Romans 14 – Disputable Matters

“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters” (Romans 14:1).

According to Hebrews 11:6, the definition of faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see … and it is impossible to please God without faith.” ‘Faith’ in Hebrew is emunah and is more than just ‘believing’ something. This word infers a persistence and steadfastness to those things that transcend reason.

In Greek, the word for ‘weak’ in Romans 14:1 is astheneo and means ‘weak and sick’ in a moral sense or ‘without strength.’  So one who is weak in faith is without moral strength to make a persistent decision regarding disputable matters. In other words, their human ability to please God is weak.  They are not sure how to respond to others in questionable matters especially when there are arguments.  They are weak in faith.

Non-Disputable Matters

The word ‘indisputable’ means “unable to be challenged or denied.” According to Sha’ul, it is futile to argue about the Torah or ‘the law,’ because they are Elohim’s commandments (Titus 3:9).  They are indisputable.  They cannot be challenged or denied. They are His standard of righteousness that will not disappear until heaven and earth pass away (Matthew 5:17).  However, many today would argue the ‘end of the law’ with Yeshua’s death so let’s be a little more specific.

What about the Ten Commandments? Which of the ten are disputable? Can we worship other gods? Have idols? Should we take Elohim’s name in vain, profaning it among the nations? What about the Sabbath?  Though it has become a ‘disputed’ matter, it remains the seventh-day as created by Elohim and can not be denied.   Should we no longer honor our parents?  Can we murder, lie, commit adultery, steal, and covet?  None of these commands are disputable because they were established by Elohim as His Torah – the specifics to these commands are explained in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.   

Eating or Digesting

“One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.  The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them” (Romans 14:2-3). 

In the Orthodox Jewish Bible this verse says, “For example, one person has emunah [faith] to eat every potential food; but the weak practice vegetarianism.”

Since it has been established that Torah is indisputable, we should already know and understand what Elohim considers potential food as explained in Leviticus 11.  Thus, Romans 14 is not  a discussion to nullify the dietary laws; it is about whether one eats ‘clean’ meats or chooses vegetables.

During the first-century, street markets sold different kinds of foods. There were markets for fruits, vegetables and meats. In the meat market, there could be, especially in Rome, ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ meats. However, as new non-Jews were coming to faith in Messiah, they were joining the community of Isra’el. The question was not whether a meat was ‘clean,’ but whether or not it had been sacrificed to an idol.

Sha’ul explains food sacrificed to idols in more detail in 1 Corinthians 8.  We all know that food may be sacrificed to idols.  Yet, an idol has no real existence in the world as there is only one Elohim – most especially for us – our Father, from whom all things come and for whom we exist.  We all have one Lord, who is Messiah Yeshua, through whom we have our being.  But, according to Sha’ul, not everyone has this knowledge.  He says that some non-Jewish believers are so accustomed to a life of idolatry that when they eat food which has been offered to an idol, they believe the food really is affected by the idol, and their conscience, being weak, becomes defiled.

Eating or not eating foods doesn’t change our relationship with God – we will not be poorer if we abstain from food nor richer if we eat.  However, we must be careful of what we understand so that we don’t become puffed up or become a stumbling block to one of weaker faith.  Sha’ul sums up his discussion about food sacrificed to idols by saying that he would never eat [clean] meat again if it causes his brother to sin.  This is the essence of Romans 14 to protect the weaker brother or sister from not having a clear conscience.  

“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand” (Romans 14:4). 

In some modern-day Chinese restaurants, plates of food are offered to Buddha before it is taken to the guest to eat.   I worked in a Chinese restaurant and witnessed this with the owners even though I never personally offered a plate of food to Buddha.   Sha’ul is saying that a person of ‘weak’ faith will not have a strong enough faith to eat the plate of food because it may have been offered to an idol or foreign god.  To keep their conscience clear, they choose to eat only vegetables.  A person of strong faith understands that holding a plate of potential food and offering it to Buddha means nothing.  

“For none of us lives only in relation to himself, and none of us dies only in relation to himself; for if we live, we live in relation to the Lord; and if we die, we die in relation to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord — indeed, it was for this very reason that the Messiah died and came back to life, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:7-9). 

Praying over ‘unclean’ meats like pork, horse, shellfish, dog or rat doesn’t suddenly make the meat acceptable to God any more than praying over a same-sex couple changes their abominable lifestyle into something acceptable to Elohim.  We do not have the authority to transform something that Elohim calls an abomination into something holy.   Yeshua did not die on the cross to redeem the pig, the horse, the dog, the clam or homosexual or adulterous relationships.   However, a ‘clean’ meat that has been corrupted through idolatry can be consecrated back to Elohim through prayer.  

Each of us has a personal walk of faith before the God of Israel.  We will, on a daily basis, face disputable issues.  We must determine for ourselves what Elohim would want us to do and what He wouldn’t in that individual case.   According to Sha’ul, we do not live or die for ourselves alone because we are part of the Body of Messiah.   Yet, every choice we make affects those in the Body. If we have strong faith, we must not destroy the work of the Lord in a person of weak faith over a matter that is not grounded in Torah. 

Sacred Days

“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:5-6). 

 What does ‘sacred day’ mean in this Biblical context? Let’s look at a cultural holiday that affects the world like New Year’s Eve on December 31 into the new year of January 1.  For some people New Year’s Eve is ‘sacred’  holiday.  They plan great parties, eat outrageous foods and wear crazy clothing.  This is the way they ‘bring in’  the new year.  For those who own a business, it is the end of one fiscal year and the beginning of another – it is somewhat sacred for their financial year.  For others, New Year’s Even only represents  a new date on the calendar they need to remember when writing checks, but has no other significant value to them.  New Year’s Eve/Day is a disputable matter and each person will acknowledge it according to their conscience.

A more personal example is birthday celebrations and wedding anniversaries.  Some cultures celebrate these days with pomp and splendor while other cultures take no notice.  These celebrations are a disputable matter on which no one is to argue.  Each of us has to be convinced in our own mind that these benign holidays, in the way we celebrate, honors Elohim.

These verses are not about the Biblical holy days found in Leviticus 23.  These verses are not about the seventh-day Sabbath. Sha’ul is in no way advocating picking any day of the week and claiming it as Elohim’s created holy day.  Of course, we can all take a day off  and ‘shabbat’ whenever we choose, but no one has ever been given the authority to negate the ‘appointed times’ that are holy to yod-hey-vav-hey which embody the past, present and future work of Yeshua.   We can and should worship Elohim everyday of the week every moment of the day, but to use Romans 14 to negate Elohim’s divine appointments with us distorts Sha’ul’s words and brings on individual as well as corporate destruction of the Body of Messiah. 

“He [Sha’ul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters.  is letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).

In an effort to ‘prove’ Romans 14 is about ‘unclean’ foods suddenly becoming ‘clean,’ many pass judgment on the Word of God.   They already have contempt in their hearts regarding His Torah and those people who choose wholeheartedly to obey His commandments.  Some will even judge a person’s standing with Yeshua –  a serious accusation of someone’s heart before the LORD. 

“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Romans 14:10-11). 

Whether or not we are in Messiah, saved, born again, we will give an account of our lives.  If someone wants to stand before the Creator of the Universe, the Lawgiver,  the yod-hey-vav-hey and say, “I ate unclean foods because of my freedom in Christ,”  then let it be so.  Let Elohim be the judge of that person. However,  I would rather stand before Yeshua and hear him say I was too zealous for the teachings of his Father than to hear, “Depart from me, I never knew you, you worker of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).

“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Yeshua, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil” (Romans 14:13-16). 

A little more in-depth study showed the Greek word for ‘food ‘ is not even in Romans 14:14. The Strong’s Concordance said the word was “not in Greek” meaning the word ‘food’ was not found in the original Greek manuscript though it was added to some of our English Bibles.  This is significant for two reasons. First, Sha’ul was not speaking to the Romans about the removal of dietary regulations or the ‘appointed times’ of Elohim and our freedom to do whatever we want. He was teaching about what individuals consider acceptable or unacceptable in their personal lifestyles – disputable matters and how as a Body the strong in faith need to accept the weak.

Second, by adding the word ‘food’ or even the idea of ‘food’ in Romans 14 shows the tainted views of Scripture by those who are writing it. Rather than give the pure Word translated from the Greek, they input their own theological beliefs creating more dissension and confusion than Sha’ul intended.

The disputable matters could fall into the category of elementary teachings where one is able to only digest the milk of the word versus the one who has strong faith and can digest the meat of the word.  Each person must live out the faith that they have already attained.  When it comes Romans 14 and disputable matters, the discourse is about protecting the conscience of the person of weak faith through the compassion of the person of strong faith so that everyone is united in the love of Messiah. 

“So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.  But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:22-23). 

©2014 Tentstake Ministries Publishing, all rights reserved.  No copying or reproducing of this article without crediting the author or Tentstake Ministries Publishing.

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