Romans: Table of Contents

ROMANS 1 – Verse by Verse:
“Unrighteous” man explains “live by faith”. God reveals “His invisible attributes”, but this man rejects God. God then gives the man over to impurity.

ROMANS 2 – Verse by Verse:
Romans 2 warns Jewish Christians that they will not be justified by the Law. It announces judgment of deeds, but that is justification by faith.

ROMANS 3:1-8: The faithfulness of God:
These verses deal with the same topic as Romans 9 and 11, namely the causes and consequences of Israel’s rejection of Christ.

ROMANS 9–11; The Chosen Nation – An independent and original interpretation of Romans 9 – 11 to identify the Israel of prophecy:

Election in Romans 9 – 11: – Romans 9-11 contain many strong election statements, but this is election to a mission, not to salvation, as is confirmed by the Jacob-example and other.

ROMANS 14

Romans 14:1-4
Some Christians in Rome did not eat meat, namely Gentiles, converted from idolatry, who still believed that meat offered to idols gave idols control over them.

Koinós Unclean
The Greek word ‘koinós’ is translated “unclean” in Romans 14:14.  It does not refer to the unclean animals of the Old Testament.

Food in Corinth
Similarities to 1 Corinthians 8-10 imply that the same dispute existed, namely meat sacrificed to idols.  For the weak Christian eating meat is idol worship.

Romans 14:5-6 Days
Not the Sabbath – No Jewish elements – Issue is non-Jewish – Would contradict Galatians – Sabbath requires specific treatment – In context probably meat-days.

Romans 14:7-13 – Judgment seat of God
Judged by deeds but not be justified by the works of the Law.  The difference is a difference in the Law and a difference t=in the function of the Law.

Romans 14:13-23 – Rather Abstain
Strong Christians can harm weaker brethren by eating such unholy food, and should not eat meat rather than to cause harm.

 

Meat sacrificed to Idols in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, and in Romans 14

1 Corinthians 8 and 10 is very similar to Romans 14, and therefore explain why the “weak” Christians in Rome did not eat meat.  The problem was that new converts to Christianity, based on their experience with idolatry, viewed meat sacrificed to idols as unfit for Christians.

Similarities

Consider the similarities between 1 Corinthians 8 & 10 and Romans 14:

  1. In both the problem is both meat and what people drink (Rom 14:1, 21; 1Co 8:13; 10:31).
  2. In both, “everything” is allowed (Rom 14:14, 20; 1 Cor. 10:23).
  3. In both, the person that eats meat gives thanks to God and eats without guilt (Rom 14:6; 1 Cor. 10:26, 30).
  4. Both refer to the “weak” brother (1Cor 8:7, 9-12; Rom. 14:1) in contrast to the more mature Christian.
  5. In both, Paul warns the person that “has faith” that eating meat can “become a stumbling block to the weak” (1Cor 8:9, 13; Rom. 14:13, 20-21).
  6. In both, Christ’s disciples are urged to consider others before themselves (Rom 15:1, 2; 1 Cor. 10:24, 33). This is, in fact, the main message of Romans 14. Paul summarizes the whole thrust of the passage by these words, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him” (Rom. 15:2).
  7. In both, the appeal is to abstain rather than to cause another’s fall (Rom 14:1, 21; 1 Cor. 8:9, 11-13). Paul’s plea is for the more mature Christian to consider his weak brethren before himself.

Meat sacrificed to idols

Meat sacrificed to idols
Meat sacrificed to idols

Corinthians may therefore explain why meat was regarded by some in the church in Rome as “unclean” (koinos) and thus to be avoided.  The problem in Corinth was not meat per se, but the association of meat with idol worship.  Most of the available meat in the city has been “sacrificed to idols” (8:1; 10:19).  The strong “know that there is no such thing as an idol” (8:4), and were able to dine in an idol’s temple (8:10) without misgivings.  But some of the Gentiles who had been converted from idolatry were still “weak” (8:9) and bound by superstitious beliefs that meat sacrificed to idols gave idols power over them. They ate meat “as a thing offered to an idol” (8:7).

Stumbling Block for the weak

This made eating meat “a stumbling block to the weak” (1Cor 8:9, 13).  The “weak” brother that sees another Christian eating in an idol’s temple might be tempted to do the same (8:10) and he might be ruined thereby (8:11), because for him eating meat is idol worship (8:7).  For that reason Paul urged the mature Christian to consider others before himself (1 Cor. 10:24, 33) and to rather abstain from meat than to cause another’s fall (1 Cor. 8:9, 11-13).

Next: Romans 14:5-6

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Koinos in Romans 14: Unclean or Unholy?

The Greek word koinos, translated as “unclean” in Romans 14, does not refer to the unclean foods of the Old Testament.  The dispute in the church in Rome over meat was not about unclean food.  Koinos is not defined by the Bible.  It is anything which some people think is not suitable for the people of God.

I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean (koinos G2839) in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean (G2839), to him it is unclean (G2839) (Romans 14:14).


Some Christians in Rome, namely those who were “weak in faith” (Romans 14:1), did not eat meat because they considered meat to be “unclean” (v14, 21).

That Koinos does not refer to the unclean animals (food) of the Old Testament, is indicated by the following:

When referring to the unclean food of the Old Testament, the Greek word akathartos is used for unclean; not koinos.

Septuagint

The LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, also called the Septuagint) uses the word akathartos (meaning impure) for the unclean food of the Old Testament; not koinos.

Below further examples from Acts 10 and 11 are mentioned.

Koinos does not refer to the Old Testament unclean food.

In Mark 7:2 & 5 unwashed hands are described as koinos (G2839).

According to Hebrews 10:29 “the blood of the covenant” is regarded as koinos by some people (G2839) .

Revelation 21:27 describes people, who practice abomination and lying, as koinos (G2839).

Koinos is the opposite of holy.

Koinos is frequently translated as something which we have in common:

  • Believers in the early church had all things in common (koinos) (Acts 2:44; 4:32).
  • Paul and Titus shared a common (koinos) faith (Titus 1:4).
  • Jude 1:3 refers our common (koinos) salvation.

Koinos therefore means common.  It can be understood as the opposite of “holy”, which means to be set apart for special use.  In 1 Macc. 1:47 it refers to something which is unfit for the holy purpose of sacrifices, and is defiling.

In Acts 10 and 11 koinos is translated as “unholy”.

Koinos is also used in the report of the vision which Peter had:

It is twice recorded that Peter said that he has never eaten anything unholy (koinos) and unclean (akathastos – G169) (Acts 10:14; 11:8).

The response from heaven, to Peter’s objection, does not use the word unclean (akathastos). The voice Peter heard said, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy (koinos)” (Acts 10:15).

Peter later explained, saying “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy (koinos) or unclean (akathastos)” (Acts 10:28; 11:9).

Notice the following:

  • Koinos is here always translated as unholy.
  • Akathastos is translated as unclean.
  • The message was about people; the Jews considered the Gentiles to be koinos, but the voice from heaven said they are not koinos (unholy).
Gentils
Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well

Peter saw a vision of unclean animals, but the message of this vision was not about the unclean foods of the Old Testament.  The message was about people. The vision was about the Gentiles who the Jews considered to be unholy.  The Jews did not associate with Gentiles. The voice from heaven instructs the church, via Peter, not to think of Gentiles as unholy.   Perhaps the NASB should have used the word “unholy” also in Romans 14:14, rather than “unclean”, seeing that “unholy” is used for the same word (koinos) in Acts.

Conclusion

It should therefore be adequately clear that the word “unclean” in Romans 14:14 does not refer to the animals classified as unclean by the Law of Moses.  It means “common” or “unholy”.  Koinos is not defined by the Bible.  Different people have different views over what may be regarded as koinos.  It refers to anything which some people think that God’s people, being set apart for God, should not come in contact with because it will defile them.  Many films will fall into this category,

This means that the dispute in the church in Rome was not over meat which was classified as unclean by the Mosaic Law.

Next: Food in Corinth

Romans Romans Table of Contents

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Romans 14:1-4 Why did some Christians in Rome not eat meat?

The Law of Moses does not declare meat unclean.  This dispute over meat in Romans 14 was not a dispute over the Law of Moses.  This is confirmed by the absence of the word “Law”, and by the Greek word for unclean in this chapter.  The dispute was probably caused by the fears of the weak Christians that eating meat offered to idols is wrong. 

Romans 14

Romans 14:1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 14:2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 14:3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. 14:4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

The word “eat” appears 6 times in these four verses.  The Christian who “has faitheat all things” (Romans 14:2), but the one that is “weak in faith” does not eat meat or drink wine (14:21).  He subsisted only on vegetables (14:2).  The word “judge” or related phrases appear 5 times.   The Christians in Rome judged one another with respect to what they ate.  This is the main issue of the entire chapter.


Taken out of context, verse 1 may be read as saying that the Christian that is “weak in faith” must be accepted, with all of his “opinions”; whatever they may be.  It may even be construed to mean that a person’s destructive habits (those things that we call sin) must be merely accepted.  This would not be consistent with the Bible message in general.  Therefore the context of verse 1 is important.  Verse 1 takes on meaning when explained by verses 2 to 4.  These verses inform us that the instruction in verse 1, to accept the opinions of the one that is “weak in faith”, applies to differences of opinions over matters which the Bible does not give clear guidance.

The main message of Romans 14 is that Christians should not to judge one another in these matters.  Note the words “accept” (14:1), “passing judgment” (14:1), “regard with contempt” (14:3) and “judge” (14:3, 4).  The one that “is weak in faith” (14:1) and therefore “eats vegetables only” (14:2) should not judge the one that “has faith” (14:2) and therefore “eat all things” (14:2).

But, as indicated by the first verse, this is an instruction to the one that has faith.  The responsibility to accept the opinions of the other person rests on the person that “has faith” (Romans 14:2).  As we will again see later in the chapter, Paul expects the person that “has faith” to consider others before himself.  Paul does not require the person that is “weak in faith” to consider the one that “has faith”.

It is not clear why some Christians in Rome believed that they should not eat meat.  The Law of Moses does not declare meat in general as unclean and does not prohibit eating meat in general.  This dispute over meat in Rome therefore did not arise because some Christians adopted the Law of Moses.

This conclusion is supported by the fact that the word “Law” does not appear even once in Romans 14, while it is very important in the other chapters; appearing 78 times in the Book of Romans.

The word ‘koinós’ (unclean) used in verse 14 further confirms that the problem in Rome did not relate to the Law of Moses.  This word is discussed on a separate page, where it is shown that it differed from the word used in the Old Testament for unclean animals.  It is also shown that this word is used several times in the New Testament for many things that do not relate to the Old Testament laws.  ‘Koinós’ is sometimes translated “common” and “unholy”.  In other words, it refers to something that God’s people, being set apart for God, should not come in contact with, because it will defile them.  Many movies can, for instance, be described as “common” or “unholy”.

This dispute in Rome therefore had some other origin; some human made rules either from the Jewish traditions or from some heathen practices:

The Gentiles which Paul won to Christianity came with their baggage and beliefs.  They believed what Paul taught them, but were also still partly bound by their previous beliefs.

Similarly the Jewish Christians also clung to some of their previous belief systems, and certain Jewish sects promoted vegetarianism.  It is interesting that, according to Eusebius (HE 2, 23, 5, NPNF 2nd, I, p. 125), James, the Lord’s brother, “was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh”.

Issues with respect to food were not limited to the church in Rome.  A similar issue existed at Ephesus, since Paul warns Timothy against those:

who forbid marriage and enjoin the abstinence from foods” I Tim. 4:3).

And to the Colossians Paul wrote:

no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day.” (Col. 2:16)

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why … do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (Col. 2:20-21)

Colossians must be important in the interpretation of Romans 14 because both Romans 14 and Colossians 2:16 are about disputes over special days and eating and drinking.  One significant difference is that Romans 14 is an instruction to Christians not to judge one another, while Colossians 2:16 is an instruction to Christians not to allow people to judge them.  It seems as if people outside the church were judging the Christians.  A separate page discusses the nature of the Colossian deception and comes to the conclusion that an ascetic attitude in the community caused that dispute.  The people criticized the Christians for their habit of feasting on particularly the special days.

Another important dispute with respect to food is found in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10.  In fact, as discussed on another page, there are so many similarities between Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 that it is quite probable that the same or at least similar disputes existed in Corinth and in Rome.

The problem in Corinth was meat “sacrificed to idols” (8:1; 10:19).  For the “strong” (15:1) believers this was no big deal because they “know that there is no such thing as an idol” (8:4).  They were able to eat meat (8:10) without misgivings.  But for some of the Gentiles that had been converted from idolatry—still being weak in faith—this was a problem (8:9). They were still bound by superstitious beliefs that idols obtained power over them through the meat (8:7).  This made eating meat “a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor. 8:9, 13).  The “weak” brother that sees another Christian eating in an idol’s temple might be tempted to do the same (8:10), and he might be ruined thereby (8:11).  For him eating meat is idol worship (8:7).  For that reason Paul urged the more mature Christian to consider others before himself (1 Cor. 10:24, 33) and to rather abstain from eating meat than to cause another’s fall (1 Cor. 8:9, 11-13).

Summary Romans 14:1-4

For an unmentioned reason some of the Christians in Rome did not eat meat.  The church originated as a sect of Judaism, consisting only of Jews (See Theological Implications of the Early Church).  Consequently a major problem in many churches in Paul’s day was that some of Christians believed that all Christians must become Jews through circumcision and comply with the Law of Moses.

However, this was not the problem in the pagan city of Rome.  The issue with meat in Rome does not seem to relate to the Law of Moses.  As indicated by the many similarities with the meat-problem in Corinth (1 Corinthians 8 and 10), the issue in Rome possibly was that Gentile Christians, being converted from idolatry, and not yet strong in the faith, still believed that meat offered to the idols gave idols control over them.  Therefore they did not eat meat.  This caused division in the church between those that ate meat and those that did not.  Paul’s message is that they should not criticize one another.  He also asked the more mature Christian to consider others before himself and to abstain from eating meat, rather than to cause spiritual injury to their weaker brothers.

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