Romans 14:1-12 Are Vegetarians “Weak in Faith”?
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Romans 14:1-12 Are Vegetarians “Weak in Faith”? 

This passage has been a favorite among Christians who object to vegetarianism. Paul writes to the Romans that “the man who is weak in faith . . . eats only vegetables.” Anti-vegetarian Christians often link this passage with Romans 14:20: “Everything is indeed clean.”
I don’t think that this week’s Lectionary reading was designed to be anti-vegetarian. The Jews were determined to die rather that worship the Roman gods. Killing the Jews meant a loss of revenue for the Roman state, so the Roman authorities established an exception for the Jews that permitted them to refrain from worshipping the Roman gods. This exception, however, pertained only to Jews outside Rome, and kosher slaughter was illegal in the city. Jews could only obtain meat from pagan butchers, who typically offered prayers to Roman gods as they slaughtered the animals.
Evidently, Paul held that those who were offended by the elements of pagan worship associated with slaughter were “weak in faith” because they were acting as if these gods were real. Since there was only one God, the prayers to Roman gods were meaningless. I am doubtful that Paul objected to vegetarianism per se, and indeed in Romans 14:21 he says, “It is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble.”
This being said, I would like to consider the theory, popular among anti-vegetarians, that Paul was indeed contemptuous of ethical vegetarians. It is possible that the Roman Jewish Christians abstained from flesh because they received Jesus’ teachings as encouraging vegetarianism. Scholar Hans-Joachim Schoeps, in his book Jewish Christianity: Factional Disputes in the Early Church, notes that the Jewish Christians were vegetarian. Keith Akers’ book The Lost Religion of Jesus makes a compelling case that Jesus was vegetarian and that the Jewish Christian movement was largely if not entirely vegetarian for ethical reasons. If this second theory for why Paul called the vegetarian Roman Christians “weak in faith” is correct, then it pits Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ ministry against those of people who derived their understanding not by a vision after Jesus died but from the actual life, works, and teachings of the living Jesus. 

Go on to: Matthew 20:1-16: What Is Fair?
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

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