Chapters 14 and 15, especially the sub-section from chapter 14:1 through 15:3, is considered by many to be the focus of Pauls letter to Rome. After presenting numerous halakhtic teachings through the first twelve chapters, Paul begins to address some very specific issues going on in the Roman congregation.
This section deals with two groups of people that Paul refers to as the "weak" and the "strong." The predominant interpretation of these terms has been that the "strong" were Christians who had let go of the Law, and the "weak" were those (Jewish) believers who still "clung" to the Law.
This study rejects this traditional interpretation of "weak" and "strong" for several reasons, including the following, which are also discussed in detail in our background material:
Note: The above positions reflect those of author Mark Nanos, as cited earlier, and whose concepts we draw from throughout this section. We highly recommend his book, The Mystery of Romans, for a more complete analysis.
In the previous chapter, Paul spoke of how a (gentile) follower of Yeshua was to treat his "neighbor." This theme continues in this chapter, specifically to someone whose faith is called "weak." As we will discuss, the "weak" in this section are not "Jewish-Christians" (as commonly taught), but rather, Synagogue Jews who did not (yet) accept Yeshua as Messiah. (The "strong" are clearly followers of Yeshua, as Paul considers himself among them.)
As mentioned, Paul's concern throughout this letter is the teaching of "obedience to the faith" to gentiles, especially those with little or no knowledge of Torah. This obedience on the part of gentiles was directly linked to Paul's desire for more of his Jewish brethren to recognize Yeshua as Messiah. Although most Jews had not initially accepted Yeshua, there were many still in a stage of "considering," and others who might ultimately be persuaded.
The behavior of gentiles following Yeshua would, according to Jewish eschatological expectations grounded of Scripture, give indication as to whether or not the preaching of Paul had validity. If gentiles came in great numbers, to worship the God of Israel, in an acceptable way, this would be a fulfillment of prophecy and a sign that Paul's ministry was of God and that Yeshua may in fact be the Messiah.
However, if these gentiles showed no regard for the faith of Israel (including the commands of Torah and halakha of Judaism), then this would indicate that the "faith" they were following was alien to that given by God to Israel, and that Yeshua was a false Messiah, and Paul's ministry a lie.
The concept of Jewish halakha is important when studying this section. Gentiles had a responsibility to the actual command found in the Torah/Tenakh (i.e., to become hearers and doers) as well as to the halakha of the Jewish community (to respect this as being "acceptable to God").
In this section, Paul provides instructions to gentiles who were tempted to disregard the minimum requirements expected of "righteous gentiles" according to Judaism at that time. As we will see, Paul teaches that gentiles were not to judge opinions of the "weak" but to see that they were responsible for serving Yeshua in a way acceptable to God and man (i.e., the Jews).
1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
Although the "weak" are considered as "brethren" (Romans 14:10,13,15) this does not necessitate their being followers of Yeshua, as to Paul, his fellow Jews who did not yet accept Yeshua, remained his brethren and of the same "family" as those gentiles who now came to the God of Israel via Yeshua.
Compare the following: 2
Note especially how many references to gentiles in chapter 8 are immediately followed in chapter 9 with reference to these Jews. This is significant.
The term "weak" must be understood in its Hebraic sense, where it carries the meaning of "unable" or "not strong," with regard to their measure of faith. "Weak" in Hebrew Biblical literature has to do with "stumbling."
Paul actually introduced this concept back in chapter 4 of this letter, when he explained how Abraham's faith was considered "strong" when he trusted in God's promise even when the circumstances seemed otherwise. This principle is important to understand when considering why Paul considers his Jewish brethren who do not yet accept Yeshua to be "weak" in faith. Their faith is valid (as was Abraham's prior to the binding of Isaac), but is "weak" in that they have not yet taken the step in trusting God by accepting Yeshua, who is the "measure of faith."
This "measure of faith," has nothing to do with the 613 commands of the Torah, since (as Paul teaches in chapter 4), it was present with Abraham -- before the giving of the Torah and circumcision. The "strong" in faith are both Jews and gentiles who are of the faith of Abraham, whose "strength" was shown long before the revelation given at Mount Sinai. 3
Similar usage is found in translations of the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls.4 Thus, there is a connection between the "weak" in this section, and the Synagogue Jews who are "stumbling" over the issue of Yeshua. (See comments to 14:13 below.)
Note that Paul does not criticize this group's opinions of how to carry out their faith as being weak, but their faith itself is called "weak." Paul makes clear that the opinions of the "weak" are valid and honored by God (verses 3,4,6).
Note also that in verses 1-8, there is no mention of Yeshua. (See also note to verse 17.) The focus is on the God of Israel and the faith He established. Paul's message is that regardless of the differing views on Yeshua between the "weak" and the "strong," they both serve the same God.
2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
This verse, along with verse 5 (concerning certain "days") and possibly verse 21 (concerning wine), indicate Jewish behavior. When Jews of that time did associate with gentiles, it was a common practice to avoid partaking of the same foods that the gentiles ate. One reason for this is that gentile food may have been used in pagan worship, which was an offense to many Jews.
There is nothing in the verse however, that mandates that this concern kosher versus unkosher foods. The eating of vegetables only, was not a command of Torah, but part of Jewish halakha when eating with gentiles.
3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
Note that the actions of the "weak" are acceptable to God. The "weak" are never told to amend their opinion or behavior regarding what they believe is proper to eat.
This verse does contain the only instruction to the "weak" in this section. They are told not to judge the "strong" for their opinion concerning food. This is a "two-way street," though clearly the problem Paul addresses is the behavior of the "strong." All of the remaining criticism/instruction of this sub-section is directed toward the "strong."
4 ... Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
God is able to make the "weak" or "stumbling" one stand. The "strong" are to assist in this. (See 15:1 below.)
5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6 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.
Here again, there is nothing in the text that indicates the issue concerns the Torah command of keeping the Sabbath -- only other days deemed important by "the weak."
The context of this section within the body of the entire letter, shows that obedience to the precise commands of the Torah of Sinai is not what the discussion is about. If Torah commands are done away with, then Paul's statement in Romans 3:28-31 makes no sense. Torah remained holy, righteous and good and did not fail (Romans 7:12 and 9:6). The Torah is irrevocable (Romans 11:28-29).
(Also see comments following verse 14 below. Note as well Luke's comments in Acts 15; 16:1-3; 21:17-26 and 27 forward regarding Torah and faith in Yeshua.)
7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth
The theme of the Shema (One God of both Jew and gentile), may be seen behind these verses.
10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?
13 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.
As mentioned earlier, the term "stumbling" (here "stumblingblock"), is associated with that of "weakness." (See God's commands about placing a stumblingblock before others, in Isaiah 8:14 and Leviticus 19:14.) In Romans, the "stumbling" of part of Israel is not only over Yeshua being Messiah, but also the idea that gentiles can come directly into the faith of Israel "through Him."
Interestingly, Paul says throughout this section that those who are "strong" are not to judge the opinions of the "weak." Yet, most commentaries on Romans consistently do this with the idea that the "weak" are weak in that they "still follow the Law."
Note however, that the practices of the "weak" are acceptable to God (verses 3-6). Note also that Paul's instruction to modify behavior is given to the "strong" (gentiles). If the issue here were one of "judaising," and the "weak" were "Jewish Christians" (as taught in most Romans commentaries), then Paul would be instructing the "weak" to change their behavior (i.e., "to let go of their old ways of the Law.")
This is not at all the case however - it is the gentiles being told to accept the ways of the Jews. 5
The clear message from Paul in the ensuing verses, is that the "weak" have jurisdiction in matters of purity behavior.
Here we see the principle of the Kingdom of God superceding the principle of self-pleasure. Gentiles turning to faith must not become Jews first (as pronounced by the council in Acts 15), but they must not remain pagans nor offend their Jewish neighbors. They may be free from immediately embracing Torah completely, but they are not free of the halakha of righteous gentiles seeking association with Israel. As gentiles they were "totally free," but not as followers of Yeshua, who is the "goal of the Torah" (Romans 10:4).
14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Yeshua, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Critical to keep in mind here is the historical context. Here we have gentiles with little understanding of, or regard for, the customs of the Jews -- especially the Synagogue Jews who did not follow Yeshua.
Also important when studying this section, is the greater context of Paul's teachings regarding gentiles coming to faith without having to become Jews first (i.e., learn and take on all of the Torah, get circumcized, etc.) Therefore, while Paul will not tell gentile believers they must act as Jews in all ways, he does teach them the principle of deferring to the higher halkha and placing the (valid) practices of these Jewish people, above any perceived "freedom" they may have.
As mentioned, the issue here is not one of the "kosher laws" or the Sabbath being done away with. The context is the issue of the halakha of Synagogue Jews on certain issues, and how gentiles following Yeshua must respect this. There is no question of whether or not a pig is kosher, or the Sabbath was the day God set aside for His people. Those things are clearly spelled out in God's Torah, and Paul did not teach against God's Torah.
As mentioned in our background material, Paul upheld the Torah as holy, just and good (Romans 7;12), stating that faith in Yeshua did not do away with the Torah but confirmed it (Romans 3:31). He made clear that the doers of Torah were justified (Romans 2:13) and the advantage the Torah gave to the Jew (Romans 2:25; 3:1-2). He also taught how those who were of the Spirit of Messiah were subject to the Torah (Romans 8:1-9). He even took steps to show that those who had falsely accused him of "teaching against the law of Moses" were lying (Acts 21:21-26).
What is at issue here are Jewish customs of not sharing meat (and perhaps wine) with gentiles, and also the honoring of certain days. There was a specific halakha of the Roman Jewish Synagogue community at that time. How these Jews had decided to "walk out their faith" was not only a "personal choice," it was binding, as Paul teaches in this chapter (i.e., verses 3,5,6,20,23). Yeshua also taught that what we bind on earth (as "Torah" for ourselves), is bound in heaven.
For example, according to Torah, cows are kosher. However, if the blood of this animal was not disposed of in a certain manner, then the cow was considered spiritually unclean, and to knowingly eat it would be sin. As the Jews had no way of knowing how gentiles dealt with the blood when slaughtering cattle, their halakha was to not eat of the meat of gentiles. Thus, although the cow is "clean" according to Torah (and Yeshua), to the one who made it "unclean" to himself as part of his halakha, then it indeed becomes "unclean" to him.
As mentioned already, there was also the element of the meat (or wine) having been offered to idols which Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 8 . Here too Paul taught was that one is to defer to the "higher halakha" and not offend the other person. 6
Part of the halkaha of this Jewish community was the observance of certain days, such as special fast days. Although not commanded in the same sense as days such as the Sabbath, Passover, Yom Kippur, etc., these days of observance were also binding on those who decided to make them part of their walk of faith. This was all part of the Jewish halakha in the Roman congregation.
When Paul states that nothing is "unclean of itself," he is not saying that "nothing is unclean," as this is contrary to Torah. The premise behind Paul's teaching is that a pig is not unclean "because it is a pig." Rather, a pig is unclean because God has deemed it so. It is God who separates by divine command what is allowed and not allowed. Purity is not intrinsic, it is imputed. Everything in creation was created "good," yet God told Adam, Noah and Moses what not to eat.
Paul argues that a higher principle applies in the issue of what is unclean. God is to be served above self-interest. He appeals to the inherent truth in all purity laws, which is that they exist because a Holy God has declared them so (Leviticus 11:41-45; 19:2; 20:25-26). God has chosen what is pure for the Jew and gentile who worship Him.
Lastly, those gentiles who chose to follow the "King of the Jews" were not to simply continue in their old gentile ways. This would mean that there was a "God for the Jews" and a "God for the gentiles." This would violate Paul's view of the Shema, that taught that there is One God for both Jew and gentile. (See comments to verse 17.)
15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Messiah died.
16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of:
These are key verses. First is Paul's use of the term "destroy," in verse 15, which reflects the seriousness of the matter. This carries over into verse 16. Unfortunately the English (King James) translation does not reflect the seriousness what the actual Greek text says. The term for "evil" in this verse is "blasphemeo."
This verse shows clearly that the "weak" are not believers, as they would not be in a position to "blaspheme God" over these issues. Rather, Paul is warning the "strong" (i.e., gentile followers of Yeshua) that their behavior (not respecting the halakha of the Synagogue Jews), could lead to the "weak" (the Synagogue Jews) actually blaspheming God. This "blasphemy" would occur if ungodly actions on the part of these gentiles caused these Jews to curse Yeshua, and walk away from Him rather than come to faith.
Verse 16 ties back to both Romans 3:8, where Paul denied the "blasphemous" charge that he taught against Torah, and to Romans chapter 6, where he taught gentiles that they were to "no longer present their bodies to sin as instruments of unrighteousness." (Sin and unrighteousness both being defined as violation of the Torah.)
The "bottom line," is that the salvation of the "weak" (the Synagogue Jews) is directly tied to how the "strong" (gentile followers of Yeshua), deal with the issue of food. The "strong" are to act toward the "weak" in accordance with a "renewed mind" (i.e., "Torah-based" - Romans 12:1-4 and forward). The benefit of being "strong" (i.e., having faith through Yeshua), comes with specific obligations that take precedence over any supposed "rights" or "freedoms" one may have.
17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Paul does not use the term "ekklesia" here, as might be expected if talking solely about those following Yeshua. The "Kingdom of God" relates to the life of the one following God. Paul teaches that we are not to seek "what we can have" but the "higher things of God." (See comments to verse 22.)
Note that the Kingdom is said NOT to be "free in eating and drinking." If we examine what the Tenakh says about the future Kingdom, we find gentiles following the Torah, and Yeshua ruling with a rod of iron according to the commands of Torah.
It is indeed peculiar, that even though;
... somehow, the prevalent opinion today among those following "Jesus," is that God changed His mind and has set aside Torah as His path for those following Him, during something called "the age of grace," and we now follow some undefineable, Torah-less "law of love."
18 For he that in these things serveth Messiah is acceptable to God, and approved of men.
What "men" would be the ones approving the behavior of these gentiles? This would be the Synagogue Jews who were watching them to see if they were, a) acting like righteous gentiles coming to faith in the God of Israel (through Yeshua) or b) pagans following a false Messiah. Paul teaches that these gentile believers were to "serve Yeshua" in a fashion approved by the non-believing Jews.
Paul's comments in this section reflect back to what he has said in previous chapters and indicate that he has been "building his case" to get to this point. This is especially true of what he taught in chapter 12, which comes on the heels of his warning to gentiles in chapter 11.
19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
Paul's teachings are again in the footsteps of Hillel:
Compare this also to Paul's words in Ephesians 2:10-22 where he wrote of Jews and gentiles being built up together in the faith of Israel with its Torah. This is mysterious "work of God" in Yeshua.
Again, Paul's words, "all things indeed are pure," must be kept in the context of this discussion and is not a cancellation of God's word concerning what is clean and unclean. (See comments to verse 14 above and those below.)
21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
The flow of the text indicates that the above verses, including verse 23, continue to be addressed toward the "strong" and not the "weak." The "relative" faith of the weak (Synagogue Jews) is legitimate and honored by God.
As mentioned in the notes to chapter 12, Paul is supporting a Talmudic principle. What we perceive as "our rights" take a back seat to the higher principle of leading people to God:
Keep in mind that to Paul, the term "brother" included both his traditional Jewish kinsmen (regardless of their position on Yeshua), and new gentiles coming into the faith of Israel. As mentioned, this section of Paul's letter comes immediately after he addresses gentile arrogance toward Israel in chapters 9-11. The immediate literary context is important here.
These two verses reveal the characteristics of the "strong" in that they have disdain toward certain practices of the "weak." The indication is that these are gentile believers who do not see any need for the Torah of Israel as kept by the Jews - be the latter followers of Yeshua or not. As mentioned in our background material, these gentile converts were coming into their new faith directly from a very anti-Semitic Roman culture, one particularly critical of the customs of the Jews and their Torah.
Note also in the final chapter how Paul summarizes his message by linking gentiles' obedience to the faith, to the issue of not serving their own desires. He even seems to compare those who are more concerned with themselves to Satan:
Those gentiles who simply do as they please, are sinning. "Freedom in Messiah" comes from being a hearer and doer of the Torah, not claiming to be "free from the Law," as those in Messiah are subject to God's Torah (Romans 8:1-9).
|1. During the first century, around the time of Nero, certain groups of
gentiles did begin to separate themselves from the faith of Israel. The result was severe
oppression from the Roman authorities as these gentiles were no longer under the
protection of a sanctioned "collegia." Thus, the actual reason for
"persecution of Christians" in the first century, was not due to their
"faith in the Messiah" (as commonly taught), but rather for the rejection of the
faith that God had established, something Paul had warned about in chapters 9-11 of the
2. The Mystery of Romans, Mark Nanos, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1996, pp. 85-165.
3. ibid, pp. 139-143.
4. ibid, pp. 119-123.
5. "Judaising" is a term based in anti-Torah Christian theology, used to describe those who were trying to bring "Jewish Christians" back under the "bondage of the Law" after coming to "freedom in Christ." The absurdity of these concepts are dealt with in detail in our article, Not Subject to the Law of God? in the YashaNet library.
6. This principle of God declaring the "spiritual status" of things also applies to ordinary things that are deemed "holy" by God. For example, in the Torah portions concerning the Tabernacle (in the book of Numbers), there is something called a Terumah or "Elevated-Offering." The Terumah was something that was previously fit for everyday use by anybody, and made holy, becoming part of Temple property. Though no noticeable change occurred to the object itself upon sanctification, there was a spiritual transformation that was reflected in the changed halachic status. For example, if a non-priest, who sanctified part of his property, were to then use that property, he would be guilty of profaning Temple property, for which the punishment is quite severe. Though, the previous moment, prior to sanctification, he would have been able to freely used it, one moment later, after sanctification, he is forbidden to use it.
7. Talmud, Avot 1:12.
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