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In 1Timothy chapter 5 Verse 23 it is written: Μηκέτι ὑδροπότει ἀλλ᾽ οἴνῳ ὀλίγῳ χρῶ διὰ τὸν στόμαχον σου καὶ τὰς πυκνάς σοῦ ἀσθενείας Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities.

The instruction is not totally clear to me:

  1. What are the health/medical vitrues for the human body which Paul and the people of that era believed that wine has?

  2. Does modern medical knowledge confirm these beliefs?

  3. Some interpretation assumes that Paul related in this verse to the water in Timothy's area as being polluted, thus asked him to drink diluted wine instead. Is it a reliable interpretation that can be confirmed historically?

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Starting with your #3 -- the challenges of getting clean water is an issue as old as civilization itself, as this Wikipedia article describes:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_water_supply_and_sanitation

Contamination from human waste was a particular problem that continues to this day. This summary from WHO states that "Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces."

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water

I'm sure you can connect the dots on why sort of contamination that might lead to digestive issues, so I'll spare the details.

Now to #1 and #2: It's not so much a matter of wine having specific or unique health benefits, but rather that the grape juice itself was a much cleaner source of hydration -- and, once it fermented into wine, the alcohol did a lot to inhibit bacterial growth. There's a question over on the history stack exchange that discusses the ancient Greek & Roman use of diluted wine as a primary beverage:

https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/7634/why-did-greeks-and-romans-dilute-their-wine

The accepted answer, as well as other responses, give a lot of good details on the challenges of contamination on one hand (water) with the intoxicating & dehydrating effects of alcohol on the other hand (wine), and how the water-diluted wine turned out to be decent middle ground.

Coming back to the passage in 1 Timothy, Paul's instruction of using "a little wine" may be an instruction to substitute the wine outright -- or it might (I believe?) be read as an instruction to add a little wine to his water. The latter would certainly line up with a common practice of the day, I just don't know enough Greek to say whether Paul's words could be interpreted that way.

I hope this covers what you're looking for!

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Peace.

Many people usually only go in one direction in their interpretation with this as it seems at first that Paul is saying to Timothy to use a little wine as medical treatment for his stomach problems.

I speculate that Paul was telling Timothy to use less wine (a puny amount) as opposed to drinking too much of it because the excess wine Timothy was drinking was causing his stomach or esophagus problems (ulcers, heartburn?).

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

We see earlier in 1st Timothy that Paul tells him to “take heed unto yourself”….that is, pay attention to your health and be persistent in doing things that support his own health. Healing will come if he was persistent.

Continue in them for in doing this you shall save ….that is, heal….yourself….and continue teaching so that those who hear will also be saved in the hearing of the Word of Truth.

1 Timothy 4:16 KJV (16) Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

Added content:

As far as the water, I think Paul was telling Timothy to stop drinking a type of water. Maybe it was collected rain water that he was drinking instead of well water or it could have been water in a certain location that was making him sick.

Whatever kind of “rain” water he was drinking, he was instructed to stop drinking it entirely because it was also causing Timothy’s stomach/esophagus problems. Both the water and also the amount of wine he was drinking were causing Timothy health issues.

To summarize: Paul’s health instruction to Timothy required him to stop drinking (completely stop) the water he was drinking AND also decrease the wine he was drinking to a puny amount as both these things were causing Timothy health problems.

As far as the morality of drinking wine, the kingdom of God is not one based on eating and drinking but a kingdom of righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. We must not judge another about what one eats or drinks. This is "stumbling".

Paul states that there is nothing unclean of itself….except if you consider it unclean then it is unclean to yourself and shouldn’t do it (because it is not of faith). Each person must be convinced in their own mind about these things.

If your brother thinks it is unclean, then we should not be drinking wine in front of him so that he might use his mouth to speak evil (stumble) in judgment of us. We must not cause our brothers to stumble by what we do in the brother’s presence.

Let us not judge another (judging = the “stumbling”) about what one eats or drinks….nor are we to put a stumbling block in a brother’s way by doing these things in front of him who does not believe in drinking wine (or else he uses his mouth to judge….evil speaking…. the stumbling).

Romans 14:13-17 KJV (13) Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. (14) I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. (15) But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. (16) Let not then your good be evil spoken of: (17) For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.

It is good not to drink wine….nor anything else…that might cause a brother to stumble or is offended because of it. Best to do it at home and not the offended brother's presence.

*Romans 14:21-23 KJV (21) It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.

(22) Hast thou faith? have it to thyself

before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. (23) And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.*

  • 1
    Unfortunately you missed the obvious logical stracture of the verse: "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities." Which means, the use of deluted wine is in contradiction to using water, not to the use of high precentage alcohol. – Elyoeinay Feb 8 '19 at 22:39
  • Peace. The structure of the verse has been altered by most translators as they had a problem with the morality of drinking wine even as there is none in of itself. Many Bible translations even insert the word "only"...drink no longer water only....to somehow justify the drinking of wine for their audience. – MSW Feb 9 '19 at 14:55
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    The verb ὑδροπότει means "to be a drinker of water". So, the literal translation says: "Be no more a drinker of water" / "drink water no more". Moreover, you still miss the Conjunction ἀλλὰ which clearly puts the two parts of the verse in contradiction to each other, not in addition to each other as you claim. – Elyoeinay Feb 10 '19 at 17:00

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