What does 1 Timothy 5:23 mean?
ESV: (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)
NIV: Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
NASB: Do not go on drinking only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.
CSB: Don't continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
NLT: Don’t drink only water. You ought to drink a little wine for the sake of your stomach because you are sick so often.
KJV: Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities.
Verse Commentary:
This verse seems to interrupt the flow of the passage. In fact, many translations place these words inside parentheses for that reason. The original Greek manuscripts used no punctuation; if they did, it's likely Paul would have made the same choice. This side-note addresses Timothy's physical health. Paul had mentioned the importance of physical fitness in 1 Timothy 4:8. Here, he speaks regarding Timothy's diet. Timothy apparently did not drink any wine at this point, consuming only water. However, Timothy seems to have experienced digestive or physical problems. To help, Paul commanded him to drink "a little wine."

In a time before modern refrigeration, most people drank fermented juice. It's possible Timothy sought to live as an example by complete abstinence from wine, thereby avoiding any questions about his use of alcohol. Unfortunately, this led to some sickness and Paul told him to drink some wine to assist. He was not to become drunk (1 Timothy 3:3), but could consume wine in the manner God intended such things to be used (1 Timothy 4:4–5). While even Jesus turned water into wine in His first recorded miracle (John 2), other biblical passages speak about the caution believers should use in drinking wine and the importance of considering the needs of others in this area (Romans 14).
Verse Context:
First Timothy 5:17–25 provides guidelines on how a church should honor elders. It also refers to the proper way to discipline them, if this becomes necessary. Those who devote themselves to serving the church should be supported, meaning paid, so they can fully focus on the needs of the congregation. Accusations should only be taken seriously when there is sufficient evidence. And elders who are found in sin should be publicly rebuked. Paul also warns Timothy not to be too hasty in assigning elders, since some men's sins are hidden and hard to detect.
Chapter Summary:
First Timothy chapter 5 focuses on Timothy's supervision of those within the church. This includes a respectful attitude towards both men and women, young and old. A large portion of the chapter deals with how to care for widows. The theme of Paul's instruction is prioritizing those who are truly in need, and not enabling those who are merely lazy. Timothy is also instructed on how to screen out baseless accusations against an elder, and how to properly discipline them if they are found in sin. With that in mind, Timothy is also warned not to be reckless in who he appoints as an elder.
Chapter Context:
Prior passages explained the burden placed on Timothy and other church leaders. In this chapter, the emphasis is on how Timothy is to treat others in the congregation. A large portion of this refers to prioritizing charity for widows. This passage will more or less complete Paul's specific instructions to Timothy in this letter. The next (final) chapter will build on all of these themes with a command for Timothy to make the most of his spiritual service.
Book Summary:
First Timothy is one of Paul's three ''Pastoral Epistles.'' Paul's other letters, such as Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians, are meant for a broader audience. First Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are written to specific people whom Paul is advising on how to best lead their local churches. These three letters present a close look at the form and function of church leadership. First Timothy, like 2 Timothy and Titus, is less formal and systematic, and more personal. This gives great insight into the way pastors, deacons, and elders ought to prioritize their time and energy.
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