Temperance

TEMPERANCE (Gr. enkrateia, sōphrosynē). The prime meaning is self-control (Acts.24.25; 1Cor.9.25; Gal.5.23; 2Pet.1.6). It is not limited to abstinence from liquor. In Acts.24.25 the reference is to chastity. In 1Tim.3.2, 1Tim.3.11; Titus.2.2 it is the opposite of “drunken.”


A nineteenth-century reform movement designed to encourage individuals to limit or abstain from the use of alcoholic beverages. It promised to improve the physical and moral well-being of individuals. Economic benefits, it was assumed, would follow.

Sporadic efforts of eighteenth-century ministers and humanitarians to encourage temperance were given medical support by Dr. Benjamin Rush's An Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits on the Human Mind and Body (1784). In 1826 the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance was formed in Boston under the dynamic leadership of Lyman Beecher.* Over 8,000 auxiliary societies were formed by 1835, representing about 1.5 million signers. Eleven weekly and monthly journals were published to promote temperance; millions of tracts were distributed. Songs and essays, plays and novels were written to dramatize the evils of strong drink. Timothy Shay Arthur's Ten Nights in a Barroom (1854) is the best known.

Division appeared within the American Society by 1836 over the issues of total abstinence from all alcoholic beverages, antislavery, and the legal control of the liquor traffic. The American Temperance Union, then formed, continued its campaign for total abstinence in the face of declining interest. Meanwhile the voluntary-abstinence movement gained new strength from the Washingtonians, a society of ex-drunkards formed in Baltimore on Washington's birthday, 1840. Members were enlisted through “experience meetings.” John B. Gough became their leading evangelist and lecturer.

Many in the temperance movement now campaigned for government regulation of the sale and distribution of hard liquor and alcoholic beverages. Neal Dow, a Portland, Maine, merchant, headed the movement in that state. The legislature responded in 1846 by restricting the retail sale of intoxicating beverages. By 1851 it completely outlawed the liquor traffic. Within five years thirteen Northern states followed suit. Meanwhile the temperance movement gained strength in Britain, Ireland, and Canada. A World's Temperance Convention assembled in London, 1846, and in New York, 1853.

The temperance movement in America after the Civil War was characterized by a campaign for total abstinence on the part of individuals and the outlawing of liquor sales by local, state, and national governments. The Women's Christian Temperance Union, formed in 1874 under the leadership of Frances Willard,* spearheaded the drive for total abstinence. The National Prohibition Party (1869) entered local, state, and national political campaigns to insure the election of public officials committed to the abolition of the liquor traffic. Ably assisted by the Anti-Saloon League (1893), the prohibition forces secured congressional approval of wartime prohibition in 1919. A constitutional amendment outlawing the “manufacture, sale or transportation” of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes was proposed by Congress in 1918 and approved as the Eighteenth Amendment the following year. The amendment was repealed in 1932 in spite of strenuous support from the Methodist Board of Prohibition and Morals and the two organizations previously mentioned.

The Cyclopedia of Temperance and Prohibition (1891); E.H. Cherrington, The Evolution of Prohibition in the United States (1920); J.A. Krout, The Origins of Prohibition (1925); D.L. Colvin, Prohibition in the United States (1926).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


The principle involved is that of the concentration of all man’s powers and capabilities upon the one end of doing God’s will, in and through whatever calling God appoints, and the renunciation of everything either wholly or to whatever degree necessary, however innocent or useful it may be in its proper place, that interferes with one’s highest efficiency in this calling (1Co 10:31). Not limited to abstinence, it is rather the power and decision to abstain with reference to some fixed end, and the use of the impulses of physical, as servants for the moral, life. It does not refer to any one class of objects that meets us, but to all; to what concerns speech and judgment, as well as to what appeals to sense. It is properly an inner spiritual virtue, working into the outward life, incapable of being counterfeited or replaced by any abstinence limited to that which is external (Augsburg Confession, Articles XXVI, XXVII). When its absence, however, is referred to as sin, the negative is generally more prominent than the positive side of temperance. The reference in Ac 24:25 is to chastity, and in 1Co 7:9, as the context shows, to the inner side of chastity. In 1Ti 3:2,11; Tit 2:2, the word nephalios has its original meaning as the opposite to "drunken" (see Sobriety; Strong Drink). See also the treatises on ethics by Luthardt (both the Compendium and the History), Martensen, Koestlin and Haring on temperance, asceticism, continence.

See also

  • Self-control