CAN FOOD AND SOCIAL STATUS AND PRESTIGE CAUSE A PROBLEM IN THE CHURCH?  Yes, it can.  As we discovered in part 1 of this series, food in ancient Roman culture was associated with social status and prestige.  The poor could not afford to buy fish and meat usually, and therefore ate fruits, breads, and vegetables; whereas, the rich, wealthy affluent Romans had the means to buy whatever food they wanted to eat.  The rich were looking down upon the poor when they came together for fellowship and meals.  Paul addresses this issue here in Romans 14, as well as in I Corinthians 8.

As we went through and examined Romans 13:14 – 14: 9, it became apparent that the text was dealing with issues surrounding Roman food and festival practices, as well as social status and privilege, and NOT with the biblical food laws nor the biblical feasts, such as the Sabbath.  There have been a number of Christians who have taken verses from Romans 14 out of context, and they have misapplied them to try to prove that God’s food laws and His biblical feasts, including the Sabbath, is no longer relevant to the Christian, nor is it to be observed.  But as we saw, this is a heinous misinterpretation and misapplication of the Scriptures.  So now in this final part of the study, we want to complete the chapter and see how Paul completes his argument regarding this issue.


In Romans 14:3-4, Paul asks the question, “Who are you to judge another man’s servant?” And in these two verses, he says that we should not judge one another when it comes to these two preferences of eating.  Again, as I mentioned last time, Paul is NOT dealing with the biblical food laws in Leviticus 11 or Deuteronomy 14: 3-21; instead, he is dealing with man-made Roman customs and culture concerning food, festivals, and social status and prestige that was associated with these things.

Again, as we saw by comparing Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8 with I Corinthians 5, we are NOT to judge another Christian when it comes to choices of personal opinion about things that the WHOLE BIBLE, i.e., from Genesis to Revelation, does NOT explicitly address, but we are to judge other Christians when it comes to them violating what God has said and made clear in the WHOLE BIBLE.  In other words, the WHOLE BIBLE is the Bible for Christians, NOT just the New Testament.  Christians and ministers who teach that any part of the Bible is not for today is not teaching the truth.


Now beginning in the following passage to the end of the chapter, Paul’s focus is again on the rich, wealthy believers (“who eat all things”) for judging the poor believers (those “who eat only vegetables”).

But you, why do you judge your brother?  Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt?  For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.  For it is written, “As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”  So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:10-12)

In this passage, Paul reiterates the questions of why are they judging and showing contempt for the poor on this non-biblical issue about food?  He points out that each of us will one day “stand before the judgment seat of God” to give an account of our lives before Him, and to back this statement up, Paul quotes from Isaiah 45:23.

The very fact that he quotes from the Old Testament (Heb. Tanakh) over and over again in his writings demonstrates that Paul is using the Old Testament to back up and support his teachings, AND that the Old Testament is the context in which he understands what is happening in his life and ministry (i.e., the New Testament).  He then continues by writing,

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this – NOT to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.  (Romans 14:10-13; Emphasis Mine)

It was the rich, wealthy ones who were buying the meat in the “meat markets” that had been offered earlier to idols before it reached the market that was causing “a stumbling block” to the poor believers.  Again, this reaffirms who Paul is addressing.  But we should understand that when it comes to personal opinions about NON-BIBLICAL ISSUES, we should NOT put “an obstacle or a stumbling block” in the way of other believers, who are likewise trying to serve Christ in their life.


This next verse, though, seems to complicate the understanding that we are still dealing with a NON-BIBLICAL ISSUE (i.e., it’s not discussed in any of God’s commandments):

I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is UNCLEAN in itself; but to him who THINKS anything to be UNCLEAN, to him it is UNCLEAN.  For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love.  Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.  (Romans 14:14-15; Emphasis Mine)

First of all, the word “THINKS” is a present participle verb, and therefore refers to “repeated or continuous action.”  This means that the person thought it was “UNCLEAN” before they got saved, and they still think it is “UNCLEAN.”  The idea that the food was “UNCLEAN” did not happen because they got saved, and this only re-affirms that we are NOT dealing with the biblical food laws or the biblical feasts, which most non-Jews at the time would not have known that much about.

The thing that throws most readers off, of course, is the word “UNCLEAN” (Gk. koinos), but what’s interesting is that this Greek word is only translated as “UNCLEAN” here in Romans 14:14According to Strong’s #2389, the Greek word koinos means “common,” or literallysomething that’s shared by all or several.”  In fact, it is translated as “COMMON” nine (9) out of the fifteen (15) times it is used in the New Testament.  For example,

And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in COMMON [Gk. koinos]. (Acts 2:44; Emphasis Mine)

And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were COMMON [Gk. koinos] property to them. (Acts 4:32; Emphasis Mine)

To Titus, mine own son after the COMMON [Gk. koinos] faith:… (Titus 1:4; Emphasis Mine)

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the COMMON [Gk. koinos] salvation,… (Jude 3)

As we can see in all four of these verses, the word translated as “COMMON” is the same exact Greek word that’s translated as “UNCLEAN” in Romans 14:14.  Am I trying to suggest a conspiracy here among the translators to hide the truth?  No, I am trying to get us to deepen our understanding of Romans 14 beyond the surface English text.


In the majority of passages (28 of them) in the New Testament, the word “UNCLEAN” is NOT the English translation of the Greek word koinos, but the Greek word akathartos, which means “impure (ceremonial, moral [lewd], or special  [daemonic]) :- foul, unclean.”  Koinos is translated three (3) times as “UNCLEAN” but ONLY in Romans 14:14.

What I found interesting about the Greek word akarthartos is that it’s used only in reference to “unclean spirits” and “unclean people,” but NOT to food.  For example, in his epistles, Paul states that if two parents are unsaved, then their children are “unclean” (I Corinthians 7:14), and in another epistle, he lists the “unclean person” among others who will “not inherit the kingdom of God” (Ephesians 5:5).  And in 2 Corinthians 6:17, Paul quotes Isaiah 52:11, in saying that we are not to touch “the unclean thing” (i.e., we are not to touch anything unclean).  So if we are not to touch anything that’s “unclean,” according to Isaiah and Paul, then how can the biblical food laws have ended at the cross, as most Christians teach, since there are certain foods which are designated by God as being “unclean”?


But unfortunately, in our English translations, there’s no way for someone to know which Greek word is being used unless they consult a Concordance.  So even though the Greek word akathartos is only used for “unclean spirits” and “unclean people,” the word kainos is dominantly used to refer to something that “commonly shared” or “commonly experienced.”  However, the word does appear once in all of the Gospels, and then it’s used in reference to man-made “ceremonial laws,” as opposed to the biblical food laws given by God:

Then came together unto him [Jesus] the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem.  And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled [Gk. kainos], that is to say, with unwashed, hands, they found fault.  (Mark 7:1-2)

Nowhere in the Bible does God ever command people to wash their hands before eating.  This is a MAN-MADE RULE, created by the Pharisees, and they are attempting to use shame and fault-finding as a way of coercing Jesus and His followers to submit to their authority.  And anyone who knows the account knows that Jesus does not submit to them, but rebuffs them for substituting their own MAN-MADE RULES for Scripture.  And again, this account has nothing to do with the food laws that God handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai.


So although the Greek word akathartos is used to refer to “unclean spirits” and “unclean people,” the Greek word koinos is used to refer to something that’s “COMMON,” “commonly shared” or to a “man-made rule” about something, such as food.  And in Acts 10, we find the Greek word kainos paired up with the word akathartos in Peter’s vision of the unclean animals in the sheet.  In this account, we read,

Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: and he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.  And there came a voice to him, “Rise, Peter, kill, and eat.” (Acts 10:9-13)

Many people read this part of the vision and automatically assume because Peter was hungry, and he’s shown all these animals and told to “kill and eat,” that the point of the vision is about food. However, as we will discover later, this is not the case.  When Peter is instructed to do this in his vision, how does Peter respond?

But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is COMMON [Gk. koinos] or unclean [Gk. akathartos]. And the voice spoke unto him again the second time, “What God has cleansed, that call not COMMON [Gk. kainos].” (Acts 10:14-15; Emphasis Mine)

Notice, that there are TWO categories in which something can be described: “COMMON” (Gk. koinos) ORUNCLEAN” (Gk. akatharthos). These are not the same category, but two different categories.  And also notice that God did NOT say, “What God has cleansed, that call not COMMON or UNCLEAN,” but he was only told NOT to call them “COMMON” (Gk. koinos).  For as we’ve seen, Paul continues to use the word “UNCLEAN” (Gk. akathartos) in reference to the children of the unsaved (I Corinthians 7:14) and to the “unclean person” who won’t make it into the kingdom of heaven, and he even quotes Isaiah to remind us that we are not to “touch the unclean thing” (2 Corinthians 6:17).

Consequently, to understand this vision to be about food is to have an extremely superficial view of the vision.  Peter is a Jew having a vision about animals.  This imagery should provoke a memory of another Jew who had a vision about animals, the prophet Daniel.  And in Daniel 7-8, the animals are used in his vision to represent Gentile (non-Jewish) people and kingdoms.  And the same is true here in Peter’s vision, and this is the way Peter, who saw the vision, understood the meaning and point of his own vision:

And he [Peter] said to them, “You know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God has showed me that I should not call ANY MAN COMMON [Gk. kainos] or UNCLEAN [Gk. akatharthos].” (Acts 10:28; Emphasis Mine]

Although God didn’t tell Peter NOT to call ANY MAN “UNCLEAN” in Acts 10 :15, I find it interesting that Peter understood the comment to include “UNCLEAN.”  But in either case, the animal imagery was about non-Jewish (i.e., “Gentile) people, NOT about food.  Consequently, I think it is extremely arrogant of mainstream Christianity to give a different meaning to Peter’s vision when it was he who had it, he who interpreted it, and it was he who acted on it, NOT them.


Now getting back to Romans 14, let’s review the verse again,

I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is UNCLEAN in itself; but to him who THINKS anything to be UNCLEAN, to him it is UNCLEAN.  For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love.  Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.  (Romans 14:14-15; Emphasis Mine)

What does Paul mean that “nothing is UNCLEAN [Gk. koinos] in itself”?  When it comes to MAN-MADE CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS, as we saw the term used in Mark 7:1-2, nothing is UNCLEAN in itself.  It is NOT inherently UNCLEAN by creation, but it is “CLEAN” or “UNCLEAN” because God is the King of His Kingdom and, therefore, He is the ONLY One who has the right to decide what His people should eat or not eat.  NOT People.  And as we’ve seen here in Romans 14, since the food is representative of people and their social prestige and status, we also know from Peter’s vision that no PERSON, once cleansed by God, should be called “UNCLEAN.”

So now that we understand the meaning of the Greek word koinos, why would Paul use this word here in Romans 14?  I believe the reason is two-fold:

  1.  He is addressing these man-made Roman laws and customs – NOT the biblical food laws handed down by God; and
  2.  He’s use of this word alludes to the fact that the food is something they are to hold in “COMMON,” something they “COMMONLY SHARE,” so it should be enjoyed, and NOT used as a weapon to judge the poor among them.


In the next verse, Paul contradicts their behavior with what should be seen as the appropriate focus of “citizens of the Kingdom:”

Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is NOT eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  For he who in this way SERVES Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.  (Romans 14:16-18; Emphasis Mine)

What service to Christ “is acceptable to God and approved by men”?  “Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  So as a result, how are we supposed to act?

So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.  Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. 

Should we “tear down the work of God” in a person’s life merely to hold on to our man-made customs and traditions?  No, absolutely not.  Again, Paul is not dealing with the biblical food laws handed down by God, but Roman customs and traditions.

All things indeed are CLEAN, but they are evil for the man who EATS and gives offense.  It is good NOT to EAT MEAT or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.  (Romans 14:19-21; Emphasis Mine)

The word translated as “CLEAN” here is the Greek word katharos, and it is the opposite of both koinos and akathartos.  According to Strong’s #2513, it means “Clean in the sense that something is lawful to be eaten or used.”  It does not, in fact, violate any biblical command.  Remember, we have to keep Paul’s comments in context.  Paul is addressing the rich, wealthy believers who are bringing their meats to the community meals, and then using them as a basis for judging the poor believers, who are only able to bring “vegetables.”   So in what sense are all these meats “CLEAN“?

According to Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, “all things are CLEAN” when they have been given as alms (Luke 11:41).  What are “alms”?  They are gifts to the poor.  By them bringing their meats to the meal, it is a form of alms, in which case, “all things are indeed clean,” just as Jesus taught.  But again, Jesus nor Paul is dealing with biblically “unclean” food, but “unclean” according to Roman custom and tradition.

However, even if the food brought is given as a gift, it can still be used to cause offense, which Paul describes as “evil.”  Paul then clarifies that it is “NOT good to eat meat, drink wine, or do anything to cause our brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble.”  In all the years I’ve heard this chapter taught, I’ve never heard any minister or Christian teacher even suggest, using this verse, that Christians should NOT eat meat.  The point here is that we should not use our money and personal preferences to cause a Christian brother or sister to stumble, and he is applying this principle to their situation.  Obviously, then, Paul is not teaching us that we can “do our own thing,” and disregard the beliefs, values and feelings of the other believers that are also there within the congregation.


In this final verse, Paul re-affirms that we need to be convinced about what we believe and what we do.  Logically, to be convinced that something is true implies the existence of evidence for that belief.  In fact, the word “faith” (Gk. pistis; Strong’s #4102) is a word rooted in Greco-Roman logic and argument, and it means “to persuade or to be persuaded.”  How do you “persuade” people about something?  Obviously, this requires evidence.  So what evidence do we have?  The teachings of the Whole Bible and our experiences with God in our lives.

For example, in 2 Timothy 3:16 it states,

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God [lit. “God-breathed”], and is profitable for doctrine, FOR REPROOF, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. [Emphasis Mine]

The word “reproof” in English literally means “to prove again.” In the Greek, one of the meanings of the word elegchos (Strong’s #1650), translated here as “REPROOF” is “evidence.”  Have you been convinced by the evidence of God’s Word and what He’s done in your life that God is real, that He loves you, and that the same God we read about from Genesis to Revelation is the same God who is at work in your life?  And it’s this same God who says in His Word that He doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6), and because He doesn’t change, His Word and His standards, likewise, do not change.

Are you convinced by the whole Bible that your faith is real?  Are you convinced by the whole Bible that you are still on the right path and have not fallen away from Him?  Are you convinced by the whole Bible that your thoughts, words, and behavior are “pleasing in His eyes”?  Or are there things about your new life in Christ that you’re not convinced of yet from the whole Bible and, therefore, doubt those things?

Are you convinced from the whole Bible that God wants to rule and reign over every aspect of your life, including what you eat? Have you been convinced through the whole Bible of what God says about this?  Apparently, there were those in Rome who were not:

The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.  Happy is he who does not CONDEMN himself in what he approves.  But he who DOUBTS is condemned if he EATS,  because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.  (Romans 14:22-23; Emphasis Mine)

The word “faith” in these verses does not mean “mental assent or agreement,” but it means to be convinced from the evidence of God’s Word.  When we are so convinced about something that we act on it, then our actions are based on our “CONVICTIONS.”  A “CONVICTION” is something you are convinced is true.  And if you are not convinced by the whole Bible that what you are doing is right, then Paul says that “whatever is not from faith” (i.e., being persuaded or conviction) is sin.  Are you convinced, even about your food?  Paul alludes to the fact that we can be convinced, we can act in “faith,” but to get there, we must spend time studying the whole Bible – NOT just certain parts.


Can Romans 14 be used to argue that Christians are not required to follow the biblical food laws handed down by God to Moses?  No, as we’ve seen in this two-part study, Romans 14 does NOT, in any way, deal with the biblical food laws, or with the biblical feasts, such as the Sabbath, but it deals with Roman customs, traditions, and feasts.  Consequently, to use Romans 14 in the manner that most Christians do, to disprove the Old Testament Scriptures, only demonstrates their lack of understanding regarding the historical, social-cultural context of the book of Romans, the issues within the Roman congregation, and its actual intended meaning for believers today.

What this chapter should teach us today is that we are not to judge other believers when it comes to our own personal opinions and preferences about things, or NON-BIBLICAL ISSUES.  If a Christian does do something that’s in clear violation of Scripture (Old and New Testament), then we do have the right to address that issue with the person privately first, and then if the person does not repent, we are to try again with two or three witnesses, and then only if they still will not repent, we are to inform the pastor or elders about it, and let the church approach the issue (see Matthew 18:15-17).

What we are NOT to do is tell others about it in your own little clique (gossip), slander the reputation of the person in the church, nor are you to put it on Twitter, FaceBook, or any other social media.  We are to build one another up, encourage one another, and support one another – NOT tear one another apart!  The church is NOT supposed to be a “piranha pool” where we devour one another and then “spit” the person out.  Unfortunately, this is what many churches have become.

And when it comes to social gatherings, do not try and use your food to build yourself up, to impress others, or to make someone else feel bad because they could not bring a meal just as nice.  Be nice to that person, encourage them, and love them, invite them to sit with you and your family.  Can you imagine what the church would be like if people actually followed the Bible, rather than their own personal views and opinions?


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