‘A messenger / angel of Satan’ – is not a metaphor.

In ‘Paul, Timothy, Sickness & Healing – Part I‘, we looked at Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ and saw that the other description which Paul gives it – ‘a messenger / angel of Satan’ – is not a metaphor, but it was meant literally. In other words, the ‘thorn in the flesh’ was a demon, sent by Satan to hinder, or if possible stop, the work that Paul was doing for the Kingdom of God. That article concluded that Paul was not an example of someone who did not receive their healing. The end of the article mentioned the ‘frequent illnesses‘, which Paul wrote to Timothy about: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (1 Timothy 5:23) or as the Contemporary English Bible puts it, “Don’t drink water anymore, but use a little wine because of your stomach problems and your frequent illnesses“.

Paul was not telling Timothy to drink wine all day.

So the question in this article, part II of ‘Paul, Timothy, Sickness & Healing’, will be to explore why Timothy had these ‘frequent illnesses’. Can we conclude that it was not God’s will for Timothy to be healed? The first thing to look at, is whether Paul was really telling Timothy to completely replace water with wine? Had Paul taken the whole ‘water into wine’ thing too far? Because totally replacing water with wine, would surely be some very bad advice. Based on what else the Bible has to say about wine – for example Proverbs 23:20, “Don’t associate with people who drink too much wine” (Good News Translation), we can safely conclude that Paul was not telling Timothy to drink wine all day – replacing water with wine would certainly come under the category of ‘drinking too much wine’! Indeed Paul himself had written about drinking too much wine in the same letter:

An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach….not an excessive drinker….deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine….. (1 Timothy 3:2-8, Christian Standard Bible)

Why did Paul not remind Timothy of the many healing scriptures in the Bible?

Many translations add the word ‘only’ to 1 Timothy 5:23, which seems to be make more sense. For example: “Timothy, stop drinking only water, and drink a little wine. This will help your stomach, and you will not be sick so often” (Easy To Read Version). However, this does not explain why Timothy kept getting sick and why drinking less water alongside some wine, was Paul’s advice. Why did Paul not remind Timothy of the many healing scriptures in the Bible and encourage him to believe God to receive healing for those illnesses that apparently kept occurring? The verse in question is fairly vague and it is difficult to draw any definite conclusions from it, however there is a strong possibility that there was an issue with the water where Timothy was located. The Greek word that has been translated as ‘wine’ in 1 Timothy 5:23 can mean either fermented or unfermented grape juice, so it is possible that Paul was advising Timothy to cut out water and instead drink grape juice.

Maybe Timothy had wondered why he wasn’t able to keep his healing.

If the water was indeed bad – which is a reasonable conclusion to reach – in giving the advice that he did, Paul was either seeking to eliminate the source of Timothy’s sickness or to use the medicinal properties of wine to counter the effects of the bad water. This would have been sound advice, because to carry on drinking bad water and believing for healing, is like smoking every day and believing for healthy lungs, or eating doughnuts every day and believing to be slim. It is true that Paul did not tell Timothy to believe for healing in this particular verse, but maybe drinking something other than the water was enough. One thing that we can be sure of, is that Timothy was not laid up on a sick bed – there is absolutely no indication of that. For one thing, Paul refers to illnesses in the plural, meaning that these illnesses kept reoccurring, rather than being continuous. Maybe Timothy had received healing, only for the illness to reoccur. Maybe Timothy had wondered why he wasn’t able to keep his healing, and God showed Paul that the water was the issue and that wine or grape juice was the solution. 

The verses that can appear to imply that God doesn’t always heal are few and far between.

I realise that there are a lot of ‘ifs’ & ‘maybes’ here, but all of this shows that you cannot possibly conclude that it wasn’t God will for Timothy to be healed. Neither Paul nor Timothy can be shown as examples of people who didn’t, or couldn’t, receive their healing. You can make vague assumptions. but the truth is that you cannot really conclude anything of certainty from this verse, and yet it is a favourite for those who dispute that healing is available for all. One reason that it is a favourite, is because the verses that can appear to imply that God doesn’t always heal are few and far between, whereas there are a huge number of verses relating to divine healing throughout the Bible. In Part III of this, we will return to the ‘thorn in the flesh’ from 1 Corinthians 12 and explore whether God’s answer was really, “No – you just need to learn to live with it!“, when Paul asked God three times to remove it.

If you have any further questions or thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment.

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