Posted By Nan

2 Peter 1:3-11, Galatians 5:19-26 and Proverbs 16:32

I was watching a television show this weekend that spoke of the “Temperance Movement” in Victorian Britain. This was actually about abstinence of alcohol, not temperance in its true meaning. It set me thinking about how the Bible is misinterpreted and the way to follow Jesus is corrupted.

Many denominations use abstention from alcohol as a measure of faith.

The question is, what does the Bible actually say about “temperance”?

For this discussion I am referring to three Bible verses. These are in the NIV translation, where moderation is often translated as “self control” but I will also be looking at the root Greek words used to form this translation and what they mean.

After that I will be looking at the background of the “Temperance Movement”.

In this blog, I will be using the worlds self control when I mean both self control and temperance. Self control is the usual word used today.


In the New Testament, the usual Greek word that has been interpreted as self-control is a word meaning “power over oneself” or “self mastery.

If you apply that meaning to the word self control it is usually interpreted as being able to control your emotions and behaviour. 

Another Greek word that is interpreted as self control covers the concept of self indulgence.

It is generally considered by most Biblical scholars that the use of these words in the Bible includes the concepts of good common sense, measured wisdom, moderation and careful reflection.


In the above verse the person with self control is portrayed as one who is slow to anger and patient.

So a temperate person here will be patient, carefully weigh all the facts and not rush to get angry.

This is a major message of proverbs. Self control, coupled with the choice to deny and sacrifice the self when necessary is an important aspect of following Jesus. This is taking up our cross and allowing Jesus to become more and us less.


In this section of the Bible, the fruit of the Spirit is listed in order from Love to Self Control. This is in line with 1 Corinthians 13, where love is listed as the most important. 

In my research, many writers consider that the attributes of the Fruit of the Spirit exist as a continuum. We first have love which leads to joy and on down to the end where we experience self control. I agree with that interpretation. It would be hard to have the later fruits of the spirit without love. It is God and our love for Him and His love that flows through us that allows us to practice self control.

In many ways, self control is the end result of love. When we love God our desire to walk in the footsteps of Jesus results in us desiring to control our behaviour. To be slow to anger and patient. To consider the full picture before rushing to judge the behaviour of others and take offense. To appreciate the good things God gives us, but not to overdo it. 

A good example is to enjoy money and comfort God gives us but not to become so obsessed with these things that we crave the increase of wealth.

2 PETER 1:3-11

In this section of 2 Peter we are reminded that God’s divine power gave us everything we need for a godly life through following Jesus. Jesus called us and made Himself known to us. We can become one with Him following Him on our path through life by escaping the corruption in the world caused by “evil desires”

In other words, we need to learn to resist the desires of the world where they conflict with the requirements of following Jesus. To do this we need faith. We must add goodness to that faith. Knowledge must be added to that goodness. We then add self control to goodness, then perseverance, godliness, concern for one another and love. 

It is interesting that Peter has put these in a different order. Reading 2 Peter it seems to me he is describing the way we often come to a practical understanding of how to follow God. This starts with belief and faith and grows.

Peter exhorts his readers to make an effort to confirm their calling by God by following this process. The reward is that they will not stumble.

This is an interesting contrast to Galatians 5 where not stumbling is more a fruit of the spirit. However I believe we need both the fruit of the spirit and to make the right choices in our lives following Jesus.


Temperance is very much about self control. About living a life of moderation. Not seeking excess but being measured in what we do.

Because of the Victorian “Temperance Movement”, temperance is usually considered to mean not drinking alcohol.


Life in Victorian England for the poor was extremely difficult. There was no security of employment. There was little money to feed a worker’s family. People were often forced to steal to get food for their families. Accommodation was basic, if at all. People were forced to live in expensive small rooms that leaked, were cold, had nowhere to cook or store food, were vermin infested and took most or all of their income. There were a lot of intemperate landlords making a lot of money out of the misery of others.

If you are living in such misery. If you watch your children starve to death or die because of illnesses you could not afford medical care for, life was pretty hopeless. If you were one illness away from total destitution and starvation for you and your family, then it could be hard to see anything positive in life. If children as young as 2 were sent out to work and often die it was hard to be hopeful.

Research on trauma, and this was a traumatic way to live, has shown that people will use many ways to cope with the difficulties of life. If we live in healthy, safe, comfortable surroundings we will probably be able to self regulate or reach out to others. But in difficult circumstances other ways are more likely to be available. One of those is alcohol.

The middle class with their zeal for converting these masses to God saw drunkenness as the reason they didn’t believe in God. Alcohol was the end result of their misery, but people then didn’t understand that. 

Sometimes people were taught about God and believed but then would get drunk and be seen to fall away from God. Of course, the hopelessness of life and lack of healthy ways to cope were what kept them drinking. But that wasn’t understood then.

So the way to convert the masses was seen to be to get them to stop drinking. Great good was done for people by these Victorian evangelists. They set up soup kitchens, provided medical support, assisted with finding safer housing. But there was a dark side too.


Where people became obsessed with the idea of drinking alcohol as being evil, instead of a symptom of coping with trauma, judgement and harsh legalism was quick to follow.

Instead of seeing people with love, there was a tendency to judge and use their alcohol consumption as a way to perceive people as being evil and unacceptable.


There was also another problem. People were taught that the Bible called them to abstain from alcohol. 

That was not the intention of the Bible. Yes, there are references to the dangers of drunkenness. These are because self control goes out the window when you are drunk. 

But that is not what the references in the Bible to drunkenness actually refer to. They refer to a lifestyle where God is not believed in or followed. That is a completely different meaning to that of self control where followers of Jesus are encouraged to use self control in every aspect of their lives. 

In teaching that the meaning of self control refers only to alcohol, people missed out on important teaching.

This is the danger of interpreting the Bible too narrowly. Remember the Bible teaches us to love God and instructs us on how to do that. If we are not taught properly and are instead taught meanings that are too narrow, then we do not learn how to live a life following Jesus. Instead we are more likely to learn a legalistic way of living rather than a Jesus way of living.


I can’t say this enough. You need to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus.

You do not know God when you rely on an intermediary, such as a pastor, to tell you who God is. You need to know God yourself.

It is okay to listen to what others teach. They may know something you don’t know. But do not allow others to tell you what you should think. Paul particularly admonished people to study the scriptures and seek God themselves in order to know how to follow Jesus.

The misinterpretation of the word temperance is just one example of the many instances of misinterpretation in the Bible. Misinterpretations become cultural behaviours that in time are seen as the gospel truth, rather than one person’s interpretation of the Bible.

Make sure you know the Bible and you seek God. Don’t fall for the temptation to allow another person to interpret God for you. God will not reward you for that. 

God is more than happy to show you the way to be. It is not as hard as you think.

Today, listen to God and seek His guidance in your life.

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