Why is 1 Timothy 5:23 in the Bible?

Paul wrote the following to Timothy, his son in the faith:

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

Why is this verse in the Bible? How does God want Christians to profit from it?

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JD Miller's picture

There are a number of possibilities.  I believe it had to do with shallow wells or water being taken from open streams that may have had pollution in it.  For example, when people from the US travel to Mexico, they are warned not to drink the water because they could develop dysentery.  Those who live there have their resistance built up.  If Timothy was traveling about, he may have faced some of the same challenges and it would have been safer to drink wine.  Further, wine may have had some soothing qualities for his stomach and may even have helped with his digestion.

Ron Bean's picture

Maybe it is because wine is morally good. 

And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” Luke 5:39

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Kevin Miller's picture

I think this is an example of Paul caring for another person's physical health. That's a good example for all Christians to follow.

RajeshG's picture

Kevin Miller wrote:

I think this is an example of Paul caring for another person's physical health. That's a good example for all Christians to follow.

Based on what the verse actually says, you are correct. The verse is a striking inspired statement in a Pastoral Epistle of how one minister challenged another minister to change his lifestyle for the sake of his health. If more ministers were faithful to follow Paul's inspired apostolic example in caring for the physical health of their people, the health problems and burdens of God's people would undoubtedly be lessened.

Bert Perry's picture

To build on JD's comment, it's worth noting that not only will you find alcohol in most any clinic in the world for sanitation purposes--it's isopropanol today simply to deter those there from getting drunk on it (same principle as salt in cooking wines, actually)--but in any city with significant trade or pilgrimage (like Ephesus or Jerusalem), you're not going to "get used to" the water.  You have, after all, new traders bringing all the neat bacteria and such from Spain to Africa all the way to Persia.  Note here that Paul doesn't just tell Timothy to have wine while he's traveling; he writes to him while he appears to be resident in Ephesus.  It's not a temporary medicine, but rather an ongoing part of his diet.

The other thing that is intriguing is the question of why Paul had to tell Timothy to do this; given that wine was an ordinary food at the time (really is today in many countries) in both Greek and Jewish society, why did Timothy stop using it in the first place?    Was it a misplaced asceticism, concern that the wine he could buy was made by pagans and was thus not kosher, excessive frugality, or a combination of these and other factors?  Whatever it was--and I think some combination of the first three factors is most likely--Paul is rebuking Timothy's thinking implicitly.  "Son, you're trying too hard, and it's killing you."  Words we all ought to heed as we're tempted to un-Biblical asceticism, legalism, and excessive frugality, no?

Plus, what Ron says.   Isn't God glorified when we enjoy His good gifts?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

pvawter's picture

I find it interesting that Paul would interject a statement about Timothy's health and the benefit of drinking some wine in the middle of a warning about the presence of sin and its external manifestation or lack thereof. It just seems that if Paul meant this primarily as advice about Timothy's health, he would not have disrupted his flow of thought, but would have placed it on its own. The context makes me think this may have something to do with Timothy needing to follow Paul's instructions concerning rebuking and appointing elders. Anybody have any light to shine on it for me?

Ron Bean's picture

Maybe Paul, after warning Timothy about alcoholic wine in Chapter 3, is encouraging him here to drink grape juice.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

Clearly you are right about the grape juice, but which brand is sanctified? 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

pvawter's picture

After further consideration, it seems that Paul is encouraging Timothy to prepare himself for the inevitable confrontation either with sinning elders or with those who would rashly accuse them by taking a little wine. Apparently, the timid young man needed bracing. Sorry Ron and Tyler, I don't think grape juice will do the trick.

Larry's picture

Moderator

It seems to indicate that Timothy was a tee totaler since there would otherwise be no need to tell him to drink wine. However, it is clearly medicinal in this case, and not recreational. So we probably shouldn't put too much on it.

RajeshG's picture

pvawter wrote:

After further consideration, it seems that Paul is encouraging Timothy to prepare himself for the inevitable confrontation either with sinning elders or with those who would rashly accuse them by taking a little wine. Apparently, the timid young man needed bracing. Sorry Ron and Tyler, I don't think grape juice will do the trick.

1 Timothy 5:23 Μηκέτι ὑδροπότει, ἀλλ᾽ οἴνῳ ὀλίγῳ χρῶ διὰ τὸν στόμαχον καὶ τὰς πυκνάς σου ἀσθενείας. (1 Tim. 5:23 BGT)

The Greek preposition διὰ with the accusative means "because of" or "on account of." It's one thing to try to connect it with the context while also properly handling the actual content of the verse, but to seemingly gloss right over the explicit declaration of what prompted the instruction is not a right way to handle the Bible.

Paul explicitly states what prompted him to give this instruction--Timothy had stomach problems and was often ill. 

pvawter's picture

RajeshG wrote:

1 Timothy 5:23 Μηκέτι ὑδροπότει, ἀλλ᾽ οἴνῳ ὀλίγῳ χρῶ διὰ τὸν στόμαχον καὶ τὰς πυκνάς σου ἀσθενείας. (1 Tim. 5:23 BGT)

The Greek preposition διὰ with the accusative means "because of" or "on account of." It's one thing to try to connect it with the context while also properly handling the actual content of the verse, but to seemingly gloss right over the explicit declaration of what prompted the instruction is not a right way to handle the Bible.

You mean you don't believe Paul is encouraging Timothy to tie one on before an elders meeting? 

Seriously, though, the article you posted earlier in the thread attempts to explain the content of the verse without connecting it with the context at all. By all means, let's do both. So if Paul is concerned with Timothy's health, which seems obvious from the grammar, what does that have to do with his role in appointing and rebuking elders? Is that relevant at all, or is this just about making medically approved health changes because God is concerned with our bodies?

RajeshG's picture

pvawter wrote:

Seriously, though, the article you posted earlier in the thread attempts to explain the content of the verse without connecting it with the context at all. By all means, let's do both. So if Paul is concerned with Timothy's health, which seems obvious from the grammar, what does that have to do with his role in appointing and rebuking elders? Is that relevant at all, or is this just about making medically approved health changes because God is concerned with our bodies?

There is no inherent necessity that the verse has to connect with either what precedes it or what follows it. Perhaps it does, but it does not have to.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I found the parentheses. Here they are:

(μηκέτι ὑδροπότει, ἀλλὰ οἴνῳ ὀλίγῳ χρῶ διὰ τὸν στόμαχον καὶ τὰς πυκνάς σου ἀσθενείας).

I just didn't notice them, until now.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

pvawter's picture

TylerR wrote:

I found the parentheses. Here they are:

(μηκέτι ὑδροπότει, ἀλλὰ οἴνῳ ὀλίγῳ χρῶ διὰ τὸν στόμαχον καὶ τὰς πυκνάς σου ἀσθενείας).

I just didn't notice them, until now.

Well that clears everything up. Clearly v.23 is intended to be interpreted in isolation from everything else Paul is saying in Ch.5.

Larry's picture

Moderator

All mocking aside, the idea that v. 23 is a personal note that is a bit of a rabbit trail is not unknown. A common explanation (perhaps the most common?) is that v. 23 flows as personal note out of "keep yourself pure." It may indicate that Timothy had bought into a bit of asceticism and was jeopardizing his health. 

Taken in context, it might be understood along the lines of this: Be careful about receiving accusations against elders and be careful about appointing elders too quickly and by doing so, be responsible for their sins; keep yourself pure. (BTW, keeping yourself pure does not mean jeopardizing your health; take your medicine). Some sins are public now and some will be later; just like good deeds.

There is no reason in the context to suspect that medicinal wine had anything to do with appointing or taking accusations against elders. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

I just didn't notice them, until now.

Studying the context and understanding the flow would have helped you see them earlier. The Greek manuscripts did not have punctuation and so things like commas, periods, question marks, parenthesis, etc. had to be supplied from the context. There are several notable places where there is disagreement about them such as Ephesians 1:4 or 1 Thess 2:6.

In this particular case, the very personal nature of the comment alongside the absence of wine from the surrounding contest seem to indicate that this is a parenthetical statement of personal advice.

Bert Perry's picture

You can only argue that verse 23 is only about medicine if you ignore the question of why Timothy decided to become a teetotaler.  Whatever those reasons were--and I've offered a few likely ones that I believe are consistent with Scripture and history--Paul is implicitly telling Timothy "those reasons are not good enough."   And in that light, 1 Timothy 5:23 is likely in the Scripture for the exact same reason that we read the second chapter of John.

Regarding whether verse 23 is part of a "flow" that includes its surroundings, maybe, but to me it seems more like it's a list of instructions Paul is giving, something of an outline form.  He has a few more inches of papyrus, needs to say some things, but at this point, he's not going to waste words and "shaggy dog" it.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

You can only argue that verse 23 is only about medicine if you ignore the question of why Timothy decided to become a teetotaler.

I must have missed this or misunderstood something. Where does it say that Timothy decided to become a teetotaler?

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

You can only argue that verse 23 is only about medicine if you ignore the question of why Timothy decided to become a teetotaler.

I must have missed this or misunderstood something. Where does it say that Timothy decided to become a teetotaler?

Ron, it's implied; if Timothy is abstaining from wine to the point where Paul has to tell him that he's getting sick because of his abstinence, one would infer that Timothy is abstinent at that time, a teetotaler.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

pvawter's picture

Larry wrote:

Studying the context and understanding the flow would have helped you see them earlier. The Greek manuscripts did not have punctuation and so things like commas, periods, question marks, parenthesis, etc. had to be supplied from the context. There are several notable places where there is disagreement about them such as Ephesians 1:4 or 1 Thess 2:6.

In this particular case, the very personal nature of the comment alongside the absence of wine from the surrounding contest seem to indicate that this is a parenthetical statement of personal advice.

Yeah, Larry, I understand that, hence my comment about finding parentheses in the Greek text. The theory that v.23 is a parenthetical statement is one of the popular views, but it is far from certain. My concern here is that Rajesh advocates for explaining the content of the verse apart from the context. This is a serious hermeneutical error, imo, and arguing for a parenthesis doesn't negate the need to interpret the verse in the context of chapter 5.

Larry's picture

Moderator

You can only argue that verse 23 is only about medicine if you ignore the question of why Timothy decided to become a teetotaler.

No, you can actually argue it is only about medicine by reading the verse and believing what it says. To argue that it is about more than that requires adding to Scripture in some fashion. 

 And in that light, 1 Timothy 5:23 is likely in the Scripture for the exact same reason that we read the second chapter of John.

As a sign that Jesus is God so we should believe in him?

Larry's picture

Moderator

 My concern here is that Rajesh advocates for explaining the content of the verse apart from the context. This is a serious hermeneutical error, imo, and arguing for a parenthesis doesn't negate the need to interpret the verse in the context of chapter 5.

I don't see Rajesh arguing that. But if the parenthetical/personal explanation is correct (and it seems so), then it really doesn't have much if anything to do with accusing and ordaining elders. In any event, there is nothing in the verse or the flow of the paragraph that would lead us to believe it has anything to do with elders. 

pvawter's picture

Larry wrote:

In any event, there is nothing in the verse or the flow of the paragraph that would lead us to believe it has anything to do with elders. 

I disagree strongly with this statement. The context in which v.23 is found is clearly referring to appointing and rebuking elders. It could be parenthetical, bit even then, it is not divorced from its context. There must be some reason Paul put it here and not somewhere else in the letter.

Larry's picture

Moderator

There must be some reason Paul put it here and not somewhere else in the letter.

Yes, apparently because he just said "Keep yourself pure" and was reminding Timothy that abstaining from medicinal use of win was not necessary to keep pure. That is the context. 

Your burden is to show how it could be related to accusations and ordination of elders. Do you have any arguments for that from the text?

RajeshG's picture

pvawter wrote:

 

Yeah, Larry, I understand that, hence my comment about finding parentheses in the Greek text. The theory that v.23 is a parenthetical statement is one of the popular views, but it is far from certain. My concern here is that Rajesh advocates for explaining the content of the verse apart from the context. This is a serious hermeneutical error, imo, and arguing for a parenthesis doesn't negate the need to interpret the verse in the context of chapter 5.

What a nonsense comment. I have not advocated any such thing. 

Bert Perry's picture

Larry wrote:

You can only argue that verse 23 is only about medicine if you ignore the question of why Timothy decided to become a teetotaler.

No, you can actually argue it is only about medicine by reading the verse and believing what it says. To argue that it is about more than that requires adding to Scripture in some fashion. 

 And in that light, 1 Timothy 5:23 is likely in the Scripture for the exact same reason that we read the second chapter of John.

As a sign that Jesus is God so we should believe in him?

Larry, having heard countless pastors ask questions like "why did he do this in the first place?" regarding countless passages, your position seems to be at odds with standard hermeneutics.  Certainly 1 Tim. 5:23 involves medicine, and certainly John 2 establishes the deity of Christ by having Him create wine, but at the same time, part of the message of both passages is the question of why Timothy abstained for a time, and why Jesus chose to begin His ministry at a party, creating over 100 gallons of fine wine.  In both cases, what Paul and Christ do is to implicitly say that no, asceticism is not a measure of spirituality, and wine is a good thing.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Nope? To what?

The question of why he did this in the first place is a valid question and is part of studying Scripture (or anything else), and I addressed that above, but it is almost certainly unanswerable because the text doesn't say. And if the text is the ultimate authority (remember that first fundamental you claim so often), then we have to leave that tentative at best. 

But that wasn't your statement. You said the only way to limit it to medicine was to ignore something the text doesn't say. And I pointed out that the verse is quite clear on its own. You don't need anything else to understand the verse. The verse tells us that the instructions were based on health. It says nothing of any other reason. And so if the Scripture is sufficient and authoritative (remember that first fundamental), then we can know what the verse means and why it is there. If you insist on some other reason for authority, then you are denying the sufficiency of Scripture and the wisdom of God in his choice of revelation.,

Read the verse and see what it says. It is quite clearly stemming from the last phrase of v. 22. There is no need to seek another connection. It stands on its own. Might there be something else behind it, such as asceticism? Sure, but that is not in the text.

Even your assertion of about John 2 seems a clear denial of the text. It tells us why that sign was included, and asceticism is not it. The question is, Is the text authoritative or not?

Bert Perry's picture

Larry, again, you're simply ignoring basic hermeneutics.  Not only is the question valid, as you concede, but it is essential.  Moreover, given other things noted in the Scripture, we can infer with a reasonable degree of accuracy what it was.  Really, what you've done with this passage, and with John 2, is to limit the interpretation of Scripture to "that which is blindingly obvious, and perhaps with a good nod to fundamental culture."  That's not required by the 1st Fundamental.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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