One of the qualifications of an overseer is “not given to wine” (NKJV), “not addicted to wine” (NASB), “not a drunkard” (ESV) (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7). The word Paul uses is pároinos (from para [near, beside] and oinos [wine]), which means pertaining to wine; given to wine, prone to intemperance, drunken.1
For a man to qualify as a deacon he is “not given to much wine” (NKJV), “not addicted to much wine” (ESV) (1 Tim. 3:8). The operable word here is proséchō, meaning to bring near to, be attentive, apply oneself to, be given or addicted to.2 A comparable admonition is stated in Titus 2:3 concerning older women, who are “not given to much wine” (NKJV), “not enslaved to much wine” (NASB), “not … slaves to much wine” (ESV). The verb doulóō simply means to be enslaved or in bondage.
In the very same epistles Paul gives stern warnings against being proséchō [given to] the leavening influence of false teachers and false doctrines (1 Tim. 1:4; 4:1; Tit. 1:14; cf. Matt. 7:15; 16:6, 11), yet few would suggest that moderate involvement with these is being encouraged. The Bible also alludes to the non-Christian life as being doulóō [enslaved] under the sinful elements of the world (Gal. 4:3) and doulóō [enslaved] to corruption or depravity (2 Pet. 2:19), but does this implicitly support a moderate amount of worldliness and depravity in a person’s life?
The present controversy is over Paul’s use of the word “much” [polus]. Some have inferred from these passages that deacons, older women, and all other Christians are given permission to drink alcoholic beverages in moderation as long as “much” is not consumed at one time. But is this inference necessary or even valid? Is it reasonable to conclude that a Christian must not be addicted or enslaved to much wine, but to be addicted or enslaved to a moderate amount of wine is permissible? The word “much” is an appropriate descriptive term in the context of addiction, obsession, or distraction, but it does not automatically suggest the acceptability of a little.3
Later Paul mentions Alexander who had done him much [polus] harm (2 Tim. 4:14). Is it reasonable to suggest that Alexander would have been justified in only doing a little harm to Paul? When the LORD told Israel that their sins could not be washed away with much soap (Jer. 2:22), would it be valid to infer that they could have been spiritually cleansed with a moderate amount of soap? When the Bible says that a mighty man is not delivered by much strength (Psa. 33:16), does this imply that he is delivered by a little strength? Was Ahab exonerated because he only served Baal a little in comparison to Jehu who served him much (2 Kings 10:18)? Since Manasseh was condemned for shedding much innocent blood (2 Kings 21:16), would it have been okay for him to shed a moderate amount of innocent blood? Manasseh also did much evil in the sight of the LORD (2 Chron. 33:6), but would a smaller amount of evil have been permissible?4
The bottom line is, what is the intent of the respective passages? A man addicted to or distracted by much wine is not to be a public servant in the church, and a woman enslaved to much wine cannot be a teacher of good things. Surely it was not Paul’s purpose in 1 Tim. 3:3, 8 and Titus 1:7; 2:2 to legitimize alcohol consumption, and to appeal to these prohibitions in an attempt to draw out a positive affirmation is to go beyond what the texts actually say.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 H. K Moulton, Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised 310. Some have suggested that it might be permissible for an overseer to drink wine moderately as long as he is not addicted to it. However, he is also required to be temperate (1 Tim. 3:2), something expected of other Christians as well (1 Tim. 3:11; Tit. 2:2). This word is translated from nēphalios, which means temperate in the use of alcoholic beverages, sober, clear-headed, self controlled” (BAGD 538); … abstinent in respect to wine … (H. K. Moulton 277). Josephus (Antiquities 3,12,2) and Philo (De Specialibus Legibus 4,183) used this word for abstaining from wine entirely. Since elders are to be examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:3) and have a good testimony among those who are outside (1 Tim. 3:7), surely this would be sufficient reason for total abstinence. Furthermore, Christians are called upon to be sober or watchful [nēphō] (1 Thess. 5:6, 8; 2 Tim. 4:5; 1 Pet. 1:13; 4:7; 5:8), which literally means to abstain from wine (The New Englishmans Greek Concordance and Lexicon 592); to be free from the influence of intoxicants (Vines Expository Dictionary of NT Words 1067).
2 H. K. Moulton, Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised 349.
3 If cocaine had been a problem in the first century and Paul had made similar statements concerning it, would it be sensible to assume that a casual or recreational use of this drug is proper for the child of God?
4 An additional consideration is that Paul may have been warning against the prevalent vice of his day of drinking excessive amounts of unfermented oinos – a vice corresponding to gluttony. In Smith’s Greek and Roman Antiquities, it is stated: “The use of the saccus (filter), it was believed, diminished the strength of the liquor. For this reason it was employed by the dissipated in order that they might be able to swallow a greater quantity without becoming intoxicated” (cf. Patton, Bible Wines 30). Pliny [b. AD 61] affirms that various incentives were practiced to increase thirst and that wines were filtered to break their spirit so that more could be consumed (ibid.).
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