The truth about the word “drunkard” in 1 Timothy 3:3 (in ESV) – what it means to be “given to wine” – and how many Elders have disqualified themselves

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I often use the ESV translation. But like all other translations, it has its strengths and weaknesses. For example in 1 Timothy chapter 3, the Apostle Paul laid down the standard for the ‘minimal qualifications’ to be an Elder or Pastor.

In verse 3a it says that an Elder or Pastor, must not be a “drunkard” to hold that office.

The problem with this translation, in this verse, is it is misleading because it gives a green-light for Elders and Pastors to drink alcohol, as long as they don’t get ‘drunk,’ or become a “drunkard.” But let’s take a further look at this ESV translation of the word “drunkard.”

In my Greek Lexicon, and English-Greek Reverse Interlinear Bible (in the ESV version), this word “drunkard” comes from the Greek words ‘paroinon,’ or ‘paroinos’, which actually translates to be “given to wine,’ or ‘staying near wine,’ i.e. one who is tippling (or a toper).” (Note: Most translations do say “given to wine”).

In other words, this word “drunkard” is not the same of the English word “drunkard” that we know today. In the original Greek language this word “drunkard” still means a person that is merely ‘staying near wine, or one who is tippling (or a toper), and/or one who is ‘given to wine.’

This word “drunkard” in this verse, in the Greek, is tantamount to a person that longs to have a daily drink. For example a person that is eager to get off work, so that he can have a beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverage. It is a person that makes it a ‘habit’ for them to do so. As Barnes commentary describes, it is “One who sits “by” wine; who is in the habit of drinking it.”

The late Matthew Poole said “Not given to wine; the word signifieth a common tippler, whether he drinks to the loss of his reason or no; a winebibber, that makes bibbing at a tavern his trade: no sitter at wine.” [1]

Months ago I observed (via DVD’s) a well-known well-respected Bible scholar teaching thru a series on the ‘Doctrine of Justification.’ Without any regard for his audience, he was sipping on wine as he taught. And then the next day he would do the same, and again.

Yes context is important, but so is Greek and Hebrew. It’s amazing how many whom believe in exegetical teaching, will all the sudden become eisegetical as their flesh desires.

When a Christian knowingly brings an offence to the body of Christ like the aforementioned Scholar, or offends an individual brother, that is unacceptable. Moreover it brings a reproach to Christ. Not failing to mention that unless he repents, this Scholar has disqualified himself for the office of Elder or Pastor. Elders and Pastors ought not drink any form of alcoholic beverages.

On Saturday I attended an edifying men’s conference. The theme was “Running the Race: Exploring the Doctrine of Sanctification.”

One of the speakers was Dr. John MacArthur. During the Q&A session, somehow the subject of ‘alcohol’ came up.

Dr. MacArthur advised the congregation that he does NOT drink alcohol (which is what I would expect to hear from a pastor).

He then challenged all the men with the 3 following questions regarding alcohol ~

  1.  Is it necessary?
  2.  Is it spiritually beneficial?
  3.  Does it bring honor to Christ?

I found his 3 pointed criteria / response edifying, and helpful (as iron sharpens iron).

Years ago I made a video teaching on this subject. In my video entitled “Should Christians drink alcohol? Here is a Biblical response, and why,” I wrote a preface to that video.

Too many professing Christians today believe one has to become inebriated to be in sin, but that is not true. Aside from being methuskó (as defined above), alcohol can also become a sin if or when,

  • Drinking against the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
  • Does alcohol cause others to stumble (remember what Jesus said about that millstone?)
  • Does it bring an offense to the brethren? (remember what the Bible says about that).
  • Does it cause you to commit sins (or crimes,) that you would not have, had you not been drinking?
  • Does it harm your body, the temple of the Holy Spirit?
  • Are you addicted (is it a habit)?
  • Does it affect your mind like drugs?
  • Is it harming your marriage?
  • Is it harming your testimony?

If you cannot answer “no” to all these questions, then I would submit, that you do not have the liberty to consume alcoholic beverages, or you should evaluate the public sharing of your “liberties” on the internet. Or as another said,

  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it spiritually beneficial?
  • Does it bring honor to Christ?

As Pastor Tim Conway said,

“Watch for the guys even in our own church. Who are the loudest and most vehement in defending these kinds of things? And you just look and tell me, are they the Godliest among us. Are they the ones that you want to pattern your life after? Are they the ones that set the standard? Are they the ones that when you see them, you feel convicted? Or are they the ones… (that compromise).”

Though we must never boast in anything or anyone but Christ, including our convictions. But a sign of a healthy mature Christian is they will not boast in their “liberties,” but rather they would communicate and demonstrate their convictions, and that is consistent with the walking in love, wisdom, and light that Paul warned us about.

UPDATE 07/07/17: Below is my video teaching of the above. A message about Elders for Elders, and then my 10-point criteria which is for all Christians.

[1] Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Bible, Vol. III, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Company). 779


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