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Romans Chapter 14

(Holydays and Dietary laws)

 


       There are many passages in scripture commonly quoted off point and out of context to demonstrate that the Law of God is abolished.  This simply is not true.  Romans Chapter 14 is one such passage, but a proper understanding will demonstrate that Romans 14 supports the following of God's law.  If you would like to read my articles starting from chapter one, please click here.

          The main problem with a false understanding of Romans chapter 14 is poor biblical exegesis.  Remember, a proper biblical understanding always comes from the scriptures for, "no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Pet. 1:20).  We need to use the scripture to interpret the scripture, but how does the scripture tell us to study?  The answer is simple.  We need to study the scripture like a lawyer would study the law.  We need to keep in mind that the Bible is a law book.  It is written in legal code as Isaiah 28:9-14 demonstrates.  The proper way to study the scriptures is what a lawyer would call, "code pleading."  Isaiah tells us that the scripture is written, "line upon line" and "precept upon precept."  This means we need to get the immediate context to have a proper understanding.  Isaiah 28 also says the scripture is written, "here a little, and there a little."  This means we need to find all the passages of a given topic to have a full understanding of that topic.  For more understanding on how to study the Bible please read "How to Study."  With this in mind, lets try to get a full understanding of what Paul is saying in Romans chapter 14.

Doubtful Disputations: (Romans 14:1-13)

          Paul starts out admonishing believers in, "doubtful disputations" (Rom. 14:1).  This chapter deals with things not clearly explained in scripture which is why they are referred to as doubtful.  It is an error to identify things that are clearly defined in scripture, such as dietary laws (Lev. 11, Deut. 14) and Sabbath laws (Lev. 23) as, "doubtful disputations."  Unfortunately, most believers use Romans 14 for just such an interpretation.  We will see that this simply is not true.  The Roman believers are instructed to, "receive ye" the one who is, "weak in the faith" (Rom. 14:1).  Paul is speaking of a, "weak" brother in the Lord.  He is weak because he practices vegetarianism and eats only "herbs" (Rom. 14:2).  It is not that vegetarianism is wrong or a sin.  The law of God does not require anyone to avoid vegetarianism, but someone who only eats herbs is considered weak because they are not aware of what the scriptures truly teach.  We are not to judge someone because of this, but rather, allow for grace for believers to learn God's law and follow it (Rom. 14:3).  Despite this weakness, "God is able to make him stand" (Rom. 14:4).  We are not the judge of another man, God is.  If someone wants to eat only vegetables it is okay.  They do have the liberty to eat meat, but they are not required to.
          The next verse is commonly quoted off point and out of context to say the scriptural holydays, including the Sabbath, no longer apply for today.  Paul says, "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike.  Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.  He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it" (Rom. 14:5-6).  If this is referring to holydays such as the Sabbath, then it appears that we now get to decide how to practice such holydays.  It is now up to our persuasion and feelings, as long as it is, "unto the Lord."  This is a dangerous interpretation for it allows us to go against what God clearly stated in His word regarding such holydays.  We now tell God how we will practice His law.  The truth is, the second half of verse six answers this question.  Here is verse six in it's entirety, "He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks" (Rom. 14:6).  This day in question is a day regarded unto the Lord of, "eating" or, "not eating."  This day referred here is a fast day, not a holy day.  This makes sense for fast days are, "doubtful disputations."  They are not clearly defined in scripture, which gives believers liberty to practice how they desire.  The only commandment requiring fasting is on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27, Acts 27:9).  Any other fast is at our own discretion.
          In fact, vegetarianism is a type of fast according to the scripture.  Daniel fasted for three weeks eating no "flesh," nor "pleasant bread," nor "wine," but only eating vegetables (Dan. 1:12-13, Dan. 10:3).  Though this is an example of a fast, it is not a requirement in the scriptures, which makes it a, "doubtful disputation."  It is poor biblical exegesis to interpret these, "days" as Sabbath days when the word Sabbath appears no where in the entire book of Romans, especially since the immediate context is that of eating or not eating.  This is clearly a fast day, which was common in the first century to practice as often as once per week.  Paul's point is to, "Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way" (Rom. 14:13).  Since the scripture is silent on how we should practice fast days (except the Day of Atonement), then we should allow people to fast as they see fit.  I should not try to persuade someone to fast as I do and they should not try to persuade me to fast as they do.
 

Unclean Meats: (Romans 14:14-23)

          We now move into the next part, which is commonly misunderstood to say all meats are now clean.  Paul says, "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean" (Rom. 14:14).  The word translated as, "unclean" is an unfortunate mistranslation.  This is the Greek word koinos which means, "common, ceremonial profane" (Strong's Concordance G2839).  This is not the word for unclean foods from Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.  The Greek word for unclean is akathartos which means, "impure, foul, unclean" (Strong's Concordance G169).  The proof text for this is Acts 10:14 where Peter uses both words in the same sentence.  This is in response to the vision he received from the Lord telling him to eat all sorts of unclean animals.  Peter said he has never eaten anything common or unclean.  Here is a clear distinction.  Unclean animals are animals God himself commanded not to eat.  These are found in Leviticus chapter 11 and Deuteronomy chapter 14.  Common animals are animals that are normally clean, but defiled because of other biblical laws such as, "dying of itself" (Lev. 22:8) or the blood was not drained (Lev. 17:13-14, Lev. 3:17).  This type of clean food was common because it was allowed to be given to Gentiles (Deut. 14:21).  The Pharisees took this to another extreme.  They added otherwise clean meat offered to idols as common and not acceptable to eat.  This is not scriptural and what is most likely happening in the church at Rome.
          It is likely that the meat discussed in Romans 14 refers to meat sacrificed to idols.  The weak believer is uncomfortable eating meat offered to idols, even if it were clean.  Paul dealt with the same problem in the Corinthian church as well (1 Cor. 8:4-7).  As a result, "if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably.  Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died" (Rom. 14:15).  We are not to stumble our brother who follows the common laws of the Pharisees.  When in their presence follow them as well so as to not be a stumbling block to them.  Following the common laws is not against the scripture and is a, "doubtful disputation."  Remember, the Greek word for, "meat" is brōma which means, "that which is eaten, food" (Strong's Concordance G1033).  This word is always used to refer to food intended to eat.  It comes from the Greek word bibrōskō which means, "to eat: - eat" (Strong's Concordance G977).  This word used in Romans 14 always assumes food intended to eat.  This further solidifies the understanding that Paul is not allowing for the eating of unclean foods, but common foods from the Pharisees.
          The Roman believers were to follow after peace and, "Let not then [their] good be evil spoken of" (Rom. 14:16).  Since the eating of common foods was not against the scriptures, as the Pharisees saw it, they should avoid, "doubtful disputations" and follow after peace (Rom. 14:19).  "For the kingdom of God is not meat (brōsis - eating) and drink (posis - drinking)" (Rom. 14:17).  God's kingdom is not about eating and drinking, but "righteousness."  For, "meat destroy not the work of God" (Rom. 14:20).  Paul then continues saying, "All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence" (Rom. 14:20).  The word for pure here is katharos and is defined as, "clean, clear, pure" (Strong's Concordance G2513).  Since the word for "meat" is brōma which refers only to meat that is acceptable to eat (Strong's Concordance G1033 - "that which is eaten, food"), then what Paul is saying is that all clean meat is acceptable to eat, even though it was sacrificed unto idols.  The mention of wine in the next verse is further proof that Paul is speaking of common foods rather than unclean foods (Rom. 14:21).  Wine is not even mentioned in the Bible in reference to clean or unclean.  This could only be in reference to the Pharisees laws regarding common (koinos) foods.  But, "Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.  And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." (Rom. 14:22-23).  Again, Paul is speaking of, "doubtful disputations," or, that which is not clearly defined in scripture.

 
          Romans 14 is difficult to understand, but we should always error on the side of God being right and us being wrong.  God clearly told us what foods to eat and what foods not to eat.  The New Testament even confirms this in Acts 15:19-20 where the Apostles write to the Gentiles that they not only follow idolatry and adultery laws, but also follow the dietary laws as well.  When faced with a verse that seems to show differently, we should error on the side of caution and assume God was right in the first place.  The Apostle Paul no where in Romans 14 states that the Sabbath is done away with nor the unclean foods are done away with.  With a proper understanding of the Mosaic law the only conclusion is that Paul is here clarifying a, "doubtful disputation" that is not clear in the Mosaic law.

 

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By Steve Siefken
 

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV