“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters” (Romans 14:1).
According to Hebrews, 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” (Hebrews 11:1,6). ‘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 the one who is weak in faith is without moral strength to make a persistent decision regarding disputable matters. In other words, their ability to please God is weak. They do not know how to respond to others in questionable matters especially when the matter is diputed. They are weak in faith.
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 Adonai’s commandments (Titus 3:9). They are indisputable. They cannot be challenged or denied. They are His standard of righteousness that He will use to judge; they will not disappear until heaven and earth pass away (Matthew 5:17). However, many today would argue the ‘law’ ended with Yeshua’s death so let’s get more specific.
What about the Ten Commandments? Which of the Ten are disputable? Can we worship other gods? Have idols? Should we take Adonai’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 Adonai. 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 Adonai 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).
This verse in the Orthodox Jewish Bible says, “For example, one person has emunah [faith] to eat every potential food; but the weak practice vegetarianism.”
Since God’s commands in Torah are indisputable, we should already know what Adonai considers food as explained in Leviticus 11. Romans 14 is not a discussion about nullifying God’s dietary instructions; it is about whether one eats ‘clean’ meat or chooses to eat vegetables.
During the first-century, street markets sold different kinds of foods. There were markets for spices, fruits, vegetables, and meats. In the meat market, there could be, especially in Rome, ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ meats. However, as gentiles were coming to faith in Yeshua, they were joining the community of Israel. The question was not whether a meat was ‘clean,’ but whether or not the ‘clean’ meat 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 God from whom all things come and for whom we exist. We all have one Lord, Yeshua, through whom we have our being. However, not everyone has this knowledge. He says that some gentile 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 ‘clean’ meats or vegetables doesn’t change our relationship with God. We will not be poorer if we abstain from ‘clean’ meats or vegetables nor richer if we eat. However, we must be careful of what we understand so that we don’t become prideful or a stumbling block to someone of weaker faith. Sha’ul sums up his discussion about ‘clean’ meats 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 his teaching” protect the weaker brother or sister so they have 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 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 eat the plate of ‘clean’ meat because it may have been offered to an idol or foreign god. To keep their conscience clear, the person of weak faith chooses to eat only vegetables which are always clean not part of pagan sacrifice. A person of strong faith understands that holding a plate of potential ‘clean’ meat 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. We have not been given the authority to transform something that Adonai calls an abomination into something holy. Yeshua did not die on the cross to redeem the pig, the horse, the dog, the clam, or homosexuality and adultery. However, a ‘clean’ meat that has been corrupted through idolatry can be consecrated back to Adonai 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 Adonai 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.
“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: 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. For others, New Year’s Eve 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, and the way we celebrate, honors Adonai.
These verses in Romans 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 Adonai’s created holy day. Of course, we can all take a day off and ‘shabbat’ whenever we choose, but we have not been given authority to negate the ‘appointed times’ that are holy to the LORD –– the past, present, and future work of Yeshua. We can and should worship Adonai everyday of the week, every moment of the day, but to use Romans 14 to negate Adonai’s divine appointments with His people distorts Sha’ul’s words and Peter warns this will be destruction.
“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 teaching that with Yeshua’s death ‘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 who choose 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 Yeshua, saved, born again, we will give an account of our lives. If someone wants to stand before the Creator, the Lawgiver, the yod-hey-vav-hey and say, “I ate ‘unclean’ foods because of my freedom in Christ,” then so be it. Let Adonai be the judge of that person. However, I would rather stand before Yeshua and hear him say that 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 shows 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 even 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 instructions or the ‘appointed times’ of Adonai 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 the Body of Messiah, the strong in faith need to accept the weak.
Second, by adding the word ‘food’ or even the idea of ‘food’ to Romans 14 reveals the tainted views of Scripture by those who are translating. Rather than give the pure Word translated from the Greek, they input their own theological beliefs creating more confusion about ‘disputable matters’ than Sha’ul intended.
The ‘disputable matters’ could fall into the category of elementary teachings where one person is only able to digest the milk of the word while another person who has strong faith digests the meat of the word. Each person must live out the faith to which they have already attained. When it comes Romans 14 and ‘disputable matters,’ the teaching 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 Yeshua.
“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).
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