Moderation in all things

The phrase, “Moderation in all things,” is common extrapolation of Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean (as presented in his Nicomachean Ethics). His ethic works around finding the mean, or middle ground, between excess and deficiency. An example of this would be his presentation of courage being the happy medium between the extreme of rash action and the deficiency of cowardice, in respect to a person’s possible action in the face of danger.

It should be noted that Aristotle’s ethic is often misundertood by its summary: moderation in all things. It is frequently reasoned by those unfamiliar with context that the common phrase means that a person should approach all things (whether healthy or unhealthy) with moderation; therefore, reasoning that a moderate amount of a bad thing can be indulged is not uncommon to find. This is an inaccurate representation of the perspective summarized in the popular phrase.

But what about Scripture? Though there is no direct quotation matching the proverb, Paul does use a similar idea in his description of the successful athlete:

And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:25).

While Paul could be making reference to an Aristotalean sort of ethic of moderation here, it is more likely that the phrase translated here as “temperate in all things” should be better rendered as “wholly self-controlled” or “entirely self-disciplined.” Several alternative translations favour this reading of the text. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon notes that Paul is presenting the figure of an athlete who trains himself, taking charge of his body, abstaining from “unwholesome foods, wine, and sexual indulgence” that he might perform at the peak of his potential prowess.

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