Jan 27, 2011

Weak Brethren XIV

"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs." (Rom. 14: 1, 2)

Paul identifies something of the "faith" of the two parties denominated by "the impotent" and "the strong." He gives an example of the beliefs of the "potent" when he says "one believes that he may eat all things" and an example of the beliefs of the "impotent" when he says "another (believes) he may eat only herbs." Paul had addressed the subject of "religious diet" in I Corinthians chapter eight when discussing "the weak" (ignorant ones) and "the strong" (knowledgeable ones). He wrote:

"But meat (food) commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse." (I Cor. 8: 8)

In these words Paul states what is a fundamental belief of Christians as it concerns their understanding of how one enters into God's favor or is saved, under the new covenant begun with the death of Christ. Though God gave laws regulating diet under the old covenant, he has not done so under the new. The teaching of the apostles on this matter was clear. Wrote Paul:

"Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." (I Tim. 4: 3-5)

Paul condemns the teaching and practice of those who promote "abstinence" from eating certain foods for religious reasons. He associates such teaching with false religion. He counters such teaching of the heretics and apostates with the new covenant teaching that affirms that all food is "good," and that "no food is to be refused."

Paul is not discussing simple preferences regarding food selection outside the context of religion and faith. It is hard to believe that the Christians in Rome and Corinth would be feuding over such "indifferent" things. Paul clearly connects the dispute over diet with religion in his words in I Corinthians 8: 8 and I Timothy 4: 3-5. Such dispute over religious diet is not a "matter of indifference." When Paul says "we are no better if we eat," or "no worse if we do not eat," he means "better" or "worse" in a religious sense. He speaks of "beliefs" about diet in the context of "commending" a person to God. The context of Romans 14 likewise cannot be divorced from a religious context and thus something that is far from being a thing "indifferent" or of no importance. When Paul says "one man believes," he is clearly dealing with religious belief.

Commentators who disassociate the "weak" brother's advocacy of vegetarianism from any religious connection are seriously missing the context. To think that Paul is dealing with "things the bible says nothing about," or with "indifferent things," that are neither right nor wrong in themselves, is an error. The "impotent" ones are abstaining from eating meat because they "believe" such abstinence is a religious duty and a means of finding favor with God. Those commentators who insist that Paul is advocating "liberty" in such "indiffent things," and instructing each party to "not pass judgment" upon each other in regard to such things, are seriously wrong and probably don't practice what they preach.

Paul clearly does not consider religious diet as a "matter of indifference" and does not omit attempting to correct, or pass judgment, upon those who promote religious diets. Some believe that Romans 14 "applies only to matters of opinion" and "not to doctrinal concepts." How they can advocate such a view is incredible.

Many commentators think that Paul is instructing the "strong ones," who believe that it is permissible to eat all foods, without limitation, not to attempt to convert the religious vegetarian from his belief. This too is an error, as the scriptures cited show. Clearly religious diet is not one of those things "the bible says nothing about." The attempt by commentators, therefore, to put Romans 14 into the context of "things the bible says nothing about" is false.

Later in this chapter Paul wrote:

"For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." (vs. 17)

This clearly shows that the "belief" of the "impotent" was in a religious context and was therefore not a matter of indifference or of what was not discussed in scripture. Apparently, the "impotent" thought that restricting diet had something to do with "commending" one to God, with God's kingdom, with religious betterment. Paul declares that diet has nothing to do with salvation, or with the kingdom of God. His declaration shows him "passing judgment" upon this "scruple" of the "impotent."

Further, some commentators think that Paul has Jewish Christians in mind when referring to "the weak" and that they are still practicing Old Testament (Torah) dietary laws. This too is wrong. First, Paul refers to religious vegetarians. But, abstinence from eating meat was never part of the old covenant law. Some meat eating was allowed by God in the old testament, although with restrictions against certain meats, such as pork. Thus, Paul is not alluding to Jewish Christians who retain "scruples" about keeping old covenant dietary laws. It is true that some Jewish groups did entertain the idea of vegetarianism, but this was not based upon Torah teachings, but upon the idea that vegetarianism was what was original in the garden of Eden. Second, it is not even clear that there were Jewish Christians among the church at Rome that Paul is addressing. As was observed in previous chapters, concerning the church at Corinth, Paul spoke of them all as having been previously "Gentiles." (I Cor. 12: 2) So also does Paul address the church at Rome as being overwhelmingly converts from among the Gentiles.

It is likely that the class of persons that Paul has in mind in Romans 14 is the same as in I Corinthians 8, or Gentile (pagan, polytheistic) converts. Therefore, religious vegetarianism, views on wine drinking, and on keeping holy days, are to be viewed in a pagan context, not in a Jewish or Torah context.

"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." (14: 3)

"He that eats" designates those who "eat all things," who do not practice religious dietary abstinence, and was the case with Paul, with the church at Rome, with all Christians who are under the new covenant. These are "the strong ones," the saved, Christians. Paul instructs Christians not to "despise" those pagan Gentiles who practiced religious abstinence from certain food and drink. The Greek word for "despise" is "exoutheneō" and means "to make of no account, despise utterly." In the KJV it is translated as follows: despise (6 times), set at nought (3), esteem least (1), contemptible 1. To "despise" means to loathe, to regard with contempt or scorn, to dislike intensely, to regard as unworthy of one's interest or concern.

Paul is warning the Christians about how they should regard their lost pagan neighbors and brothers, not how they should regard fellow Christians. As has been observed in previous chapters, regarding this same issue in the Corinthian epistles, Paul is countering the attitude of Christians towards pagans, which attitude was one of superiority, of standoffishness, of unconcern for their salvation. Some of the early Christians seemed to have become what is called Hyper Calvinists, possessing a belief that only God needed to be concerned with saving people, and that they, therefore, needed not be concerned in saving the lost pagans.

Next Paul gives a word to the pagan world, to the "impotent regarding the Christian faith," the ones who thought religious diet was a necessary requirement in finding favor and forgiveness with a particular god or lord. He tells the pagans not to "judge" the Christian in his practice of eating all foods and for not believing that diet affects relationship with God. The Greek word for "judge" is "krinō" and means "to pass judgment upon," with the idea of "condemning." This is, of course, in context, a religious judgment dealing with a man's standing with God. The "impotent" pagans were apparently in the habit of condemning Christians for their views respecting religious diet and the pagan holy days. They viewed the Christian's non-participation in such heathen practices as evidence of disrespect for the gods and for the religious views of their neighbors.

Paul deals with these pagan judgments concerning Christians in a most potent way. He first says to the pagans - "God has received him." The "him" is the Christian, the "strong" ones, the ones who do not believe what a man eats has anything to do with recommending him to God or for obtaining his favor.

This verse is a troublesome one for the "consensus view" that regards the "impotent" as denoting doubtful and ignorant Christians. Why does Paul not say, in regard to both "impotent" and "potent," that God had "received" them both? If both are Christians, then Paul would not single out only the "strong" as being "received" by God. Of course, Paul knew that this truth would not be accepted by the pagans who practiced ritualistic dieting and abstinence. He knew that they would not accept the idea that the Christian had been "received" by God, for to him a man would not be "welcomed" by the deity without winning his favor by such practices. But, he asserts the fact nonetheless. This was part of the "judgment" of the impotent pagan religious man. He did not believe that such Christians could be "received" by the deity. In the next verse, Paul eloquently continues his argumentation against the pagans who "judged" and "condemned" the Christian. He wrote:

"Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand." (vs. 4)

Paul's defense of Christians against the condemnation of the pagans was to ask them pointed rhetoricals. He asks - "who are you to judge another man's servant?" This statement helps in interpreting the classes of people Paul has in mind by the "weak" and the "strong." The question concerns the "servants" of one "lord" or "master" in their relationship and attitude towards the "servants" of another "lord" or "master." The "weak" are viewed as servants of a different "lord" than the "lord" of Christians. However, if two classes of Christians were under consideration, then the analogy of the apostle would not be appropriate, for they both would be serving the same "lord." But, Paul, in addressing the "impotent," says that they are guilty of "judging," not fellowservants of the same lord or god, but servants of "another" lord. Paul is clearly charging the pagans with judging the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, a "lord" that they do not themselves serve, and so they are guilty of "judging another man's (another lord's) servants."

In previous chapters, in looking at Paul's letters to the Corinthians, he speaks of "lords many" and "gods many," the ones served by the pagans of Greece and Rome. In fact, each pagan called himself a servant of particular lords and gods. Thus, for him to condemn the Christian for practicing the religious requirements of their Lord and God, Jesus Christ, they were in fact "condemning the servants of another lord."

When Paul says - "to his own (particular) master (lord) he stands for falls," he wants the pagan to consider the fact that his own polytheistic beliefs allow that each servant is subject to the particular requirements of his acknowledged "lord" and "god." This is a very wise evangelistic and apologetic method of the apostle in dealing with the condemnations of the heathen against the Christians. Again, this language demonstrates that the master and lord of Christians, of the "strong," is not the same master and lord of the "impotent." Paul would say to the pagans - "you don't want Christians to condemn you for your living up to the requirements of your particular lord or god, so can't you do the same?"

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