Issue #563 -------
February 1, 2013
First you take a drink, then the drink
takes a drink, then the drink takes you.
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
A good friend and brother-in-Christ who lives in Ohio recently wrote me with the following request: "Al, one of your recent articles spurred my interest on the subject of the use of wine. Would you explain what Paul meant when he wrote to Timothy, with regard to elders, that they were not to be given to wine. Did God see fit to distinguish between elders and deacons in the use of wine? The KJV seems to say: NO wine for elders, NOT MUCH wine for deacons. If this translation is correct, would it not be logical to say that by offering wine on the Lord's Table, instead of grape juice, an elder would be forced to violate this qualification? I had never looked at this issue from this perspective before, but now I'm curious." My recent article, to which this reader refers, was Reflections #561 (Confused Circling of Cups) in which I responded to the concern of a reader serving in Afghanistan who accidentally drank wine, rather than grape juice, in the observance of the Lord's Supper, and who wondered if this was a violation of his vow to refrain from consuming alcohol.
There are most certainly some disciples of Christ who sincerely believe that it is a mortal sin to consume alcohol in any form under any circumstance. Indeed, some of these individuals will not even take cold medicine or cough syrup if it contains alcohol. I personally am convinced this is a position that is inconsistent with the overall teaching of Scripture, as I have sought to convey in some depth in Reflections #134 ("Behold, A Winebibber!" May A Christian Drink Wine?). I personally find nothing in God's inspired Word that forbids any disciple, including elders and deacons, from drinking wine (or any other alcoholic beverage), although there is certainly clear teaching against the misuse and abuse of such (which is true of anything God has given us to enjoy). Drinking wine is not, in and of itself, a sinful action. Done responsibly, it can even be beneficial to some people (though certainly it is not recommended for all, especially for those with a tendency toward, or with a genetic history of, chemical dependency). Studies by doctors and researchers clearly show that there are certain medical advantages for some people in a reasonable and regulated consumption of wine. Even the apostle Paul recognized some aspects of that reality, as evidenced in his advice to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:23). Nevertheless, there are physical, psychological and spiritual pitfalls that can be associated with the drinking of wine (which I discussed in the above referenced article), and these should be carefully and prayerfully weighed in any person's decision with regard to whether he should or shouldn't consume alcoholic beverages of any kind.
With regard to elders and deacons, the apostle Paul does indeed give some instruction with regard to the consumption of wine. Since there is quite a variety in the wording of these instructions within the various translations, it behooves us to examine this teaching more closely to determine what Paul is and isn't saying. The reader mentioned the rendering of the King James Version with respect to Paul's instruction regarding elders and deacons in his first epistle to Timothy. It is true that the wording of the KJV does tend to suggest, at least in the minds of some, that elders are to completely refrain from wine, but that deacons may be allowed small amounts of the beverage. Frankly, I believe this view is based more on the poor wording of the KJV than on what Paul is actually teaching, as will be demonstrated in the course of this article. Nevertheless, some have indeed used this wording to preach total abstinence for elders. Dr. Dave Miller, in an article titled "Elders, Deacons, Timothy, and Wine" (which appears on the Apologetics Press web site), declares emphatically, "The phrase is enjoining abstinence. Elders must refrain from the use of intoxicants, and they must not associate with places and people who do use them." I believe Dave Miller is mistaken in his view, and is declaring far more than Paul ever did in his instructions to Timothy.
There are three passages that need to be considered here with respect to the qualities (I prefer this term to "qualifications") our Lord seeks in the hearts and lives of His leaders in the church. In 1 Tim. 3:3 and Titus 1:7 Paul has elders in view, and in 1 Tim. 3:8 he is speaking of deacons. In the first two, the phrase in the Greek is exactly the same in both locations, but with respect to deacons the wording in Greek changes. This has led to some interesting renderings in our English versions, which in turn have led to some confused concepts of what Paul may be saying. Notice the following:
1 Timothy 3:3
1 Timothy 3:8
I realize that is quite a lengthy list to wade through, but it is important to document the variety of translation with which the student of the Word is faced when seeking to comprehend Paul's instruction with regard to elders and deacons and whether or not they may drink wine. Some translations seem to suggest by their wording that these men must not be drinkers at all, whereas others state they must not be heavy drinkers, which would imply use in moderation. The ASV takes a different approach completely, stating the elder must not be a "brawler" (making no mention of wine at all). Deacons, however, seem to be given somewhat of a pass, in that they are allowed to drink wine, but must simply refrain from being "too free with the bottle" [Living Bible]. So what is Paul really teaching? To better understand the text, we need to examine the Greek terms employed.
In the two passages directed to elders, Paul states that these individuals are not to be "paroinos." This a Greek noun made up of two separate words: the preposition "para," which means "beside, alongside," and the noun "oinos," which is the word for "wine." Combined they mean: "one who sits long at his wine; given to wine; drunken; with the secondary sense: quarrelsome over wine; hence, brawling, abusive" [Dr. Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 490]. "Drunken; hence, quarrelsome, insolent, overbearing" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 310]. "Quarrelsome over wine" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 4, p. 112]. This, of course, helps explain the choice of the word "brawler" in the ASV, since this Greek term, in addition to referring to drunkenness, speaks of the poor behavior often associated with intoxication. The verb form of this word, meaning "'to behave ill at wine, to treat with drunken violence,' is found in Xenophon, Aeschines, Aristophanes, and Aristotle" [Dr. Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent's Word Studies, e-Sword]. This Greek term is used only these two times in all the NT writings, but is "common in classical Greek in the sense of 'quarrelsome over wine'" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 21, Timothy, p. 51]. "The word impliedly condemns both cause and effect. Not only drunkenness, but the noisy and quarrelsome temper which is generated by wine-bibbing" [ibid, p. 58]. "Aristotle's use of this and related words suggests that it meant 'tipsy' or 'rowdy.' It is a sad commentary on the culture of that day that such a warning would have to be given concerning church overseers" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 365].
Dr. Marvin Vincent, in his classic "Word Studies," notes that "total abstinence is not enjoined" by this Greek term [e-Sword], but instead it means that a spiritual shepherd must not be the type of person who "sits long at his wine" [Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 2, pt. 3, p. 56]. Like Vincent, Wuest also states "this injunction does not teach total abstinence in the case of intoxicating liquors, but rather temperance" [ibid]. The great commentator Matthew Henry (1662-1714) concurs: "Seasonable and moderate use of this, as of the other good creatures of God, is not unlawful. But excess therein is shameful in all" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Dr. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) also agrees (as do almost all biblical scholars): "It cannot be inferred, from the use of the word here, that wine was absolutely and entirely prohibited; for the word does not properly express that idea" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword].
With respect to the passage dealing with deacons and wine (1 Tim. 3:8), "this is a longer and stronger expression than that found in verse 3 in relation to overseers" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 367]. Paul says they are not to be "prosechontas (which is the present participle of 'prosecho') to much wine." Thus, the charge is qualified to some degree with respect to quantity. Further, as one can see, the word used by Paul is different than the one used in 1 Tim. 3:3 and Titus 1:7. The word employed above means "to give one's self up to, be addicted to" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 349]. Dr. James Strong states that this word means "to hold the mind toward; it suggests devotion of thought and effort to a thing" [The New Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 1339]. Deacons are to be devoting themselves to service in the cause of Christ, rather than devoting themselves, and their time and energy, to the pursuit of drinking. This Greek word "does not forbid the use of wine, the common drink of the day, but the love of too much of it" [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to Timothy, p. 595]. In other words, the deacon must not be addicted to wine; it must not consume his thoughts to the point of distraction from his service to the Lord and His people. Yes, he may imbibe wine, but he must not immerse himself in it, so to speak. As the Easy-to-Read Version phrases it: "they must not use their time drinking too much wine."
Paul not only has the leaders of the church in mind in Eph. 5:15-18, but all disciples, when he writes, "Be very careful, then, how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." Once again, Paul is not suggesting we must all abstain from wine. He is talking about the abuse of wine -- drunkenness, which in turn can, and often does, lead to all manner of wickedness. Those who desire to be leaders among the people of God must set the example in attitude and behavior of what is proper. There is nothing inherently wrong or sinful in drinking wine (or any other alcoholic beverage), but the misuse and abuse of it can do great damage. Thus, Paul, in enumerating the qualities of elders and deacons, points out that these individuals will NOT be the type of people who "linger long over the bottle" and engage in "the beastly behavior" that too often follows. Yes, they may drink wine. No, they may not exercise this freedom to the damaging of themselves, others, or the cause of Christ. Those who do are not truly filled with the Spirit, but more interested in being filled with "spirits" (strong drink). Such persons have no place in the leadership of the church.
Special Blog Site -- Many of you are familiar with the tragedy that befell Les Ferguson and his family in October, 2011. His wife, Karen, and one of their sons, Cole, were murdered in their home (Click Here for the story on this in Christian Chronicle). Les was a minister at the time in Mississippi, but has since left the ministry. Needless to say, this event shook every aspect of this man's world, as well as the lives of his other children, including his faith and trust in God. Les is now struggling to regain that former faith and trust, and he is sharing his daily struggle on a new blog site, which he wrote and asked me to tell others about. It is not for the faint-of-heart, nor for those who tend to be self-righteous and self-satisfied. It reveals the depth of his pain and the very real struggle he's having in facing each new day. I invite those with a spirit of love, compassion and grace to join Les in this journey, and to help lift up this brother. You may visit his new blog site at: www.lesfergusonjr.com. May God bless you, Les. You and your family are in our daily prayers!!
From a Minister in Hawaii:
Your last Reflections -- "Between Thyself and God" -- was a very helpful article, Al. The accompanying "Readers' Reflections" anecdote about the one cup congregation in the 1940's was also quite fitting. Mahalo and Aloha!
From a Reader in Connecticut:
Your article "Between Thyself and God" literally brought tears to my eyes as I read it. Oh, how I wish I had learned these truths years ago! What a beautiful and vital lesson every Christian should learn from day one of their walk with Christ.
From a Reader in Georgia:
Can you just imagine the unity that a full understanding of Romans 14 could bring?!! Wouldn't it be awesome if the sign at the front of every church building only had to say: "The Church" -- without the need to identify all our various divisions! It seems to me that the pride of "theological certainty" can be a real deterrent to unity, and also to the ability of the Holy Spirit to guide us gently into a better understanding of the truth that He wants us to see. Blessings on you, brother.
From a Reader in Nevada:
In the "Readers' Reflections" section of your last issue there was this comment by an elder in Texas: "On the subject of Communion tradition, our congregation last month started using new trays with the bread in the middle and the cups in the outer ring. Thus, we take both elements at the same time." Al, I fear that some congregations may see this new tray as a way to speed up the fellowship of the Supper, thus leaving more time for the sermon. The gathering for a meal, during which the fellowship of those gathered is celebrated by dedicating a loaf and cup (as many as desired) at every gathering is the one first century practice that should be emphasized. Of course, the size of some of our assemblies often makes such impractical, if not impossible. Nevertheless, over the past 50+ years that I've had a leadership role, I have often dedicated the entire assembly to the Lord's Supper -- mixing songs, prayers, Scripture reading, and comments before the bread and then the cup. I like to ask the congregation to hold the bread until all have received it, then turn to the person beside them and say, "With this bread I honor you as a fellow member of the Lord's Body, and so dedicate myself to your service." Then we do the same with the cup, acknowledging Christ's blood as flowing through both our bodies as components of the Lord's Body. Al, thank you for your tireless effort to strengthen the resolve within our twig of the Kingdom tree to concentrate on what is important, rather than on tradition! Thanks also for making all your Reflections available on your web page!
From a Minister in Arkansas:
I recently came across the debate you had with the Baptist preacher concerning the so-called questions no Church of Christ preacher could ever answer -- The Maxey-Martin Dialogue. I was appalled at the horrible way in which this Baptist pastor responded to you! I have thought about the fact that this man does not consider you to be a brother-in-Christ, and, having said that, think it may be a mistake to ever debate such men. They do not see you as a Christian, but rather as a false teacher, and thus only wish to attack you and discredit you. Can you actually have a theological discussion with someone who has no respect for you as a preacher, and who doesn't even think you are saved?! I can feel the love when I interact with a true Christian with whom I differ, but what I saw from your dialogue with this man was nothing but vicious hatred on his part. I am not afraid of debate, but would rather not have debates with hateful men. May God bless you, brother, as you do His work!
Believe me, I can certainly empathize with the sentiments of this brother. There is little pleasure or joy in such encounters with people who would just as soon see you strung up from the nearest tree. However, I have to admit that there can be, in certain circumstances, some good derived from such debate with such persons. I have dealt with this very matter rather extensively in Reflections #359 -- Debate Between Disciples: A Reflective Review of the Value of Debate within the Family of God. I believe this study may provide the "other side of the coin" in this matter. -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Virginia:
I am writing with regard to Reflections #228 ("The Silence Syndrome," January 3, 2006) in which you are maligning Bro. Garland Elkins over a semantic difference of opinion. Bro. Garland has been a close personal friend of mine for more than 45 years, and you owe Garland an apology! You seek to criticize and condemn anyone who does not precisely agree with YOU!! Garland is not wrong about the silence of the Scriptures, and anyone with 10 cents worth of common logic would see that. However, since you are too educated to possess logic, you cannot accept the specificity stated within silence! I pray for your soul because you are in danger of being educationally smart and biblically stupid!! And that's my FINAL WORD!!
From a Minister in California:
I ran across your web site and have really enjoyed reading your studies of CENI theory. I would very much like to be included on your mailing list for your weekly Reflections. Thank you.
From a Reader in California:
Would you please send me your CD on The Study of Revelation. My check is enclosed. Your study promises to be very helpful in our upcoming study of this NT book. Also, if you could expedite the delivery of this CD it would really help our study!! Thank you.
From a Reader in Virginia:
Please send to me your two CD audio study on 1st and 2nd Peter titled Encouragement for the End Times, for which my check is enclosed. Thank you so much, Bro. Maxey!
From a Reader in Texas:
Please send me a copy of your special two-CD set on The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny. My husband died three months ago and I find myself thinking about our "eternal destiny" a lot. Two weeks after he died I had a heart attack with complications, and it has been rather slow getting back on my feet, but I am improving. Thanks for all you do for the cause of Christ.
From a Reader in California:
Please send me the Autobiographical Photo Journal CD. My check is enclosed. Thank you, Bro. Maxey, for your continued good work in the Lord's Kingdom. May God continue to bless you and your family.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
While I would love to order everything on your Books & CDs list, I must practice some self-discipline, a practice with which I am only vaguely familiar! So, at this time I will only order your CD titled The Debates of Al Maxey and your two-CD set of your MP3 Audio Sermons for 2012. I've totaled up the cost and included a check for that amount. As a 77-year-old retired minister (for health reasons), I spend most of my time reading (especially my NIV). I also look forward to ordering and reading all three of your books soon. I can't explain why I am particularly interested in reading your new book Immersed By One Spirit. After all, by the time I had finished my first semester (in the early 1950's) at Freed-Hardeman, I, of course, knew all there was to know about baptism -- and all other matters too!! Why, I was so brilliant that everyone was wrong exactly to the extent they disagreed with me!! Obviously, there was nothing left for me to learn!! Keep smiling, Bro. Al.
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