Paul instructed Timothy to, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (1 Tim. 5:23). What was the “wine” Timothy was to take?
The English word “wine” does not prove that this was alcoholic for it often appears in the Biblical text to indicate unfermented grape juice (Gen. 49:11; Isa. 16:10; 65:8; Prov. 3:10; Amos 9:13-14; et. al.); furthermore, the underlying Greek word oinos that is translated wine in 1 Tim. 5:23 is also a generic term that can refer to alcoholic wine or unfermented grape juice.
Paul directed Timothy to “use a little wine” for medicinal purposes: that is for his stomach troubles. If alcoholic wine is what Paul meant by a little oinos, then this text certainly does not teach that we today can use alcoholic beverages for pleasure, rather it indicates that Timothy abstained from alcohol and had to be directed to take some for medicinal purposes. This is consistent with Paul’s earlier statements in the same epistle that elders and deacons should “not to be given to wine” (1 Tim. 3:3, 8), (one quality leaders must exemplify among many listed in 1 Timothy 3 that all Christians should possess).
However, it seems more likely that this remedy for Timothy’s stomach issues was nothing other than unfermented grape juice. While alcohol may have helped if Timothy was in serious pain or had trouble falling asleep at night, it would do nothing good for his stomach. On the medicinal quality of grape sugar, Ernest Gordon concluded “no better medicine for Timothy’s stomach and chronic infirmities could have been recommended by Paul than the juice of the grape,” further noting:
The body maintains the concentration of grape sugar in the blood at a constant low level (from .98 to 1.45). Beyond this point there is no increase even if 50 to 100 grams is taken in through the mouth. For the liver absorbs any excess from the blood and stores it as glycogen, to be released as required by the body.
In our modern times, with the ubiquity of hard liquor, we are all too familiar with what high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream do to the body. The body has no such protective mechanism for the poisonous effects of alcohol; eventually the blood will attain a fatal concentration. This difference is due to the fact that our digestive system is better designed to handle grape sugar than alcohol. Unfermented grape juice would seem to help Timothy’s stomach if he took a little instead of drinking water exclusively, but the potential problems his digestive system would encounter by drinking alcohol would far outweigh any conceivable medical benefits to his stomach.