Romans 14Reflections on Romans 14
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By A. J. Fecko

This is not so much a commentary as it is an exploration of another way of considering the situation that is being addressed in Romans 14.

The issue of Romans 14 is usually considered to be dealing with the situation between the Jewish and Gentile Christians over the eating of flesh that was not slaughtered by a rabbi, and in particular those animals who were sacrificed to idols as in 1 Corinthians 8-10. If this is correct, it's clear that the vegetarians Paul appears to address as "weak" are not vegetarians for ethical or health reasons, nor are they voluntarily abandoning flesh eating as a form of discipline to grow closer to the Lord.

While the eating of idol victims or some kashrut issue is possibly the issue that is here being dealt with, there are a number of problems with this view. It was very common in ancient Italy for people to raise animals for food. There would be no problem for Jewish Christians to raise chickens, kill, eat them, and give or sell them to their neighbors.

Jewish Christians, though they would keep kosher, would not need Rabbinic approval. Certainly, church leaders would for Jewish Christians have more authority to pronounce on which food can and cannot be eaten than Non-Christian Rabbis. Even if every single piece of flesh owned by pagan Italians was offered to an idol (which I don't believe is the case) it's hard to see how Christians would be without flesh to eat simply in an attempt to avoid eating idol victims.

There is no reference to idol sacrifices anywhere in Romans. Yes, some of the language is similar to 1 Corinthians 8-10.  However, in Corinthians the weak eat because they are gentiles accustomed to the idol, and in Romans the weak judge days. If the weak observe Jewish holidays, then while the weak in Corinthians are gentiles, the weak in Romans are Jewish (which is the common view). However, my view on this is that the believers Paul is addressing abstained from flesh sometimes. But the strong abstained from flesh everyday. Either way there's some difference between the two situations in Rome and Corinth. Nor is the any suggestion that the abstainers need the Gospel of grace or Christian liberty explained to them, but  "Happy is he who is not judging himself in that which he is attesting. 

Here I give what I believe is a possible way Romans 14 was meant by Paul to be read:

13:11 This, also, do, being aware of the era, that it is already the hour for us to be awakened from sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we believe.

12. The night progresses, and the day is near. We, then, should be putting off the deeds of darkness, and should be putting on the armor of light.

13. As in the day, properly, should we be walking, not in revelries and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy,

14. but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be making no provision for the wantings of the flesh.

14:1. Yet the weak in the faith take to yourselves, but not for discrimination of reasonings.

2. "This one, indeed, believes to eat everything, though the weak man eats herbs". * [One should not only ask what a verse could mean, but what it is likely to mean. This verse is usually read as being a "ho men..ho de" construction, which is usually "this one vs. the other one". But there must be a reason he has "hos men" unusually paired with "ho de" (so making the verse ambiguous). In fact, Paul uses "hos men" correctly with "hos de" just a few verses later in verse 5. So it's unlikely this is an ordinary one vs. the other contrast. "Hos", even in a "men/de" sentence likely refers back to the subject of the previous verse, which here is "the weak in faith". The verse is light-hearted. Paul describes the faith of "the weak in faith" as his belief that he may eat all as "hos men pisteuei phagein panta"; that is "believes to eat everything", as if that were the purpose of his faith. An attitude Paul criticizes in verse 17. He then describes "the weak in faith" as doing the opposite of what the proverbial weak man does. A weak man eats herbs to get well. Some early manuscripts have a variant, the imperative "esthietw", "should eat". "Esthietw" is the reading in the earliest manuscript we have of Romans 14, p46 or "Chester Beatty", dated to the 3rd century. Either way, the second clause is a proverb, and not a description of "the weak in faith". Much evidence points to the early Jerusalem church extolling vegetarianism. Therefore, it is likely his opponents from the pro-circumcision party did as well. But many in his own congregations are vegetarian; how else could he address them with authority. It's also a practice he approves, Rom. 14:21; and likely was vegetarian himself, 1 Cor. 8:13. But as the apostle of the nations he cannot afford to seem to encourage the adoption of Mosaic clean/unclean distinctions, nor does he want stumbling blocks thrown in the way of new converts. So Paul must treat this issue carefully.] 

3. Let not him who is eating make light of him who is not eating [From "exouthenew" As Paul wrote regarding Timothy,1 Cor. 16:11]. But let not him who is not eating be judging him who is eating, for God took him.

4. Who are you who are judging another's servant? To his own Lord he is standing or falling. Now he will be made to stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5. This one, indeed, is judging for one day rather than another day, yet that other is judging for every day. [All the Christians of Paul's community abstain from flesh sometimes. But the strong abstain from flesh everyday] Let each one be fully assured in his own mind. 

6. He who is disposed to the day, is disposed to it to the Lord; and he who is eating, is eating to the Lord, for he is thanking God. And he who is not eating, to the Lord is not eating, and is thanking God.

7. For not one of us is living to himself, and not one is dying to himself.

8. For both, if we should be living, to the Lord are we living, and if we should be dying, to the Lord are we dying. Then, both if we should be living and if we should be dying, we are the Lord's.

9. For this Christ died and lives, that He should be Lord of the dead as well as of the living.

10. Now why are you judging your brother? Or why are you also disrespecting your brother? For all of us shall be presented at the dais of God,

11. for it is written: Living am I, the Lord is saying, For to Me shall bow every knee, And every tongue shall be acclaiming God!

12. Consequently, then, each of us shall be giving account concerning himself to God.

13. By no means, then, should we still be judging one another, but rather judge this, not to place a stumbling block against [dative of disadvantage] a brother, or a snare.

14. I have perceived and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing base is through him, [Here I'm using the variant "autou". Though the "Textus Receptus" has "eautou", most Byzantine (Majority) Text manuscripts, and also the Western Texts, have "autou". "Autou" was likely changed to "eautou" because "eautou" is less ambiguous than "autou", and "eautou" is used at other points in Romans 14.] If not toward him counting something to be base, it is base for that one. [the offending brother]

[The true definition of a base action is to act toward others in a way harmful for them. So, with regards the Christian fraternal relationship, it is base or "common" to offend or "snare" those who follow the committed practice of a vegetarian diet, or to stumble those who follow a more elementary practice.  The Greek variant "eautou" of Rom. 14:14 is also in harmony with my overall interpretation. In that case the point of the passage is possibly that what is "common" is different for different individuals. Differences in situations, capabilities, and degrees of understanding are unique for every Christian. In Paul's day some would honestly see their situation as ruling out for them a year round vegetarian diet. While others would adopt the practice of abstaining from flesh year round. No material thing is intrinsically "unclean". For nothing exterior, that is, nothing material can make a man base or common; only the actions produced from wrong intentions of heart. But, it shouldn't be assumed nothing is base. Rev. 21:27.  Indeed, no behavior would ever be recognized as base if no one had learned to live better. 1 Cor. 13:11. Thinking a piece of matter is "unclean", or believing one must keep kosher to distinguish oneself from outsiders is not the reason for adopting the natural diet intended by God. A diet not only healthy, but also if adopted by the majority of the population worldwide would help alleviate some of the bondage Paul writes of earlier in this epistle. "For the premonition of the creation is awaiting the unveiling of the sons of God. For to vanity was the creation subjected, not voluntarily, but because of Him Who subjects it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.  For we are aware that the entire creation is groaning and travailing together until now. Yet not only so, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruit of the spirit, we ourselves also, are groaning in ourselves, awaiting the sonship, the deliverance of our body." Rom. 8:19-23]

15. For if, because of food, your brother is sorrowing, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not with your food, ruin that one over which Christ died. [Greater love than this has no one, that anyone may be laying down his soul over his friends. John 15:13]

16. Let not, then, your good be blasphemed,

17. for the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. [By emphasizing their right to eat whatever they want, they leave any real good of theirs (explained in verse 17) open to ridicule. ]

18. For he who in this is slaving for Christ, is well pleasing to God and attested by men.

19. Consequently, then, we are pursuing that which makes for peace and that which is for edification of one another.

20. Not on account of food demolish the work of God. All, indeed, is pure, [Paul must make clear that everything he has written up to this point is not reasserting the authority of Mosaic Law, clean/unclean distinctions are not a part of Paul's teaching] but it is evil against the man who is eating with stumbling. [Still, there are members of Paul's community who have voluntarily abandoned flesh eating. Flesh eating Christians stumble in their eating when being inconsiderate to the resolve of vegetarian Christians]

21. It is beautiful not to be eating flesh, nor yet to be drinking wine, nor yet to do that by which your brother is stumbling, or is being snared, or weakened. [Here Paul nicely summarizes his main points]

22. The faith which you have, have for yourself in God's sight. Happy is he who is not judging himself in that which he is attesting.

23. But he who discriminates is condemned if he eats, because it isn't of faith; and whatever is not of faith is a sin. [Those who abandon a more venerable lifestyle that is well established, or possibly have vowed to keep, experience a spiritual demerit. It is not that they fall out of grace, or are no longer Christians. But their actions are not indifferent either. Or, it could mean that omnivorous behavior is always sinful if coupled with discrimination or contempt for Christians that don't eat flesh. Or, it could also mean that those who discriminate by standing in judgment of less abstentious Christians become hypocrites if they eat flesh. Ultimately, faith in God's mercy is necessary for both groups that Paul is addressing.] 

* Another possibility might be that this verse expresses the view of the weak in faith, or perhaps the second clause of the verse is subordinate. But the translation I've provided seems the most accurate.

See the following related articles and commentaries:
Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8
A Commentary on the Second Chapter of Colossians
When Did Animal Sacrifices Begin?
When did the Church abandon animal sacrifice?

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