Romans 14:13-23 – The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking.

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.

Paul, the apostle

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.

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.

Unclean

Meat and Wine

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).

Food offered to idols

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.

Opinions

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 blue indicate 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, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles” (14:21).

Stumbling Stone

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“.

Back to: Romans Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

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

Back to: Romans Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

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

TO: General Table of Contents