Someone has posed to me that 'sober' in 1 Th 5:6-8 is nephomen, root nepho, which they say means to be without ANY alcohol. They are using this verse to base their understanding that any alcohol is sinful, and interpreting that John 2:1-11 and Mat 11:19 could not indicate that Jesus ever drank wine with alcohol, nor provided an alcoholic beverage via miracle, because that would have been sin.

Is nephomen in 1 Th 5:6-8 really indicating a complete absence of any alcohol?



to be sober, to abstain from wine

NAS Exaustive Concordance:

to be sober, to abstain from wine


to be sober; in the N. T. everywhere tropically, to be calm and collected in     spirit; to be temperate, dispassionate, 

HELPS Word-studies:

nḗphō – properly, to be sober (not drunk), not intoxicated; (figuratively) free from illusion, i.e. from the intoxicating influences of sin (like the impact of selfish passion, greed, etc.).

/nḗphō ("be sober, unintoxicated") refers to having presence of mind (clear judgment), enabling someone to be temperate (self-controlled). 3525 /nḗphō ("uninfluenced by intoxicants") means to have "one's wits (faculties) about them," which is the opposite of being irrational.
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6 Answers 6


νήφωμεν does not refer exclusively to abstention from alcohol any more than the English word "sober" does.

Despite the reference to "the drunken" (οἱ μεθυσκόμενοι) in v. 7, νήφωμεν really doesn't relate to being "sober" in the sense of not being drunk with alcohol in this context. It really relates more to self-control, watchfulness, and dispassion. Being moderate in drink is an exercise in soberness, but it is not in itself soberness. Reading a meaning like "completely abstain from alcohol" is really stretching the text.

This is also true of the English word "sober", which is only very narrowly defined as abstaining from alcohol. The definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary are:



a. Moderate, temperate, avoiding excess, in respect of the use of food and drink; not given to the indulgence of appetite.

b. Of diet, etc.: Moderate, temperate; characterized by the absence of excess or indulgence.

c. Similarly of conduct, inclination, etc.


a. Not addicted to the use of strong drink; habitually temperate in, or abstaining from, the use of alcoholic liquor; abstemious.

b. Of things: Not intoxicating.


a. Free from the influence of intoxicating liquor; not intoxicated; not drunk. Also fig.



a. Of demeanour, speech, etc.: Grave, serious, solemn; indicating or implying a serious mind or purpose.

b. In the phrases in sober earnest or †in sober sadness.


a. Quiet or sedate in demeanour; of grave, dignified, or discreet deportment; serious or staid in character or conduct.

b. Of bearing, movement, etc.: Showing no trace of haste, impatience, or the like.


a. Of natural forces (†animals), etc.: Quiet, gentle, peaceful.

b. Of actions: Free from harshness or violence.


a. Of living, etc.: Characterized by temperance, moderation, or seriousness.

b. Of a book: Serious, moral.


a. Of a temperate or moderate disposition; not readily excited or carried away; of a calm, dispassionate judgement.

b. Not desirous of great things or high estate; humble, unambitious.


a. Of colour, dress, etc.: Subdued in tone; not glaring, gay, or showy; neutral-tinted.

b. Unexciting or uneventful; dull.


a. Free from extravagance or excess.

b. Moderate, sensible; free from exaggeration; not fanciful or imaginative.

  1. Guided by sound reason; sane, rational:

a. Of persons. Obs.

b. Of the mind, discourse, etc.


  1. a. Of things: Small, insignificant, slight; paltry, trifling, poor. Chiefly Sc. ? Obs.

b. Moderate or few in number. Obs.

  1. Sc. Of persons: a. Of low degree; humble, mean; of little importance or dignity. Obs.

b. Of little use or worth.

c. In poor health; not very well.

The verb νήφω (nēphō) appears in Paul's and Peter's Epistles and nowhere else in the Bible (including the Greek Septuagint). In addition to the verses in 1 Thessalonians:

2 Timothy 4:5

σὺ δὲ νῆφε ἐν πᾶσι, κακοπάθησον, ἔργον ποίησον εὐαγγελιστοῦ, τὴν διακονίαν σου πληροφόρησον.

But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

1 Peter 1:13

Διὸ ἀναζωσάμενοι τὰς ὀσφύας τῆς διανοίας ὑμῶν, νήφοντες, τελείως ἐλπίσατε ἐπὶ τὴν φερομένην ὑμῖν χάριν ἐν ἀποκαλύψει Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ

1 Peter 4:7

Πάντων δὲ τὸ τέλος ἤγγικε. σωφρονήσατε οὖν καὶ νήψατε εἰς τὰς προσευχάς·

But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.

1 Peter 5:8

νήψατε, γρηγορήσατε· ὁ ἀντίδικος ὑμῶν διάβολος ὡς λέων ὠρυόμενος περιπατεῖ ζητῶν τίνα καταπίῃ.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour

The claim that consumption of alcohol is sinful has no solid basis in Scripture. Psalm 104 teaches that God gave wine, not grape juice, to gladden the hearts of men. Similarly, the account of the wedding at Cana would be absurd if written:

When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made grape juice, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good grape juice; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good grape juice until now.


My Greek is rusty but here the word has multiple meanings, it doesn't strictly refer just to alcohol, it also means having a clear mind. In this sense it could mean one should be meditative.

There isn't any real evidence that it means abstinence, for which there is a Greek word. If they meant abstinence, then perhaps they should have said so (of course, abstinence, isn't in itself specific - abstain from what?)

Also, from a linguistic sense, just because the root of a word means something (sober), doesn't mean that the form of word with it's conjugations prefixes suffixes etc. means it is an absolute. The declension -men is more likely to adjust the meaning of nhfw- in terms of it's place in time ie was sober will be sober to be sober shall be sober etc.

To follow your colleagues logic any word with 'alcohol' in it could never have the meaning non-alcoholic.

This is all very different to 'should abstain from alcohol at all times and places'.

This page gives a break down of where the same root is used throughout the bible and will help to find some meaning to how the word could be interpreted. http://biblehub.com/greek/3525.htm

A quick glance suggests the writer is thinking more 'clear of mind' than 'lack of alcohol'.

Hope this helps

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  • Biblehub has Strong's, which specifically defines it as abstain. NAS Exhaustive concordance says the same. Thayers and HELPS-Word Studies do not. When these different sources dont agree on a definition, how can I find what is most likely true? I dont want to just interchangably use different sources for word definitions based on which more supports my opinion. Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 16:37
  • Welcome to the joys of translation! As if 2000 years of linguistic development wasn't bad enough translators have to understand the nuance of the language and the society that something was written in. Translating from one language to another is fraught with difficulty. Either some words just don't exist in one language or can't be directly translated due to the word having a different emphasis. Plus translators own bias. It isn't meant to be easy - you need a good grounding in the original language. Multiple sources are a good thing, try Perseus digital library from Tufts.
    – Daniel
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 20:04

In Paul's day no one knew about bacteria nor about the antiseptic effect of alcohol but they did know that water without wine added to it was unsafe to drink. Timothy was not treating his water with wine and as a result he was frequently getting sick from the germs so Paul "prescribed" treating his water with wine:

KJV 1Ti_5:23  Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities.

This in turn was "prescribed" in his scriptures in 2 Maccabees:

Brenton 2Ma 15:37  Thus went it with Nicanor: and from that time forth the Hebrews had the city in their power. And here will I make an end.  2Ma 15:38  And if I have done well, and as is fitting the story, it is that which I desired: but if slenderly and meanly, it is that which I could attain unto.  2Ma 15:39  For as it is hurtful to drink wine or water alone; and as wine mingled with water is pleasant, and delighteth the taste: even so speech finely framed delighteth the ears of them that read the story. And here shall be an end.

So like advocates of medical marijuana we know that Paul certainly saw consumption of wine for health reasons to be legitimate. But the OT goes further:

Psa 104:14  He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth;  Psa 104:15  And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.

So wine has a cheering effect and "herb" is likewise "for the service of man".

But here Paul is cautioning about being drunk by overdoing it and compromising one's safety and usefulness. That is the concern that Paul raises. He is like the anxious mother of Proverbs:

Pro 31:1  The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.  Pro 31:2  What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows?  Pro 31:3  Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.  Pro 31:4  It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:  Pro 31:5  Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.  Pro 31:6  Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.  Pro 31:7  Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.  Pro 31:8  Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.  Pro 31:9  Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.

The usage of the word νήφω itself maps well to our English word, "sober":

1 a : sparing in the use of food and drink : abstemious b : not addicted to intoxicating drink c : not drunk 2 : marked by sedate or gravely or earnestly thoughtful character or demeanor 3 : unhurried, calm 4 : marked by temperance, moderation, or seriousness a sober candlelight vigil 5 : subdued in tone or color 6 : showing no excessive or extreme qualities of fancy, emotion, or prejudice https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sober

Albert Barnes has this to say on the verse in question:

Therefore let us no sleep, as do others - As the wicked world does; compare notes, Mat_25:5.

But let us watch - That is, for the coming of the Lord. Let us regard it as an event which is certainly to occur, and which may occur at any moment; notes, Mat_25:13.

And be sober - The word here used (νήφω nēphō) is rendered sober in 1Th_5:6, 1Th_5:8; 1Pe_1:13; 1Pe_5:8; and watch in 2Ti_4:5, and 1Pe_4:7. It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. It properly means, to be temperate or abstinent, especially in respect to wine. Joseph. Jewish Wars, 5. 5, 7; Xenophon, Cyr. 7. 5, 20; and then it is used in a more general sense, as meaning to be sober-minded, watchful, circumspect. In this passage there is an allusion to the fact that persons not only sleep in the night, but that they are frequently drunken in the night also. The idea is, that the Lord Jesus, when he comes, will find the wicked sunk not only in carnal security, but in sinful indulgences, and that those who are Christians ought not only to be awake and to watch as in the day-time, but to be temperate. They ought to be like persons engaged in the sober, honest, and appropriate employments of the day, and not like those who waste their days in sleep, and their nights in revelry. A man who expects soon to see the Son of God coming to judgment, ought to be a sober man. No one would wish to be summoned from a scene of dissipation to his bar. And who would wish to be called there from the ball-room; from the theater; from the scene of brilliant worldly amusemet? The most frivolous votary of the world; the most accomplished and flattered and joyous patron of the ball-room; the most richly-dressed and admired daughter of vanity, would tremble at the thought of being summoned from those brilliant halls, where pleasure is now found, to the judgment bar. They would wish to have at least a little time that they might prepare for so solemn a scene. But if so, as this event may at any moment occur, why should they not be habitually sober-minded? Why should they not aim to be always in that state of mind which they know would be appropriate to meet him? Especially should Christians live with such vigilance and soberness as to be always prepared to meet the Son of God. What Christian can think it appropriate for him to go up to meet his Saviour from the theater, the ballroom, or the brilliant worldly party? A Christian ought always so to live that the coming of the Son of God in the clouds of heaven would not excite the least alarm.

KJV unless otherwise noted


I think your Thayer's has it right and that several of the answers clarify things. Since someone has suggested that to drink wine is a sin, then some citation from scripture saying so should be in order. I find no such commandment in the Law of Moses to that effect so I cannot see how it can be called a sin. In Duet: 22 there is a reference about unruly sons being called drunkards in concert with other misconduct, but no specific law against drinking per se. The context is suggestive of chronic and general behavior I believe.


I would have to say in my own experience with life,(Jesus), to be clear of mind you must be clear of alcohol, period, abstain, quite literally.

  • 1
    That would be more of a comment than an answer. Can you please delete your "answer" and add it as a "comment"? And really, even as a comment a personal observation, as important as it is, is probably not appropriate for this site as we are not a forum. Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 11:32
  • Jesus attended a wedding feast and after the gathering had drunk all the wine he provided another six stone pots full so that they could drink some more. He also instituted a memorial, to be performed regularly (possibly weekly) at which wine was drunk in his memory. Hardly 'abstaining, period' I would say.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 12:19

I confidently believe to define "sober-minded" is based on an individuals perception of what "not sober" means. Without an opposite or opposing view then the Law of physics would denote an existence or presence if an opposite existence does not exist. It is the inward man that searches the heart or intention. Sober-minded is to love yourself, love your neighbor, and love your creator. If any one of those elements is out of alignment, our conscience/inward man knows the Law of Truth, and if no conscience exists then the only other option would be Law of Falsity so be hot or cold because holding both sides will shred a person in half and half is not enough.

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