WFT- abstemious

29 August 2009

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 16th was abstemious.

marked by restraint especially in the consumption of food or alcohol; also : reflecting such restraint

M-W provided the following additional information about the word:

"Abstemious" and "abstain" look alike, and both have meanings involving self-restraint or self-denial. So they must both come from the same root, right? Yes and no. Both get their start from the Latin prefix "abs-," meaning "from" or "away," but "abstain" traces to "abs-" plus the Latin verb "ten?re" (meaning "to hold"), while "abstemious" gets its "-temious" from a suffix akin to the Latin noun "temetum," meaning "intoxicating drink."

In regards to abstaining from food a few passages come to mind.

Acts 15

In Acts 15, James (the leader of the believers in Jerusalem) provided some instruction for Gentile believers that would allow for table fellowship between the Jewish and Gentile believers:

Acts 15:19-21

"Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles,  but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.  For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath."

James' instruction included 3 points regarding abstemious behavior:

  • food that had been offered to idols
  • food that had been strangled
  • food that still had blood in it

James included his statement in verse 21 to indicate that the Gentiles would hear Moses (i.e. the Law) preached as they gathered together in the synagogues with the Jewish believers each Sabbath.  The general gist of his message was "start with these 4 basic things and they'll pick up the rest as they go to synagogue with the other believers".

Romans 14

Romans 14:14-17

I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.  For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.  Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil;  for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Here Paul makes the statement that nothing is "unclean".  The Greek word Paul uses is koinos which means "common".  Paul is not referring to animals that are clean and unclean.  The Greek word for clean and unclean animals is akathartos.  Peter uses this word in Acts 10:14 when presented with the vision of unclean animals on a sheet.  Akathartos is also used extensively throughout the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) to describe clean and unclean animals (e.g. Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14).  If Paul isn't talking about clean and unclean animals what does he mean by "nothing is unclean/common/koinos"?

It was a cultural tradition within Judaism of Paul's day that Gentiles (who were predominantly pagan and idolatrous) made food common/koinos by merely touching it.  In Romans 14:21 Paul mentions "wine" in regards to clean and unclean concerns.  Clearly he is not speaking of the food laws found in Scripture for nowhere is wine ever described as "unclean" in those laws.  Wine can be made common/koinos by being offered to idols.  This would, however, make it unsuitable for consumption based upon James' admonition in Acts 15, above.

Paul's ultimate point is not to make a brother stumble into sin based upon matters of unclean/common/koinos food.

So what about wine?

Aside from these issues of unclean/common/koinos there is no instruction found in the writings of the apostles encouraging abstemious behavior regarding wine.  Paul exhorts believers in Ephesians 5:18 "do not get drunk with wine...".  In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 Paul indicates that elders/bishops/episkopon as well as deacons should not be addicted to much wine.

Only the Levitical priests are exhorted to abstain from wine and strong drink and that is only while they are serving in the Temple (Leviticus 10:9).  Nazarites are also instructed to be abstemious regarding wine and all grape-related products (Numbers 6:3).  Outside of those specific examples G-d actually encourages His people to spend money on "wine or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires" as part of the second annual tithe (Deuteronomy 14:26).

And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.  (1 John 5:20)

To Him be the glory and honor forever.  Amen.

Torah Portion




or view this week's triennial cycle reading.

Today is

Yom Sh'lishi, 28 Adar, 5783

Tuesday, March 21, 2023


Learn more about this date in history.