneaus, the Grammarian (200AD) in his book the Banquet recommends for the dyspeptic (someone with digestive problems) “let him take sweet wine, either mixed with water or warmed.. As being good for the stomach, for sweet wine does not make the head heavy”. Notice this was a wine that did not make one heavy headed but was good for the stomach. Welchs also has a pamphlet out that tell how grape juice is good for ailments and one of those listed is stomach problems. Even if Paul was referring to intoxicating wine you will notice that he recommended a little for medicinal purposes. This principle would apply to some of the prescription drugs we take, which can be abused, but taken in the right amount helps our ailments. Medicine like Nyquil has some alcohol in it and it certainly would not be wrong to use this medicine for medicinal purposes.


From our verse (1 Tim. 5:23), it is implied that as Timothy was out setting a good example for those around him that he abstained from any form of wine so that no one could accuse him of being drunk or getting drunk.


As we think about what Paul told the deacons in 1 Tim. 3:8, we must consider what his words would have meant to those in the first century. When we fail to do that and we apply the meaning of words as we use them today, and we look at thing through 21 century eyes it can cause us to arrive at the wrong conclusion.


As I already pointed out the word wine can mean intoxicating or non-intoxicating. Wine was a common drink in the Ancient World. Some have a false idea that they did not have a way to keep their wine from fermenting, but that is not true.


Some of them used filters that would keep the wine from fermenting very much. As the early writer Pliny said:


“Wines are most beneficial when all their potency has been overcome by the strainer.”


They could also boil the grapes, which would remove any chance of fermentation. This was probably one the best methods they used during the first century times. 


One more method they used was by keeping the juice cooled below 40 degrees by storing the juice in cool water. This would also keep air from getting to the juice, which also plays its part in fermentation. Again Pliny said:


“As  soon as the must is taken from the vat and put into casks, they plunge the cask in water till midwinter passes and regular cold whether sets in.”


While they did have several ways to preserve the grape juice from becoming intoxicating some of it was fermented, but nothing to the degree of what we have today. On top of the wine being lightly fermented, they also diluted the wine with water during that time.


R.L. Harris wrote:


“All the wine was light wine, i.e. not fortified with extra alcohol. Concentrated alcohol was only known in the Middle Ages when the Arabs invented distillation (‘alcohol’ is an Arabic word) so what is not called liquor or strong drink (i.e., whiskey, gin, etc.) and the twenty percent fortified wines were unknown in Bible times.”


He also says:


“The strength of the natural wines is limited by two factors. The percentage of alcohol will be half of the percentage of the sugar is the juice. And if alcoholic content is much above 10 or 11 percent, the yeast cells are killed and the fermentation ceases. Probably ancient wines were 7 to 10 percent … To avoid the sin of drunkenness, mingling of wine with water was practiced. The dilution was specified by the Rabbis in the N.T. times for the wine then customary at Passover.”


Plato wrote:


“Wine was always drunk diluted, and to drink it unmixed was looked on as

barbarism” (Living Soberly, Righteously And Godly p. 20).


Other sources suggest that they would mix six part water with one part wine.


One would have to consume large quantities of watered down wine in order to start becoming intoxicating. So, Paul is not in anyway teaching us that social drinking is acceptable, but this was simply a warning to the deacons to not drink much wine or make it a habit because it could cause them to lose their senses if it was fermented. I want to make it clear this decree was not saying it is ok to drink intoxicating drink as long as you do not get drunk, it was a decree to not have them even drink much fresh grape juice just in case it might be fermented and they not know it. Christian today should not even touch the stuff because nothing ever good comes from it.


John Waddy writes:


“Few things have wreaked as much havoc on personal lives, families, and society as has the beverage alcohol. 39 % of all traffic fatalities involve drinking drivers (over 25,000 annually). Over 50 % of criminal activity involves the use of alcohol. Most domestic violence involves alcohol. 25 % of all divorces can be blamed on alcohol. Add to the above the ravaged lives of those who become addicted to alcohol and you begin to see the destructive nature of this product. ‘Alcohol constitutes the country’s greatest mental health problems. It accounts for about 25 % of the patients in mental hospitals’ (Dr. Karl Menninger).”


Before a deacon or anyone chooses to take one sip of alcohol for social reasons when they have other things they could drink, they should consider what the rest of the Bible says about drinking fermented wine, which would include any intoxicating drink,  


Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise.  


Proverbs 23:20  Do not mix with winebibbers,


Proverbs 23:29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?  30 Those who linger long at the wine, Those who go in search of mixed wine.  31 Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly;  32 At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper.  33 Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things.  34 Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, Or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying:  35 "They have struck me, but I was not hurt; They have beaten me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?" 


Isaiah 5:11  Woe to those who rise early in the morning, That they may follow intoxicating drink; Who continue until night, till wine inflames them!


Isaiah 5:22 Woe to men mighty at drinking wine, Woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink,


Habakkuk 2:15 " Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, Pressing him to your bottle, Even to make him drunk, That you may look on his nakedness! 


Ephesians 5:18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,


This literally means “do not become drunk” in other words do not even start the process of becoming intoxicated by taking the first sip.


1 Thessalonians 5:6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.  7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night.


Sober can mean: to drink no wine” (LSJ) and it can mean: “Being free from every form of mental and spiritual excess and confusion be self-controlled, be clear-headed, be self-possessed.” No one can be sober in their mind with intoxicating drink in them. The more intoxicated one becomes the less sober minded they become.


1 Peter 4:3 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles -- when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.  4 In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.


Notice we are not to be part of drinking parties, which again rules out social drinking. We must also consider the influence we are being on others:


Romans 14:21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.


Some will also use this verse to say, “yes, you should not drink alcohol around the spiritual weak, but there is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol around those who are not spiritual weak or by yourself.


Regarding this thought please consider what Robert Taylor say about this:


    "Proponents of the acceptability of so-called social or moderate imbibing of alcoholic beverages (in reality nothing is more anti-social and moderation may only be used properly to refer to what is right in and of itself and drinking to ANY degree, is wrong per se) like to OVERPARK at this verse.  They smugly and sneeringly contend that social drinking is simply an indifferent matter and is neither right nor wrong as long as other people are not harmed by their practices.  However, alcoholic beverages do not fit matters of indifference.  They are wrong per se -- in large amounts, in controlled amounts, in minute amounts ...  Passages in the New Testament, other than Rom. 14:21, which prohibit alcoholic consumption as a beverage, are 1 Thess. 5:22; 1 Peter 2:11; 4:3, 4.  Some might be quick to say, "But Peter said, `excess of wine' and social drinking is not excess!"  Peter also said, "excess of riot."  Would moderate rioting be all right?  Would just a little rioting be all right? Would moderate rioting be acceptable to society?  Brother J. D. Tant, colorful preacher of the past, was once asked if he thought it all right to drink a little.  He answered that he thought such was all right.  But he was quick to say that he thought a little adultery, a little lying, a little murdering, a little stealing, etc., would be all right also.  He reduced the matter to total absurdity.  He knew a little drinking was wrong."


    "Meats and wine are obviously in the same category here.  Meats are indifferent; wine is indifferent.  But the wine could not be a matter of indifference if alcoholic in content.  Therefore it must be unfermented wine about which the apostle made allusion here -- not the hard stuff that turns men into monsters and women into harlots."


    Roy C. Deaver made the following observations on this verse:


    "I do not accept the view (and I do reject the view) that the word "wine" in this passage refers to intoxicants, and that Paul therefore classes the drinking of intoxicants within the realm of indifference.  The word "wine" here is used with the word "meats" (flesh) and must refer to something which stands before God as meat stands.  I cannot accept the notion that inspiration would categorize intoxicants with meats.  Further, the word "wine" ([@oinos]) does not necessarily mean intoxicant.  It may refer to the juice freshly squeezed from the grapes.  It may refer to the juice of the grape while it is still in the grape.  This is the word used in John 2, and I do not believe for a moment that the Lord made something intoxicating…  Millions of broken homes, destitute children, murders on highways, cases of loss of influence for good, and countless other tragedies all declare that the drinking of intoxicants is not a matter of indifference.  A Christian will have nothing to do with drinking intoxicants.  Cf. 1 Pet. 2:11."


We are also taught to stay away from fleshly lust that war against the soul:


1 Peter 2:11  Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,


One who begins to drink alcohol begins to numb their senses and it makes indulging in fleshly lust much easier.


“The higher qualities of the mind are the very first to be rubbed out by alcohol. The delicate capacities of intellectual decisions and choice and discretion and willpower are those faculties which are first dulled and then wiped out by alcohol …” (The Problem: Alcohol-Narcotics, p. 14).


John Waddy writes:


“While I have never known a Christian who made better by drinking, I have known several who have lost their good influence and interest in heavenly things because of alcohol. Christian who do not drink socially never have to apologize for doing so. I have never met a person who regretted not using the beverage alcohol but I have met many who rued the day they took their first drink. About 10 % of those who start drinking become problem drinkers. Most Christians live lives of total abstinence. There example I heartily recommend to you.”


As John said, nothing good comes from drinking alcohol and there is no good reason for us to do so today. So, let us not use passages such as 1 Tim. 3:8 to justify social drinking. Instead, let us view the meaning of that passage through 1st century eyes and see it as warning to them to abstain from much wine so they would not even start becoming intoxicated. There is simply no comparison to the strength of the wine they had back then compared to the strength of our alcoholic beverages today. We need to recognize the evil that alcohol can cause and stay far away from it. As Paul said:


1 Thessalonians 5:22  Abstain from every form of evil.


I would like to close this lesson with these final remarks from Dub McClish:


The justification for "social drinking" that many brethren (even elders and preachers) seek on the basis of this qualification for deacons is non-existent. Who is going to decide how "much" it takes to equal "much wine'? The drinker himself cannot do so, for by the second or third drink his judgment is impaired by alcohol.


If "not given to much wine" means that it is all right to drink moderately, consistency would demand that "Be not over much wicked" (Eccl. 7:17) grants permission to be somewhat wicked. Likewise, when Paul ordered, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body" (Rom. 6:12), one may as well argue he was actually giving license to sin as long as one does not completely yield to it. Would it be all right to steal or commit fornication "moderately" as long as one did not become addicted to those practices? Such is the "reasoning" of those who would defend drinking in any amount from I Timothy 3:8.

Further, if this passage authorizes "moderate" drinking (I deny that there is such a thing), it does not merely justify moderate consumption, but moderate addiction! Notice: If "not given (addicted) to much wine" means that one can drink some, it also means that one can be addicted to some wine. This obviously proves too much and therefore proves nothing.


Any interpretation of this passage which makes it contradict many Scriptures that elsewhere condemn strong drink (Prov. 20:1), those who drink it (I Pet. 4:3), and those who encourage others to drink it (Hab. 2:15-16) is obviously a false interpretation. There is no Scriptural authorization here for consumption of any amount of alcohol as a beverage for a deacon or any other Christian.