Vol. 8, No. 3
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Gluttony is a biblical subject appearing in both testaments of the Bible. Though information on this topic from both testaments combined is minimal, gluttony is nevertheless a part of preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). This lesson, then, is intended to be informational. Our aim is to provide a biblical definition of gluttony and evaluate its application to Christianity today.
Gluttony is defined by the words used to represent it. Gluttony is sometimes represented in the New Testament by the Greek word, gaster. Gaster means "stomach" and is also translated as "belly," "with child" or "womb" (Biblesoft's). In Titus 1:12, gaster refers to gluttony (i.e., "bellies" KJV, "gluttons" ASV and NKJV). Various commentators on Titus 1:12 of the ancient inhabitants of Crete write: "They are so given to gluttony that they are mere 'bellies.' Compare Phil 3:19. Gasteer (NT:1064), elsewhere in the New Testament always in connection with childbearing" (Vincent's). "...[T]hey were a race of gluttons, a people whose only concern was the stomach; compare Phil 3:19" (Barnes'). "They themselves are called "bellies," for that is the member for which they live (Rom 16:18; Phil 3:19)" (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown).
Gluttony is sometimes represented in the New Testament by the Greek word, koilia. Koilia can mean "to be given up to the pleasures of the palate, to gluttony" (Enhanced Strong's). Philippians 3:19 ("whose God is their belly") and Romans 16:18 ("serve...their own belly") are such uses of koilia. However, koilia in other contexts means "belly" or "womb," much like the Greek word gaster is used.
Gluttony is sometimes represented in the New Testament by the word, phagos. Phagos means "a glutton." Phagos appears twice, in Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34, in false accusations made against Jesus. Uniformly in the New Testament, gluttony is represented as a sinful condition that Christians especially ought to avoid.
Gluttony is defined in part by the other activities associated with it. The Old Testament portrays gluttony as a sin. The Old Testament pictures gluttony as a serious enough affront to God and to man to be worthy of death (Deuteronomy 21:20-21). The Old Testament states that gluttony (accompanied with drunkenness) leads to "poverty," "drowsiness" and "rags" (Proverbs 23:21; Numbers 11:31-34).
The New Testament includes gluttony in its catalog of sins, as already noted (Titus 1:12; Philippians 3:19). Gluttony is a companion to other sins, which together paint a picture of an ungodly lifestyle. Gluttony is part of a careless lifestyle punctuated with sin (Luke 12:19, i.e. "...eat, drink and be merry"). Gluttony is often associated with drunkenness, too (Luke 12:45, i.e. "...to eat and drink, and to be drunken"). (See also Isa. 22:13.)
Gluttony posed a real threat to Christians in the first century. The commonality of the sin of gluttony in the first century was serious enough for the apostle Paul to warn a younger preacher about it (Titus 1:12). "...a lazy, idle people, that had much more inclination to eat and drink than they had to work in any honest labour. From all this the apostle would infer, that Titus had the more need be watchful in his place, and faithful in the discharge of his office, being amongst such a people" (Poole).
The same reason for which Paul warned Titus about gluttony is reason enough for us to be careful today respecting the lifestyle of which gluttony is a part. Whatever the topic, even Christians become accustomed to the norm of society. Society and even Christians arrive at a point where they cannot blush at the worst evil (Jeremiah 6:15; 8:12).
The English dictionary says of "gluttony" that it is "1 : excess in eating or drinking; 2 : greedy or excessive indulgence" (Merriam). "Gluttony is more than overeating. In its association with drunkenness (Prov 23:21; Deut 21:20), it describes a life given to excess" (Nelson's). Of the inhabitants of Crete commentators note: "No attempt was made to curb any selfish, sensual or vengeful desire. The expression 'lumpish greedy-guts' is used by Simpson to describe the third quality of such persons. When no attempt is made to control the appetites of the body, such a person will carry around an advertisement of his lack of self-control. It will be a large stomach!" (DeWelt 151). "...a person who habitually eats excessively...A glutton is often spoken of idiomatically, for example, 'a large belly' or 'a person who is only a stomach' or 'a professional eater'" (Louw and Nida). (Admittedly, a large stomach does not always signal an excessive eater (e.g., pregnancy, medical condition.)
One commentator denotes the tendency of preachers especially to need Paul's instruction, perhaps one reason the topic is little discussed from the pulpit. "The writer cannot help but add the following, addressed to himself and his associates in the ministry; 'Brethren, let us curb our appetite for food in order that we may make a pleasing appearance in the pulpit'" (Wuest). Christians should practice moderation in all things and be given to no excesses (Philippians 4:5).
May we always be interested in the whole counsel of God, irrespective of what any part of it may be. Unfortunately, so many people are decidedly disinterested in the part of the whole counsel of God that deals with salvation (Romans 10:17; John 8:24; Acts 17:30; 8:37; 2:38; Revelation 2:10). The whole counsel of God also includes information on how erring Christians can be forgiven of their sins (Acts 8:22).
Barnes' Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, 1994.
DeWelt, Don. Paul's Letters to Timothy and Titus. CD-ROM. Joplin: College P, 1975.
Enhanced Strong's Lexicon. CD-ROM. Oak Harbor: Logos, 1995.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains. CD-ROM. New York: United Bible Societies, 1989.
Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. CD-ROM. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 1993.
Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1986.
Poole, Matthew. Matthew Poole's Commentary on the New Testament. CD-ROM. n.p.: Ephesians Four Group, 2000.
Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft,1997.
Wuest, Kenneth S. Wuest's Word Studies in the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1997.