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Romans 14, Part 1

Jan 07, 2011

In Romans 12 and 13, Paul gives us an exhortation about how to live and act as Christians. Chapters 14 and 15 teach the mature Christians how to treat those who are "weak in faith." Whereas in the earlier chapters Paul focused upon the distinction between the believers and the unbelievers, justified and unjustified, Paul ends his epistle by distinguishing between mature and immature Christians.

Paul begins chapter 14 by telling us,

(1) Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

Mature Christians ought to help the weaker ones grow up into the full stature of Christ, realizing that we all started our Christian journey as spiritually immature. So rather than pass judgment upon these children, let us assist in their growth.

(2) One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. (3) Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. (4) Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

The contrast here appears to be whether or not one ought to be a vegetarian. It goes back past Moses all the way to Adam and Noah. Adam's diet was said to be "every plant yielding seed" and "every tree which has fruit yielding seed" (Gen. 1:28). In other words, whatever fruit that can reproduce itself and bring forth LIFE was given to Adam as food.

Later, after the flood, God added meat to Noah's diet, for Gen. 9:3 says,

(3) Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. (4) Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

Noah himself must have understood the distinction between clean and unclean animals long before Moses, because these categories determine how many of each were brought into the ark. Genesis 7:2 and 3 says,

(2) You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female; (3) also of the birds of the sky by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth.

The question is this: Since Noah understood the difference between clean and unclean animals, did God really add ALL ANIMAL MEAT to his diet? How are we to take Gen. 9:3, saying, "every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you"?? Did God add all animal meat to Noah's diet, only to take much of it away later in the days of Moses in Leviticus 11?

The bottom line is that these passages do not give us the answer. Hence, it is a matter of opinion, personal leading. and perhaps even a matter of science and common sense. What is the proper contrast in Romans 14:2? Was Paul contrasting clean-meat-eating with a vegetarian diet? Or was Paul contrasting vegetarianism with no restrictions at all?

Later in the chapter, Paul speaks of "unclean" food, so he appears to end the Mosaic restrictions on eating unclean meat--unless the term "unclean" is to be interpreted more broadly. From Adam to Noah, when even clean animals appear to be off the dinner table, one might argue that vegetables were the only "clean" food. The problem with this argument is that the Scriptures nowhere tell us that vegetables were "clean" or that all meat was "unclean" from Adam to Noah.

We only know from Gen. 7:2 and 3 that Noah understood the distinction between clean and unclean animals prior to the flood--and before the apparent dietary restrictions were lifted.

Hence, the lack of biblical information makes this a matter of conscience and personal leading by the Spirit. Since faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17), each person must pray and hear from God individually, and then act upon that word by faith. Paul's admonition is neither side of this dispute ought to break the bond of love between the brethren, nor should one side view the other side with contempt.

In Rom. 14:4, Paul says, "who are you to judge the servant of another?" In other words, each believer is the servant of Christ and is answerable to Him alone. Paul allows the Church to judge its members on moral issues, particularly where one has wronged another (1 Cor. 6). But insofar as diet is concerned, "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17).

In 1 Timothy 4:3, Paul criticizes . . .

(3) men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. (4) For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; (5) for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

We know, of course, that God pronounced all created things "very good" (Gen. 1:31). Even the unclean animals were created for a very good purpose. The question is their purpose for being created. Were they created as "food" or for another purpose? Science shows us that the unclean animals are called to keep the earth clean by their own dietary habits. Hyenas eat dead animals to prevent the spread of disease and the smell of rotting flesh. Crows eat "road kill" for the same reason. Shrimp and crabs keep the bottom of the oceans clean. Clams and oysters filter water to keep it clean.

The biblical words clean and unclean are not meant to be scientific terms, but nonetheless they are scientifically accurate. Such science was certainly observable in ancient times, and it is likely that Adam understood this from the beginning--if not by divine revelation, then certainly by observation. Hence, it is likely that the distinction between clean and unclean animals was not something first revealed to Noah. Rather, the terms were first written (by Moses) in the story of Noah.

So in 1 Tim. 4:3, was Paul telling us that God had indeed created all animals to be food for us? Or was Paul saying that we should not abstain from those foods which God has created to be eaten? The basis of Paul's argument is given in verse 5, where he says that these foods are "sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer." Were all animals sanctified for food? Which were set apart for divine service? Which foods were sanctified by the word of God?

Finally, we may look at Jesus' teaching in Mark 7, where He discusses the distinction between the Law of God and the traditions of men. In Ezekiel 4, the Law was clean food, while the traditions of men were pictured as "dung." Jesus took this to a new level of teaching when He said that hearing (i.e. "eating") the traditions of men did not defile a person. "There is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him" (Mark 7:15). A man was defiled only when the "dung" of men's traditions came out of his mouth (Mark 7:15-23).

In other words, the body is made to handle those things which cannot be digested, for they are eliminated through the proper "gate." It is only when they come forth from the wrong gate (the mouth) that we are defiled, for this is contrary to nature. So it is also with spiritual things. One can read or listen to traditions of men without being defiled, but if we digest and assimilate those traditions, they will soon come out of our mouths, and then we are defiled.

No doubt eating unclean meat cannot defile us spiritually. But this leaves unanswered the question of physical, bodily health.


This is the first part of a series titled "Romans 14." To view all parts, click the link below.

Romans 14


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Category: Teachings

Dr. Stephen Jones


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