Why did the ‘weak’ Christians in Rome not eat meat sacrificed to idols?

Abstract: 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 are very similar to Romans 14, and explain why the “weak” Christians in Rome did not eat meat.  The reason was that new converts to Christianity, based on their experience with idolatry, regarded 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, Paul declares that “everything” is allowed (Rom 14:14, 20; 1 Cor. 10:23).
      3. In both, the person who 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 mature Christians.
      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).

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

ROMANS 9 AND 11

ROMANS 14

For a more complete description of these articles, see the List of available articles on Romans. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

Nothing is unclean (koinos) in itself (Rom 14:14). What did Paul mean?

EXCERPT: Paul wrote, “nothing is unclean in itself” (Rom. 14:14). The Greek word koinos, translated here as “unclean,” does not refer to the unclean animals of the Old Testament. The dispute in the church in Rome over meat was not about unclean food but about what people regarded as unsuitable for Christian consumption.

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).

KOINOS DOES NOT REFER TO UNCLEAN ANIMALS.

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.

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

Romans 1: God will not override human freedom. 
Romans 2: The doers of the Law will be justified.
Romans 3:1-8: Did God reject Israel?
ROMANS 9 AND 11
 – Complete Article: Who Israel is in the Book of Revelation?
 – All Israel will be saved: Topical summary of the previous article
 – Election: God chose Israel to save the nations of the world.
ROMANS 14
 – 1-4 – The dispute in Rome was not over the Law of Moses.
 – The meaning of the word “unclean” (koinos)
 – Why new Christians feared eating meat sacrificed to idols.
 – 5-6 – Is the Sabbath is optional?
–  7-13 – God will judge all people by their deeds.
– 13-23 – Rather abstain from meat than causing a brother to stumble.

For a more complete description of these articles, see the List of available articles on Romans.

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

ROMANS 9 AND 11

ROMANS 14

For a more complete description of these articles, see the List of available articles on Romans. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

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