Strong Christians must abstain from meat, rather than to cause a weaker brother to stumble, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking.
14:13 … but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling blockin a brother’s way. 14:14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is uncleanin itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it isunclean. 14:15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 14:16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 14:17 for the kingdom of God is noteatingand drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 14:18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 14:19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building upof one another. 14:20 Do not tear downthe work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 14:21 It is good not to eat meator to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 14:22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 14:23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
Eating and Drinking
The purpose of the colors is to make it easier to see the main issues in the text. The words in pink relate to eating and drinking. It is easy to see that the main topic is eating and drinking.
The word in orange refer to clean and unclean. In the context it refers to clean and unclean food. Earlier in the chapter it was stated that “he who is weak eats vegetables only“. The current verses expand a bit and indicate that the dispute was about both meat and wine (14:21). Some people in that church believed that one should not eat meat because all meat is “unclean”. But Paul indicates that “nothing is unclean in itself” (14:14) and that “all things indeed are clean” (14:20).
As discussed in the article The meaning of koinos in Romans 14, the Greek word koinos, translated as “unclean” in Romans 14, does not refer to the unclean foods of the Old Testament. Koinos is not defined by the Bible. It means “common” and is anything which some people think is not appropriate for the set-apart people of God. In Rome it possibly referred to food offered to idols. As explained in 1 Corinthians, some Christians believed that offering food to idols contaminate the food, and that people are contaminated by eating such food. As is also explained in 1 Corinthians, offering food to idols does not make the food unfit for Christian consumption because idols do not really exist.
Notice the words “thinks”, “own conviction”and “doubts” in the quote above. These words confirm that Romans 14 deals with issues that are not explicitly prescribed in the Bible, but matters of opinion. As stated by verse 1, “accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions“. And with respect to “days”, verse 5 indicates “Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.”
Rather abstain from meat than to hurt a weaker brother.
Words in blueindicate that strong Christians can “hurt” and “destroy” their weaker brothers (14:15) by eating meat which such weaker brothers think is “unclean” (unholy, contaminated).
“He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin” (14:23).
Paul is not saying that a person is physically harmed by eating meat. Rather, a person harms himself spiritually by eating something which he considers to be unclean (contaminated). “Sin” (14:23) should be understood generically as anything that harms God’s creation. It would then be possible to argue that the “weak” brother might be tempted to follow the example of a “strong” Christian and eat food that has been offered to idols. But if he eats such food with doubt in his heart (14:23), because he believes that such food has been contaminated by idols, he might feel guilty and suffer spiritually.
In the first verses of the chapter Paul asks the believers not to judge and despise one another because of food. In the current verses Paul goes further and asks the strong Christians not to allow food to become “a stumbling block in a brother’s way” (14:13, cf. v21). The main principle in these verses is that the “strong” (15:1) Christian, that “has faith that he may eat all things” (14:2), must not eat if eating may harm a brother:
“Rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way” (14:13).
“if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love” (14:15).
“Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died” (14:15).
“Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food” (14:20).
“It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, orto do anythingby which your brother stumbles” (14:21).
In other words, the “strong” Christians must abstain from meat, rather than to cause a brother to stumble (14:21). Paul advises the strong Christian, that has believes that one may eat all things, to rather keep this conviction to himself, and not mention it nor display it to the weaker brother (14:22).
It is important to notice that Paul does not require the “weak” brother” to adjust his ways for the benefit of the “strong” Christian. He only requires the “strong” to accommodate the opinions of the weaker brother (14:21-22). This principle is made particularly clear by the first verses of the next chapter;
“We who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves” (15:1)
Lastly, notice that the “kingdom of God is … righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit“.
Paul wrote “that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (e.g. 3:27), but he also wrote that all people will all be judged by their deeds before the Judgment Seat of God. If a man is justified by faith, why must he still be judged by his deeds? By what norm will we be judged if not by the works of the Law? Is there a difference between our deeds and the works of the Law?
Romans 14:7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 14:8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
14:6 describes eating meat and certain days as “for the Lord”. Verses 7 and 8 then expands this concept and describe the Christian’s entire life and even his death as “for the Lord”. Verses 7 and 8 therefore take the minds of the opposing groups in the church away from their petty disputes about meat and days to things that really matter.
14:10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of God. 14:11 For it is written, “as I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” 14:12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. 14:13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore …
These verses repeat the words “judge” and “contempt” from verses 1 to 4. This confirms that, with respect to eating meat, there was in-fighting among the Christians in Rome. They were judging one another (v 10, 13) with contempt (v10) . The GNB says they despised one another. Verses 10 to 13 therefore continue to draw the minds of the opposing groups away from their disagreements to things which really matter. And what really matters, according to verses 10 to 13, is that everyone of us will judged before the Judgment Seat of God. Since that is true, Paul is saying, let us not focus on other people. Rather, let each person be concerned about him or herself (v12).
Judgment Seat of God
Some people believe that Christians will not appear before the Judgment Seat of God, but Paul is not only clear that we will be judged; he is also specifically clear that we will be judged by our deeds. On the basis of our deeds, we will receive either eternal death or eternal life. For example:
“God … will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing goodseek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obeythe truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation”. (Rom 2:5-8)
“The doers of the Lawwill be justified” (2:13).
“if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:12-13)
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal lifein Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).
“we must all appear before the judgment seatof Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deedsin the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).
As quoted above, all people will all be judged by their deeds, but Paul also wrote “that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (e.g. 3:27). If a man will be justified by faith, why must he still be judged by his deeds?
WHAT ARE THE WORKS OF THE LAW?
Paul wrote that no one will be justified (put right with God) by the works of the law (Romans 3:20, 28; Gal 2:16; etc.). To be justified by the works of the law is often understood as to be justified by living a sinless life. This conceptual error is caused by a lack of understanding the context in Paul’s day, and has resulted is a huge theological error.
It was Jews, who accepted Jesus as Messiah, who maintained that people are justified by the works of the law. They taught that, unless one is circumcised and observe the Law of Moses, one cannot be saved (Acts 15:1, 5). These Christian Jews brought this idea over from Judaism into the Church.
By this argument, that man is justified by the works of the Law, the Jews did not mean that one must be without sin to be saved. Far from it. They were very aware of their sins. What they meant is that the rituals and ceremoniesof the Law of Moses, such as circumcision and the sacrifices, will cancel out their sins.
It was this error which Paul opposed when he taught that no one will be justified by the works of the Law. Paul was not saying that no one will be saved by living a sinless life; he was simply saying is that the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses will not save anybody.
The works of the Law therefore refer to circumcision and the other rituals and ceremonies prescribed by the Law of Moses.
WHY MUST PEOPLE APPEAR BEFORE JUDGMENT SEAT OF GOD?
As quoted above, all people must appear before the Judgment Seat of God to be judged by their deeds. To put the issue in the context in which Paul lived and wrote, since the sins of people are not cancelled by the works of the Law of Moses, they will be judged by their deeds before the Judgment Seat of God. In that day “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:16).
But, to update the question to modern thinking, if the sins of Christians are washed away by the Cross of Christ, why must they appear before the Judgment Seat of God? It is proposed that this question is based on a superficial understanding of why Christ had to die. Please see the article, Why Jesus had to die.
THE TWO LAWS
The Jews argued that man is “justified by the works of the Law”.
Paul wrote that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13)
The word “Law” in used in both statements, and it almost seems as if Paul and the Jews agreed, but these two statements refer to two different laws, used in two different ways:
The Jews were referring to the Law of Moses and by justified by the works of the law they meant that man in justified by the rituals and ceremonies of that Law. For the Jews the law was their means of justification. They taught that man is reconciled to God through the blood of sheep and goats. To argue against this error, Paul responded that man is not justified by the works of the Law.
In Romans 2:13, quoted above, Paulwas referring to the Law of Christ. The Law of Christis God’s eternal moral principle. Man’s “deeds”—“what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10), will be measured against that Law:
Those that sin will die, for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Those that “are putting to death the deeds of the body, … will live” (Rom. 8:12).
WHAT LAW IS PAUL REFERRING TO?
Paul uses the word “law” often in his writings, and it is difficult to always be sure what law he is referring to:
Often “law” refers to the five books of Moses, for instance in the phrase “the Law and the Prophets” (e.g. Rom. 3:21).
At times “law” refers to the book which Moses wrote up, and put beside the ark, for instance “the book of the law” (Gal. 3:10). This is also known as the Law of Moses.
Sometimes the word law refers to Christ’s teachings; the “commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:2), elsewhere called the “law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21).
Sometimes the word law may even refer to the Ten Commandments(e.g. Rom. 13:10).
It is therefore difficult to always know what Paul means by the word law. All the conflicting theories about the law floating around in Christianity do not make it easier. The only solution is to read and to read again, to be aware of the various meanings of the word law, and to allow the immediate context to determine what Paul means.
DOES THIS MEAN THAT GOD’S PEOPLE EARN THEIR JUSTIFICATION?
If “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13), does that mean that man earns redemption through his deeds?
Paul argued that man is wholly unable to comply with the Law of Christ. The only function of the Law is to accuse man of sin (3:20; 7:11). As stated by 1 Corinthians 15:56, the law gives power to sin. The law is therefore completely unable to justify man.
Paul therefore also often wrote that man is saved by grace. We will be judged by our deeds, but because man is unable to comply with God’s eternal moral principles, man does not deserve to live. Man is justified by grace, which means to be saved by God’s kindness: Eternal life is “the free gift of God … in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
If “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13), does it contradict the indications in the Bible that God elects certain people?
Jesus, for instance, said, “for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Mat. 24:22, cf. 24:24, 31). Paul similarly asked “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” (Romans 8:33)
It is proposed here that God does elect certain people, but He does not do that independent of what they are or do, as is often taught. He elects people for what they are. However, only God is able to see what people really are. Only God is able to judge the internal being of man; his faith, motives and desires; what we may refer to as man’s heart. These things people are completely unable to judge.
Job may serve as an example. He was God’s elect, but Satan refused to accept God’s judgment, and requested permission from God to test Job thoroughly. See Why Satan thought he could succeed, for further information.
ON WHAT DOES GOD DISTINGUISHES BETWEEN PEOPLE?
Since we are all sinners (Romans 3:9), how does God decide who will receive eternal live and who will die (8:13)?
Here Romans 7 help us. In brief, God will save the people that want to do good, even though they fail often (Romans 7:21-25). The person that does not want to do good, will die. God will therefore judge man by his inner being. To say that man is justified by his want to do good is the same as saying man is justified by faith.
SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS IS FOUND IN ALL AGES.
The error of the Jews in Paul’s time is relevant in all times. In all ages man is inclined to make a list of things that one must do or not do, to be saved.
We also see this error at the time of Luther, when the church also taught that man is redeemed by complying with a strict set of rules, and that contributions to the church and self-deprivation and even self-mutilation compensate for sins.
And we also, today, are fond of making lists of do’s and don’ts. Such lists of externals only serve to make us unloving and critical of others. What matters is the heart; whether we want to do the will of God.
WHY ARE THE THEOLOGIANS WRONG?
In this article an approach is proposed that hopefully reconciles all of Paul’s statements with respect to the law. However, if this understanding is correct, then an enormous amount of church theology is wrong. Why is this so, and why do we find so many churches out there with so many conflicting doctrines?
The problem is that pastors and even theologians, in general, with notable and admirable exceptions, never really study the Bible for themselves without preconceived ideas. They usually study what other people wrote about the Bible. When they encounter a difficult passage, they flee to the writings of their favorite teacher and author.
For that reason Christianity is divided into various schools of thought. The existence of these schools of thought prove what I am saying is true. Pastors typically do not spend time to compare Scripture with Scripture until they understand for themselves what the Scriptures teach. Unless they intensely study the Bible for themselves, they will never be able to escape from the trap of the schools of thought into which the church has fallen.
Romans 14:5 says that each person must decide for himself whether to regard one day above another. This is often interpreted as saying that the Sabbath is optional. This article argues that the verse 5 must be read within its context, and its context is a dispute in the church about eating meat. It is therefore proposed that the days in verse 5 were days on which some Christians thought one should abstain from eating meat. These days may include the Sabbath, but verse 5 does not say that the Sabbath is optional; only that eating meat on the Sabbath is optional.
The first four verses of Romans 14 read that we are allowed to eat all things, but some Christians in Rome, being weak in the faith, believed that Christians should eat vegetables only. Paul instruct mature Christians not to judge such a person. Then verses 5 and 6 continue:
Romans 14:5 One person regards one day above another,
another regards every dayalike.
Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 14:6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord,
and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God;
and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
Romans 14:5 and 6 do not use the word “meat”, but the context of the previous verses implies that verse 6 refers to eating meat.
In the first four verses the focus is on eating meat. Verse 5 shifts the focus to days, but verse 6 shifts the focus back to eating meat. The statements about days are therefore surrounded by arguments about eating meat.
Verse 6 implies three categories of people:
1. He who observes the day. 2. He who eats. 3. He who eats not.
The KJV adds one more people category, between the first and second, namely “He that regardeth not the day”. However, the Pulpit Commentary says of this phrase, ‘omit, as ill-supported, as well as unnecessary’.
The word “alike” in Romans 14:5 has been added by the translators. In the view of some interpreters this word distorts the meaning of the passage, but that word seems to be implied by the alternative, which is to regard “one day above another”.
According to verse 5 it is equally acceptable to regard “one day above another” and to regard “every dayalike”.
The Sabbath is Huge.
Many interpreters believe that Paul includes the weekly Sabbath in the “day” in these verses. From that they conclude that Sabbath observance is optional. The main purpose of this article is to address this matter.
The Sabbath is huge in the Old Testament. The seventh day was sanctified and blessed at creation and included in the Ten Commandments, together with nine other eternal principles, as a Sabbath (day of rest). The Sabbath was the sign of the covenant Sabbath breaking was the sign of Israel’s unfaithfulness, leading to their captivity into Babylon. (See Sabbath in the Law of Moses.)
The Sabbath is huge in the gospels. Christ deliberately sought confrontation with the Jews by healing on the Sabbath. His Sabbath breaking, as viewed by the Pharisees, was one of the main reasons for His crucifixion: “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18, see also 9:16). (See Deliberately breaking the Sabbath.)
The Sabbath was huge in the first years of the church, when the church still existed as a Jewish sect and complied with all Jewish laws, including the Sabbath (See Jerusalem Phase of the Early Church).
The Sabbath controversy is still huge today. The older protestant (reformed) churches adhere to the Sabbath commandment, but now on the first day of the week (Sunday). But the newer churches view the Sabbath as a ceremonial commandment that has passed away at the Cross.
In contrast, the Sabbath is a non-issue in the New Testament letters. Paul mentioned the Sabbath explicitly only once in his letters, and that in a technical term that refers to the entire system of Jewish holy days. (See Feasts … New Moons … Sabbaths.) There are only three of perhaps four texts in Paul’s writings that might be relevant to the Sabbath. This means that the Sabbath, by itself, was not a matter of controversy in the first century. Either everybody kept the Sabbath, or nobody kept the Sabbath.
Romans 14:5 is one of the few statements by Paul that possibly are relevant to the Sabbath. It is therefore very important to understand what this verse says about the Sabbath.
Romans does not say that the Sabbath is optional.
For the reasons below it is proposed here that Romans 14:5 does not say that the Sabbath is optional:
First, if Romans 14:5 applies to the Sabbath, then Paul contradicted himself.
In Galatians Paul rebukes Christians for observing “days” (Gal. 4:10), but here in Romans he allows each person to decide for himself whether to regard one day above another. In Galatians some Christians were compelling other Christians to comply with the Law of Moses (Gal. 6:12; 2:14). It is therefore quite possible that the “days and months and seasons and years” in Galatians 4:10 are the Old Testament feasts and special days. The “days” therefore might include the Sabbath. If the days in Romans 14:5 also include the Sabbath, then it would be rather inconsistent of Paul to reprimand the Galatians for doing the same thing that he allows the Romans to decide about each man for himself.
Second, Romans 14 is devoid of Jewish elements.
Therefore it does not deal with the Old Testament Laws.
Nothing is mentioned in Romans 14 that is specifically Jewish.
The main controversy in the chapter is abstinence from meat and wine (14:2, 21). This is not a controversy over the Law of Moses. The Old Testament permits the eating of meat. Leviticus 11 explains the difference between clean and unclean animals. It explains what meat is allowed as food. It does not prohibit the eating of meat. Neither does the Old Testament forbid the drinking of wine. Consequently, the strong man who “has faith that he may eat all things” (Rom 14:2) is not asserting his freedom from the Law of Moses.
If Romans 14 is devoid of Jewish elements, then the days in verse 5 do not relate to the Jewish Laws either.
Third, these were matters of opinion.
The chapter commences with the instruction, “accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on hisopinions” (14:1). The current verse indicates that “each person must be fully convinced in his own mind“. Later in the chapter we read that “to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (14:14) and “the faith which you have, have as your own conviction” (14:22). These are confirmations that, what is discussed in this chapter, are matters about which the Bible does not give clear guidance. Therefore the Sabbath could not have been part of the controversy.
Fourth, Paul would not have said each person must decide for himself with respect to something so huge as the Sabbath.
Above it was mentioned how huge the Sabbath was in the Old Testament, in the gospels and in the Early Church. It is not likely that Paul would leave something, as huge as the Sabbath, as optional. It is simply unthinkable to argue that Paul would have said that each person must decide for himself whether any of the Ten Commandments is still relevant.
In the Epistle to the Galatians, where Paul opposed the Christians who compelled other Christians to adhere to the law of Moses, Paul has nothing good to say about the law. But in the book which we are currently discussing (Romans) Paul says many positive things about the law. He describes God’s law as “holy, just and good” (7:12). He describes himself as “serving the law of God” (7:25). In the closing verses of Romans 13 he links the second table of the Ten Commandments to the great commandment to love one’s neighbor. He explicitly mentions four of the Ten Commandments, namely adultery, murder, stealing and coveting, and then adds, “and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” (Rom. 13:8-10). After saying these wonderful things about the law, would he then ten verses later describe one of the Ten as optional?
The weekly Sabbath was extremely important to the Jews, and since the early church consisted only of Jews, continuing all Jewish practices, the church at first observed the Sabbath. (See Jerusalem Phase of the Early Church.) Paul also, during his life as apostle of God, frequently met with the Jews on the Sabbath (Acts 17:2; 18:4). The Sabbath therefore was experienced as important in the early church. For these reasons any change to the Sabbath would have caused a serious controversy. If Paul in Romans 14:5 was advising the church to move away from the Sabbath, he would have said it loudly and clearly. He would not have interjection it as a side issue into a chapter that deals with a dispute over eating meat.
Since we must “abhor (hate) what is evil” (Romans 12:9), we should rather reverse the logic and argue that, when Paul says “each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” with respect to days (Romans 14:5), that such days cannot include something as huge as the Sabbath.
Fifth. these were “days” on which the eating or non-eating of meat was regarded as important.
The entire Romans 14 is about Christians judging each other with respect to eating meat. The statements in verses 5 and 6 that deal with days are surrounded on all sides by arguments about judging one another for eating meat. Paul wrote extremely context dependent. If we read one of his sentences out of context, we are in trouble. To properly understand Paul, we must interpret every sentence in the context of the surrounding sentences. We must therefore understand the statements about days as part of the discussion of eating meat. It is therefore proposed that these were “days” that were regarded as special days as far as eating meat was concerned.
The two contrasts support this conclusion. In verse 2 Paul contrasts the person that eats meat with the one that “eats only vegetables”. Then, in verse 5, he contrasts the man that “esteems one day as better than another” with the man that “esteems all days alike”. In verse 6 he again contrasts the man that eats meat with the one that only eats vegetables. These contrasts,in close proximity, seem to be parallel. This supports the notion that these were days on which the eating or non-eating of meat was regarded important.
In other words, these verses do not describe four, but only two people groups:
1. The “weak” don’t eat meat on certain days. 2. Mature Christians regard all days alike as far as eating meat is concerned.
The days in Romans 14:5 might have included the Sabbath, but if they did, then they do not speak to whether the Sabbath must be observed, but to how the Sabbath must be observed. More specifically, these verse address the issue of eating meat on the Sabbath.
Lastly, if Romans 14:5 applies to the weekly day of worship, and every person therefore may decide for himself on which day to worship, then the church no longer has a weekly day of worship.
The Jews of the Old Testament and all Christians today have a weekly day of public worship. That seems to be good practice and consistent with the establishment of the seven day cycle as part of the creation. Also, Paul himself “customarily” (Acts 17:2) met with “Jews and Greeks” on the Sabbath in the synagogue (Acts 18:4). This does not prove that Paul observed the Sabbath, but the point is that a weekly day of worship was integral to the environment in which Christians found themselves. Since regarding “one day above another” (14:5) is optional (14:6), it is fair to assume that it is the “weak” that still clung to special days. The “strong” (15:1) ”regards every day alike“. If this applies to the weekly day of worship, then the church no longer has a joint weekly day of worship. Would that be Paul’s intention, seeing what confusion it would cause?
Just like verse 1 will be misunderstood unless it is read in the context of a dispute about eating meat, verse 5 will also be misunderstood unless read in the same context. The days in 14:5 cannot be separated from eating meat.