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?

  • Is not it self-evident? Paul believed that wine in small amounts was good for health; Timothy had frail health; Paul thus believing that wine can ameliorate his state, gives him this advice. Other question is whether Paul's medicinal ideas were objectively correct or not, and also what were the sources of those medicinal ideas. As to me, wine is not only healthy, but also pleasant, and it embellishes table, drives to good mood drinking friends and gives inspiration to bombastic toasts! Happy New Year! Commented Jan 5, 2021 at 7:41

4 Answers 4


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


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."


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:


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!

  • Also, Paul was alluding to the end of 2 Maccabees: youtube.com/watch?v=Z5o3nCQWKTw
    – Ruminator
    Commented Jan 5, 2021 at 19:25
  • 1
    "the alcohol did a lot to inhibit bacterial growth" — Actually no. Most bacteria can survive in up to 30% alcohol, which is much stronger than wine. But the idea is correct: "The low pH of juice and wine does not permit the growth of human pathogens which are thus not a concern in the wine industry." says InfoWine.com. Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 0:26
  • Thanks for the fact check. That's an embarrassing one, especially with my wife being a microbiology professor.
    – JDM-GBG
    Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 22:30

Thanks for hearing me out. I feel this verse may be talking about Timothy's elder problem. I have never been able to avoid the fact that Paul appears to be changing topics suddenly. He is talking about sins of elders and then stomach problems and then talks about sins again in the following verse.

First and foremost, There is good historical evidence that wine was mixed with water for medical purposes and in sanitation. This is a simple fact and we can clearly see that people used it to treat stomach problems in that day. This was common practice.

But I believe this common practice turned into a common idiom. To me Paul is telling Timothy to "mix wine" in his approach to his elder problem. Some of his elders were sinning. He needs to raise up Elders but not to fast. He needs to make sure they are honored and paid. But needs to rebuke their sin. He needs to do it publicly. He needs to see their good and bad works that are obvious and also seem some hidden sin that trails people. Timothy needs to use a bit of (wine).it's time to change his approach a bit. He has some stomach issues (elder problems) and he needs to give some medicine. He needs to really address some of this sinfulness within His church.

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    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 14:26

The way coffee is the social drink in the world today, wine must have been in the ancient world once. The standard question today is: “How do you want your coffee?” Then it must have been: “How do you want your wine?” “Strong, medium, or weak?”

The main problem with wine has to be excess consumption, not the other way around. It is therefore plausible that the passage about Timothy’s stomach problem reflected this in some way.

Jesus: My yoke is easy*, therefore my burden is light**. (Mat 11:30)

Jesus/Paul: Take the cup of thick blood and divide it, [**because if you have it strong you will eventually swell up as a leavened bread bun. And, besides losing control of your calories], you may also fall into sin, like the people at Aaron's feast did. I am the unleavened bread. It is important that you digest what I say properly. (Luk 22:17; 1 Cor 10:7; John 7:25-58)

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy. (Luk 10:19, NIV)

It is worth noting that 1 Tim 5:23 is a one-liner of Paul. This one-liner probably referred back to an earlier conversation Paul had with his friend Timothy, who he then hadn’t seen for a while. Timothy might have told Paul that he now was not just drinking only water but also wine, because it strengthened him. There probably was some kind of knowledge among the population that wine had strengthening properties, and now Timothy had become a more ardent practicer.

At this encounter Paul noticed that Timothy’s stomach had swelled up a fair bit, which worried him a lot. In his subsequent letter to him he subtly addressed the issue with his brief one-liner, by using Timothy’s own words, plus the added two words “stomach” and “less”

[*] Jesus probably carried around in his portable skin-drink-bottle just plain water, while the average man probably carried a mixture of water and wine. A water/wine mixture would be somewhat dehydrating and people would therefore need a bigger, heavier, bag to hold the excess liquid, that would cater for their elevated thirst.

  • Why do you presume that Jesus was a teetotaler? [Mat 11:18-19 NLT] (18) For John didn't spend his time eating and drinking, and you say, 'He's possessed by a demon.' (19) The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, 'He's a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!' But wisdom is shown to be right by its results."
    – Ruminator
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 12:27
  • Why would you imagine this to be so? What evidence can you adduce?
    – Ruminator
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 13:06
  • @Ruminator. I don’t. Besides drinking only water on weekdays, he must have consumed modest amounts of diluted wine at houses he was invited to on some sabbaths, in contrast to the average man who would have been less moderate. Commented Feb 2, 2021 at 23:58


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
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 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
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 14:55
  • 1
    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
    Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 17:00

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