The Greek word ‘koinós’ is translated “unclean” in Romans 14:14:
I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean (‘koinós’ G2839) in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean (G2839), to him it is unclean (G2839).
Christians that are “weak in faith” (14:1) considered meat to be “unclean” (v14, 21) and would make the eater unclean. They therefore did not eat meat. This word ‘koinós’ does not refer to regulations found in the Torah and it does not relate to the unclean animals of the Old Testament.
This is firstly indicated by the fact that the term ‘koinos’ is different from the word “akathartos” (meaning impure) which is used in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, also called the Septuagint) of Leviticus 11 for meat which is unfit for human consumption. ‘Koinos’ does not carry the sense of being impure, but common, unfit for the holy purpose of sacrifices, and defiling (see 1 Macc 1:47). This suggests that the dispute in the church in Rome was not over meat which was unlawful according to the Mosaic Law.
This is secondly also indicated by the other uses of ‘koinos’ in the Bible:
- In Mark 7:2 & 5 ‘koinos’ is used for eating with impure (G2839) hands; referring to the Jewish traditions which Christ described as “the precepts of men” (Mark 7:7)
- ‘Koinos’ is frequently translated with the word “common”. For instance, believers in the early church had all things in common (G2839) (Acts 2:44; 4:32), Paul and Titus shared a common faith (Titus 1:4) and Jude 1:3 refers our common (G2839) salvation. The word ‘koinós’ can therefore be understood in contrast to the word “holy”, which means to be set apart for special use.
- ‘Koinos’ is also used in the account of the vision which Peter had. It is twice recorded that Peter said that he has never eaten anything unholy (G2839) and unclean (G169) (Acts 10:14; 11:8). ‘Koinós’ (G2839) is here translates “unholy”, with the other word (G169) translated as “unclean”. The response from heaven to Peter’s objection does use to this other word. The voice Peter heard said, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy (G2839)” (Acts 10:15), and Peter later explained, saying “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy (G2839) or unclean (G169)” (Acts 10:28; 11:9). The point is that this vision was about people; not animals. The vision was about Gentiles that were, in the Jewish traditions, considered to be unholy to such an extent that the Jews did not associate with Gentiles. The voice from heaven instructs the church, via Peter, not to think of Gentiles as unholy. The vision had nothing to do with Old Testament prescriptions. 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 in Acts.
- Hebrews 10:29 refers to people who regard “as unclean (G2839) the blood of the covenant”. Again the point is that ‘koinos’ does not relate to Old Testament laws.
- Revelation 21:27 describe unclean (G2839) people as those who practice abomination and lying.
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”. 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 films will fall into this category.
Romans Romans Table of Contents
Next: Food in Corinth