25 Jun 2021

“Be Sober”: 1 Peter 5.8 is Not about Beer

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Uncategorized
A Classically Abused Text

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, KJV).

Context Matters

One of my heroes in the Churches of Christ was K. C. Moser. Moser was a leading advocate of the Holy Spirit, the cross, the grace of God, faith and context. He was a careful student of Scripture. In the early 1930’s he had a column in the Gospel Advocate called “Text & Context.” He took individual verses that brothers and sisters commonly abused through taking them out of context, often in polemical debates. Many were grateful for the correction. Sectarians hated having their beloved proof texts examined. Bereans were always thankful however.

1611 English

Any time the subject of wine/beer comes up a brother/sister will throw out 1 Peter 5.8. The old classic King James Version reads, “be sober minded.” So the argument goes you cannot have a drop of wine/beer. Reading the phrase “sober minded” through 2021 understandings means, it is asserted, you cannot touch wine or beer.

Frankly, it does not matter, seemingly, that 1 Peter 5.8 never mentions wine/beer and is not talking about consuming such beverages anywhere in the context. It also does not seem to matter that “sober minded” in 1611 did not to refer to avoiding alcoholic beverages. Rather it meant “being on guard” or “be alert” or “be cautious” or “watch out” or “beware” or “keep an eye out,” like a sentry in the military.

Being on guard/alert/staying sharp against the devil is the context. Peter has been waxing eloquently how God has loving, caring, interest in his Flock but in v.8f shifts gears and announces that the devil also has a keen interest in the Flock. Therefore we need to be alert, we need to be focused, we need to watchful for Satan’s attack.

The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, teaches that wine (like both food and sexuality) is a gift of grace from God to Humanity. These three, including wine/beer, are subject to gross abuse in a fallen world but the Bible never embraces a Gnostic or ascetic position on any of these.

Rather the biblical way of approaching wine, food and sexuality is basically doxologically, through thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the antidote to abuse. Treasures are treasured they are not trashed. First Peter 5.8, however, has nothing at all to do with the subject and people who throw this verse out have simply yanked a verse because of a peculiar wording to suit their agenda. We do not have to know Greek to understand this text in its context.

Read Other Translations

Letting the King James Version “rest in peace” is a good thing. Reading the Bible in multiple translations is a helpful guideline and keeps us from getting attached to specific wording of a specific translation. The Bible was not written in English and various translations shed light on the what the Greek or Hebrew actually means. I checked a number of English versions outside the KJV translation tradition and the meaning of the text is plain. But even the KJV is very plain when read in context even consulting a dictionary that shows antiquated meaning can be helpful.

New English Bible, “Awake! be alert.”

Revised English Bible, “Be alert, awake.”

Jerusalem Bible, “Be calm but vigilant.”

Today’s English Version, “Be alert, be on watch!

E. J. Goodspeed NT An American Translation, “Be calm and watchful.

Hugo McCord’s NT, “Be alert; be watchful.

GOD’S Word, “Keep your mind clear.”

Message, “Keep a cool head.”

And for good measure the NRSV reads

NRSV, “Discipline yourselves, keep alert.”

The KJV was not wrong to render the Greek as “sober minded” in 1611.

The End of the Matter

The problem is is not the King James Version frankly. The problem is people do not understand what the King James Version actually says. In 1611 this was a clear call to thinking, being focused and staying alert. It is only when people in 2021 read that phrase and making it mean something it did not 1611 that we have a problem.

This is where reading multiple translations save us from our sectarian and partisan attachments. The Bible does condemn drunkenness, gluttony, fornication. But it does not condemn wine, food and sexuality. And we are supposed to be alert and watchful for the attack of the Devil. First Peter 5.8 is about the latter it is not about the former.

We need to respect the text and the context in which the text is given.

Related Articles

Beer & The Bible: What the Bible Really Says

Song of Songs and God’s Good Gifts: Wisdom’s Way with Food, Sexuality and Wine

2 Responses to ““Be Sober”: 1 Peter 5.8 is Not about Beer”

  1. Dwight Says:

    during the Temperance Movement all scriptures that could be used against wine/beer/alcoholic drinks were used just for that purpose to make those things sinful, and not much has changed within many churches in terms of wine being sinful and the methodology to prove that, no matter how wrong the premise and methodology actually is.

  2. Jerry Starling Says:

    Richard Rodgers used to tell his students, “The three most important things in understanding the Bible are context, context, and you guessed the third one.

    Johnny Ramsey would say, “A text out of context is pretext.”

    I sat under both of these men when I was a student at the Sunset School of Preaching.

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