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New Testament Words and Verses
Galatians 5:21; NT Words for Drunkenness



Make no mistake about it.  The thirteen sins I have been discussing from Gal. 5:19-21, covering at least three categories of debauched living, make one ineligible for the Kingdom of God. They get you tossed from consideration of a place at the table, so to speak. Maybe we can plead that if we just do them once in a while, perhaps if we are jealous or get angry/enraged perhaps once a decade, this ought not to get us tossed. Our argument in our defense, to establish that point, could be grammatical—the word expressing the “doing” of these actions is a present participle (πράσσοντες), and we might make the argument that this suggests a habitual or continuous commitment to debauched living which would not include a once in a decade outburst. Yet, for Paul this argument would be a bit of a stretch. Paul doesn’t want to give the impression that occasional licentiousness or sexual immorality, like sleeping with your step-mother while she is married to your dad (which may have been the situation assumed in I Cor. 5), will still be OK in the Kingdom he is describing.


                                                 One More Category—Intemperate Living


But we still have two more words to discuss, and they both come from the arena of overindulgence in intoxicating beverages.  After mentioning them, I will then discuss a wider array of words for drunkenness in the New Testament. Many authors are very concerned about this problem. The two remaining words in Gal. 5:21 are: 


μέθαι—drunkenness, drinking bouts

κῶμοι—revelings, carousing, wild partying


The latter word has an interesting origin. The underlying noun is κώμη, a village or country town in contrast to a walled town or city.  The masculine form, κῶμος, denoted one such thing that happened in these small towns—a big party!  But of course at these parties there was a variety of raucous, riotous, salacious, indecorous, debauched but, from the perspective of many people, FUN activities.  But not from the perspective of the Apostle Paul and for those who apparently want to enter into the Kingdom of God. While μέθαι just points to drinking activity that leads to inebriation, κῶμοι stresses the wide variety of activities, one of which is wild drinking, at these town parties. Frankly, those who participate in these things won’t inherit the Kingdom of God.


                                    The Concept of Drunkenness in the New Testament


The NT authors are particularly afraid of debauched living, and especially when that debauchery includes an element of large alcoholic consumption. They develop a sophisticated vocabulary of drunkenness, far more vast than you would think would be necessary to get across the idea that one should moderate or eliminate one’s consumption of alcohol.  And, this vocabulary really is a bi-partite vocabulary, a vocabulary that includes words for getting drunk and words encouraging sobriety and prudent decision-making. This essay will only consider the former words.  There are twelve words, but two of them have just been considered. The entire list is:


μέθη—drunkenness, already considered in Gal. 5:19, appears 3x in the NT.  The other two appearances are:


Lk. 21:34 ἐν κραιπάλῃ καὶ μέθῃ καὶ μερίμναις βιωτικαῖς 

                 “in dissipation, and drunkenness and worldly cares”


Rom. 13:13 μὴ κώμοις καὶ μέθαις, μὴ κοίταις καὶ ἀσελγείαις, μὴ ἔριδι καὶ ζήλῳ,

“Not in carousing and drunkennesses, and bedding (people) and licentiousness, not in          strife and jealousy”


μεθύω—to be drunk, get drunk, appears 6x, but with no spectacular appearance.


Matt. 24:49, eating and drinking with drunkards

Jn. 2:10, people who have drunk freely

Acts 2:15,  people not drunk

I Cor. 11:21, one is hungry, another is drunk

I Thess. 5:7, those who get drunk, get drunk at night (two different verbs for drunk)

Rev. 17:6, woman drunk with blood


μέθυσος —drunken, appears 2x


I Cor 5:11, urges people not to mingle


ἐάν τις ἀδελφὸς ὀνομαζόμενος ᾖ πόρνος ἢ πλεονέκτης ἢ εἰδωλολάτρης ἢ λοίδορος ἢ μέθυσος ἢ ἅρπαξ,


“if a certain brother by name is either sexually immoral or greedy/covetous or an idol-worshiper or reviler/reproacher/abuser or drunkard or robber/extortioner


I Cor 6:11  Paul says that these people also won’t inherit the Kingdom of God: 


οὔτε κλέπται οὔτε πλεονέκται, οὐ μέθυσοι, οὐ λοίδοροι, οὐχ ἅρπαγες

“Neither thieves, nor greedy/covetous people, nor drunkards, nor abusers, nor robbers”


Note that we have a growing list now of people that won’t inherit the Kingdom of God. There are fifteen categories of people who won’t in Gal. 5:19-21; now we have five more listed in this passage, but glory to God, we have some overlap!  So, we really are only adding four categories instead of five, so a total of nineteen categories of people won’t inherit the Kingdom of God, according to Paul. I suppose that he might be inclined to add others—and what if Jesus or the others added to the list?  We might have a hundred types of people that just are out of luck—so much for simple faith in Jesus; we are eliminating people right and left who won’t inherit the Kingdom of God!


μεθύσκω—to get drunk/be made drunk, appears 4x


Lk. 12:45, placed with “eat and drink and get drunk.”  Second verb in this passage is πίνω, so it appears that πίνω in this passage  has no “drunkenness” connotation

Eph. 5:18, get drunk with wine

I Thess. 5:7 used synonymously with μεθύω

Rev. 17:2 become or be made drunk


πίνω— to drink.  Appears more than 70x in the NT, and often has no association with drunkenness. 


ἐκνήφω — to bring back to sobriety.  So this assumes that the person was drunk, NT hapax.

I Cor. 15:34, Paul encourages people to come back to sobriety δικαίως or “in a righteous/correct” manner.  This is more appropriate for the “sobriety” discussion, but it helpfully bridges the distance between the two.


πάροινος— addicted to wine/given to wine, appears 2x.

I Tim. 3:3 and Titus 1:7 give the identical phrases—not given to wine or not quarrelsome


κραιπάλη— drunken nausea, dissipation, NT hapax.

Lk. 21:34, where it appears with μέθη.  In Danker’s dictionary, he renders it by “unbridled indulgence in a drinking party, a drinking bout.”  It’s unclear to me how it differs from κῶμος.


οἰνοφλυγία— drunkenness, debauchery.   NT hapax.

I Pet. 4:3. The Greek text is so rich that it should be fully given and translated:


ἀρκετὸς γὰρ ὁ παρεληλυθὼς χρόνος τὸ βούλημα τῶν ἐθνῶν κατειργάσθαι πεπορευμένους ἐν ἀσελγείαις, ἐπιθυμίαις, οἰνοφλυγίαις, κώμοις, πότοις καὶ ἀθεμίτοις εἰδωλολατρίαις.


“Sufficient has been the preceding time for effecting/carrying out the will/desire of the nations by participating in debaucheries, lusts, drunkenness, carousing/reveling, drinking parties, and illegal idol-worship.”


This is an incredibly rich text presenting a mingled collection of debauched activities. It includes words from the first, second and fourth of our four categories identified earlier (sexual sins—ἀσελγείαις, worship sins— εἰδωλολατρίαις and intemperance—κώμοις), but it helpfully gives us three additional words that capture the vileness of all of this stuff— ἐπιθυμίαις, οἰνοφλυγίαις, and πότοις.  ἐπιθυμίαις are generic lusts, where the “spirit/temper” is “upon” or ‘over the top.”


Our word of focus is οἰνοφλυγία.  This vivid word and concept consists of two words—“wine” and “babbling.”  The φλυγία is derived from the verb φλυαρέω, which means “I babble” but, more specifically, to talk nonsense or disparage someone.  We have an example of the verb in 3 Jn.10, where someone is “railing about us” (verb is φλυαρέω).  Thus, when it is combined with “wine,” we have the result of wine doing its work on people.  That the word φλυαρέω seemed to catch on in early Christianity is seen also in its appearance as a noun in I Tim 5:13 (φλύαρος) to describe someone who is a gossip.  That list in I Tim. 5:13 surely invites further consideration!  And, the lengths or depths to which humans will descend when they know or have reason to know that this behavior is endangering their participation in the Kingdom of God is simply mind-boggling.


ἀσωτία — dissipation, debauchery, excess.  The word appears 3x in the NT.  It literally comes from two words meaning “not saved,” and that certainly is what will happen to a person who is so described. It doesn’t necessarily describe someone who is drunk, since its basic meaning is “wastefulness,” so that one might live a “wasteful life,” or spendthrift lifestyle, but the appearance in Eph. 5:18 connects it to drunkenness:


καὶ μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ, ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἀσωτία,

“and don’t get drunk with wine, in which there is excess/dissipation. . .”


πότος— drinking party, NT hapax. It’s interesting that the NT doesn’t have the classic Greek word for a drinking party, named after Plato’s dialogue Symposium, but the “po” root connects it with drinking.  “Potable” water is drinkable water.  But its sole appearance in the NT, in I Pet. 4:3, connects it with οἰνοφλυγίαις and κώμοις.  Peter may be onto something. Once you suspect that people are over-indulging in drinking, you might as well bring in a couple of other terms to make sure that you get them.  Don’t indulge in “dissipation, debauchery, riotous living.” In fact, we probably could play a little word game here, coming up with a dozen or so words describing the reality and fruit of drunkenness and then mixing and matching them, much like one might try on and mix various suits of clothes. 


κῶμος—carousing, partying, reveling.  We have already considered this 3x-appearing noun in the NT.  Just more drinking and partying.  No Kingdom of God for those who engage in this activity. 




I close with the recognition, however, of a deep concern of the NT authors.  It was important for the emerging Christian movement to try to differentiate themselves from the “world” as well as to enforce a kind of cohesive behavior among the Christians.  Drunkenness would tend to threaten those goals. Hence, the vigorous attack on drunkenness and its results.  The major benefit for us today, especially in a growing wine culture in the US and Europe, is that we get a lot of words.  Those of us who have never been tempted with drink can understand the fervor of the early Christians, even if we marvel a bit at the strict consequences envisioned for this kind of riotous behavior.

Galatians 5:22-23

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