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.

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