does temperance = moderation?

The debate over the use of alcohol continues to rage over at Sharper Iron, being the most talked about topic in recent days involving a number of threads. I would refer you to my recent post on drunkenness for a biblical argument for abstinence.

One recent comment on SI included this paragraph:

To your initial question, I would respond that self control is a fruit of the Spirit and those who do not yield to Him can find themselves where you and your family found yourselves [a reference to a previous commenter’s personal testimony]. Nevertheless, it is clear from Church history and Christian circles where moderation is practiced today that this isn’t as mysterious as we sometimes pretend it is. Those who imbibe in moderation don’t drink wine as though it were Gatorade after a long run. They have it in small quantities with dinner or a beer after work. I’ve often wondered at the large wine glasses and small quantities that they pour. This is apparently not just to enhance the wine’s bouquet but the practice of moderation.

This comment sparked some thinking. Notice the first line: “self control is a fruit of the Spirit”. This appears to be a reference to Gal 5.23 where ‘egkrateia’ is translated by the NAS and ESV as “self-control” (KJV = “temperance”).

Notice that later in the paragraph the idea of self-control is equated with ‘moderation’. “Those who imbibe in moderation…” and “… the practice of moderation.”

Now, we wonders, does temperance = moderation?

A look at the words involved seems to indicate something quite the contrary.

Temperance is a word made from the combination of the preposition “en” [in] and “kratos” [power]. Etymologically, it means “power within”. Ethically, it was used by the Greeks extensively of the noble and virtuous man who by dint of self-control (power over self), one is able to turn away from desires, even for things that are not evil but merely pleasurable, for the sake of achieving ascetic virtue, the virtue of an ‘encratitic man’, a ‘self-controlled man’.

The New Testament doesn’t use this word extensively, it is found only in a few passages. Kittel suggests that this is because Christianity isn’t a religion of the self-made man such as the Greeks followed, but of the submitted man, as Christians submit themselves to Christ. Thus, virtue for the Christian is produced by submission whereas for the Greek, virtue is produced by self-control.

Regardless, wherever the word is used, it does have some particular significance. A verb form is used in 1 Cor 9.25:

NAU  1 Corinthians 9:25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

The athlete abstains from things that hinder in order to achieve his goal of victory in the games. He says “No” to the pleasure of rest, he says “No” to the pleasure of fatty foods, he says “No” to the pleasures of other’s company, and so on, all for the glory of victory. The athlete in his training is not about moderation, he is about self-denial.

The only other occurrence of the verb is also in 1 Corinthians, at 1 Cor 7.9:

NAU  1 Corinthians 7:9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Clearly here self-control does not mean “moderation”. It means self-denial, i.e., abstinence. Paul isn’t saying “if someone can’t handle moderation in sexual intimacy, well then, let them get married…” He is saying on the other hand, “if someone can’t control their desires (i.e., abstain), it is better to get married.”

It is possible that the Greek ethical idea is completely in view in Acts 24.25 where Paul is preaching to Felix about “righteousness, temperance, and judgement to come” (KJV). Felix trembled under this preaching, for he knew himself. No power within here.

This brings us to the use in Gal 5.23. This is the list of the fruit of the Spirit. It is set over against the works of the flesh. I argued in the earlier piece that Paul is teaching against exhibiting any aspect of the works of the flesh, reasoning from our Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount concerning the depth of our sinfulness.

Today I’d like to argue from the word “temperance” … “self-control” … “egkrateia”. The Greek philosophers saw this word as distinct from “sophrosune”, another ethical quality that is lightly used in the New Testament. The most clear reference that would highlight the meaning of this word is found in 1 Tim 2.9:

ESV  1 Timothy 2:9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,

The NAU says “discreetly” and the KJV “sobriety”. The idea in this word is the idea of moderation. It looks at the things of this world and isn’t overwhelmed by them, overawed by them, enthralled by them, but is instead using them discreetly and soberly. An illustration of this might be found in the various ways some women ‘make themselves up’. I am not against makeup per se, but when the makeup is so obvious as to call attention to itself, it seems to be too much. And women who use so much makeup that it draws attention all too often seem to be highly insecure in themselves and overly concerned with the world and the things it values. They are not discreet. They are not sober. They are not self-controlled [in this sense]. They are not moderate.

Kittel on sophrosune says:

As distinct from Gnostic scorn for the world Christian faith manifests itself in a proper attitude to it and its goods, 1 Tm. 4:3–5. This correct relation is marked by moderation and contentedness, 1 Tm. 6:6–10, 17–19. aidos and sophrosune (1 Tm. 2:9), i.e., a suitable restraint in every respect is expected of women, cf. 1 Tm. 2:15; 1 Cl., 1, 3. In Tt. 2:5 the reference is especially to chastity … and a disciplined life. … Of interest here is the ref. to egkrateia and sophrosune along with the true Chr. virtues. The way of Chr. ethics clearly leads to Chr. mastery over the world rather than Gnostic contempt for it.1

Now, the point here is that egkrateia is not the word for moderation. Sophrosune is. Egkrateia is the word for self-mastery which means self-denial.

In arguing that we are called to turn away from the works of the flesh, I am also arguing that if we would have the fruit of the Spirit, we will deny ourselves the pleasures those works of the flesh bring.

If you ‘imbibe’, drink alcohol, for the pleasure it brings, are you walking in the Spirit or working in the flesh? Are you crucifying the flesh with its passions and lusts?

NAU  Galatians 5:24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

There is no need to drink alcoholic beverages today. An argument could be made for need in ancient times when there were limited sources of safe beverages. But even then, it is quite clear that ancient wines and beers were less potent than those of today and the wine especially was drunk diluted. The practice of dilution was in part to protect against the dangers of abuse.

But today no one is practicing moderation by diluting their wine. They drink for the pleasure the drinks bring. They are not denying themselves.

I ask, is this the walk of the Spirit? No.



  1. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin., ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed., 7:1103 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-c1976). []


  1. paul says:

    Psalm 104 describes God’s hand in various aspects of creation and in verse 15 we see that God created wine to make our hearts glad. This is seemingly antithetical to your proposition that there is something wrong with drinking wine for the effect it creates in us. Drunkenness is a work of the flesh – not drinking (as evidenced by Jesus’ own consumption of alcohol).

    Do you eat food simply for the nourishment it provides, or do you not also eat it partly for the pleasure you derive from its consumption (since gluttony is a sin, but eating isn’t)?

    Your ascetic form of argumentation is misguided, but I’m sure out of a heart to please God.

  2. paul says:

    Adultery and fornication are listed as works of the flesh along with drunkenness. Sex can be perverted such that it can be included in the list of works of the flesh. However, I would doubt that you would follow the same line of argumentation that we should abstain from it in its proper application because that abstention is putting to death fleshly desires.

    Alcohol can be used and enjoyed in proper moderation just as sex can be enjoyed if we adhere to God’s plan for it.

    Also, there is no need to dilute alcohol to adhere to the requirement of moderation. Proper self control evidenced by consuming moderate quantities of today’s beverages will not cause drunkenness.

    • Paul,

      All sex outside of marriage is a work of the flesh. It is called fornication. I argue that every believer is called to abstain from all forms of fornication. Please note that Jesus himself says that even the fantasy of sex outside marriage is as evil as the actual act. No part of it may be indulged in by someone walking in the spirit.

      Can alcohol be used in such a way as to be NOT a work of the flesh? There are medical uses, that is not prohibited. There were beverage uses in ancient times when pure drinking supplies were not as readily available as today. Ancient practices DID dilute wine, one of the reasons being to hinder its abuse.

      But these matters are not really the point of this post. In this post I am pointing out that temperance in Gal 5.23 really means abstaining, not moderation. It is about saying “No”, not constraining one’s self.

      With respect to Ps 104, it is certainly true that God created all things to make our hearts glad. But there are things that with ongoing revelation, God has given further instruction which the Spiritual man would do well to follow. The OT concepts are subject to the ongoing revelation of the NT.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  3. paul says:

    No revelation in the NT contradicts what we find about alcohol in the OT. Deut 14:26 “And you may spend the money for whatever your heart desires, for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household”.

    So what was something to be done in the presence of the Lord in the OT is a work of the flesh in the NT???

    Alcohol can be consumed without that act being a work of the flesh (and without being diluted)

    Jesus was accused of being a drunkard, but didn’t find it necessary to abstain. If at the most important time for the spread of the Gospel He didn’t abstain, should we think we need to either.

    • Paul, this is the last post I will approve of yours unless you start talking about the subject I raised in this article. It seems to me that my point stands as long as you keep bringing up extraneous points.

      With respect to Dt 14.26, the verse is talking about going to Jerusalem and buying items to offer for sacrifice at the temple, including meat for peace offerings which would have been eaten in fellowship with the Lord at the temple. Next time you head to Jerusalem to do that, you will have perfect freedom to do so… unless of course you consider the sacrifices to be essential to salvation, in which case you will run afoul of Galatians.

      In any case, this argument has nothing to do with this post, which is a discussion of the meaning of egkrateia and related words, translated ‘temperance’ or ‘self-control’ in our versions. I contend that it means self-denial, not moderation, and it is this self-denial that is in fact the fruit of the Spirit. Please address that proposition if you care to comment here further.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. The wrong use of the term you mention comes, in my opinion, from a larger problem of arriving at conclusions first, then going to scripture. Everyone has to be careful not to do this, whether we are for or against a particular thing. Upbringing, our own opinions, feelings and advice from those we respect may lead us to conclusions that we then try to force into a text.

    You would probably be hard-pressed to find a man willing to make the incorrect argument you point out, unless he has already made up his mind about the acceptability of moderate alcohol use. Just a thought.


    • Hi Chris

      We all come to the argument with our bias. It is very hard to divorce our thinking from our previous bias, especially for an issue that is very strongly held, which I believe this one is, on all sides. Witness those arguing for the ‘two wines’ theory on SI and elsewhere. I believe they are wrong historically and unproven biblically, but on the right side in the final analysis. Yet they see my view (and Jaeggli’s) as a terrible compromise because they can’t see past their two wines theory.

      When I came to be teaching this to our people, I determined to understand alcohol production and history and borrowed secular books from the library. They wouldn’t have an axe to grind in this fight and tend to be more objective on the facts. But even there is bias, and ultimately, our position is only derived from what the Bible says.

      So far, in these two articles, I have not had anyone deal directly with my arguments, although one commenter said my reasoning was faulty in the first. He didn’t show me how it was faulty though. I would welcome interaction along those lines because I want my arguments to be biblical. They have no authority otherwise.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  5. Don,

    I think you make a good point with the word study. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for the work. I am two wine, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying this.

    As a secondary matter, I thought it was interesting how little your commentators had to say about your actual post.

  6. Don,

    I have just stumbled across your blog and appreciate the civility you bring to the discussion. For full disclosure, I am a recovering fundamentalist and subscribe to the moderation position.

    I think Paul in his initial post brought up an interesting point which you did not address. I have copied it below …

    “Do you eat food simply for the nourishment it provides, or do you not also eat it partly for the pleasure you derive from its consumption (since gluttony is a sin, but eating isn’t)?”


  7. Dan says:

    First, I want to say that I have no self interest in the debate (as far as I can tell by examining myself. This is not to say that I can be absolutely sure of my subconscious). I have had both wine and beer before, but I do not do so now. My main reason for abstaining is a simple one–I don’t like the stuff.

    Okay, with that out of the way, let’s look at Gal 5:23. I find it difficult to see how understanding egkrateia as denial to the point of totally abstaining is relevant to that which is not defined as sin. I would agree that the word is better understood as self-denial than as self-moderation. But this is a self-denial against passions and desires of sin. Applying self-denial to that which is not defined as sin seems going beyond Paul’s argument.

    I agree that using sex as an example misses the point since sex in its right context of marriage has nothing to do with sex in its always-wrong context outside marriage. But other examples do come to mind that may be more appropriate as analogy. One example is applying oneself to the rest/reflection on God that was a motivation for the weekly Sabbath. Although the OT mandates the day, the NT does not seem to do so. However, the principle involved remains. Therefore, we of this age, I think, should set aside time to rest/reflect on our Lord. We do this traditionally on Sunday, involving ourselves in corporate worship and intimate reflection on God.

    The question arises in this scenario whether I should watch football, go to the park, or do other things on my day of setting aside reflection time for God. Of course, the NT does not prohibit football or anything else that we use for our own entertainment/relaxation purposes. But if I schedule/coordinate my own entertainment time on the day in which I fulfill the principle for reflection on God in such a manner as to limit, inhibit, or totally do away with my reflection on God, I believe I may sin because of my excess.

    But because the danger of selfish pursuit and desire toward personal entertainment exists, I do not believe that Gal 5:23 tells me to self-deny to the point of abstinence any activity of self-entertainment. Self-entertainment (again, not defined as sinful pleasure, but mere body/mind rest/relaxation) is not a sin in itself, but can become sin when abused.

    This, I think, is comparable to the alcohol issue in which the Bible argues against drunkenness–which is the excess of an act not denied to us by Scripture except in its abuse. Therefore, being mildly drunk is denied by egkrateia. All sinful passions and desires are denied in totality by the correct egkrateia understanding. But the denial is not mandated against that which is not in itself defined as sin. We are to totally abstain from all sin (as in the fornication example).

    Moderation v. abstinence is not the argument for egkrateia. Egkrateia is total self-denial, but it is a total self-denial toward sin, not toward activities not defined as sin.

    • Dan, thank you for your comment. You betray your genes in your thinking processes! (I mean that as a compliment.)

      I will have to think about what you are saying. This aspect of my argument (the Galatians 5 argument) is not hard and fast in my thinking, I am mainly thinking out loud here and welcome challenges to my thought processes and conclusions. For the record, I believe there are other strong arguments for abstinence on the basis of wisdom and on the facts that today’s alcoholic beverages and culture are vastly different from ancient times. This argument (Gal 5) is one that occurred to me as I was preaching through the chapter recently. So I concede that it may not be perfect.

      I am saying in this argument that the works of the flesh are motivated by passions and desires which the Spirit filled Christian has crucified (5.24). The fruit of the Spirit is produced by the Spirit when we walk in the direction of the Spirit, crucifying the flesh as we go. I am saying that the desire to drink alcohol for the sake of the effect is a lust of the flesh, from which we are commanded to turn (1 Jn 2.15ff.). Consequently, drinking for the “effect” produced by the glass or two of wine with a meal is as fleshly as the look of lust Jesus proscribed in Mt 5. As such, I am not sure that the Sabbath laws or principle is an exact parallel, although I agree that some aspects you bring up (watching football, going to the park, etc.) could be seen as at least somewhat parallel. I will have to think that point over.

      I do think you are too limiting in egkrateia by defining it as self-denial only towards sin since Paul uses it in 1 Cor 9.25 in a context where he is talking about his own self-denial, including of legitimate rights he has as an apostle to pay and to have a wife.

      But thanks for the challenge, I’ll think that over.


      CB, thank you for your comment as well.

      Civility is a fruit of the Spirit, I think, but I am quite capable of walking in the flesh as anyone and have done so on-line all too often.

      I did not address Paul’s points because in the main I felt he wasn’t dealing with the passage at hand. I will make some comment here, though. The issue of food and gluttony are often brought up in this discussion. With respect to the passage I am mainly dealing with, Gal 5, it is not listed as one of the works of the flesh, though surely it is covered under the “and such like” at the end of the list. With respect to gluttony specifically, there is a legitimate use of food that is not sin, just as there is a legitimate use of sex that is not sin. Secondly, I don’t believe that gluttony is simply over-eating, though that is surely at least a character flaw, and may well be a sin in itself. However, I believe that gluttony has a more specific meaning in the ancient world and refers to a much more egregious practice than simply overeating. I haven’t studied the term in depth, so I could be entirely wrong here, but that is my impression. I’ll have to add it to the list of work to do, since I am making some claims about it!

      In any case, eating food is a necessity and eating it is enjoyable. I don’t think we should all resort to simply eating dog food so that we can be holy. But at the same time, there does seem to me to be quite a qualitative difference between eating necessary food and desiring unnecessary alcohol.

      But as I said to Dan, I am thinking this through. Thanks for the challenge.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  8. Dan says:

    Just a couple of things. One is that I apologize for what looked like me limiting egkrateia to only self-denial of sin or sinful passions. I wasn’t trying to limit the term to that, although I was limiting it to that in the context of Gal 5.

    The other thing is in regard to desiring the effects of alcohol. Again, desiring effects of drunkenness is wrong because drunkenness is wrong. But desiring the effects of wine in that a glass makes you feel relaxed is sort of like desiring a cup of coffee because it picks you up. Being “picked up” to the extent that coffee does it is not, I think, any kind of abuse. Desiring the relaxing effect of a glass of wine (again, I think) is no more abusive or, therefore, sinful. The abusiveness of drunkenness, especially as explained in Ephesians, is the loss of mind control–those things that image us in God like relational love, moral consciousness, conceptual intelligence, creative imagination, and effective volition. That is not abused by the relaxing effect of a glass of wine. (– I think)

    • Hi Dan

      That brings it down to this question: what is drunkenness? Essentially, I am probably trying to say that drunkenness can even be the desire for drink and its effects (mental drunkenness) whereas you might be saying that drunkenness occurs at something more than one glass of wine (physical drunkenness). That is where my argument may fail, but I am not convinced of being wrong on this point, at least not as yet, anyway.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  9. Dan says:

    And I’m not trying to convince you that you are wrong. That’s why I think this issue is not one of biblical mandate, but personal responsibility. (I don’t like to call it personal liberty because that sounds like a desire to be free of control.) Assuming this discussion is among all those who care about our lives in relation to our Lord, there are certain things of a more interpretive nature that we must responsibly (in this context, that means with a heart toward our service, love, and imitation of Christ) decide for our lives. If you or I decide based on selfish interests, we fail. If you or I decide based on truly desiring God’s truth, goodness, and beauty, we succeed (even though we may see things a bit differently). As we both grow, the HS, I think, will guide us to alter our decisions as need be. This is where (again, I think) growth toward God is greater through conformance based on personal desire for God than conformance based on pastoral mandate.