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 there 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 carousing and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and unrestraint, not in quarreling and jealousy,

14 but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be making no provision for the cravings 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 ["o esqiwn" (him who is eating), possibly a pun, assonates with "asqenwn" (weak)] make light of him [From "exouthenew," like Paul wrote regarding Timothy,1 Cor. 16:11] who is not eating.  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. It is also possible that this passage may mean that it was Paul's policy not to punish the behavior of baptized laity unless it was flagrant, or deliberately disturbing the Church's peace, or trying to bring down its moral fiber.] 

15. For if, because of food, your brother is grieving, you are no longer walking according to love. Not to your food that (one) lose 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. I left the second sentence very literal as it could refer to either brother. Many commentaries assume this is identical to 1 Cor. 8:11. But while similar, they're not synonymous. There's no reference to idol victims here, or anywhere else in this chapter. Also, the previous sentence speaks of a grieving brother, which is different from being built up to eat idol victims. If referring to the brother that doesn't eat flesh, it might mean "Do not lose to your food that one over which Christ died." That is, don't make your vegetarian brother fail in his practice. If referring to the non-vegetarian, it could be something like "Do not lose or ruin that one with your food over which Christ died." That is, if you encourage your fellow omnivores to place their meat above spiritual goals (verse 17) they may lose their relationship with God. Finally, it might possibly refer to "that thing" for which Christ died Rom. 14:9. That is, ones account (logon) before God Rom. 14:12, that could be ruined by a carnal mindset.]

16. Let not, then, your good be blasphemed, [By emphasizing their right to eat whatever they want, they leave any real good of theirs (explained in verse 17) open to ridicule.]

17. for the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

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 for food's sake 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 clean/unclean distinctions. 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 longing focus of creation is awaiting the unveiling of the sons of God. For to vanity was creation subjected, not voluntarily, but because of Him Who subjects it, in hope that 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] 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.  

13:11 KAI TOUTO EIDOTES TON KAIRON OTI WRA HDH UMAS EC UPNOU EGERQHNAI NUN GAR EGGUTERON HMWN H SWTHRIA H OTE EPISTEUSAMEN 12 H NUC PROEKOYEN H DE HMERA HGGIKEN APOQWMEQA OUN TA ERGA TOU SKOTOUS ENDUSWMEQA [DE] TA OPLA TOU FWTOS 13 WS EN HMERA EUSXHMONWS PERIPMH KOITAIS KAI ASELGEIAIS MH ERIDI KAI ZHLW 14 ALLA ENDUSASQE TON KURION IHSOUN XRISTON KAI THS SARKOS PRONOIAN MH POIEISQE EIS EPIQUMIAS 14:1 TON DE ASQENOUNTA TH PISTEI PROSLAMBANESQE MH EIS DIAKRISEIS DIALOGISMWN 2 OS MEN PISTEUEI FAGEIN PANTA O DE ASQENWN LAXANA ESQIEI 3 O ESQIWN TON MH ESQIONTA MH ECOUQENEITW O DE MH ESQIWN TON ESQIONTA MH KRINETW O QEOS GAR AUTON PROSELABETO 4 SU TIS EI O KRINWN ALLOTRION OIKETHN TW IDIW KURIW STHKEI H PIPTEI STAQHSETAI DE DUNATEI GAR O KURIOS STHSAI AUTON 5 OS MEN [GAR] KRINEI HMERAN PAR HMERAN OS DE KRINEI PASAN HMERAN EKASTOS EN TW IDIW NOI PLHROFOREISQW 6 O FRONWN THN HMERAN KURIW FRONEI KAI O ESQIWN KURIW ESQIEI EUXARISTEI GAR TW QEW KAI O MH ESQIWN KURIW OUK ESQIEI KAI EUXARISTEI TW QEW 7 OUDEIS GAR HMWN EAUTW ZH KAI OUDEIS EAUTW APOQNHSKEI 8 EAN TE GAR ZWMEN TW KURIW ZWMEN EAN TE APOQNHSKWMEN TW KURIW APOQNHSKOMEN EAN TE OUN ZWMEN EAN TE APOQNHSKWMEN TOU KURIOU ESMEN 9 EIS TOUTO GAR XRISTOS APEQANEN KAI EZHSEN INA KAI NEKRWN KAI ZWNTWN KURIEUSH 10 SU DE TI KRINEIS TON ADELFON SOU H KAI SU TI ECOUQENEIS TON ADELFON SOU PANTES GAR PARASTHSOMEQA TW BHMATI TOU QEOU 11 GEGRAPTAI GAR ZW EGW LEGEI KURIOS OTI EMOI KAMYEI PAN GONU KAI PASA GLWSSA ECOMOLOGHSETAI TW QEW 12 ARA OUN EKASTOS HMWN PERI EAUTOU LOGON DWSEI TW QEW 13 MHKETI OUN ALLHLOUS KRINWMEN ALLA TOUTO KRINATE MALLON TO MH TIQENAI PROSKOMMA TW ADELFW H SKANDALON 14 OIDA KAI PEPEISMAI EN KURIW IHSOU OTI OUDEN KOINON DI AUTOU EI MH TW LOGIZOMENW TI KOINON EINAI EKEINW KOINON 15 EI GAR DIA BRWMA O ADELFOS SOU LUPEITAI OUKETI KATA AGAPHN PERIPATEIS MH TW BRWMATI SOU EKEINON APOLLUE UPER OU XRISTOS APEQANEN 16 MH BLASFHMEISQW OUN UMWN TO AGAQON 17 OU GAR ESTIN H BASILEIA TOU QEOU BRWSIS KAI POSIS ALLA DIKAIOSUNH KAI EIRHNH KAI XARA EN PNEUMATI AGIW 18 O GAR EN TOUTW DOULEUWN TW XRISTW EUARESTOS TW QEW KAI DOKIMOS TOIS ANQRWPOIS 19 ARA OUN TA THS EIRHNHS DIWKWMEN KAI TA THS OIKODOMHS THS EIS ALLHLOUS 20 MH ENEKEN BRWMATOS KATALUE TO ERGON TOU QEOU PANTA MEN KAQARA ALLA KAKON TW ANQRWPW TW DIA PROSKOMMATOS ESQIONTI 21 KALON TO MH FAGEIN KREA MHDE PIEIN OINON MHDE EN W O ADELFOS SOU PROSKOPTEI H SKANDALIZETAI H ASQENEI 22 SU PISTIN HN EXEIS KATA SEAUTON EXE ENWPION TOU QEOU MAKARIOS O MH KRINWN EAUTON EN W DOKIMAZEI 23 O DE DIAKRINOMENOS EAN FAGH KATAKEKRITAI OTI OUK EK PISTEWS PAN DE O OUK EK PISTEWS AMARTIA ESTIN 

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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