Posted by: Ety W. | April 13, 2008

Temperance: For Lushes Only?

Temperance. A rather old fashioned word, evoking images of the Temperance Movement of the 1800s and Prohibition of the 1920s; speakeasies and bootleg liquor. Not a word we consider much today. Yet it is one of the qualities of spiritual maturity listed in Titus chapter 2. Setting aside it’s historical usage and connotations, our question should be, what does the Bible mean when it says “be temperate”?

Temperate -Strong’s 3524 – νηφαλεος (or νηφαλιος) – nephaleos (or nephalios) = sober, circumspect in a figurative sense, vigilant. From Zodhiates1 we glean an expanded definition: “sober, temperate, self-controlled, especially in respect to wine. Used metaphorically meaning sober-minded, watchful, circumspect….It is that state of mind which is free from the excessive influence of passion, lust, or emotion”

In reading over the definition, we can begin to understand why different translations often seem to say different things. It goes back to how the translator chose to translate a particular word. This is why word studies are necessary. For this study, I am using the New American Standard Bible, though I also refer to the King James Version as many of the study tools reference that.

Now that we have a basic definition of nephaleos, we can get a better understanding of its meaning by taking a look at how it is used elsewhere in the New Testament. Several of the Online Tools can help us find out where it is used, but I like to use The New Eglishman’s Greek Concordance and Lexicon. This book lists all Greek words by Strong’s number, Arndt-Gingrich number, and Kittel’s and Thayer’s page numbers. Under each entry, it lists all the verses in the New Testament in which each Greek word is used regardless of it’s English translation. It is here that we see that nephaleos occurs three times.

Let’s take a look at these verses and apply some of our observation techniques.

I Timothy 3:2-3 – An overseer then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money.

Who are the author and recipient? Paul to Timothy

Who are being written about? Overseers

Why? Paul is giving Timothy a list of qualifications for the office of overseer.

How is “temperate” being used? As one of the character traits in that list.

I Timothy 3:11 – Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.

Who are the author and recipient? Paul to Timothy

Who are being written about? Women.

Why? Paul is giving Timothy a list of qualifications for women associated with deacons.

How is “temperate” being used? As one of the character traits in list.

Titus 2:2 – Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance.

Who are the author and recipient? Paul to Titus

Who are being written about? Older men

Why? That the church in Crete might be set in order (1:5)

How is “temperate” being used? As a quality of orderly behavior.

Conclusions? From these usages of the word, we can see that temperance is a quality of inner character. It is not something to be imposed on us by rules and laws, as was the case with the Temperance Movement. In fact, we may well ask does temperance apply strictly to drinking alcohol? From the text and the definition, I say no.

Why do I say that? Firstly, because “not addicted to wine” (I Tim. 2:3) and “nor enslaved to much wine” (Titus 2:3) are listed in addition to temperance. Secondly, from the definition. Certainly temperance can apply to drinking alcohol, but the definition is much broader than that. As Zodhiates points out, it implies not being controlled by our own passions, lusts, or emotions; it implies self-control.

The question for us then is do we control our emotions and desires, or do they control us? The desire for alcohol is one example, as are drugs and other addictive substances. But what else? What other desires and passions might need self control? How about emotional temperance to control outbursts of anger? What about self-control in regards to food and eating? What about the type of entertainment we like? Or our language; the words and phrases we use. Do they dictate what we do and say, or do we need to learn to control them?

If we want to grow in spiritual maturity and Christlikeness, then temperance is needed in any area of life that can distract us from being spiritually, mentally, and emotionally alert; from being self-controlled in our thoughts and feelings. An easy task? Not at all. But it’s up to each one of us to take our own inner inventory, and then choose whether or not to strive for temperance in our lives.

Next … Dignity: A Basic Human Right?Content copyright 2008 by If you find it anywhere else, it’s been stolen.
1 Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, AMG Publishers, 1992), p. 1010


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