“No longer drink only water, but use a little [oinos] wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.” (1 Timothy 5:23) Like the Greek term oinos, the meaning of Hebrew yayin is not limited to alcoholic wine. Below I explain why I understand that Timothy had initially foregone even non-alcoholic [oinos] wine too. Interestingly, the Alcohol Answers site states: “Alcohol, even in relatively small amounts, can interfere with many stomach functions.”
“When does [yayin] wine belonging to a gentile become forbidden? When the grapes have been crushed and the wine begins to flow, even though it has not descended into the cistern and is still in the wine press, it is forbidden. For this reason, we do not crush grapes together with a gentile in a wine press, lest he touch it with his hand and offer it as a libation.”(Sefer Kedushah, MaAchalot Assurot, Ch. 11, Halacha 11.)
Note: Concerning alcohol, Paul greatly encouraged Timothy to continue to ‘always be [nepho] sober’ NRSV, ‘be sober in all things’ NASB, ‘keep your head in all situations’ NIV (2 Tim. 4:5). It is used likewise in 1 Thess. 5:6,8, etc. Nepho means ‘to be free from the influence of intoxicants’ (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). No Jew and no Gentile would persuade Timothy otherwise even for a moment, since alcoholic [oinos] wine causes spiritual drowsiness (not just bodily drowsiness).
I understand that Timothy had initially foregone even non-alcoholic [oinos] wine too (1 Tim. 5:23) – though it does not make the head heavy (see Athenaeus) – because he did not wish to give Jewish brethren a wrong impression that a little idolatry is tolerable (Rom. 14:20-21; 1 Cor. 10:28-29).
In Zvi Pesach Frank’s view (cited by Rabbi Chaim Jachter), even leniency for a mevushal (boiled) wine cannot apply if a company producing it is owned by Gentiles. Presumably, it was Gentiles who produced wines wherever the Jews were dispersed as a minority group amongst them. Still, Timothy thought about others before he thought about his own health.
It is evident Tertullian (c. 160-220 A.D.) did not think the remedy in 1 Tim. 5:23 meant so-called ‘medicinal alcohol’. Rather, he knew that if Timothy had initially abstained only from (alcoholic) wine, [as per Rom. 13:13-14; Gal. 5:21,24], then doing so, Tertullian said, ‘would rather have been beneficial to his stomach’ (Tertullian, On Fasting, Chapter 9. From Fasts Absolute Tertullian Comes to Partial Ones and Xerophagies).
“Let him take sweet wine, either mixed with water or warmed, especially that kind called protropos, the [glukus] sweet from Lesbos, as being good for the stomach; for sweet [oinos] wine does not make the head heavy.” (Athenaeus, ‘Deipnosophistae’, 2.)
Notice this it ‘does not make the head heavy’ i.e. it does not produce drowsiness (unlike alcohol which is a depressant). Some wines were alcoholic, but here Athenaeus calls a non-alcoholic juice wine.
“Alcohol, even in relatively small amounts, can interfere with many stomach functions, i.e., altered gastric acid secretion, acute gastric mucosal injury, and interference with gastric and intestinal motility.” (Alcohol Answers)
Compare also Ralph Earl’s comments below on 1 Timothy 5:23 in Word Meanings in the New Testament:
“…oinos is used in the Septuagint for both fermented and unfermented grape juice. Since it can mean either one, it is valid to insist that in some cases it may simply mean grape juice and not fermented wine.”
“…the Roman writer Cato, in his treatise On Agriculture, gave this prescription: ‘If you wish to keep new wine sweet the whole year round, put new wine in a jar, cover the stopper with pitch, place the jar in a fishpond, take it out after the thirtieth day; you will have sweet wine all the year round.’ …”
“Does fermented wine have medicinal value? The present writer once put this question to a noted surgeon, the head of a department in a university medical school. His answer was an emphatic no.”
“One thing, of course, must be insisted on: Paul was not advocating the general use of wine as a beverage. The most that that can be said is that he was suggesting that Timothy, because of frequent stomach illness, should take ‘a little wine’ as medicine. And the possibility is still open that the apostle referred to unfermented grape juice, which of course is good for a weak stomach.”
Ralph Earle – Word Meanings in the New Testament, Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1986, on 1 Tim. 5:23.
Ralph Earle is Distinguished Professor of New Testament Emeritus at the Nazarene Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Missouri, where he first began teaching in 1945. While holding pastorates in Woonsocket, Rhode Land, and Everett, Massachussetts, from 1933 to 1945, he was professor of biblical literature at Eastern Nazarene College, Wollaston, Massachussetts. In more recent years he has served on the fifteen-man Committee on Bible Translation, the governing body for the New International Version of the Bible. Dr. Earle is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College (B.A.), Boston University (M.A.), and Gordon Divinity School (B.D. and Th.D.). He has also taken postdoctoral studies at Harvard and Edinburgh universities. – NPH
I insist Paul’s note to Timothy was not bogus and not alcohol. But interpreters today should also read this: Seven Bogus Remedies! Alcohol BAD for what ails you