Romans 14
Pulpit Commentary
Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
Verses 1-23. - F. The duty of enlightened Christians towards weak brethren. From moral duties in general of Christians towards each other and towards all the apostle now passes to such as they owe peculiarly to each other as members of a religious community, united by a common faith. He has already (Romans 12:16) admonished his readers to be "of the same mind one toward another;" but, as was remarked under that verse, this did not imply agreement of view on all subjects, such as is impossible where there are many minds. In this chapter he recognizes the impossibility, having immediately before him what was then patent, the inability of some, through prejudice or slowness of conception, to enter into views of the meaning of the gospel which to himself and the more enlightened were apparent. He by no means departs from what he says elsewhere (cf. Galatians 1:6-10) about no denial of fundamental doctrine being allowable in the communion of the Church; but in matters not touching the foundation he does here inculcate a large and generous tolerance. In these, as in all other relations between men on the earth together, the all-inspiring principle of charity is to rule. Who the "weak brethren" were whose scruples he especially inculcates tolerance of in this chapter cannot be decided positively. It will he seen that they were persons who thought it their duty to abstain from animal food, and perhaps also from wine (vers. 2, 21); and there is allusion also to observance of certain days (ver. 5). The views that have been taken are as follows: -

(1) That they were the same class of Jewish Christians as are spoken of in 1 Corinthians 8. as over-scrupulous about eating of things that had been offered in sacrifice to idols.

(2) That they were such as were scrupulous in avoiding unclean meats, forbidden in the Mosaic Law. (Or, as Erasmus and others suggest, views (1) and (2) may be combined.)

(3) That they were ascetics. In favour of view

(1) is the fact that the drift and tone of the exhortation is exactly the same here as in 1 Corinthians 8, with similarity also of expressions, such as ὁ ἀσθενῶν, ὁ ἐσθίων βρῶσις, βρῶμα, ἀπολύειν πρόσκομμα, σκανδαλίζειν. Against it are the facts

(a) that in the chapter before us there is no allusion whatever to idol-meats, as there is throughout so markedly in 1 Corinthians 8; and

(b) that abstinence from all animal food whatever (and apparently from wine too) is spoken of in this chapter. Objection (a) has been met by saying that the ground of the scrupulosity referred to might be so well known that St. Paul did not think it necessary to mention it when he wrote to the Romans. To objection (b) it is replied that there might be some who, in order to guard against the risk of buying at the shambles, or partaking in general society of viands connected with heathen sacrifices, made a point of abstaining from meat altogether, and (it has been suggested) from wine too, which might have been used in libations. This is the view of Clement of Alexandria, Ambrosiastor, and Augustine, among the ancients. View (2) is that of Origen, Chrysostom, Theodoret, Jerome, and others, among whom Chrysostom accounts for the total abstinence from meat as follows: "There were many of the Jews that believed, who, being still bound in conscience to the Law, even after believing still observed the ordinances about meats, not as yet venturing to depart from the Law; and then, in order not to be conspicuous in abstaining from swine's flesh only, they abstained from all flesh, and ate herbs only, that their practice might seem to be rather fasting, and not observance of the Law" (so also OEcumenius and Theophylact). But this seems to be a conjecture only, and hardly a likely one. And further, it fails to account for abstinence from wine, which seems to be implied; on the part of tome at least, in ver. 21. (It may be observed, however, that this is not of necessity implied. Abstinence from meat is all that has been spoken of before, and again in ver. 23; and St. Paul may possibly mean only to say, in ver. 21, that if by abstaining from wine also he could avoid offence to a weak brother, he would willingly so abstain. Still, the natural inference is that he would not have mentioned wine had there not been some who made it a point of conscience to abstain from it.) If the weak brethren were ascetics, according to view (3), it is most probable that they were Jewish Christians who had imbibed the principles of the Essenes. These were a Jewish sect, spoken of especially by josephus, who aimed at scrupulous observance of the Law of Moses, and strict personal purity. With this view they lived in communities under rule, partaking of the simplest fare, and some abstaining from marriage. It does not appear that they were strict vegetarians when living in community; but we are told that they might only eat such meat as had been prepared by their own members, so as to be secure against any pollution, and that, if excommunicated, they were consequently compelled to eat herbs. (For what is known of them, see Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 2; 8:2-5; 'Ant.,' 13:05. 9; 15:10. 4, 5; 18:1. 2, etc.; Philo, 'Quod Omnis Probus Liber,' see. 12, etc.; Pliny, 'Hist. Nat.,' 5:16, 17.) It is far from unlikely that some of these would be attracted to Christianity; and this especially as some of their principles, as described by Josephus, seem to have been endorsed by Christ himself (see art. on "Essenes," in 'Dict. of Christian Biog.,' vol. 2. p. 202); and, if so, they would be likely to carry their prejudices with them into the Church, and, when living outside their original communities, they might abstain entirely from flesh as well as wine. Or it might be that other Jews, Essenic in principle and feeling, had sought admission into the Church. Philo, in Eusebius, 'Praep. Evan.,' 8. fin., and Josephus, 'Vit.,' 2. 3, intimate that supra-legal asceticism, under the influence of Essenic principles, was not uncommon in Judaism in their time. The latter (c. 3) speaks of certain priests, his friends, who were so God-fearing that they subsisted on figs and nuts, and (c. 2) of one Banns, who had been his master, who ate no food but vegetables. What is still more to our purpose is that we find evidence of pious ascetics of the same type subsequently among Christians. Origen ('Contra Cels.,' 5:49) speaks of some as living in his time; and even the apostle St. Matthew, and James the Lord's brother, were afterwards credited with a corresponding mode of life. Clement of Alexandria ('Paedag.' 2:1) says of the former, "Matthew the apostle partook of seeds and acorns and herbs, without flesh." Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius (2:23), says of the latter that "he drank not wine or strong drinks, nor did he eat animal food; a razor came not upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil; he did not use the bath." It is to be observed that abstinence from ointments was one of the practices of the Essenes (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 8:2. 3). Augustine ('Ad Faust.,' 22:3) transmits the same tradition as to the abstinence of James from flesh and wine. Whatever foundation them might be for these traditions, they at any rate show that in the second century, when Hegesippus wrote, abstinence such as is intimated in this chapter was regarded as a mark of superior sanctity by some Christians. Farther, in the 'Apostolical Canons' (Canon 51.), Christians who abstained from marriage, or flesh, or wine, are allowed to be retained in the communion of the Church as long as they did so by way of religious restraint only. Against the above view of the weak brethren of the chapter before us having been ascetics of the Essenic type, is alleged the strong condemnation of persons supposed to have been of the same sort in Colossians 2:8, 16, seq., and 1 Timothy 4:1-5, which is said to be inconsistent with the tender tolerance recommended here. But the teachers referred to in the later Epistles, though inculcating practices similar to those of the "weak brethren," appear to have been heretical theosophists, the germ probably of later Gnosticism. Their tenets may indeed, in part at least, have been developed from Esseuism; but it was no longer mere conscientious scrupulosity, but principles subversive of the faith, that St. Paul set his face against in writing to the Colossians and to Timothy. Canon 51. in the 'Apostolical Canons' above referred to may be adduced as distinguishing between the principles on which asceticism might be practised allowably or otherwise; it being therein laid down that any who abstained from marriage, flesh, or' wine, not by way of religious restraint, but as abhorring them, forgetting that God made all things very good, and that he made man male and female, and blaspheming the work of creation, should be cast out of the Church. It remains to be observed that there was diffused among the Gentiles also, through the influence of the Neo-Pythagorean philosophy, an asceticism similar to the Essenic (see Senec., 'Ep.,' 108, and Porphyr., 'De Abstin.'), which Eichhoru supposes the "weak brethren" of this chapter to have been affected by, regarding them as mostly Gentile Christians. But Jewish influences are much more probable; the scruples referred to in 1 Corinthians 8. were certainly due to them; and observe ver. 5 in this chapter, which cannot but refer to Jewish observances. Further, Origen, in the treatise above referred to, expressly distinguishes between Christian and Pythagorean asceticism. His words are, "But see also the difference of the cause of the abstinence from creatures having life as practised by the Pythagoreans and by the ascetics among ourselves. For they abstain because of the fable concerning the transmigration of souls;... but we, though we may practise the like, do it when we keep under the flesh and bring it into subjection" ('Contra Cels.,' 4). Verse 1. - Him that is weak in the faith (rather, in faith, or in his faith). The article before πίστει does not denote the faith objectively. Cf. Romans 4:19, μὴ ἀσθενήσας τῆ πίστει. In 1 Corinthians 8:12 it is the conscience that is spoken of as weak, τὴν συνείδησιν ἀσθενοῦσαν. Persons are meant whose faith is not sufficiently strong and enlightened for entering fully into the true spirit of the gospel so as to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials. Receive ye (i.e. take to yourselves with kindness - with reference, it may be, both to persons seeking admission into the Church and to those already in it who could not get rid of their scruples. The verb, which is προσλαμβάνεσθε, occurs in a like sense in Acts 28:2, and Philemon 1:12, 17. It may be regarded here as the opposite of ἐκκλεῖσαι θέλειν of Galatians 4:17), but not to doubtful disputations; rather, unto - i.e., so as to result in - judgments of thoughts. The Authorized Version has in margin, "to judge his doubtful thoughts," which is probably nearer the true meaning than the text. Διαρίσις means elsewhere dijudicartio (1 Corinthians 12:10; Hebrews 5:14), not "disputation" or "doubt" (as has been supposed from the verb διακρίνεσθαι, meaning "to doubt"). "Non dijudicemus cogitationes infirmorum, quasi ferre audeamus sententiam de alieno corde, quod non videtur" (Augustin, 'Prepos.,' 78).
For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
Verses 2, 3. - One believeth that he may eat all things (literally, believeth to - or, hath faith to - eat all things), but he that is weak eateth herbs. 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. "He that eateth" is the one that has faith to eat all things; and it is against contempt on his part of the weak in faith that the admonition is mainly directed throughout the chapter (cf. also Romans 15:1). But the weak require an admonition too. Their temptation was to judge those who indulged in freedom which to themselves appeared unlawful; and here, in ver. 5, the apostle gives such as did so a sharp reproof. There is a tone of indignation in his σὺ τίς εῖ ὁ κρίνων; reminding us of his tone towards the Judaists in Galatia, who would have crippled Christian liberty. "God hath received him" refers evidently, as appears from its position and from the following verse, to him that eateth. God hath received him to himself in Christ, whosoever may sit in judgment on him. We observe that the verb προσελάβετο is the same as in ver. 1 and in Romans 15:7.
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.
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.
Verse 4. - Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? (observe the emphatic position of σὺ) to his own lord he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be made to stand: for the Lord (better supported than God, as in the Textus Receptus) is able (or, has power) to make him stand. The standing or falling here spoken of may be taken to mean standing firm in, or falling from, a state of grace (cf. Romans 11:20, 22), rather than acceptance or rejection at the last judgment. "For God is able," etc., seems to require this meaning. The non-abstainer's freedom does not endanger his position; for God is powerful to sustain him, and to God alone he is accountable.
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
Verse 5. - One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike (literally, one judgeth day beyond - or, in comparison with - day: another judgeth every day. For κρίνειν in the sense of "estimate," cf. Acts 13:46; Acts 16:15; Acts 26:8. For sense of παρὰ with accusative, cf. 1:25; Luke 13:2. Days being here only briefly referred to in a chapter the main subject of which is meats, some have supposed fast-days only to be meant; in which case the sense might be that some make it a necessary point of conscience to abstain from food, or from certain kinds of food, on particular days, while others make no such distinction between days as a matter of essential import. But a comparison with Galatians 4:10 and Colossians 2:16 suggests rather a general reference to days of observance under the Jewish Law. The same class of weak brethren with Jewish prejudices that was scrupulous about meats would be likely to be also scrupulous about days and seasons and if scruples on the latter head seem to be mentioned only incidentally in this chapter, it may be because the others were at that time mainly conspicuous, and threatening to disturb the peace of the Church. One view that has been taken is that this short allusion to observance of days is introduced only in the way of illustration and argument; it being supposed that difference of practice with regard to days was allowed without dispute, and that what St. Paul means to say is, "You do exercise mutual tolerance in this matter extend the same principle to the matter of meats, to which it is equally applicable. This view of the meaning of the passage would derive support from the reading of γὰρ at the beginning of ver. 5, which rests on fair authority. The supposed reference to Jewish days of obligation in general is.. not inconsistent with the apparent condemnation of the observance of such days by Christians in Galatians 4. and Colossians it. For see what has been said above about the drift of Colossians 2:16 and of 1 Timothy 4:3, etc. When the observances came to be insisted on as obligatory on principle, it was a different thing from mere conscientious scrupulosity. Let every man be fully persuaded (for the verb in this sense, cf. Romans 4:21) in his own mind. To St. Paul himself the observance or non-observance of the days referred to was a matter in itself of no importance. He was content that each person should act up to his own conscientious convictions on the subject.
He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
Verse 6. - He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord (omit, as ill-supported, as well as unnecessary, and he that regardeth not, etc.); he that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. Both parties are supposed to be equally desirous of serving God. The eater of whatsoever is set before him is so, as is shown by his thanking God for it - observe "for he giveth," etc. - and no creature of God can be polluting "if received with thanksgiving" (1 Timothy 4:5); the abstainer gives thanks too; and so his dinner of herbs is also hallowed to him. (Though it is not necessary to confine the thought to the practice of saying grace before meat, this is doubtless in view as expressing the asserted thankfulness. For proof of the custom, cf. Matthew 15:36; Acts 27:35; 1 Corinthians 10:30; 1 Corinthians 11:24; 1 Timothy 4:4, 5.) The general principle on which, in eating and drinking, as in all beside, Christians are of necessity supposed to act, and which both parties are to be credited with desiring to carry out, is set forth in vers. 7, 8, 9, which follow.
For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
Verses 7, 8. - For none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. The mention of dying as well as living unto the Lord, though it does not seem needed by the context, makes complete the view of the entire devotion of redeemed Christians to him; and introduces the thought, which follows, of their union with him in his own death as well as in his life.
For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.
For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
Verse 9. - For to this end Christ both died and lived (so certainly, rather than, as in the Textus Receptus, died, and rose, and revived. His living means here his entering on the heavenly life after the human death), that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. "Nam mortem pro salute nostra obeundo dominium sibi acquisivit quod nec morte solveretur; resurgendo autem totam vitam nostram in peculium accepit; morte igitur et resurrectione sua promeritus est ut tam in morte quam in vita gloriae nominis ejus serviamus" (Calvin). For the idea of this whole passage (vers. 7-9), cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; 2 Corinthians 5:15. The apostle now returns to his immediate subject, warning (as in ver. 3) the one party against judging and the other against despising, on the ground of all alike having to abide hereafter the Divine judgment (cf. Matthew 7:1, seq.; 1 Corinthians 4:3, 5). The distinction in ver. 10 between the two parties, marked in the original by the initial Σὺ δὲ and the following η} καὶ σὺ, is somewhat lost in our Authorized Version.
But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Verses 10-13. - But thou, why judgest thou thy brother? or thou too, why settest thou at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God (so, rather than of Christ, as in the Textus Receptus). For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God (Isaiah 45:23, quoted very freely from the LXX.). So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us therefore no longer judge one another. This concluding appeal is addressed to both parties. In all that follows St. Paul returns exclusively to the more enlightened ones, whose feelings were in accordance with his own; and he now presses a further thought upon them, namely of the harm they might be doing to the very souls of the weak ones by tempting them, either by word or example, to disobey their own consciences. But judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block in his brother's way, or an occasion of falling (σκάνδαλον). For the meaning of the word, cf. Luke 17:1; Romans:33; 16:17; 1 Corinthians 1:23; Revelation 2:14.
For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.
I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Verse 14. - I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus (I myself know it; my very faith in Jesus carries to me the conviction of it; I do not hesitate to declare my own decided view, that the scruples of these weak brethren are unfounded) that there is nothing unclean of itself (cf. Matthew 15:11; Mark 7:18; Acts 10:15; 1 Timothy 4:4); save that to him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. To him it becomes defiling, because partaking of it defiles his conscience (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:7).
But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
Verse 15. - For (γὰρ here certainly, rather than δὲ as in the Textus Receptus. It introduces a reason for the general admonition beginning at ver. 13) if on account of meat (not here, thy meat, as in the Authorized Version) thy brother is grieved, thou no longer walkest charitably (literally, according to love, or charity; i.e. in continuing to set at naught his conscientious scruples). With thy meat destroy not him, for whom Christ died (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:11, Καὶ ἀπολεῖται ὁ ἀσθενῶν ἀδελφὸς... δἰ ο{ν Ξριστὸς ἀπέθανεν). "Destroy" seems to denote causing his moral and religious ruin by shaking his conscientiousness, and perhaps upsetting altogether the faith he has, which, though weak, is real.
Let not then your good be evil spoken of:
Verse 16. - Let not then your good be evil spoken of. "Your good" is your enlightenment, which is in itself a good thing; but it will be "evil spoken of" as a bad thing, if it leads to superciliousness and uncharitableness.
For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Verses 17, 18. - For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. The concluding clause here has reference to "let not your good," etc., preceding. It is the practical fruits of faith that commend it to men, as well as being the test of its genuineness before God.
For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.
Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
Verses 19-21. - Let us therefore follow after the things that make for (literally, the things of) peace, and the things wherewith one may edify another (literally, the things of the edification of one another). For meat's sake destroy not the work of God. "Destroy," or rather, overthrow - the word is κατάλυε, not ἀππόλλυε as in ver. 15 - is connected in thought with the edification, or building up (οἰκοδομήν) before spoken cf. "The work of God" is that of his grace in the weak Christian's soul, growing, it may be, to full assurance of faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9," ye are God's building"). Upset not the rising structure, which is God's own, as ye may do by putting a stumbling-block in the weak brother's way. All things indeed are pure (i.e. in themselves all God's gifts given for man's service are so); but it is evil to that man who eateth with offence (i.e. if the eating be to himself a stumbling-block. The idea is the same as in ver. 14). It is good (καλὸν, not of indispensable obligation, but a right and noble thing to do) neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. The concluding words in italics are of doubtful authority: they are not required for the sense. For St. Paul's expression of his own readiness to deny himself lawful things, if he might so avoid offence to weak brethren, cf. 1 Corinthians 8:13.
For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
Verse 22. - Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Hast thou an enlightened faith, showing thee the unimportance of these observances? Do not parade it needlessly before men. Θέλεις μαι δεῖξαι ὄτι τέλειος εϊ καὶ ἀπηρτισμένος μὴ ἐμοὶ δείκνοε ἀλλ ἀρκείτω τὸ συνειδός (Chrysostom). Happy is he that judgeth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. Thy weak brother, if he abstains conscientiously, is thus happy; take care that thou art equally so in the exercise of thy freedom; for he that alloweth himself in anything that he is not fully convinced is lawful passes, ipso facto, judgment on himself.
And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
Verse 23. - But he that doubteth (or, wavereth) is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. For sense of διακρίνεσθαι, cf. ch. 4:20; Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:23; James 1:6. Faith here denotes an assured belief that what one does is right; nor is it necessary to give the word a wider or different sense in the concluding clause (Ταῦτα δὲ πάντα περὶ τῆς προκειμένης ὑποθεσεως εἴρηται τῷ Παῦλῳ οὔ περὶ πάντων, Chrysostom). Hence to see in it (as has been done) the doctrine of the sinfulness of all works done apart from faith in Christ is to introduce an idea that is not there.

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