DOES ROMANS 14 DO AWAY WITH THE FOOD LAWS AND FEASTS? When questions about the food laws or even the biblical feast days, including observing the Sabbath, one of the references that Christians use to try and disprove the need for them to observe God’s law about them is Romans 14. But is this the appropriate CONTEXT in which we are to understand this passage, or is this another example of Christians removing verses out of CONTEXT?
WHAT IS THE APPROPRIATE CONTEXT?
It should be remembered that Paul is writing this letter to a Roman congregation, not to a Jewish one, and that the ancient Romans also had their own customs and traditions, including those that dealt with food and special days. So just because beliefs about food and special days are mentioned DOES NOT MEAN Paul is talking about the biblical food laws or feasts.
In fact, there’s textual evidence to support the fact that the biblical food laws and feasts were NOT the topic under discussion. Let’s examine the following passage to get a better idea of the context of this chapter. It should be remembered that when Paul wrote this letter, there were no chapter or verse breaks. Those were put in over 1300 years later.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof. Receive him that is weak in the faith, but NOT to doubtful disputations. (Romans 13:14 – 14:1; Emphasis mine)
As we can see here, Paul is discussing “the flesh,” its “lusts,” and “doubtful disputations,” or as its written in more modern translations, “not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions” (NASB). Now God’s commandments are not “the flesh,” or its “lusts,” nor is the Word of God a person’s “opinion.” Clearly, the context here is dealing with human opinions about human (i.e., Roman) beliefs.
WHAT IS THE CONTROVERSY?
In verse 2, Paul lays out the controversy between these two Roman groups in regard to food.
One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables ONLY. (Romans 14:2; Emphasis Mine)
The word “ONLY” is not in the original Greek text; it was added by the translators. But today, we would identify these two groups as “meat-eaters” and “vegans” or “vegetarians.” In God’s food laws, there is no commandment that people are to eat only vegetables, but He does give us many different types of animals that we can eat. Yes, there are certain ones that He forbids us to eat, but many He permits. Consequently, this is not an argument regarding the biblical food laws, but Roman practice in regard to food.
In Saugat Adhikan’s online article “Top 10 ancient Roman foods and drink,” published July 21, 2015, on the Ancient History List website, he writes in regard to “vegetables,”
Unlike the rich Romans, the common peasant diets were more dependent on vegetables than any other food items. The staple vegetables were the legumes which consisted of three primary legume items – beans, lentils and peas. They were often mixed into bread and since they were much easily available sources of protein, these legumes became a routine item in Roman meals.
Later on in the article, he discusses “meats and fish”:
Meat used to be an expensive consumption item in ancient Rome (at least for the poor Roman peasants), so the common people preferred buying it in small pieces and used to get a major share during the festivals. Meat used to be more exclusive to the rich since they could afford pretty much anything. So naturally, a variety of meat items used to be served in the grand dinner parties the rich Roman families used to throw on occasions. Primary meat sources were poultry, wild game such as rabbit, hare and boar.
It further extended to a variety of birds like geese, ducks, blackbirds, doves, magpies, quails and woodcocks. The meat of flamingo, peacock and ostrich were considered quite exotic – THEIR PRESENCE AT THE DINNER WAS TAKEN AS A MATTER OF HONOR FOR THE HOUSE OWNER. They also had a taste for fish, especially the ones found in the Mediterranean, which they ate fresh, dried, salted, smoked or pickled. [Emphasis Mine]
Consequently, what we learn from this article is that social status was attached to food. The poor were those who ate breads and vegetables, and the wealthy were those who could eat “all things.” So the controversy was not just about food, but about social status and prestige that was reflected with the food. I can imagine the rich, wealthy Roman believers looking down, or passing “judgment,” on the poor believers for only being able to serve vegetables; whereas, the rich, wealthy ones could provide a luxurious meal at their homes.
Then beginning in the next verse, Paul begins to address this issue:
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. (Romans 14:3; Emphasis Mine)
Now in this verse, the word “EATS” and “EAT” are present participle verbs. This means it refers to “repeating” or “continuing action.” This alludes to the fact that the rich, wealthy Roman believers ate whatever they wanted before they got saved, and the poor ate vegetables before they got saved, and each group was continuing to eat the same way AFTER they got saved. But now that they’re saved and in the SAME CONGREGATION, these attitudes regarding social standing and food was causing problems, and Paul is feeling the need to address this conflict.
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. (Romans 14:4)
Paul here clearly states that when it comes to HUMAN OPINIONS on things outside of the Bible’s teachings, we are not to judge one another. But according to Paul, when it comes to clear violations of biblical teaching, then we ARE to judge one another. And there’s a specific reference to this.
PAUL CONDEMNS THE CHURCH AT CORINTH FOR ALLOWING SEXUAL IMMORALITY.
In I Corinthians 5, Paul condemns the Christians at Corinth for allowing a Christian man to remain a part of their congregation for his blatant sin (or violation of God’s law):
It is actually reported that there is fornication [or sexual immorality] among you, and fornication [or sexual immorality] of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his fathers wife. And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst. (I Corinthians 5:1-2)
Now whether this guy was sleeping with his mother or his step-mom is not clear, but this is a clear violation of Leviticus 18:6-8. I wish I could say this was still a sin so heinous that even Gentiles don’t do it, but that is not true in this day and age. But does Paul say to just love and forgive him? No, he says to cast him out of the church:
For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (I Corinthians 5:3-5)
For any Christian to boast about God’s grace while allowing sin to thrive within the church, Paul says is wrong. In fact, Paul went on to say,
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral people. I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolators: for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you NOT TO ASSOCIATE with ANY SO-CALLED BROTHER if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolator, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler – NOT EVEN TO EAT WITH SUCH A ONE. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside [of the church] God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. (I Corinthians 5:9-13; Emphasis Mine)
Obviously, for any Christian to follow Paul’s teachings here in I Corinthians 5 REQUIRES that we judge other believers, but NOT BASED ON OUR OWN OPINION, but BASED ON WHAT THE WHOLE BIBLE CLEARLY TEACHES. Therefore, this only reaffirms again that Romans 14 does NOT deal with biblical teaching, but with ROMAN BELIEFS AND PRACTICES.
IN REGARD TO ROMAN FESTIVALS
In Romans 14:5-6, Paul then begins to address the conflict regarding the Roman festivals.
One day regards one day above another, another regards every day ALIKE. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who OBSERVES the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. (Emphasis Mine)
Again, the word “ALIKE” is not in the original Greek, but it was added by a translator. Also, the word “OBSERVES” is a present participle verb, which again refers to “repeating” or “continuing action.” So just like the food, these “days” or “festivals” were celebrated BEFORE one group was saved, and they continued to celebrate them AFTER they were saved. The same is true with the other group as well. And Paul here intimately connects the food and festivals together. They are one in the minds of the Romans, and they are one in Paul’s mind too.
CONNECTING I CORINTHIANS 8 AND ROMANS 14
In I Corinthians 8, Paul deals with the Christians at Corinth in regard to these same Roman festivals,
Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. (I Corinthians 8:4-6)
Paul here denies the existence of any God, but the One God of the Bible. And then he says that even if there were other gods (which he just denied the existence of), he says for us, there’s only one. He then says,
However, not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience BEING WEAK is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we eat it, nor the better if we do eat. But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to THE WEAK. (I Corinthians 8:7-9)
Here seems to be a clear reference to the “weak in faith” that Paul refers to in Romans 14:1-2 when it comes to the food and festivals (or “days”). Paul then gives this warning:
But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to THE WEAK. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge [that these gods are false], dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is WEAK, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge, he who is WEAK is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is WEAK, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble. (I Corinthians 8:9-13; emphasis Mine)
Consequently, by pairing I Corinthians 8 with Romans 14, we gain a lot more insight into another part of the issue with the Christians who are “weak in faith.”
As Adhikan’s article pointed out, fish and meats were often a part of the Roman festivals, and these meats would be sacrificed to the Roman gods before being served to the congregants in attendance. So it seems that the ones Paul calls “weak in faith” may have been newborn believers who were very involved in the idol worship and the festivals, and so seeing any Christian partaking of them would be a “great offense” and “a stumbling block” to these believers. And what was true at Corinth was apparently also true in Rome.
PAUL CONTINUES HIS ARGUMENT
Notice how Paul continues his argument in Romans 14:
For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Romans 14:7-9)
When it comes to things NOT clearly taught in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, we are NOT to judge one another’s PERSONAL OPINIONS, nor are to cause AN OFFENSE or A STUMBLING BLOCK to others that Jesus died to save. Instead, we are to lift each other up and to edify (or strengthen) the faith of all believers, regardless of their social status within society.
Does Romans 14 invalidate the biblical food laws or the biblical feasts, including the Sabbath? And the answer is no, it doesn’t. Romans 14 deals with man-made Roman beliefs and practices, it does not in any way deal with the biblical teachings regarding the food laws or the biblical feasts. To apply Paul’s comments and teachings on something man-made or Roman to the Word of God is a heinous misinterpretation and misapplication of the Scriptures.
We CANNOT use Scripture to INVALIDATE and ANNUL Scripture, for just as Jesus taught,
And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. (Mark 3:24-25)
And if we divide the Bible “against itself,” then the Bible cannot stand. We do not strengthen the faith of people in the Bible, and the God of the Bible, by dividing the Bible up and using one part to invalidate the other. We must approach the WHOLE BIBLE as ONE CONTINUOUS REVELATION, and NOT as TWO SEPARATE REVELATIONS. The Law of God, nor the Old Testament as a whole, ended at the cross. This is simply not the case, as if I have shown over and over again.
This error that the Old and New Testaments are “TWO SEPARATE REVELATIONS” is error based upon error, and we can already see the damage that this erroneous approach has caused (and is continuing to cause) the Christian faith, and it will only continue to get worse, unless Christians go back to a WHOLE BIBLE APPROACH. Please pray and seek God about this, because it is vitally important.
Now in Part 2 of this study, I want to continue breaking Romans 14 down and examine how it all weaves together.