Verse 23. "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine" - The whole of this verse seems, to several learned critics and divines, strangely inserted in this place; it might have been, according to them, a note which the apostle inserted in the margin of his letter, on recollecting the precarious state of Timothy's health, and his great abstemiousness and self-denial. I believe the verse to be in its proper place; and, for reasons which I shall adduce, not less necessary than the directions which precede and follow it. But it may be necessary to inquire a little into the reasons of the advice itself.
The priests under the Mosaic law, while performing sacred rites, were forbidden to drink wine: Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever through your generations; Lev. x. 9; Ezek. xliv. 21. It was the same with the Egyptian priests. It was forbidden also among the Romans, and particularly to women and young persons.
PLATO, Deuteronomy Legibus, lib. ii., edit. Bip., vol. viii., page 86, speaks thus: arÆ ou nomoqethsomen, prwton men, touv paidav mecriv etwn oktwkaideka toparapan oinou mh geuestai;- meta de touto, oinou men dh geuesqai tou metriou, mecri triakonta etwn? -tettarakonta de epibainonta etwn, en toiv xussitioiv euwchqenta, k. t. l. "Shall we not ordain by law, in the first place, that boys shall not, on any account, taste wine till they are eighteen years old? In the next place, we should inform them that wine is to be used moderately till they are thirty years old. But when they have attained the fortieth year, then they may attend feasts; for Bacchus has bestowed wine upon men as a remedy against the austerity of old age, thv tou ghrwv austhrothtov edwrhsato ton oiuon farmakon, wstÆ anhban hmav, kai dusqumiav lhqhn gignesqai, malakwteron ek sklhroterou to thv yuchv hqov, kaqaper eiv pur sidhron enteqenta, gignomenon? that through this we might acquire a second youth, forget sorrow, and the manners of the mind be rendered softer, as iron is softened by the action of the fire." But wine, according to the assertions of some, was given to men as a punishment, that they might be rendered insane: Æo de nun legomenov ufÆ hmwn, farmakon epi tounantion fhsin aidouv men yuchv kthsewv eneka dedosqai, swmatov de ugieiav te kai iscuov? page 100. "But we have now said that it is, on the contrary, medicine; and was given that the soul might acquire modesty, and the body health and vigour." From Athenaeus we learn that the Greeks often mingled their wine with water; sometimes one part of wine to two of water; three parts of water to one of wine; and at other times three parts of water to two of wine. See his Deipnosophistae, lib. ix. "Among the Locrians, if any one was found to have drunk unmixed wine, unless prescribed by a physician, he was punished with death; the laws of Zaleucus so requiring. And among the Romans, no servant, nor free woman, oute twn eleuqerwn oi efhboi mecri triakonta etwn, nor youths of quality, drank any wine till they were thirty years of age." Deipnosoph., lib. x. c. 7, p. 429. And it was a maxim among all, that continued water-drinking injured the stomach. Thus Libanius, Epist. 1578. peptwke kai hmin o stomacov taiv sunecesin udroposiaiv? "Our stomach is weakened by continual water-drinking." From chap. iv. 12, we learn that Timothy was a young man; but as among the Greeks and Roman the state of youth or adolescence was extended to thirty years, and no respectable young men were permitted to drink wine before that time; allowing that Timothy was about twenty when Paul had him circumcised, which was, according to Calmet, in the year of our Lord 51, and that this epistle was written about A. D. 64 or 65, then Timothy must have been about thirty-five when he received this epistle; and as that was on the borders of adolescence, and as the Scripture generally calls that youth that is not old age, Timothy might be treated as a young man by St. Paul, as in the above text, and might still feel himself under the custom of his country relative to drinking wine, (for his father was a Greek, Acts xvi. 1,) and, through the influence of his Christian profession, still continue to abstain from wine, drinking water only; which must have been very prejudicial to him, his weak state of health considered, the delicacy of his stomach, and the excess of his ecclesiastical labours.
As Timothy's life was of great consequence to the Church of God at Ephesus, it was not unworthy of the Spirit of God to give the direction in the text, and to mingle it immediately with what some have called more solemn and important advice. 1. It was necessary that the work should be done in the Church at Ephesus which the apostle appointed to Timothy.
2. There was no person at Ephesus fit to do this work but Timothy. 3.
Timothy could not continue to do it if he followed his present mode of abstemiousness. 4. It was necessary, therefore, that he should receive direction from Divine authority relative to the preservation of his life, and consequently the continuation of his usefulness, as it is not likely that a minor authority would have weighed with him.
Verse 24. "Some men's sins are open beforehand" - In appointing men to sacred offices in the Church, among the candidates Timothy would find, 1.
Some of whom he knew nothing, but only that they professed Christianity; let such be tried before they are appointed. 2. Some of whose faith and piety he had the fullest knowledge, and whose usefulness in the Church was well known. 3. Some whose lives were not at all or but partially reformed, who were still unchanged in their hearts, and unholy in their lives. The sins of these latter were known to all; they go before to judgment; with them he could have no difficulty. With the first class he must have more difficulty; there might have been hypocrites among them, whose sins could not be known till after they were brought into the sacred office. The characters of all should be fully investigated. The sins of some, before this investigation, might be so manifest as to lead at once eiv krisin to condemnation. The sins of others might be found out after, or in consequence of, this investigation; and those that were otherwise could not be long hid from his knowledge, or the knowledge of the Church. On all these accounts the exhortation is necessary: Lay hands suddenly on no man.
Verse 25. "Likewise also the good works of some" - Though those who are very holy and very useful in the Church cannot be unknown, yet there are others not less holy who need to be brought forward; who do much good in private; and their character and good works are not fully known till after diligent inquiry. These are they who do not let their left hand know what their right doeth.
1. AFTER so long and minute an examination of the subjects in this chapter, little remains to be said in the way of farther and more satisfactory explanation. The whole account concerning the widows, who they were, and what their provision, and what their occupation, and how supported, are to me questions of considerable difficulty. In the notes I have given the best account of the different subjects in my power. If the reader be satisfied and edified, I have gained my end.
2. On the subject of the imposition of hands, or what is vulgarly but improperly called ordination, I have not said much here, having given my views of the subject elsewhere in these notes. See on chap. iii. 1, &c. I must again state my conviction that what is said on this subject in this chapter, and indeed in the epistle, is rather to be understood prophetically; and to have been intended for a much lower age of the Christian Church. That any person should, from impure or secular motives, desire to be appointed to the ministerial office at such a time, when poverty and persecution were the least they would reasonably expect, to me seems altogether inexplicable. But that many, after the Church got accredited and established, and an ample revenue appointed for its ministers by emperors and kings, should wish to get into the priesthood for its emoluments, is a melancholy truth, which every year's experience testifies. To those who have the authority from the state to appoint ministers for the Church, this chapter reads a solemn and awful lesson. And not to them only, but to all who have the appointment of ministers or preachers in every sect and party. How few are there who would kindle a fire on God's altar were there not secular emoluments attending it! I am afraid the Scottish poet spoke the truth who said:-"' Tis gow'd maks sogers feight the fiercer, Without it, preaching wad be scarcer." Gold or money is the primum mobile through every department of life.