Wine in the Bible
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Five of the nine chapters can be accessed by clicking their titles below:

A Preview of Wine in the Bible

The Meaning of Wine

The Preservation of Grape Juice

Jesus and Wine

Wine in the Apostolic Church

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Chapter 6


Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University

Fundamental importance is attached to the teachings and practices of the Apostolic Church because, as the mother church of Christendom, she serves as a model for Christians and Christian churches in general. The sixteenth-century reformation movements, for example, aimed at reforming the church by recovering what they perceived to be the teachings and practices of the Apostolic Church.

The importance of the Apostolic Church extends to her teachings regarding the use of alcoholic beverages. The way the apostles understood, preached and practiced the teachings of Jesus and of the Old Testament regarding alcoholic beverages serves not only to validate the conclusions we have reached so far, but also to clarify whether we as Christians today should take our stand on the side of moderation or on the side of abstinence.

Objective and Procedure. This chapter examines the apostolic teaching regarding the use of wine in particular and of intoxicating substances in general. The specific references to "wine"(oinos) outside the four Gospels are only thirteen,1 eight of which occur in the book of Revelation, where "wine" is used mostly symbolically, either to represent human depravity or divine retribution. This could suggest that we have only a total of five texts (Rom 14:21; Eph 5:18; 1Tim 3:8; 5:23; Titus 2:3) by which to determine the attitude of the Apostolic Church toward drinking.

In reality, however, the New Testament provides considerably more information on this subject through over twenty passages admonishing Christians to be "sober" or "temperate." These admonitions, as we shall see, are in most cases directly related to drinking practices. Thus, our determination of the New Testament teaching on drinking should be based both on those texts which speak specifically of wine and on those which offer general admonitions on sobriety and temperance.

The chapter is divided into four parts, the first three of which deal with wine-texts and the last one with the admonitions to sobriety and to temperance. Thus, the outline of the chapter is as follows:

1. Acts 2:13: "Filled with New Wine"

2. 1 Corinthians 11:21: "One is Hungry and Another is Drunk"

3. Ephesians 5:18: "Do Not Get Drunk with Wine"

4. Admonitions to Sobriety


Importance of the Text. The apostles had scarcely begun their Messianic proclamation when they were accused of drunkenness. On the day of Pentecost the first company of believers received the gift of tongues enabling them to preach the Gospel in the languages of the people gathered for the feast at Jerusalem. While thousands believed in Christ as a result of the miracle, others began mocking the disciples, saying: "They are filled with new wine" (Acts 2:13).

Some interpret this text as indicating the customary drinking of alcoholic wine in the earliest apostolic community. This interpretation rests on three major assumptions. First, the mockers would not have accused Christians of being drunk unless they had seen some Christians drinking on previous occasions.2 Second, the "new wine" (gleukos) was a "sweet wine" of alcoholic nature3 which could make a person drunk if consumed in large quantity. Third, Peter in his response denied the charge not by saying, "How can we be drunk when we are abstainers?" but by pointing to the early hour of the morning: "These men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day" (Acts 2:15).

Unwarranted Interpretation. This interpretation is unwarranted for three major reasons. It assumes that the accusation of the mockers was based on factual observation of Christian drinking. This is a gratuitous assumption, because mockers do not necessarily base their slander on factual observation. Even if they did, what they presumably had seen was Christians under the influence of the Holy Spirit rather than of alcoholic spirits. It is possible that they were misled by what they saw. The Jewish philosopher Philo, who lived at that time, tells us that the most sober persons, "abstainers," when under the influence of divine inspiration seemed to others to be in a drunken state.4

This possibility, however, seems hardly applicable here, because if the mockers really wished to charge the disciples with drunkenness, they would have accused them of being filled with "wine" (oinos) and not with "grape-juice" (gleukos). The term "gleukos" was used to designate unfermented grape juice. Pliny, for example, explicitly explains that what the Greeks call "aigleucos, this is our permanent must." He goes on to tell how to prevent its fermentation.

The Meaning of "Gleukos." Several Greek lexicons and scholars acknowledge that gleukos designates exclusively unfermented grape juice.6 For example, Horace Bumstead, the author of one of the most scholarly defenses of the moderationist view, offers this clear and conclusive explanation: "Gleukos, as in classical Greek, corresponds to the Latin mustum, meaning the newly expressed juice of the grape, and so has a less wide range of meaning than [the Hebrew] tirosh or asis. It occurs only once [Acts 2:13] and I see no necessity for trying to prove it intoxicating, as some have done, including Robinson. . . . It seems to me that Alford, and others, in arguing for the intoxicating character of gleukos, as a sweet wine, have lost sight of the classical distinction already pointed out between gleukos=mustum, sweet, because unfermented grape juice, and oinos glukus=sweet wine, so-called because, though fermented, it was rich in sugar."7

Earlier in his lengthy article (71 pages) published in Bibliotheca Sacra, Bumstead explains more fully that "with the Greeks the product of the wine-press could be sweet in three different senses: first, as gleukos (corresponding to the Latin mustum), when it was sweet from the lack of vinous fermentation; second, as oinos glukus, when it was fermented, but sweet from the presence of considerable untransformed sugar; and third, as oinos hedus, when it was sweet from the absence of acetous fermentation, or souring."8 What this means is that when gleukos occurs by itself, as in Acts 2:13, it refers specifically to unfermented grape juice.

The Irony of the Charge. In view of the meaning of gleukos as unintoxicating grape juice, the irony of the charge is self-evident. What the mockers meant is "These men, too abstemious to touch anything fermented, have made themselves drunk on grape juice." Or as Ernest Gordon puts it in modern speech, "These drys are drunk on soft drink."9 Bumstead perceptively asks, "If this was not the point of their ‘mocking’ how can the use of gleukos, instead of the common word oinos, be accounted for?"10 The inadequacy of the cause, grape juice, to produce the effect, drunkenness, is designed to add point to the derisive jest.

One can hardly fail to see in the irony of the charge that the apostles were drunk on grape juice (their usual beverage) an indirect but very important proof of their abstinent life-style and inferentially of the abstemious life-style of their Teacher.

Historical Confirmation. In his epistles, Peter, who acts as the spokesman of the Jerusalem Church in the first twelve chapters of Acts, alludes, as we shall see later in this chapter, to the practice of abstinence in the apostolic church. Later historical confirmation of this practice is provided by the testimony of Hegesippus, a church historian who, as Eusebius tells us, "lived immediately after the apostles."11 Writing regarding "James, the brother of the Lord, [who] succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles," Hegesippus says: "He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh."12 We can assume that the strict abstinent life-style of James, who for a time served as the presiding officer of the Jerusalem Church, served as an example for Apostolic Christians to follow.

An investigation of early Christian sources on the life-style of such Jewish Christian sects as the Ebionites, the Nazarenes, the Elkesaites and the Encratites, might provide considerable support for abstinence from fermented wine in the Apostolic Church.13 The fact that some of these sects went to the extreme of rejecting altogether both fermented and unfermented wine and using only water, even in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, suggests the existence of a prevailing concern for abstinence in the Apostolic Church. Such a concern apparently assumed fanatical forms among certain religious groups. It is my intention to pursue this research as time becomes available and to publish it as an additional chapter in a future edition of this book. Time restraints have not made this research possible at this time.

Peter’s Response. The assumption that Peter’s response to the charge of drunkenness implies that the apostles used some kind of fermented wine, because he did not flatly deny the charge, is discredited by two major considerations. Peter used the argument best suited to the character of the mockers. Had he said, "How can we be drunk when we never drink?" the jeering rejoinder might have been, "Except when no one sees you!" An appeal to their abstemious life-style would have been useless since it was already challenged. Thus, Peter met them on social grounds, challenging the credibility of their assumption. In effect he replied: "How can your assumption be right that we are drunk when it is only nine o’clock in the morning? You know, as well as I do, that people get drunk in the evening and not in the morning." Such a reply fit in the circumstance and exposed the insincerity of the mockers.

A second reason that Peter may have chosen not to deny flatly that they drank at all is suggested by the use of the word gleukos by the mockers. This word, we just observed, means unfermented grape juice which Christians, except the Nazirites, generally drank. To deny that Christians drank at all would have meant denying that they drank gleukos ("grape juice"), but that was not true.

Conclusion. Summing up we can say that Acts 2:13 provides an indirect but telling proof that the apostles abstained from alcoholic beverages. As Ernest Gordon says, "There would be no point in referring to unfermented wine as a source of intoxication and the strange actions following, if it were not generally understood that the apostles used no intoxicating wine."14



Importance of the Text. Moderationists see in Paul’s reference to "drunkenness" at the communion table in the Corinthian church an unmistakable proof that alcoholic wine was used in the Apostolic Church both privately at home and publicly at the Lord’s Supper. Paul’s statement reads as follows: "When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk" (1 Cor 11:20-21).

The reasoning of moderationists is that the problem of drunkenness at Corinth can only be explained by their use of alcoholic wine. As someone put it, "How could the Corinthians get drunk on Communion wine if it were not fermented?"15 Furthermore, it is argued that "it is significant to note that even in the light of their drunkenness, Paul does not issue a ‘cease and desist’ order in this matter."16 The argument is clear. Paul condemned the abuses at Corinth but not the use of alcoholic wine. We shall examine this claim by considering three points: (1) The Nature of the Feast; (2) The Meaning of the Verb Methuo; (3) The Implications of Paul’s Admonition.

1. The Nature of the Feast

A Selfish Love Feast. To better appreciate the problems that developed at Corinth in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper, we must understand the social customs of the time. It was customary for groups of people belonging to secular or religious organizations to meet together for common meals. In particular there was a certain kind of fellowship meal called eranos to which each participant brought food pooled together to make a common feast. The early Church adapted this custom, developing it into what came to be known as the Agape or Love Feast. All the church members brought what they could to the feast, and when all the food was pooled together, they sat down to a common meal. It was a lovely way of producing and nourishing real Christian fellowship. Many churches practice something similar today when they have a pot-luck meal together after church service.

In the church at Corinth the Love Feast seems to have been incorporated within the Lord’s Supper, as we shall show below. Its celebration, however, degenerated into a selfish feast. The art of sharing was lost. The rich did not share their food with the poor but ate it by themselves in little exclusive groups. The result was that at the meal some were hungry while others were filled to satiety. Class distinctions, which should have been eliminated at the communion table, were accentuated. Good order and decency were disregarded, and the solemnity of the occasion was lost.

Unhesitatingly and unsparingly Paul rebukes this state of affairs, first of all by reminding the Corinthians of the purpose of their assembling together, namely, "to eat the Lord’s supper" (1 Cor 11:20, KJV). The meaning of Paul’s rebuke could be paraphrased as follows: "Though you come together professedly to partake of the Lord’s Supper, you really do not celebrate it in a manner deserving of the name. For in eating, each one who has brought provisions goes ahead to eat eagerly and selfishly, ignoring the poor who have not been able to bring anything. The result is that while a member is hungry and unsatisfied, another is filled to satiety. Don’t you have houses in which to eat and drink? Why do you transform the house of worship, dedicated to brotherly love, into a place of selfish feasting, putting to shame those who have nothing? There is no way I can commend you for such selfish conduct" (paraphrase of 1 Cor 11:20-23).

Private Supper or Lord’s Supper? Paul’s rebuke suggests that Christians in Corinth had unwisely confused the Lord’s Supper with a social meal; possibly they had even reduced the Lord’s Supper to a social festival similar to the festivals observed among the Greeks. The latter suggestion seems more probable, because there is no indication in the passage that a fellowship meal preceded the actual Lord’s Supper.

Paul’s statement, "When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat" (1 Cor 11:20) clearly indicates that the purpose of the gathering was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, which, however, they had transformed into an ordinary festivity, presumably patterned after the feasts in honor of idols. This leads us to the following conclusion: all that was done at Corinth was irregular and improper. The Christians had entirely mistaken the nature of the sacred ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, converting it into a secular festivity, where even intemperance prevailed.

Many have supposed that the fellowship meal at Corinth was derived from the Last Supper which Jesus instituted after eating the Passover with His disciples. But it must be observed that the Passover was never seen by Christians as corresponding to a preliminary fellowship meal to be followed by the Lord’s Supper. Instead, Passover was a sacred festival which was understood to be superseded by the Lord’s Supper. There is no evidence in the Corinthian passage before us, or in any other New Testament passage, that the Lord’s Supper was observed in connection with a fellowship meal. This means that whatever was done at Corinth was irregular, improper and against the very instructions that Paul had "received from the Lord" and had "delivered" to the church (1 Cor 11:23).

In the light of this fact, any alleged "drunkenness" occurring at the Communion table of the Corinthian church can hardly serve to prove the existence of drinking of alcoholic beverages in the Apostolic Church. A local perversion can scarcely be indicative of a general Christian practice. Moreover, if the Corinthians deviated from the instructions "delivered" unto them, then their misconduct is more a warning than an example for us.

2. The Meaning of the Verb Methuo

"Filled to the Full." It is generally assumed that drunkenness occurred at the Communion table of the Corinthian church. But is this true? Those who believe so base their conclusion on the common translation of the verb methuei, namely, "is drunk." The whole phrase in the RSV reads: "One is hungry and another is drunk" (1 Cor 11:21). On the basis of this translation many reason that if intoxicating wine was used by the Corinthians without apostolic rebuke, it can also be used by Christians today.

The fundamental fallacy of such reasoning is that it assumes that methuo means only "to be drunk." But our study of its usage in John 2:11 has shown that the verb methuo does not always signify intoxication and drunkenness. The context determines its exact meaning. In this case methuei is used antithetically to peina "hungry" and this requires that the verb be understood in the generic sense of "satiated" rather than in the narrow sense of "drunk." Leon C. Field makes this point clearly and conclusively: "Methuei, in this case, is plainly contrasted with peina which is correctly rendered as ‘hungry.’ The antithesis, therefore, requires the former to be understood in the generic sense of ‘surfeited,’ not in the narrow sense of ‘drunken.’ The overfilled man is compared to the underfilled man. This is the interpretation adopted by the great body of expositors, ancient and modern."17

Scholarly Support. Among the expositors cited by Field are Chrysostom, Bengel, Grotius, Wycliff, Kuinoel, Bilroth, MacKnight, Newcome, Bloomfield, Clarke, Lightfoot, Dean Stanley, and Whedom.18 Another who could be mentioned is Clement of Alexandria, who lived only a century and a half after Paul. In his Instructor (book 2, 1), Clement, as A. W. Samson points out, "contradicts the suggestion that intoxicating wine was there used. He indicates that it is food rather than the drink of the feast to which Paul refers, and that he reproves them for ‘clutching at the delicacies,’ for ‘eating beyond the demands of nourishment.’"19

Adam Clarke makes the same point in his commentary on this text: "The people came together, and it appears brought their provisions with them; some had much, others had less; some ate to excess, others had scarcely enough to suffice nature. ‘One was hungry, and the other was drunken, methuei, was filled to the full;’ this is the sense of the word in many places of Scripture."20

The Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, provides numerous examples where methuo is used in the generic sense of "filled to the full." One of them is Psalm 23:5 which says: "my cup overflows" (methuskon—full to the brim). Another example is Psalm 65:10: "Thou waterest its furrows abundantly [methuson]." Yet another is Jeremiah 31:14: "I will feast [methuso—satiate] the soul of the priests with abundance." Examples such as these clearly show that methuo is often used in Scripture in a generic sense to express full satisfaction, satiety.

3. The Implications of Paul’s Admonition

No Allusion to Drunkenness. Paul’s rebuke and admonition suggest that drunkenness was not the problem at the Communion table of the Corinthian church. His words of rebuke are, "What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?" (v. 22). If drunkenness had been the problem, presumably Paul would have said, "Do you not have houses to eat and get drunk in?" The fact that Paul in his rebuke makes no allusion to "drunkenness" suggests that the problem at Corinth was not intoxication with alcoholic wine but rather one of excessive indulgence in eating and drinking.

If it were true that the Corinthian Christians were guilty of the awful sin of becoming inebriated during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Paul would have condemned their sacrilegious conduct in different and much sterner language. In the previous chapter Paul does not hesitate to call the participation of some Corinthians at pagan religious meals as "to be partners with demons" (1 Cor 10:20). Then he adds: "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons" (1 Cor 10:21). Earlier in the same epistle Paul categorically states that no "drunkards . . . will inherit the kingdom of God" and he admonishes the members "not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is . . . [a] drunkard" (1 Cor 6:10; 5:11). On the basis of this admonition it is fair to suppose that if some got drunk at the Communion table, Paul would have warned the rest to stay away from them.

Implication of the Admonition. Paul does not use strong language in condemning the abuses occurring in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. He merely admonishes the Corinthians to satisfy their hunger at home to avoid both the indecorum that had been manifested and the condemnation to which it had exposed them: "So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another — if any one is hungry, let him eat at home—lest you come together to be condemned" (1 Cor 11:33-34). This admonition suggests that the problem at Corinth was indulgence in eating rather than intoxication by drinking alcoholic wine. Had the Corinthian church members been drunk at the Communion table, then Paul could hardly have said earlier in the same letter that in the past some of them were drunkards "but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11).

Conclusion. In the light of the above considerations we conclude that Paul’s reference in the King James Version to "drunkenness" at the Communion table of the Corinthian church, offers no support for a moderate use of alcoholic wine either privately at home or publicly at the Lord’s Supper. First, because whatever was done at Corinth,was a departure from the instructions Paul had "delivered" to the church and thus their actions are more of a warning than an example for us. Second, because the problem at the Communion table, as we have shown, appear not to have been intoxication with alcoholic wine but indulgence in eating.



Importance of the Text. After admonishing the Ephesians to abstain from immorality and impurity, Paul particularizes his admonition saying: "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph 5:18). Moderationists see in this passage a clear Biblical sanction of moderate drinking. They argue that what Paul condemns here is the abuse and not the moderate use of alcoholic wine. "The condemnation of misuse of wine," writes Markus Barth, "does not preclude a proper use of alcoholic beverage."21

Had Paul intended to forbid wine-drinking altogether, they claim, he would have said, as Kenneth Gentry puts it, "Drink no wine at all." Instead he said, "Be not drunk with wine" (Eph 5:18).22 The next phrase, "for that is debauchery" (RSV) or "wherein is excess" (KJV), is similarly interpreted as referring to the state of drunkenness and not to wine as the active principle of debauchery. Horace Bumstead, for example, maintains that "to connect en ho [in which] with oinos [wine], as some do, instead of with methu-skesthe oino [drunk with wine], is inconsistent with the employment of so strong a word as methuskethe [drunk]."23

We shall examine the above claim by considering five points: (1) The Structure of the Passage, (2) The Relative Clause, (3) Ancient and Modern Translations, (4) The Meaning of Asotia, and (5) Rabbinical Testimonies.

1. The Structure of the Passage

Two Contrasting Statements. The passage consists of two major statements placed in contrast (antithesis) to each other: "drunk with wine" versus "filled with the Spirit." The antithesis suggests that the contrast is not between moderation and excess, but between fullness of wine and fullness of the Spirit. The two statements point to an inherent incompatibility of nature and operation between the sources of such fullness, namely, inebriating wine and the Holy Spirit. The fact that inebriating wine and the Holy Spirit are mutually exclusive, because no one can be filled with half of each, precludes the sanction for a moderate use of intoxicating wine.

This point is made clearer by quoting the preceding text, which says: "Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is," namely, that we should be filled not with ardent spirits but with the Holy Spirit. Thus, the structure of the passage suggests that Paul is not recommending a supposedly safe and moderate ingestion of wine, but a full infilling of the Holy Spirit. It is scarcely conceivable that a person "filled with the Spirit" would crave intoxicating wine.

Two Similar Passages. Numerous commentators, not themselves abstainers, illustrate this text by referring to two similar texts. The first is Luke 1:15 where the angel says to Zechariah concerning John the Baptist: "And he shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit." The second passage is from the story of Pentecost and consists of two verses: "For these men are not drunk . . ." " And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:15, 4).

In both of these passages the infilling of the Holy Spirit is connected to abstention from intoxicating drink. The striking similarity between these two passages and Ephesians 5:18 suggests that in the latter text also the infilling of the Holy Spirit precludes the drinking of alcoholic beverages.

In his comment on Luke 1:15, Hermann Olshausen aptly says: "Man feels the want of strengthening through spiritual influences from without; instead of seeking for these in the Holy Spirit, he in his blindness has recourse to the natural spirit, that is, to wine and strong drink. Therefore, according to the point of view of the Law, the Old Testament recommends abstinence from wine and strong drinks in order to preserve the soul free from all merely natural influences, and by that means to make it more susceptible of the operations of the Holy Spirit."24

"Drink no Wine at All." The antithesis between wine and Holy Spirit present in Luke 1:15 and Acts 2:15, 4 may have been borrowed by Paul to express a similar truth in Ephesians 5:18. This may explain why Paul wrote "Do not get drunk with wine" instead of "Drink no wine at all." Like Luke, he may have wished to emphasize the contrast between fullness of wine and fullness of the Spirit.

Another reason that Paul may have chosen not to say "Drink no wine at all" is suggested by 1 Timothy 5:23, where he recommends the use of "a little wine" for medical purposes: "for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments." This text will be examined in Chapter 7. The fact that Paul believed that there was a legitimate, though limited, use of "wine" would logically have precluded him from prohibiting the use of wine altogether in any form. We must also remember that the generic term oinos "wine," as we have shown in Chapter 2, could refer either to fermented or unfermented grape juice. Had Paul said "Drink no wine at all" without qualifications, he would have excluded even the drinking of wholesome, nourishing grape juice.

2. The Relative Clause

The Antecedent of the Relative Pronoun. Paul’s admonition "Do not get drunk with wine" is followed by a warning which in the RSV is rendered "for that is debauchery." The question to be considered now is, What is debauchery? Is it wine as the causative agent of debauchery or drunkenness as a state of debauchery? The answer depends on which of the two is taken to be the antecedent of the relative clause "en ho--in which." A literal translation of the Greek text would read: "And do not get drunk with wine, in which [en ho] is debauchery [asotia—literally, ‘unsavableness’]." The RSV rendering of "en ho—in which" with "for that" makes the condition of being drunk with wine, rather than wine itself, the subject of "debauchery." This construction of the sentence, as Leon Field points out, "is expressly founded on the assumption that the use of wine is elsewhere allowed in the New Testament, and not on any exegetical necessities in the text itself."25

From a grammatical viewpoint, the subject of "in which" can be either the previous word "wine" or the drunkenness spoken of in the preceding clause. This fact is recognized by such commentators as R. C. H. Lenski, who says: "‘In which’ refers to the condition of being drunk with wine or to ‘wineas here used, a means for becoming drunk."26 Robert Young, the author of the Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, renders the relative clause "in which" accurately in his Bible translation: "And be not drunk with wine, in which is dissoluteness, but be filled in the Spirit."27

Preference for "Wine." Historically, numerous translators and commentators have seen "wine" rather than the state of drunkenness as the antecedent of "in which." The reason is suggested by the position of oino ("with wine"), which in Greek comes immediately after the verb "drunk" and before the relative "in which." Though the immediate juxtaposition of "wine" between the verb and the relative is not absolutely determinative, it strongly suggests that the warning of the relative clause is about wine as the active cause of dissoluteness rather than drunkenness as a state of dissoluteness.

Support for this view is provided also by the fact that the words "Do not get drunk with wine," as The Interpreter’s Bible commentary points out, "are cited from Prov. 23:31 (the LXX according to Codex A)."28 If Paul is quoting Proverbs 23:31 as found in the LXX, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, then we have reason to believe that Paul is warning against wine as such, since the text in Proverbs condemns the use of intoxicating wine ("Do not look at wine when it is red"), rather than its abuse.

Ancient Translations. This understanding of Ephesians 5:18 as a condemnation of intoxicating wine itself is supported by numerous ancient and modern translations. Tertullian (about A. D. 160-225), who is regarded as the father of Latin Christianity, renders the text as follows: "et nolite inebriari vino, in quo est luxuria " ("And be not inebriated with wine, in which is voluptuousness").29 The connection between vino "with wine" and quo "which" is unmistakable in this Latin translation, because the relative quo has the same neuter gender of vino, upon which it depends.

Besides his translation, Tertullian reveals his understanding of the text as a prohibition against wine drinking in his usage of the text in his treatise Against Marcion, where he says: "‘Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess,’—a precept which is suggested by the passage of the prophet, where the seducers of the consecrated [Nazirites] to drunkenness are rebuked: ‘Ye gave wine to my holy ones to drink’ [Amos 2:12]. This prohibition from drink was given also to the high priest Aaron and his sons."30

About two centuries after Tertullian, Jerome translated Ephesians 5:18 in exactly the same way in his famous Latin translation of the Bible, known as the Vulgate (about A. D. 400). The Vulgate has served through the centuries as the official Latin Bible of the Roman Catholic Church.

Jerome’s understanding of this text as an admonition to abstain from the use of wine is indicated also by his usage of the text. In a letter to Laeta, a lady who wrote to him asking how she should bring up her infant daughter, Jerome says: "Let her learn even now not to drink wine ‘wherein is excess’" (Eph 5:18).31 In another letter to Eustochium, Jerome relates the story of a noble Roman lady, Paula, who on her visit to the Holy Land "called to mind the cave in which Lot found refuge, and with tears in her eyes warned the virgins her companions to beware of ‘wine wherein is excess’ [Eph 5:18]; for it was to this that the Moabites and Ammonites owe their origin."32 Jerome’s understanding of Ephesians 5:18 is significant since he is regarded as the most famous early Christian translator of the Bible.

Modern Translations. Several classical and modern translations have followed the Vulgate in its faithful literalness. For example, the French Synodal Version reads: "Ne vous enivrez pas de vin: car le vin porte ŕ la dissolution" ("Do not inebriate yourselves with wine, for wine leads to dissoluteness"). To remove any possibility for misunderstanding, the translators have repeated the word "wine" in the relative clause. Other French translations, such as the David Martin and the Version d’Ostervald also establish a clear connection between wine and the relative clause. Both read: "Ne vous enivrez point de vin, dans lequel il y a de la dissolution" ("Do not inebriate yourselves with wine, in which there is dissolution").

In English one could argue that the antecedent of "in which" is the drunkenness spoken of in the preceding clause. This uncertainty is caused by the fact that in the English language the relative pronoun "which" has no gender, and consequently can be connected to any antecedent. In French, however, "lequel" ("in which") is masculine and thus can only refer to "vin" ("wine") which is also masculine. The connection between the two is unmistakable in these French translations.

The same clear connection between "wine" and "dissoluteness" is found in the two Spanish versions, Cipriano de Valera (A. D. 1900) and Nácar, Colunga, where the relative clause reads respectively: "en el cual hay disolucion" ("in which is dissoluteness") and "en el cual está el desenfreno" ("in which is excess"). In both instances the relative "cual" ("which") is preceded by the masculine article "el," because it refers to the masculine noun "vino" ("wine"). The connection is even clearer in the Spanish Catholic Version which reads "vino fomento da la injuria" ("wine which causes harm"). A similar rendering is found in the margin of the New American Standard Bible which reads: "wine, in which is dissipation."

The Good News German Bible ("Die Gute Nachricht") provides another clear example where wine is the subject of the relative clause: "Betrinkt euch nicht; denn der Wein macht haltlos" ("Do not get drunk; because wine makes one unsteady or unprincipled").33 The Italian Protestant version Riveduta by Giovanni Luzzi, as well as the Catholic Version produced by the Pontifical Biblical Institute, follow the sentence construction of the French and Spanish versions cited above. The Riveduta reads: "E non v’inebriate di vino; esso porta alla dissolutezza" ("And do not inebriate yourselves with wine; it [wine] leads to dissoluteness"). The antecedent of "esso" ("it") is unmistakably "vino," because it is of the same masculine gender as "vino," since it depends upon it.

The sampling of ancient and modern translations cited above should suffice to show that historically many translators have understood the relative clause of Ephesians 5:18 as representing a condemnation not of drunkenness but of wine itself. If these translators are correct, as I believe they are for the reasons mentioned above, then Ephesians 5:18 provides a powerful indictment against the actual use of intoxicating wine and not merely against its abuse. A look at the noun asotia, rendered by the RSV as "debauchery," will help us appreciate the nature of the condemnation.

3. The Meaning of Asotia

Moral Dissoluteness. The noun asotia occurs in two other places in the New Testament, namely, in Titus 1:6 and in 1 Peter 4:4, and in both places it is rendered as "profligacy" in the RSV. The word is compounded of the negative a and a noun from the verb sozein, to save. Literally it signifies the absence of salvation—a state of hopeless moral dissoluteness. Albert Barnes explains that asotia denotes that "which is unsafe, not to be recovered, lost beyond recovery; then that which is abandoned to sensuality and lust; dissoluteness, debauchery, revelry. The meaning here [Eph 5:18] is that all this follows the use of wine."34

The possible connection between wine as the causing agent of "drunkenness" and asotia, the condition of moral dissoluteness, suggests that the passage views not only the abuse but also the use of wine as intrinsically evil. Leon C. Field expresses this view, noting that "it would be difficult to indicate any other arrangement of the words of this passage which would so clearly and forcibly express the idea that insalvableness inheres in wine as its essential characteristic."35

Alcohol Affects the Mind. The reason that the use of intoxicating beverages can easily place a person in a state of asotia, that is, of moral corruption inimical to the reception of saving truth, is that alcohol deranges the functions of the mind, which is the channel through which the Holy Spirit works. This is why Paul urges Christians to be filled not with wine but with the Holy Spirit.

"Let Christians," counsels Albert Barnes, "when about to indulge in a glass of wine, think of this admonition [Eph 5:18]. Let them remember that their bodies should be the temple of the Holy Ghost rather than a receptacle for intoxicating drinks. Was any man ever made a better Christian by the use of wine? Was any minister ever better fitted to counsel an anxious sinner, or to pray, or to preach the gospel, by the use of intoxicating drinks? Let the history of wine-drinking and intemperate clergymen answer."36

4. Rabbinical Testimonies

Condemnation of Wine. Rabbinical literature provides several examples to support and illustrate our interpretation of Ephesians 5:18 as a condemnation not only of the abuse but also of the use of intoxicating wine. We shall cite several examples in order to dispel the mistaken notion that the Jews, like the Bible writers, saw nothing intrinsically evil in the moderate use of wine. This popular notion has greatly influenced the interpretation of those Biblical teachings dealing with alcoholic beverages.

In their commentary on the New Testament based on rabbinic comments, Strack and Billerbeck give numerous rabbinical statements under Ephesians 5:18. They introduce such statements, by noting: "In rabbinical writings there are numerous warnings against wine."37 For our purpose we shall quote the following statements cited by these authors: "Wine separates man from the way of life and leads him in the pathway of death, because wine leads to idolatry. . . . Thus we learn that wherever [Scripture] speaks of wine, there you find also dissoluteness . . . For this Isaiah said: ‘The strength of the law is in salvation, but the strength of wine is in sorrow. Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine’ (Is 5:22). For this we read: ‘Who has a woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? . . . Those who tarry long over wine’ (Prov 23:29-30). When wine enters the body, out goes sense; where ever there is wine there is no understanding."38

Similar rabbinic warnings against wine are found in the compilation of Talmudic statements on wine by Rabbi Isidore Koplowitz. Here are some: "Whenever wine enters a person, his mind becomes confused."39 "Rabbi Isaac said, ‘The evil spirit entices a person only while he is eating and drinking, and when one becomes merry by wine, then the evil spirit has the mastery over him. . . . The drinking of wine causes the evil inclinations to be awakened within a person, as it is written, ‘And they made their father [Lot] drink wine that night etc.’ (Gen. 19:33)."40

Permanent Prohibition. Another statement attributed to Rabbi Eliezer makes the prohibition against drinking wine a permanent law for all times: "Therefore, the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded Aaron, ‘Do not drink wine nor strong drink.’ Do not assume that this injunction against wine and strong drink was only for the past, namely as long as the holy Temple at Jerusalem was still in existence, as it is written, ‘When ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation,’ but you have to guard against wine for all times to come, for wine is an omen of curse."41 An extreme example of how evil intoxicating beverages were in the mind of some Jews is the rabbinic statement that "Samuel did not pray in a house that contained intoxicating drinks (Talmud Babli Erubin 65a)."42

Conclusion. The foregoing analysis of Ephesians 5:18 has shown that this text provides no Biblical sanction for moderate use of alcoholic beverages. On the contrary, the structure of the passage as well as the possible connection between "wine" and the relative clause, a connection recognized by numerous ancient and modern translations, makes this text a most powerful Biblical indictment of intoxicating wine.

The intent of Paul in this passage is to show the irreconcilable contrast that exists between the spirit of fermented wine and the Holy Spirit. In the life of a believer the two are mutually exclusive. Summing up, the thought of Ephesians 5:18-19 can be paraphrased as follows: "Do not get drunk with wine, because the use of wine places a person in a state of asotia, that is, of moral corruption inimical to the reception of saving truth. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Find enjoyment not in the stimulation of wine but in the inspiration of the Spirit who causes you to sing and make music in your heart to the Lord."


Importance of Two Terms. In their epistles Paul and Peter employ two terms (sophron and nephalios) both of which are usually rendered as "temperate" or "sober." The two terms are not synonymous, since technically speaking sophron denotes mental sobriety and nephalios physical sobriety or abstinence. On account of their affinity of meaning, however, the two terms are often merged or used interchangeably. This happens because each term describes the same virtue, though from a different standpoint.

"Physical abstinence," explains Leon Field, "is the condition of the clearest mental sobriety, and mental sobriety is the characteristic of the strictest physical abstinence. So it happens that the term signifying mental sobriety is used metaphorically for physical abstinence, and vice versa."43

We shall now consider the meaning and usage of the two terms separately. The study will show that in both secular and Biblical Greek, the primary meaning of the two terms and their derivatives, is to abstain from all intoxicating substances. This means, as we shall see, that several of the apostolic injunctions to sobriety are primarily injunctions to abstinence from intoxicating beverages.

1. Mental Sobriety

The Meaning of Sophron. The term sophron and its related word group occur 15 times in the New Testament, 9 of which are in the Pastoral Epistles.44 The RSV renders them as "temperate" in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 2:2, "sober" in Titus 2:12, Acts 26:25 and Romans 12:3, "right mind" in Mark 5:15, Luke 8:35 and 2 Corinthians 5:13, "sane" in 1 Peter 4:7, "self-controlled" in Titus 1:8 and "sensibly" and "sensible" in 1 Timothy 2:9 and Titus 2:5.

The word sophron is compounded of saos "safe" or "sound" and phren "mind." Thus, literally it signifies "sound-minded." The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament defines it as "‘rational,’ in the sense of what is intellectually sound."45 Most Greek lexicons concur in defining the group words related to sophron as "sound mind." Arndt and Gingrich render "to be in one’s right mind;"46 Donnegan, "sound in intellect, not deranged;"47 Green, "of a sound mind, sane, staid, temperate, chaste."48

While retaining the primary idea of mental soundness, sophron and its related words are never divorced from the idea of physical abstinence, which provides the basis for a sound mind. The Romans expressed this in the well-known proverb mens sana in corpore sano ("a sound mind in a sound body").

Classical, Jewish and Christian Writers. The idea of abstinence is often present in the use and interpretation of the word sophron by classical, Jewish, and Christian writers. In his Rhetoric Aristotle (384-322 B. C. ) defines sophrosune as "the virtue by which men act with reference to the pleasures of the body as the law commands."49 In his Ethics he says: "By abstaining from pleasures we become sober [sophrones]."50 And again he states: "He who abstains from physical pleasure, and in this very thing takes delight, is sober [sophron]."51

In the Jewish work known as The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (from about the first century A.D.) the term sophron is used as a clear reference to abstinence from wine: "But if ye would live soberly [sophrosune] do not touch wine at all, lest ye sin in words of outrage, and in fightings and slanders, and transgressions of the commandments of God, and ye perish before your time."52

The Jewish philosopher Philo (about 20 B.C.-50 A.D.) frequently uses the word group with the meaning of abstention from sensual desires in general and from wine in particular.53 He views the sophrosune as a person who is free from the drunkenness of the world. This is indicated especially by his use of the opposite of sophrosune, namely, aphrosune, to describe a person who "inflamed by wine drowns the whole life in ceaseless and unending drunkenness."54

In the patristic writings, as in the classical authors, sophrosune is employed with reference to physical abstinence. Clement of Alexandria (about A. D. 150-215), for example, in discussing the life-style of young people, says: "I therefore admire those who have adopted an austere life, and who are fond of water, the medicine of temperance [tes sophrosunes], and flee as far as possible from wine, shunning it as they would the danger of fire."55 This meaning of sophron and its word group as abstinence and chastity is, according to Ulrich Luck, "a widespread understanding"56 not only in Hellenistic Judaism but also in the writings of the early church. His scholarly article in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament provides numerous examples of such usage.

Paul’s Admonition. In the epistles of Paul and Peter, several admonitions to sober-mindedness explicitly relate to physical abstinence on which the existence and exercise of sobriety rest. This is indicated especially by the close connection in which they stand with such terms as me paroinos, enkrate and nephalios, all of which, as we shall see, refer primarily to abstinence from intoxicating wine.

In 1 Timothy 3:2-3 Paul states: "Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money." The two terms "temperate, sensible" are here used to translate the Greek nephalion and sophrona. The first, as we shall show below, means "abstinent" and the second "of sound mind," or "sober-minded." "The order of terms," as Lees and Burns point out, "is instructive. The Christian overseer is to be nephalion, ‘abstinent’—strictly sober in body, in order that he may be sober in mind."57 The two words occur in the same order in Titus 2:2, though the word "serious" is placed between them. In 1 Timothy 3:2-3 the two words stand in close connection with me paroinon, a term which literally means "not near wine." On the significance of the latter, more will be said below.

In Titus 1:6-8, where Paul repeats to a large extent what he said in 1 Timothy 3 about the qualifications for the office of bishop/elder, the order is somewhat different: " . . . hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself [sophrona], upright, holy, and self-controlled [enkrate]" (v. 8). Here sophrona ("sober-minded"), translated "master of himself" by the RSV, precedes enkrate, a term which as we shall see below, is also employed in the sense of abstinence.

Peter’s Admonition. A clearer connection between sober-mindedness and physical abstinence is found in 1 Peter 4:7: "The end of all things is at hand; therefore keep sane [sophronesate] and sober [nepsate] for your prayers." The verb nepsate is the (aorist) imperative form of nepho, which some etymologists derive from the prefix ne "not" and pino "to drink," thus literally, not to drink, while others from ne "not" and poinos (for oinos "wine"), thus literally, "without wine."

The basic meaning of the verb nepho, as most Greek authorities cited below recognize, is "to be sober, in contradistinction to being drunk." Thus, what Peter is actually saying in 1 Peter 4:7 is "keep mentally sober and physically abstinent for your prayers." It is not difficult to see the connection among mental sobriety, physical abstinence and prayer life. Persons who use intoxicating beverages weaken their mental alertness, and consequently either ignore their prayer life or pray for the wrong things.

In conclusion, some of the apostolic admonitions to mental sobriety, expressed through the sophron word group, are clearly connected to physical abstinence, which determines the existence and exercise of mental sobriety.

2. Physical Abstinence

The Meaning of the Verb Nepho. The adjective nephalios and the verb nepho are used in the New Testament mostly to denote physical abstinence. The adjective nephalios occurs only three times in the pastoral epistles and is consistently rendered by the RSV as "temperate" (1 Tim 3:2, 11; Titus 2:2). The verb nepho occurs six times and is translated by the RSV five times "be sober" (1 Thess 5:6, 8; 1 Pet 1:13; 4:7; 5:8) and once "be steady" (2 Tim 4:5). Before examining the meaning and usage of these two words in the New Testament, we want to verify how they are defined in Greek lexicons and used in Greek literature.

The basic meaning of nepho, as mentioned earlier, is abstention from intoxication. In his article on this word group in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, O. Bauernfeind states: "The concept which underlies the verb nepho ‘to be sober’ and the whole word group is formally negative. It is the opposite of intoxication, both 1. in the literal sense of intoxication with wine, and 2. in the figurative sense of states of intoxication attributable to other causes."58 The Jewish philosopher Philo illustrates this definition when he says: "So too soberness [nephein] and drunkenness are opposites."59

There is noteworthy unanimity among Greek lexicons on the primary meaning of this verb. Liddell and Scott give as the first meaning of nepho, "to be sober, drink no wine." In his Patristic Greek Lexicon, Lampe renders it, "be temperate, drink no wine."60 The first example given by Lampe is from Origen’s treatise Against Celsus, where the pagan philosopher Celsus accuses a Christian teacher of acting "like a drunken man, who, entering a company of drunkards, should accuse those who are sober [nephontas] of being drunk." To such an accusation Origen responds, saying, "But let him show, say from the writings of Paul, that the apostle of Jesus gave way to drunkenness, and that his words were not those of soberness."61

Donnegan defines nepho as "to live abstemiously, to abstain from wine;"62 Greene, "to be sober, not intoxicated;"63 Robinson, "to be sober, temperate, abstinent, especially in respect to wine;"64 Abbott-Smith, "to be sober, abstain from wine."65

The Meaning of the Adjective Nephalios. The adjective nephalios is defined by these lexicographers in harmony with their rendering of the verb. For example, Lampe gives as the first meaning of nephalios, "without wine, temperate."66 His first supportive example is from Clement of Alexandria, who says: "I therefore admire those who have adopted an austere [nephalion poton=abstemious drink] life, and who are fond of water, the medicine of temperance, and flee as far as possible from wine, shunning it as they would the danger of fire."67

Among other lexicographers not cited above there is Hesychius, who gives as the primary meaning of nephalios, "not having drunk."68 In Stephanus’ Thesaurus the nephalios is said to be "he who abstains from wine."69 In the Greek Dictionary of Byzantius, published in Athens in 1839, nephalios is defined as "one who does not drink wine."70 Similarly Bauernfeind defines nephalios as "holding no wine." He explains that originally the word was used "for the offerings without wine" and subsequently for "the sober manner of life of those who make them."71

Hellenistic Testimonies. Numerous instances of the use of nepho and nephalios in the sense of abstention from wine occur in classical Greek literature.72 For our purpose it is of greater significance to look into the usage of Hellenistic writers. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, the compound verb eknepho and the verbal noun eknepsi are found in Genesis 9:24, 1 Samuel 25:37 and Joel 1:5. In each instance the meaning is to become sober, without the influence of wine.

The testimonies of the two famous Jewish writers, Josephus and Philo, are significant for our investigation, since they were contemporaries of Paul and Peter. In his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus writes of the priests: "Those who wear the sacerdotal garments are without spot and eminent for their purity and sobriety [nephalioi], not being permitted to drink wine as long as they wear those garments."73 Similarly, in his Wars of the Jews, Josephus says of the priests, "They abstained [nephontes] chiefly from wine, out of this fear, lest otherwise they should transgress some rules of their ministration."74

Like Josephus, Philo explains in his De Specialibus Legibus that the priest must officiate as nephalios, totally abstinent from wine, because he has to carry out the directions of the law and must be in a position to act as the final earthly court.75 In his treatise On Drunkenness, Philo, speaking of those who "swill themselves insatiably with wine," says: "For such deliberately and under no compulsion put the cup of strong drink to their lips, and so it is also with full deliberation that these men eliminate soberness [nephalion] from their soul and choose madness in its place."76

Implication of Testimonies. The natural and necessary inference from the mass of testimonies cited above is that Peter and Paul must have been familiar with the primary meaning of the verb nepho and its adjective nephalios as abstinence from intoxicating beverages. This being the case, they employed these terms with such a primary meaning in at least some of their admonitions to sobriety. Even if in some instances they used these terms figuratively to refer to mental rather than physical sobriety, in no case would the underlying idea of total abstinence be lost.

Those who interpret the apostolic injunctions to sobriety as referring either to mental sobriety or to a moderate use of wine base their interpretation on the assumption that Scripture condemns not the use but the abuse of wine. For example, in The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, Moulton and Milligan define nephalios as "sober, temperate; abstaining from wine, either entirely (Josephus Ant. 3, 12, 2) or at least from its immoderate use: 1 Tim 3:2, 11; Titus 2:2."77 But the three texts cited contain no suggestion of abstention from the immoderate use of wine. They simply express Paul’s admonition to bishops, women and older men to be nephalious.

If Josephus, Philo and a host of other writers used nephalios in the primary sense of "abstaining from wine," why should not Paul have used it in the same way? Dean Alford argues that such meaning had become obsolete in the apostles’ day.78 This can hardly be true, as attested by the above cited testimonies of Josephus and Philo. Moreover, long after the apostolic age, Greek writers use the word in the primary sense of abstinence. For example, the philosopher Porphyry (about 232-303) says "But be sober [nephalion] and drink without wine."79

Translators’ Bias. The foregoing considerations lead us to wonder whether nepho and nephalios have been consistently translated in the New Testament with the secondary sense of being "temperate, sober, steady," rather than in the primary sense of being "abstinent," because of the translators’ predilection for drinking. By interpreting these terms figuratively, translators and expositors have been able, as Ernest Gordon puts it, to "save the face of wine while condemning drunkenness."80

The bias toward wine can be detected even in some Greek lexicons. Besides Moulton and Milligan cited earlier, mention can be made of Liddell and Scott. They define nepho as "to be sober, drink no wine," and they give a host of supportive references. Then they give the metaphorical meaning as "to be self-controlled, to be sober and wary" and they give 1 Thessalonians 5:6 and 1 Peter 4:7 in addition to a few pagan texts as supportive references. As we shall see below, the two New Testament texts support more the former than the latter meaning.

With regard to the adjective nephalios Liddell and Scott define it as "make a libation without wine . . . unmixed with wine" when referring to offerings, and they give a battery of supportive texts. When referring to persons, they render it as "sober" and give 1 Timothy 3:2, 11, Titus 2:2 and Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews 3, 12, 2, as supportive texts. The texts of Timothy and Titus, as we shall discuss below, favor the primary meaning of abstinence. Josephus’ statement, as we have already seen, leaves no doubt that to him nephalios meant "not being permitted to drink wine." All of this shows that none of the references given really support the figurative meaning of mental sobriety. It would seem that the passages in Timothy and Titus are first translated "sober" or "temperate" rather than abstinent, and then they are cited as proof of the use of such meaning. Having looked at the meaning of nepho and nephalios in writers outside the Bible,we shall now endeavor to determine their meaning in the epistles of Peter and Paul.

3. Nepho as Physical Abstinence

1 Thessalonians 5:6-8. Paul’s first usage of nepho occurs in his letter to the Thessalonians. After warning the Thessalonians about the sudden and unexpected manner of Christ’s coming "like a thief in the night" (1Thess 5:2), he admonishes them saying: "So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober [nephomen]. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober [nephomen], and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation" (1 Thess 5:6-8).

In this passage Paul twice admonishes the Thessalonians to "be sober" (nephomen). What is the meaning of nephomen in its context? Is Paul exhorting the Thessalonians to be mentally vigilant or physically abstinent or both? The context suggests that both mental vigilance and physical abstinence are included.

The passage consists of a number of contrasting parallels: light and darkness, day and night, waking and sleeping, to be sober and to be drunk. Since Paul contrasts the sons of the day who are sober with those of the night who are drunk, it is evident that in this context the exhortation to "be sober" means not only to be mentally vigilant but also physically abstinent. In the Scripture mental vigilance is closely connected with physical abstinence from intoxicating beverages. The unfaithful servant who failed to watch for the return of his master began "to eat and drink and get drunk" (Luke 12:45).

Another indication that Paul wishes nephomen to be taken both literally and figuratively is the connection between sobriety and wakefulness: "Let us keep awake and be sober" (v. 6). The first verb, gregoromen, refers to mental watchfulness and the second, nephomen, to physical abstinence. Otherwise it would be a needless repetition (tautology): "Let us keep awake and be awake." It is evident that Paul connects mental watchfulness with physical abstinence, because the two go together. Mental vigilance in the New Testament is often connected with physical abstinence. This will become clearer as we consider the other passages in question.

1 Peter 1:13. In addition to 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8, the verb nepho occurs three times in the first epistle of Peter (1:13; 4:7; 5:8). In all three instances, the word is translated "be sober" in the RSV. The casual reader might think that Peter’s admonition to "be sober" means to be prudent, vigilant or temperate, without reference to alcohol. But a closer examination indicates that, as in 1 Thessalonians, the verb here also refers to both mental vigilance and physical abstinence. Note should be taken of the fact that in all three texts, Peter’s exhortation to "be sober" occurs in the context of readiness for the imminent return of Christ. This implies that Peter, like Paul, grounds his call to a life of abstinence and holiness in the certainty and imminence of Christ’s return.

The first usage of nepho in 1 Peter occurs in 1:13: "Therefore gird up your minds, be sober [nephontes], set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Here Peter, like Paul, correlates mental vigilance ("gird up your minds") with physical abstinence ("be sober"). Earlier we have shown that there is noteworthy unanimity in Greek lexicons and literature on the primary meaning of nepho as "be abstinent, drink no wine." This pattern of associating mental sobriety with physical abstinence is consistent in all the three usages of nepho in 1 Peter.

The admonition to "be abstinent" assumes a radical form in 1 Peter 1:13 because it is followed immediately by the adverb "teleios," which means "perfectly" or "completely." Thus, the correct translation is, "be completely or perfectly abstinent." Most translators, presumably because of their bias against abstinence, have chosen to use teleios to modify the following verb elpisate ("set your hope"), thus, rendering it "set your hope fully" (RSV) or "hope to the end" (KJV). But the idiom used elsewhere in the New Testament for "to the end" is not teleios per se, but a compound such as mechri telous or heos telous (Heb 3:6, 14; 1 Cor 1:8; 2 Cor 1:13).

Grammatically the adverb teleios can be used to modify either the preceding verb nephontes or the following verb elpisate, since in the Greek there is no punctuation that separates the adverb from the verb. A similar example is Jesus’ statement, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). Most translators and expositors have chosen to place the comma before rather than after "today," because of their belief in the survival of the soul apart from the body at the moment of death. Similarly in 1 Peter 1:13, most translators have chosen to put the comma before rather than after teleios, because of their belief that the Bible teaches moderation rather than total abstinence.

It is noteworthy that in the Vulgate, the famous Latin translation which has served as the official Catholic Bible throughout the centuries, Jerome translates teleios as a modifier of nephontes, thus, "sobrii perfecte" ("perfectly sober"). In my view Jerome’s translation reflects accurately the intent of Peter, who repeats his call to sobriety three times in his epistle. Thus, the correct translation should be: "Therefore gird up your minds, being wholly abstinent, set your hope upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

1 Peter 4:7. The verb nepho is used for the second time in 1 Peter 4:7: "The end of all things is at hand; therefore keep sane [sophronesate] and sober [nepsate] for your prayers." We noticed earlier, in our study of the term sophron, that here Peter exhorts Christians to keep mentally vigilant and physically abstinent. The meaning of nepho as abstinence from wine is suggested also by the context, where Peter contrasts the past life-style of "licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing and lawless idolatry" (1 Pet 4:3) with the new life-style of temperance and abstinence.

The passage may be paraphrased as follows: "The end of all things is at hand; therefore be sober in mind and abstemious in life in order that you might be able to maintain a healthy devotional life at this critical time."

1 Peter 5:8. The third usage of nepho occurs in 1 Peter 5:8: "Be sober [nepsate], be watchful [gregoresate]. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour." Just as in the previous two instances, here also Peter associates mental vigilance with physical abstinence, because the two are mutually dependent. The language corresponds to 1 Thessalonians 5:6, though Paul mentions first mental vigilance and second physical abstinence. The correlation between the two conditions is self-evident. Intoxicating drinks diminish the power of conscience and reason, thus weakening inhibitions to evil-doing. The ultimate result is that the Devil is better able "to devour," literally, "drink down" (katapino) such persons.

The contrast between nepsate (from ne piein, "not to drink") and katapiein (from kata piein "to drink down") has been recognized by Adam Clarke, who comments: "It is not every one that he can swallow down. Those who are sober and vigilant are proof against him; these he may not swallow down. Those who are drunk with the cares of this world, and are unwatchful, these he may swallow down. There is a beauty in this verse, and striking apposition between the first and last words, which I think have not been noticed;—Be sober, nepsate, from ne not, and piein, to drink—do not swallow down—and the word katapien, from kata, down, and piein, to drink. If you swallow strong drink down, the devil will swallow you down. Hear this, ye drunkards, topers, tipplers, or by whatsoever name ye are known in society, or among your fellow-sinners, strong drink is not only your way to the devil, but the devil’s way into you. Ye are such as the devil particularly may swallow down."81

Correlation with Luke 12:41-46. Peter’s exhortations to vigilance and abstinence appear to have been inspired by the parable of the drunken servant which Christ spoke directly to Peter (Luke 12:41). In that parable the faithful steward is commended for watching over his master’s household while the unfaithful one is condemned for beginning "to eat and drink and get drunk" (Luke 12:43-45).

Allusions to this parable appear several times in 1 Peter. For example, 1 Peter 4:10 says, "as good stewards of God’s varied grace." This is strikingly similar to Luke 12:42, "the faithful and wise steward whom his master will set over his household." Similarly 1 Peter 4:5, "him who is ready to judge the living and the dead," appears to be an echo of Luke 12:46, "The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him . . . and will punish him." Also 1 Peter 5:3, "Not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock" harks back to the unfaithful servant of Luke 12:45 who began "to beat the menservants and the maidservants."

The allusions in 1 Peter to Luke’s parable of the unfaithful servant, who is caught drunk and punished by his returning master, strongly support the translation of nepho in its primary sense of abstaining from wine. Furthermore, the allusions help us understand why 1 Peter 1:13 would urge abstinence in radical terms: "nephontes teleios" ("be completely abstinent").

Summing up our study of the five usages of nepho, two by Paul (1 Thess 5:6, 8) and three by Peter (1 Peter 1:13; 4:7; 5:8), we can say that all show an amazing consistency in urging both mental vigilance and physical abstinence. Moreover, we have found that the primary meaning of nepho as abstinence from intoxicating beverages is supported in 1 Thessalonians by the contrasting parallel between the sons of the day who are sober and the sons of the night who are drunk. In 1 Peter, support for the abstinence meaning of nepho comes both from the allusions to the parable of the drunken servant of Luke 12 and from the context of 1 Peter 4:7, where the apostle refers to the past life-style of "drunkenness" (1 Pet 4:3). It is also significant that all five admonitions to abstinence are given in the context of preparation for the imminent return of Christ. To this point we shall return after examining the usage of the adjective nephalion.

4. Nephalios as Physical Abstinence

Three texts. The adjective nephalios occurs only three times in the New Testament. It is used by Paul in his description of the qualifications desired of bishops, women and older men. The first two instances occur in 1 Timothy 3:2, 11: "Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate [nephalion], sensible [sophrona], dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard [me paroinon] . . . The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate [nephalious], faithful in all things." The third instance is found in Titus 2:2, "Bid the older men be temperate [nephalious], serious, sensible [sophronas], sound in faith, in love and in steadfastness."

Earlier we noticed that nephalios occurs together with sophron in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 2:2, the first to denote physical abstinence and the second mental vigilance. Several commentators recognize that the connection between the two requires a literal interpretation of nephalios, as being abstinence from wine. Adam Clarke, for example, though himself a moderationist, offers this comment on 1 Timothy 3:2: "He must be vigilant, nephaleos, from ne, not and pino, to drink. Watchful; for as one who drinks is apt to sleep, so he who abstains from it is more likely to keep awake, and attend to his work and charge."82 Commenting on the same verse Albert Barnes says, "This word (nephalios) occurs only here and in verse 11; Titus 2:2. It means, properly, sober, temperate, abstinent, especially in respect to wine; then, sober-minded, watchful, circumspect."83

"No Drunkard." Some argue that the literal interpretation of nephalios as abstinent is contradicted by me paroinos, rendered "no drunkard" by the RSV. Their reasoning is that the latter negates the former. Paul could not have enjoined a bishop first to be abstinent and then "no drunkard," that is, moderate in the use of wine. This apparent contradiction can be resolved by recognizing that me paroinos does not necessarily imply moderation. In his word-by-word exposition of 1 Timothy 3:2, Jerome interprets me paroinos as totally abstinent. He writes: "‘not a drunkard’ (non vinolentum), for he who is constantly in the Holy of Holies and offers sacrifices, will not drink wine or strong drink, since wine is debauchery [luxuria —Eph 5:18]."84 For Jerome, me paroinos meant that like the priests in the Old Testament, the bishop must be totally abstinent.

Another resolution to the apparent contradiction can be found by recognizing that the meaning of paroinos goes beyond "addicted to wine, drunken"85 to the complementary idea of being "near wine," that is, near a place where wine is consumed. The word paroinos is composed of para, "near," and oinos, "wine." "The ancient paroinos," as Lees and Burns explain, "was a man accustomed to attend drinking parties, and, as a consequence, to become intimately associated with strong drink."86

Understood in this sense, paroinos does not weaken nephalios. On the contrary, it strengthens it. What Paul is saying is that a bishop must be not only abstinent, but must also avoid places where wine was consumed. This fits well with Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 5:11, "I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one."

A similar admonition is found in the so-called Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, compiled in the fourth century from earlier canons. The 54th canon reads: "If any one of the clergy be taken eating in a tavern, let him be suspended, excepting when he is forced to bait at an inn upon the road."88 The reason for this injunction is presumably the concern over the public image of a clergyman seen eating in a tavern where people often got drunk. The same concern is apparent in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 where Paul mentions those qualities which affect first the bishop’s personal example at home and then his public reputation before the church and society.

Dual Meaning of Paroinos. Albert Barnes, a respected commentator of the New Testament, specifically mentions the dual meaning of paroinos, saying: "The Greek word (paroinos) occurs in the New Testament only here [1 Tim 3:3] and in Titus 1:7. It means, properly, by wine; that is, spoken of what takes place by or over wine, as revelry, drinking-songs, etc. Then it denotes, as it does here, one who sits by wine; that is, who is in the habit of drinking it. . . . It means that one who is in the habit of drinking wine, or who is accustomed to sit with those who indulge in it, should not be admitted to the ministry. The way in which the apostle mentions the subject here would lead us fairly to suppose that he did not mean to commend its use in any sense; that he regarded it as dangerous and that he would wish the ministers of religion to avoid it altogether."89

The meaning of paroinos as "near wine," that is, near a drinking place, is supported by ancient and modern Greek lexicons. The Lexicon Graeci Testamenti Alphabeticum, published in 1660, defines paroinos in Greek and Latin as "para to oino, apud vinum," which may be translated "near or in the presence of wine."90 Liddell and Scott define the related word paroinios as "befitting a drinking party."91 A colleague at Andrews University of Greek nationality, Dr. Elly Economou, alerted me to the fact that the meaning just given is still current in modern Greek. Her modern Greek-English lexicon defines paroinos as: "Drunken. Done (or said) in drinking (at table)."92 The only example given in the lexicon is "paroinon asma, a convivial song."93

In the light of the foregoing considerations Paul enjoins a Christian bishop (overseer) to be not only nephalios, that is, abstinent, but also me paroinon, that is, not present at drinking places or parties. The Christian minister must not only be himself abstinent, but he must also withhold his presence and sanction from places and associations which could tempt his abstinence or that of others.

Some will argue that this conclusion is negated by Paul’s admonition to deacons to be "not addicted to much wine" (1 Tim 3:8; cf. Titus 2:3) and to Timothy, "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (1Tim 5:23). These texts will be examined together with a few others in Chapter 7, a chapter devoted specifically to an analysis of the few misunderstood texts regarding the use of alcoholic beverages. Our study will show that these texts substantiate rather than negate Paul’s admonitions regarding abstinence.

The Reason for Abstinence. The reason given by Peter and Paul for living abstinent and godly lives is not just medical but eschatological. Healthful and holy living is commended in the Scripture not merely for the sake of personal health and goodness, but primarily for the sake of God’s desire to dwell within us in this present life (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:13) and to fellowship with us in the life to come. The preparation to live in the holy presence of Christ at His coming requires that we learn to live clean and godly lives now. This is the fundamental reason given by Paul in Titus, for admonishing not only bishops but also older men, older women, younger men and slaves to live sober and godly lives.

After admonishing each group individually, Paul gives this final and fundamental reason for his previous exhortations: "For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:11-14).

In this passage Paul appropriately connects the abstention from worldly passions with God’s design for us to live sober-mindedly [sophronos], righteously and devoutly in this present world. We noticed earlier the close connection existing between mental sobriety and physical abstinence. The suppression of worldly passions presupposes the abstention from intoxicating beverages, since the latter contributes to the former. This is accomplished not merely through human effort but primarily through "the grace of God" which has appeared, not to sanction indulgence but to train us to avoid whatever interferes with the highest development of our Christian character. The purpose of God’s grace, manifested through Jesus Christ, is not only "to redeem us" by paying the penalty of all our past iniquities, but also "to purify" us by providing power "to live sober, upright and godly lives," while awaiting "the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ."

It is this hope of being ready to receive Christ, and to be received by Him on the day of His glorious appearing, that should motivate every Christian to "purify himself as he is pure" (1 John 3:3). It is to this hope that Peter also appeals when he urges mental vigilance and physical abstinence in those three texts considered earlier. His admonition to "gird up your minds, be completely abstinent" is followed immediately by the exhortation "set your hope upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 1:13). Similarly, in 1 Peter 4:7 the admonition to "keep sane and sober [abstinent]" is predicated on the fact that "the end of all things is at hand." The same is true of the exhortation to mental and physical sobriety in 1 Peter 5:8, which is preceded by the hope to "obtain the unfading crown of glory" on the day "when the chief Shepherd is manifested" (1 Pet 5:4).

For Christians like the Seventh-day Adventists, who accept the the Biblical teachings on the Second Advent literally rather than simply existentially—that is as a future realization of our present expectations rather than a present experience of the future—the apostolic admonition to abstain from intoxicating beverages assumes added significance. To be abstinent represents a tangible response to God’s invitation to make concrete preparation for the actual coming of our real Savior.

5. Enkrateia as Physical Abstinence

Meaning of Enkrateia. Closely related to nephalios is the Greek word enkrateia which is used five times in the New Testament (Acts 24:25; Gal 5:23; 2 Pet 1:6; 1 Cor 9:25; Titus 1:8). The word enkrateia derives its meaning from the stem krat which "expresses the power or lordship which one has either over oneself or over something."94 This power over oneself is especially manifested in the capacity to abstain from all forms of evil.

The RSV translates enkrateia consistently as "self-control" in 1 Corinthians 9:25 while the KJV renders it as "temperate." Some moderationists find in these texts a support for their view. Their reasoning is that the primary meaning of the Greek enkrateia and of the English "temperance" is not "total abstinence" but "moderation or discreetness" or "to resist all temptation to excess in anything."95

The truth of the matter is radically different. While the term "temperance" has come to mean in modern English "moderation," historically its primary meaning has been "abstinence." This is true for the English "temperance," the Latin "temperantia" and the Greek "enkrateia." Leon C. Field provides an extensive historical documentation supportive of "abstinence" as the primary meaning of "temperance/temperantia/enkrateia."96 A similar documentation is provided by Walter Grundmann in his article on "enkrateia" in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.97 The reader is referred to these studies for ample documentation. For our immediate purpose we shall cite only a few texts by way of illustration.

Sample Texts. Sir Thomas Elyot, an English author of the sixteenth century, wrote in his Governor (1531): "He that is temperate, fleeth pleasure voluptuous and with the absence of them is not discontented, and from the presence of them he willingly absteineth."98 Similarly the philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1640) defines "temperance [as] the habit by which we abstain from all things that tend to our destruction; intemperance the contrary vice."99

The same meaning is found in Greek sources. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) says: "The self-restrained man [enkrates], knowing that his desires are bad, refuses to follow them on principle."100 The apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus has a section entitled "Temperance [enkrateia] of the Soul" which opens with these words: "Go not after thy lusts, but refrain thyself from thy appetites."101 Abstinence was highly esteemed among the Essenes. Josephus tells us, "These Essenes reject pleasure as an evil, but esteem abstinence [enkrateian], and the conquest over our passions, to be virtue."102 Perhaps the most conclusive proof of the abstinence connotation of enkrateia is the usage of the title "Encratites" to designate several early Christian groups who abstained from wine, flesh-meat, and some of them even from marriage.103

Abstinence in Acts 24:25. The New Testament writers retain the idea of abstinence in their use of enkrateia. The first occurrence of the word is in Acts 24:25 as one of the topics presented by Paul to Felix and Drusilla: "And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance [enkrateias], and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee" (KJV). Felix was an unjust governor, addicted to licentious indulgence and living in adultery with Drusilla. In view of the notorious cruelty and licentiousness of the guilty pair, it is evident that when Paul spoke to them of enkrateia, his theme was not moderation but abstinence from all unlawful and sinful practices.

Wycliffe correctly renders enkrateia in this text by "chastitie." This meaning is most evident in 1 Corinthians 7:9 where Paul uses the verbal form to describe the same virtue of chastity: "But if they cannot exercise self-control [enkrateuomai] they should marry."

Abstinence in 1 Corinthians 9:25. In the same epistle Paul uses the verb a second time in a way which clearly includes the idea of abstinence: "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things [panta enkrateuetai]. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable" (1 Cor 9:25, RSV). The KJV renders the verb in question "is temperate in all things."

Some appeal to this passage to defend the moderate use of alcoholic beverages. They believe that in this passage the apostle teaches Christians to be temperate, that is, moderate, in the use of all things including alcoholic beverages. This represents a misinterpretation of the text which has been influenced by inaccurate modern translations. The older translations recognize that the true meaning of the verb in this passage is abstinence, not moderation. The Latin Vulgate renders it "ab omnibus se abstinet " ("he abstains himself from all things"). Wycliffe has the same rendering, "absteyneth hym fro alle thingis." Tyndale, Cranmer and the Geneva version follow the same translation.

This meaning is supported by the allusion to the training of athletes for the ancient games. Commentators give abundant illustrative references from ancient authors. Adam Clarke, for example, quotes the stoic philosopher Epictetus (about A.D. 100) who wrote: "Do you wish to gain the prize at the Olympic games? Consider the requisite preparations and the consequences: You must observe a strict regimen; must live on food which you dislike; you must abstain from all delicacies; must exercise yourself at the necessary and prescribed times both in heat and cold; you must drink nothing cooling; take no wine as formerly."104

In his De Arte Poetica Horace has the famous lines which Francis translates as follows: "The youth who hopes the Olympic price to gain, All arts must try, and every toil sustain; The extremes of heat and cold must often prove; And shun the weakening joys of wine and love [Abstinuit Venere et Bacco—literally, "he abstains from love and wine"]."105

In light of what we know about the rigorous abstinent life-style of ancient athletes, Paul’s phrase panta enkrateuetai can be rendered correctly as "he abstains from all [harmful] things." This meaning is recognized by several commentators. Walter Grundmann explains that the verb under discussion in 1 Corinthians 9:25 "simply tells us that for the sake of the goal toward which he strives . . . he [the athlete] refrains from all the things which might offend or hamper."106 Similarly F. W. Grosheide comments that the meaning of the verb is "[he] trains himself by doing or taking nothing that would harm."107

In the very next verses Paul illustrates this meaning by making a personal application. Continuing with the image of the athlete, he says, "Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor 9:26-27). Such language scarcely supports the moderation view of temperance as a prudent use of intoxicating beverages. It rather implies a stern, self-denying discipline. It implies that to qualify for acceptance as citizens of heaven, we must subdue our craving for intoxicating substances by the power of divine grace (Phil 4:13).

Abstinence in other Passages. The idea of abstinence is also present in the other passages in which enkrateia occurs. We shall make only a brief reference to them. In Galatians 5:22 this word stands as the completion and crown of the fruit of the Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control [enkrateia]; against such there is no law." The fruit of the Spirit, including the last named, stands in opposition to the "works of the flesh" enumerated in the preceding verse and among which "drunkenness" is prominent. This suggests that enkrateia is seen by Paul especially as the antithesis of drunkenness.

In 2 Peter 1:6 enkrateia occurs among the list of virtues, sometimes called "Peter’s ladder," and is rendered "self-control" in the RSV. The Vulgate renders it abstinentia, and Wycliffe "absteynence." The adjective form enkrate occurs once in Titus 1:8 where it corresponds to nephalion ("abstinent") in 1 Timothy 3:2.

From this survey it is clear that the admonitions to sobriety and temperance in the New Testament call for a moderate use of all good things and total abstinence from all that is injurious. Applied to alcoholic beverages, the New Testament teaches total abstinence. Our study of the apostolic exhortations to sobriety expressed through the terms sophron, nepho, nephalios, and enkrateia has shown that these terms complement one another in emphasizing the Christian calling to mental vigilance and physical abstinence.


The conclusion emerging from the investigation conducted in this chapter into the apostolic teachings regarding alcoholic beverages is abundantly clear. Contrary to the prevailing perception, the New Testament is amazingly consistent in its teaching of abstinence from the use of alcoholic beverages.

We have found that the texts commonly used to support the moderationist view provide no support to such a view. On the contrary, some of them openly contradict the moderationist view.

The irony of the charge in Acts 2:13 that the apostles were drunk on gleukos, that is, grape juice, their common beverage, provides an indirect but important proof of their abstinent life-style and inferentially of the life-style of their Master.

Paul’s reference to "drunkenness" at the Communion table of the Corinthian church (1 Cor 11:21) offers no support for a moderate use of alcoholic wine, because whatever was done at Corinth was a departure from the instructions Paul had delivered to the church. Thus, their conduct constitutes a warning rather than an example for us. Furthermore, our study of the meaning of the verb methuo ("satiated") and of the implications of Paul’s admonitions suggests quite clearly that the problem at Corinth was indulgence in eating rather than intoxication with alcoholic wine.

The intent of Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 5:18 ("Do not get drunk with wine") is not to sanction the moderate use of wine, but to show the irreconcilable contrast between the spirit of wine and presence of the Holy Spirit. The structure of the passage, as well as the possible connection between "wine" and the relative clause—recognized by many ancient and modern translations—makes this text one of the most powerful Biblical indictments against intoxicating wine.

The apostolic admonitions to sobriety and temperance call for a moderate use of all good things and total abstinence from all that is harmful. Our study of the Greek terms (sophron, nepho, nephalios, and enkrateia) used in the apostolic admonitions has shown how these terms complement one another in emphasizing the Christian need for both mental vigilance and physical abstinence from intoxicating substances such as alcoholic beverages. The fundamental reason given by Peter and Paul for their call to a life of vigilance and abstinence is eschatological, namely, preparation to live in the holy presence of Christ at His soon coming.


1. Rom 14:21; Eph 5:18; 1 Tim 3:8; 5:23; Titus 2:3; Rev 6:6; 14:8; 14:10; 16:19; 17:2; 18:3, 13; 19:15.

2. See discussion in Stephen M. Reynolds, Alcohol and the Bible (Little Rock, Arkansas, 1983), p. 52.

3. See, for example, the Greek lexicons of E. Robinson and Dean Alford, s. v. "Gleukos."

4. Philo, On Drunkenness 36.

5. Pliny, Natural History 14, 11, 83.

6. See, for example, Henry G. Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 1968 edition, s. v. "Gleukos;" James H. Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, s. v. "Gleukos;" Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s. v. "Gleukos;" also the commentaries of R. H. Lenski and Albert Barnes on Acts 2:13. For a list of additional authors, see William Patton, Bible Wines. Laws of Fermentatation (Oklahoma City, n.d.), pp. 93-95.

7. Horace Bumstead, "The Biblical Sanction of Wine," Bibliotheca Sacra 38 (January 1881): 81.

8. Ibid., p. 62.

9. Ernest Gordon, Christ, the Apostles and Wine. An Exegetical Study (Philadelphia, 1947), p. 20.

10. Horace Bumstead (n. 7), p. 81.

11. Eusebius, Church History 2, 23, 4, eds. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, 1971), vol. 1, p. 125.

12. As quoted by Eusebius, Church History 2, 23, 4 (n. 11), p. 125.

13. Some information in this regard is provided by G. W. Samson, The Divine Law as to Wines (New York, 1880), pp. 197-210. The value of his research, however, is diminished by the lack of accurate references.

14. Ernest Gordon (n. 9), p. 20.

15. Cited in Charles Wesley Ewing, The Bible and its Wines (Denver, 1985), p. 107.

16. Kenneth L. Gentry, The Christian and Alcoholic Beverages (Grand Rapids, 1986), p. 56.

17. Leon C. Field, Oinos: A Discussion of the Bible Wine Question (New York, 1883), p. 60.

18. Ibid., p. 60, note 1.

19. G. W. Samson (n. 13), p. 201.

20. Adam Clarke, The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (New York, 1938), vol. 2, p. 254.

21. Markus Barth, Ephesians. Translation and Commentary on Chapters 4-6 (New York, 1974), p. 581.

22. Kenneth L. Gentry (n. 16), p. 47.

23. Horace Bumstead (n. 7), p. 88.

24. Hermann Olshausen, Biblical Commentary on the New Testament (New York, 1860), vol. 5, p. 131.

25. Leon C. Field (n. 17), p. 118.

26. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians (Columbus, Ohio, 1950), p. 618, emphasis supplied. In a similar vein S. D. F. Salmond writes: "The en ho refers not to the oinos alone . . . but to the whole phrase methuskesthe oino—the becoming drunk with wine" (The Expositor’s Greek Testament (Grand Rapids, 1956), vol. 3, p. 362.

27. Robert Young, trans., The Holy Bible Consisting of the Old and New Covenants (Edinburgh, 1911).

28. The Interpreter’s Bible (New York, 1970), vol. 11, p. 714.

29. Tertullian, On Modesty 17.

30. Tertullian, Against Marcion 5, 18, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, 1973), vol. 3, p. 468.

31. Jerome, Letter 107 to Laeta, eds. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post-Nice Fathers of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, 1979), vol. 6, p. 193.

32. Jerome, Letter 108 to Eustochium (n. 31), p. 200.

33. Die Bibel in heutigem Deutsch. Die Gute Nachricht des Alten und Neuen Testaments (Stuttgart, 1982).

34. Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament. Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians (Grand Rapids, 1955), p. 104.

35. Leon C. Field (n. 17), p. 119.

36. Albert Barnes (n. 34), pp. 104-105.

37. H. L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrash (München, 1926), p. 609.

38. Ibid.

39. Cited in the compilation prepared by Rabbi Isidore Koplowitz, Midrash Yayin Veshechor. Talmudic and Midrashic Exegetics on Wine and Strong Drink (Detroit, 1923), p. 39.

40. Ibid., p. 53.

41. Ibid., p. 61.

42. Ibid., p. 45.

43. Leon C. Field (n. 17), p. 119.

44. 1 Tim 2:9, 15; 3:2; Titus 1:8; 2:2, 4, 5, 6, 12; Acts 26:25; Mark 5:15; Luke 8:35; 2 Cor 5:13; 1 Pet 4:7; Rom 12:3.

45. Ulrich Luck, "Sophron," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, 1971), vol. 7, 1097.

46. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s. v. "Sophroneo."

47. James Donnegan, A New Greek and English Lexicon, 1847 edition, s. v. "Sophron."

48. Thomas S. Green, A Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament, 1892 edition, s. v. "Sophron."

49. Aristotle, Rethoric 1, 9.

50. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 2, 9.

51. Ibid., 2, 3, 1.

52. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Testament of Judah 16, 3, ed., R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Oxford, 1913), p. 320.

53. See Ulrich Luck (n. 45), p. 1101.

54. Philo, On Drunkenness 95, trans. F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitetaker, The Loeb Classical Library (New York, 1930), p. 367.

55. Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 2, 2, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, 1979), vol. 2, p. 243.

56. Ulrich Luck (n. 45), p. 1103.

57. Frederic Richard Lees and Dawson Burns, The Temperance Bible-Commentary (London, 1894), p. 367.

58. O. Bauernfeind, "Nepho, Nephalios, Eknepho," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, 1967), vol. 4, p. 936.

59. Philo, De Plantatione 172, trans. F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker, The Loeb Classical Library (New York, 1930), p. 303.

60. G. W. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford, 1961), s. v. "Nepho."

61. Origen Against Celsus 3, 76, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, 1972), vol. 4, p. 494.

62. James Donnegan (n. 47), s. v. "Nepho."

63. Thomas S. Green (n. 48), s. v. "Nepho."

64. E. Robinson, A Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament (New York, 1850), s. v. "Nepho."

65. G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 1937 edition, s. v. "Nepho."

66. G. W. Lampe (n. 60), s. v. "Nephalios."

67. Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 2, 2, (n. 55), p. 242.

68. Hesechius of Alexandria, Hesychii Alexandri Lexicon, 1858 edition, s. v. "Nephalios."

69. Stephanus, as cited by Leon C. Field (n. 17), p. 122.

70. Demetrios C. S. Byzantios, Lexicon Epitomou tes Ellenikes Glosses, 1939 edition, s. v. "Nephalios."

71. O. Baurnfeind (n. 58), p. 939.

72. For an extensive compilation, see Lees and Burns (n. 57), p. 362.

73. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 3, 12, 2, trans. William Whiston, Josephus Complete Works (Grand Rapids, 1974), p. 81.

74. Josephus, Wars of the Jews 5, 5, 7 (n. 73), p. 556.

75. Philo, De Specialibus Legibus 4, 183.

76. Philo, On Drunkenness 123 (n. 54), p. 383.

77. James H. Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, 1952 edition, s. v. "Nephalios."

78. See discussion in Lees and Burns (n. 57), pp. 364-365.

79. Porphyry, De Abstinentia 1, 27.

80. Ernest Gordon (n. 9), p. 31.

81. Adam Clarke (n. 20), vol. 2, p. 869.

82. Ibid., p. 595.

83. Albert Barnes, Notes, Explanatory and Practical on the Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon (New York, 1873), p. 139.

84. Jerome, Against Jovinianus 1, 35, eds. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, 1979), vol. 6, p. 372.

85. Henry G. Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 1968 edition, s. v. "paroinos."

86. Lees and Burns (n. 57), p. 367.

87. Emphasis supplied.

88. Constitutions of the Holy Apostles 54, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, 1970), vol. 7, p. 503.

89. Albert Barnes (n. 83), p. 140.

90. Lexicon Graeci Testamenti Alphabeticum, 1660 edition, s. v. "Par-oinos."

91. Henry G. Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 1968 edition, s. v. "Paroinios."

92. G. Giannakopoulou and E. Siapenou, Ariston Ellenoaggaikon Lexicon, 1971 edition, s. v. "Paroinos."

93. Ibid.

94. Walter Grundman, "Enkrateia," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, 1974), vol. 2, pp. 339-342.

95. The authors of the quotes are Chancellor H. Crosby and Horace Bumstead, both of whom are cited and discussed in Leon C. Field (n. 17), pp. 124-126.

96. Ibid., pp. 125-129.

97. Walter Grundmann (n. 94), pp. 339-342.

98. Sir Thomas Elyot, Governor 3, 19, cited in Leon C. Field (n. 17), p. 125.

99. Thomas Hobbes, De Corpore Politico, cited in Leon C. Field (n. 17), p. 125.

100. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 7, 1, 6, trans. H. Rackham, The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1939), p. 379.

101. Ecclesiasticus 18:30.

102. Josephus, Wars of the Jews 2, 8, 2, trans. William Whiston (n. 73), p. 476.

103. Some of the early Christian writers mentioning the Encratites are Irenaeus, Against Hereses 1, 28; Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 7, 17; Hippolytus, Philosophumena 8, 20; Epiphanius, Against Heresies 46, 47.

104. Epictetus, Encheiridion 35, cited in Adam Clarke (n. 20), vol. 2, p. 239.

105. Horace, De Arte Poetica verse 412, cited in Adam Clarke (n. 20), p. 240.

106. Walter Grundmann (n. 94), p. 342.

107. F. W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1983), p. 215. Irving Woodworth Raymond remarks: "Temperance occupies an important position in St. Paul’s thought. He regards it as the antithesis of drunkenness and frequently describes the virtue in athletic or military terms" (The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink [New York, 1927], p. 87).

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