Romans 14:13-23 – Rather abstain

14:13 … but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. 14:14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 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 not eating and 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 up of one another. 14:20 Do not tear down the 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 meat or 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.

The purpose of the colours is to make it easy to recognise 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 are more specific and indicate that the problem relates to 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 above, this does not refer to the unclean animals of the Old Testament, but possibly 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.

Words in blue indicate the strong Christian can cause harm to weaker church members by eating such food.  But how can eating food that is thought to be “unclean” (unholy, contaminated) by some “hurt” and “destroy” a brother (14:15)?  Paul wrote “to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (14:14) and “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).  Notice the words “thinks” and “doubts”.  Obviously, Paul is not saying that a person is physically harmed by eating meat.  Rather, a person would harm himself spiritually by eating something which he thinks is unclean (contaminated).  “Sin” (14:23) should be understood 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 consequently lose faith.

In the earlier part of the chapter Paul asked the believers not to judge and despise one another because of food.  In the current verses Paul goes one step further and asks 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, or to do anything by 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 to have the faith, that one may eat all things, “as your own conviction before God” (14:22).  In other words, the “strong” Christian must rather keep this conviction to himself, and not mention it nor display it before the weaker brother.

It is important to notice that Paul does not require the “weak” brother” to stand back for the “strong” Christian.  He rather 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”.

Back to: Romans Table of Contents

Romans 14:7-13 – The judgment seat of God

Romans14:7 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.

14:10 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 …

The phrase “for the Lord” is used twice in 14:7, after being used three times in 14:6.  In 14:6 eating meat and days were described as “for the Lord”.  The next two verses describe the Christian’s entire life and even his death as “for the Lord”.  These verses therefore take the “for the Lord”-principle in 14:6 to a higher level and elevate the minds of the warring factions in the church from their petty disputes about meat and days to the things that really matter.

Verses 10 to 13 repeat the words “judge” and “contempt” from verses 1 to 4.  This confirms that, with respect to eating meat, drinking wine and related days, the Christians in Rome were judging one another (v 10, 13) with contempt (v10).  The GNB says they despised one another.  These verses therefore continue to draw the minds of the warring factions away from their disagreements to things that really matter.  And what really matters according to verses 10 to 13 is that God will judge each of us.  Since that is true, Paul is saying, let us not focus on other people.  Let each person rather worry about him or herself (v12).

We will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (14:10).  People sometimes say that Christians will not be judged.  Perhaps people say this because Christians are saved by faith, but such thinking ignores the fact that one’s faith and deeds cannot be separated.  Our deeds demonstrate our faith.

Paul is not only clear that we will be judged.  He is also more specifically clear that we will be judged by our deeds, and that, 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 good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation”. (Rom 2:5-8)

The doers of the Law will 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 life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).

we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2Cor. 5:10).

While it is clearly stated that we will be judged by our deeds, Paul also wrote that we will not be justified (saved) by the works of the Law (e.g. 3:27).  Many Bible students struggle to understand the difference.  They struggle to understand how people can be judged by their deeds if they are not be justified by the works of the Law.  That is because they do not understand what the works of the Law are:

It was the Jews, and also some important Jewish Christians in Paul’s time, that taught that people are justified by the works of the Law.  Please consider what this meant.  Through their traditions the Jews have converted God’s law into a set of rules.  While the Law of God focuses on the heart, namely concepts such as love and humility, the rules which the Jews made focus on external things; external objects and deeds that are allowed and that must be avoided.  In doing so they have they have removed the internal being from the jurisdiction of the law.

The Jews then taught that one is justified (put right with God) through strict adherence with these rules of external behavior.  And if one fails to comply with some of these rules, then one can compensate therefor by complying with the ceremonial laws, such as sacrifices, washings and rituals that are prescribed by the Law of Moses.  That means that for them the law has become their redeemer.  In fact, it means that each person has become his or her own redeemer, because each person redeems himself through his own effort.

This teaching differs in at least two ways from what Paul taught when he wrote that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13):

Firstly, when Paul taught that the deeds of people will be judged against the Law, he had a different Law in mind.  The Law which he had in mind was God’s eternal moral principles, which do not include the enormous number of rules and regulations with respect to external behaviour which the Jews added through their traditions.  God’s eternal principles also do not include the ceremonial sacrifices and rituals required by the law, because these things had no real effect if man’s heart is not right.  The Law which Paul had in mind judged the internal being of man; his faith, motives and desires; things which people are completely unable to judge.  Only God, Who created all things and know all things, can judge man’s heart; his inner being.  The “law” which the Jews had in mind when they said that people are “justified by the works of the Law” is therefore totally different from the Law which Paul had in mind when he wrote that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13).

Secondly, the function of the Law is also entirely different in the two views.  In the view of the Jews the law was the means of justification; adherence to the rules justifies man.  Therefore Paul opposed this view often, arguing that man is unable to comply with the Law of God, that salvation is only in Jesus Christ and that He is the Vehicle through which we are saved.  In opposition to the Jews, who taught that man in reconciled to God through the blood of sheep and goats, Paul taught that only the blood of Christ (as a symbol of His death) can compensate for sins.  In Paul’s theology the Law only accuses; it is completely unable to redeem people.

To explain further Paul’ view of how God will judge man:

When Paul wrote that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13), he did not say that man earns redemption through his deeds.  Man is wholly unable to comply with God’s law.  Therefore man is saved by grace, which means to be saved by God’s kindness.  Eternal life is always a free gift (6:23).

The statement that “the doers of the Law will be justified” also does not mean that God will judge people by their deeds. God does not have to judge people by their deeds.  God is able to judge the heart (the inner being).  This He will do and He will save the people that have faith in Him.  But when we as humans, with our limited perception look at people, we only see what they do.  We cannot see what they think or feel.  For us, who only can see externals, “the doers of the Law will be justified”.

We are all sinners.  How God differentiates between those that are saved and those that will die (8:13) is explained by Romans 7.  In brief, the person that wants to do good, even though he often fails, will receive eternal life (7:14-25).  God will therefore judge man by his inner being.  This is the same as saying man is justified by faith.  The person that does not want to do good, will not receive eternal life.

When reading Paul, we have to realize that he had two mode of writing with respect to the Law:

At times he is arguing against the erroneous teaching of the Jews that man is justified by the works of the Law.  He would then argue that man is not justified by the works of the Law.

At other times he was preaching high moral standards.  It is in such instances that we will find statements such as that “the doers of the Law will be justified”.

Paul does not tell us when he moves from one topic to another.  Like a person that is sitting on a kayak in choppy waters, our stomach muscles must be flexible enough to shift focus with Paul.  That means that we have to be aware of and recognize his two modes of writing.

The error taught by the Jews was particularly relevant to the time of Paul, but it was also particularly relevant 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.  But this error is found in all times.  In all ages man is inclined to assume that one is saved by what you do; it is the way in which everything else works in this life, and we make the mistake of thinking that God’s kingdom is like this world.

Paul’s statements with respect to the Law superficially contradict one another.  In the previous paragraphs an understanding of the Law has been proposed that reconciles all of Paul’s statements into a cohesive unit.  However, if this understanding is correct, then an enormous amount of church theology is wrong.  You might rightly question my credentials; how do I dare go against the major schools of thought?  I have no formal teaching in theology and for many years now I have had no contact with any denomination, except what I read on internet and listen to on mp3s.  But I believe that my independence from and lack of contact with denominations and schools of thought, combined by my focus on the study of the Bible by itself, are my credentials.  My experience, given that it would be difficult to find another person that has listened to more mp3s on various subjects than I have, that pastors and even theologians, in general, with notable and admirable exceptions, never really study the Bible.  They study what other people wrote about the Bible.  When they encounter a difficult passage they go to the writings of their favorite teacher and author.  For that reason they fall into various schools of thought.  The existence of the schools of thought is the proof for what I am saying.  Pastors typically do not spend time to compare scripture with scripture until they understand for themselves what the Scriptures teach, simply because they do not have the time.  But unless they throw away the writings of their favorite teachers, and intensely study the Bible for themselves, they will never be able to escape from the trap of the schools of thought into which they have fallen.

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Next: Romans 14:13-23 – Rather abstain

Romans 14:5-6 Days

Rom. 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.

Verse 6 does not use the word “meat”, but the context (14:2-4) implies that verse 6 refers to eating meat.

Verse 5 shifts the focus from eating meat to days, but in verse 6 the focus shifts back to eating.

Verse 6 defines three categories of people:

  • He who observes the day …
  • He who eats …
  • He who eats not …

The KJV has one more category in 14:6, 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’.

In the view of some interpreters the addition of the word “alike” distorts the meaning of the passage, but that word seems to be implied by the alternative, which is to regard “one day above another”.

Paul wrote, “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike” (Romans 14:5).  Paul then states that both views are acceptable: “Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind”.  Verse 6 explains why it is acceptable for each person to decide for himself, namely that, whatever people do, whether they eat meat of not, and whether they observes the day” or not, they do it “for the Lord”.

Paul seems to say that it is equally acceptable to regard “one day above another” and to regard “every day alike”, but since observing special days is optional, we can conclude that it is the “weak brother that “regards one day above another”.

Many Bible students believe that Paul here includes the weekly Sabbath.  This would mean that weekly Sabbath observance is optional.

While eating meat is no longer a controversial issue in the church, today the Sabbath remains huge:

The Sabbath is huge in the Old Testament.  It was included in the Ten Commandments with nine other eternal principles.  It was the sign of the covenant, and Sabbath breaking was the sign of Israel’s unfaithfulness, leading to their captivity into Babylon.

The Sabbath is huge in the gospels, where Christ seems to purposefully seek confrontation with the Jews by healing on the Sabbath. His Sabbath breaking, as viewed by the Pharisees, was one of the principal 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).

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.

The Sabbath is huge today, with the older protestant (reformed) churches adhering to the Sabbath commandment, but now on the first day of the week (Sunday), while the newer churches view the Sabbath as a ceremonial commandment that was brought to an end by Christ.

In contrast, the Sabbath is a non-issue in the New Testament letters. There are only three of perhaps four texts in Paul’s writings that might be interpreted as speaking to the Sabbath, and Romans 14:5-6 is one of those. It is therefore very important to understand what these verses say about the Sabbath.

For the following reasons it is proposed here that 14:5 does not apply to the weekly Sabbath:

(1) Romans chapter 14 seems devoid of Jewish elements. Nothing is mentioned that is specifically Jewish.

(2) Actually, the specific main issue in the chapter—abstinence from meat and wine (14:2, 21)—is not founded on the Law of Moses. The Old Testament allows the eating of meat. The eleventh chapter of Leviticus explains the difference between clean and unclean animals; the unclean animals not being allowed as food.  The purpose of that chapter is to explain to Israel what meat is allowed as food; it does not prohibit the eating of meat. Neither does the OT consider wine improper for ingestion. 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 the main issue in the chapter does not relate to Old Testament prescripts, then the days, being surrounded by arguments about eating meat, probably also do not deal with Old Testament laws, and therefore not about the Sabbath.

(3) 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 esteem days. The context in Galatians is Christians that were forcing other Christians to comply with the Law of Moses (Gal. 6:12; 2:14). Therefore the “days and months and seasons and years” in Galatians are Old Testament feasts and special days. Since the sequence “days and months and seasons and years” implies weekly, monthly and annual recurrences, the “days” might even include the weekly Sabbath.  If the days in Romans 14 also include the Sabbath, then Paul would be rather inconsistent in reprimanding the Galatians for doing the same things that he allows the Romans to decide about each man for himself.

(4) It is not likely that Paul would leave a plain commandment of Scripture as optional. It is simply not logical to argue that Paul would have said that each man must decide for himself whether any of the Ten Commandments or any other plain commandment of Scripture is still relevant. Who can have a divine commandment before him and say to others: you can treat that commandment as you please; it really makes no difference whether you keep it or not?

(5) Since we must “abhor (hate) what is evil” (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 (14:5), that such days do not relate to days that are declared special by the Bible.

(6) In Galatians, where Paul was combatting Christians that forced other Christians to adhere to the law of Moses, Paul has nothing good to say about the law, but in Romans Paul says many positive things about the law.  He describes God’s law as “holy, just and good” (7:12) and described 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 specifically mentions adultery, murder, stealing and coveting, and adds then “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 God’s law, would he a few verses later describe one of the Ten Commandments as optional?

(7) 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 also regarded the Sabbath as set apart for holy use. Paul also, during his life as apostle of God, was accustomed to meet 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 was advising the church to move away from the Sabbath, he would have said this clearly and specifically. He would not have interjection this as a side issue into a chapter that deals mainly with a dispute about eating meat.

(8) Romans 14:5 is found nestled deep inside a chapter that deals with a disputes about eating and drinking. Romans 14 dedicates only two verses to ‘days’ and about 21 verses to food. The main issue in Romans 14 is eating meat, with special days mentioned only as a minor side-issue. Verse 14:5 itself is both preceded and followed by statements with respect to eating. It is therefore probably refers to days on which meat was eaten or not eaten.

(9) Paul contrasts the person that eats meat with the one that “eats only vegetables” (v2). Then he contrasts the man that “esteems one day as better than another” with the man that “esteems all days alike” (v5). These two contrasts in close proximity seem to parallel one another. This would mean that these days had to do with eating meat. It probably had something to do with meat offered to idols.  Some Christians that previously were idol-worshipers believed that meat offered to idols is contaminated (1 Cor. 8:7-9); not suitable for Christian consumption.

(10) This contrast is repeated in verse 6, where the same reason is provided for the fact that esteeming days is a personal choice as for the fact that eating meat is optional.  Since the same justification applies to days and to meat, days and meat are probably related.  It is therefore quite possible that these verses only describe two people groups, namely the “weak’ that don’t eat meat on certain days and the more mature Christians that regard all days alike as far as eating meat is concerned.

(10) Lastly, the Jews of the Old Testament and all Christians today all 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.  Paul might have attended synagogues on Sabbaths simply to gain access to the Jews. But the point remains that a weekly day of worship was integral to the environment in which Paul worked.  Since observing special days is optional (14:6), we can conclude that it is the “weak” that still cling to special days.  The “strong” (15:1) ”regards every day alike“.  If Romans 14:5 applies to all special days, and not limited to special meat-days, then for the Christian there remains no sacred days and no prescribed day for weekly public worship; all distinctions between days have been abolished, and each Christian may decide on which day to worship.  Would that be Paul’s intension, seeing what confusion it would create in the church?

In conclusion, just like the principle in verse 1 will be misunderstood unless 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.

Back to: Romans Table of Contents

Next: Romans 14:7-13

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 14:1-4
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.