Essay on 1 Timothy 3:3,8
By: Bryan Cook
Paul, in his letter to Timothy, gives qualifications of elders and deacons. One of the qualifications is that elders be not given to wine (1 Tim. 3:3).
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
Paul later on gives a similar qualification to the deacons, to not be given to much wine.
Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre
1 Tim 3:8
Does this mean that elders are not able to imbibe and the deacons could partake if done in moderation? That is the question. Could it mean that elders are held to higher standard? A couple of examples do come to mind such as the Nazarite vow (Numbers 6). Samson was bound to this vow even though he did not strictly adhere to it. In the New Testament you have John the baptizer who was not to drink wine or strong drink (also a similar consecration vow as the Nazarite). Both of these examples do not have the exact requirement spelled out concerning the alcohol. Was it just the fruit of the vine and wine because it was from the vine or because of its alcoholic content. The consecration of both of these vows required much more than alcoholic wine. Samson and John both were to be consecrated for a holy and set apart purpose, hence the separation from what others were allowed to do. Some have said that the deacons were not to consume much nonalcoholic wine to prevent gluttony but when referring back to the elders with a requirement of no “nonalcoholic” wine this would prevent the elders from taking the Lord’s supper. This does not line up with the whole scripture.
It is apparent from scripture that drunkenness is forbidden in the scripture, both Old and New Testament. What I have found in my reading on social drinking is that ninety percent of the book I am reading deals with drunkenness and not social drinking. There is also a lot of circular reasoning involved in these commentaries. One of my favorite is the use of the verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. They present this as the argument for not partaking of any alcohol because it has the appearance of evil. Then the question can be asked “why does alcohol have the appearance of evil?” We then proceed to answer that by saying that alcohol consumption is sinful. We then ask the question why is alcohol consumption sinful? Because the Bible says to abstain from the appearance of evil.
Coming out of denominations I have little patience for Bible interpretation for the greater good. To clarify this point, many times denominations justify their unscriptural practices because it gets people in the door. The ends justify the unscriptural means. I believe that the Bible needs to be interpreted as God intends it to be interpreted. Let the Bible speak for itself. For the many years I have been in the church I have not found a solid answer on social drinking until this year. That is a sad commentary on our logic and preparation in the brotherhood. We are trying to convince the gainsayers not bolster our own ego or prop up our own deep held beliefs. Every bad argument gives fodder for someone to remain in sin and die in that ignorance. I will attempt to give some of the more solid answers I have heard to this dilemma of social drinking.
Consider the Greek word Meth-oo-o (μεθύσκω). It has the definition to become drunk. This would indicate the process of and not just the result of drunkenness. If the process is sinful and not just the state you have become, then we have an argument. As one starts to have a drink the process has started. I do find a dividing line. Many, including myself, have no problem with Nyquil or other cold medicines that contain alcohol. Alcohol is excellent at delivering certain soluble medications to the body. I have never felt tipsy from taking Nyquil. This could be abused as well, but I do not believe this is the same case. Paul when telling Timothy to take a little strong drink for his infirmities could very well have been taking the Roman colony version of Nyquil.
Consider also the word “much” for a minute. Paul states to not be given to “much” wine. It may be helpful to see how similar terms are used elsewhere to draw some parallels. In Ecclesiastes 7:17 Solomon states “Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?”. Peter states in1 Peter 4:4 Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: This shows in the Hebrew and Greek that they could use these descriptive adjectives in the condemning of something without losing the prohibitive nature of the lesser offence. I do not consider this proof of the sinfulness of social drinking but I do consider this the fallacy of those claiming this is proof of the acceptance of moderate drinking according to scripture.
One other point to consider. Here in the United States there is an appearance of evil attached to alcoholic beverages. If one of our brethren was sitting at the bar with a cold one in his hand, all Christian influence would have left him. The fact that alcohol is not sold to minors sets a dividing line that screams “adult” beverage to everyone around. Usually anything with “adult” attached to it means it is too sinful for even heathens to let their kids do it. In our country there is a mysterious attraction to this intoxicating liquid. As kids we want to be grown-up to participate in the adult beverages and have the great time they are having. We sneak and steal this elusive bottle of booze out of our parent’s closet. There is an evil appeal to this forbidden substance. Here in America, I can apply the verse previously used by one of my brethren to abstain from all appearance of evil here in the states.
Finally, we as Christians need to ask probing questions of ourselves. If we are compelled to partake of alcohol let us ask ourselves, why? There is nothing inherently evil of alcohol sitting in a cupboard. Cooking sherry is a common household staple. Should we throw that demon alcohol in the trash? We need not go to that extreme unless you conscience is condemning you (remember eating meats offered to idols, 1 Corinthians 8). It is your attitude and action upon that liquid that creates the sin.