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).


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.


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).
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.


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.


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?
 – 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.
 – 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.




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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