Published: 9 October 2023

Use a Little Wine for Your Stomach’s Sake

Use a Little Wine for Your Stomach’s Sake

“No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim. 5:23 ESV).

This parenthetical comment seems to interrupt the flow of the passage. Perhaps after Paul’s comment about Timothy keeping himself pure, he wanted to assure him that drinking wine appropriately would not negate his purity. His motive for abstaining may have been to set a good example in light of the drunkenness that seems to have been a part of the Ephesian problem.

“Paul tells Timothy to μηκέτι, “no longer,” drink only water. It is interesting to ask why Timothy was abstaining since it obviously was detrimental to his health. The answer lies in the Ephesian situation. Paul’s opponents were drunkards, and to disassociate himself totally from them and their teaching, Timothy apparently had chosen to abstain to the point that it was hurting him physically. His abstinence was an example of not exercising his Christian liberty when it might damage another’s faith (cf. 1 Cor 8:13; Rom 14:15, 21). While this was admirable, Paul did not want Timothy to think that the preceding statement was an endorsement of his decision to abstain, and in fact Paul thought that Timothy should change his habit and use a little wine because of his physical problems.”1 

What was the problem with drinking only water?

In the ancient world, as in many places today, water was not always safe to drink. 

“During Roman times the ordinary table beverage was wine mixed with water. Since the water was not always completely safe to drink, mixing wine with water had a purifying effect on the water.”2

“[I]n those days there were not many beverages that were safe to drink, whereas there was also the danger of drinking water alone, because the available water was not safe. There were several ways by which water could be made safe to drink, but ‘the safest and easiest method … was to mix it with wine.’”3

“[W]ine was often helpful in settling stomachs and preventing dysentery, as it disinfected water.”4 

So, wine presumably helped to reduce impurities in the water. Ironically, the wine produced in Ephesus had a bad reputation in the ancient world:

“The elder Pliny, who wrote a whole section of his Natural History (better thought of as a ‘Miscellany’) on the different wines around the mid-first century A.D., says: ‘As for the vintage of Mesogis, it has been found to cause headaches, and that of Ephesus has also proved to be unwholesome, because seawater and boiled must [grape juice before it has fermented] are employed to season it.’ Seawater! It must have been wretched stuff, but Paul hopes that it will ward off Timothy’s frequent illnesses.”5 

Poor Timothy just couldn’t catch a break. 

Is Paul endorsing the casual consumption of alcohol?

It should be obvious to any truth-seeking person that Paul gave Timothy this advice about wine for the sake of his health. This passage reveals a couple of things. First, Paul didn’t have any qualms about telling Timothy to consume an alcoholic beverage. There is nowhere in the Bible that I am aware of where God commanded His people to completely abstain from alcohol.

An exception to this would have been Old Testament priests and those who had taken a Nazarite vow. “Wine was forbidden to priests when they ministered in the central sanctuary (Lev. 10:9; Ezk. 44:21); and those under a Nazirite vow (Nu. 6:1–4; cf. Samson, Jgs. 13:4f.; cf. also Am. 2:11f.) were not allowed to have wine, strong drink, or any produce of the vine, including grapes or raisins.”6

Second, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that Paul said, “use a little wine.” Timothy was to use enough wine to offset the detrimental effects of impure water. It is quite clear that he wasn’t giving him permission to drink enough wine to become intoxicated! Paul’s permission to “use a little wine” “is supportive of the argument that in 1 Timothy 3:3, 8 the apostle teaches against excessive drinking.”7 This is consistent with the Bible’s overall condemnation of strong drink and drunkenness (Prov 20:1, 23:29-35; Isa 5:11-12; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:18).

Should Christians drink wine or other alcoholic beverages?

It’s crucial to understand that 1 Timothy 5:23 does not justify excessive or irresponsible drinking. Instead, it should be understood in the broader context of biblical teachings on self-control, moderation, and caring for one’s well-being. What 1 Timothy 5:23 grants is the freedom to drink wine when it is in the best interest of one’s health.

Should a Christian drink alcohol? I do not believe the Bible teaches it is a sin to drink as long as one can do so without overindulging. I personally do not drink simply because I can’t think of a good reason to do so. In my opinion, the risks are far greater than any potential reward. With all the biblical warnings against strong drink, followers of Jesus should ask themselves why they want to drink. An honest answer about why should help us to make a conscientious decision.  


  1. Mounce, William D. Word Biblical Commentary, Pastoral Epistles, Vol 46, Nelson, 2000, 638.
  2. BANDSTRA, B. L. Bromiley, Geoffery W., ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Revised). Accordance electronic ed., version 1.4. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.
  3. Ademiluka, Solomon O. “Paul’s Teaching on the Use of Alcohol and Its Implications for the Church in Nigeria.” In Die Skriflig 54, no. 1 (2020): 7.
  4. Keener, C.S., 1993, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament, InterVarsity, Grand Rapids, IL. 619.
  5. Arnold, Clinton E., ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2002: Vol 3, 469.
  6. BANDSTRA, B. L. Bromiley, Geoffery W., ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Revised). Accordance electronic ed., version 1.4. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.
  7. Ademiluka, Solomon O. “Paul’s Teaching on the Use of Alcohol and Its Implications for the Church in Nigeria.” In Die Skriflig 54, no. 1 (2020): 7.