Romans 14: Food & Days
I’ve been working my way through the book The Pauline Paradox by a group called 119 Ministries, and I keep coming across these…issues. I hesitate to call them outright lies because I don’t know the heart of the author. But if they aren’t intentional lies, they’re incredibly irresponsible errors about what the Bible teaches. As an apologist, I make a point of not attacking people. Teachings and ideas, on the other hand, are fair game. And this book is full of problematic theology and questionable statements. In this article, I’m going to put three of its teachings to the test.
Setting the Table
119 Ministries (119M) is a Hebrew Roots organization that teaches that Christians are to keep the Old Testament Law of Moses with its kosher food laws, Saturday Sabbath, annual feasts, and so on. They put out a lot of content and have a substantial following online. The Pauline Paradox is their attempt to square the teachings of Paul with a Hebrew Roots worldview. (And it’s worth noting that the author is unnamed. I find it a bit suspect that this ministry intentionally hides the names of its teachers in everything they put out.)
On the plus side, 119M states explicitly that “Our works do not save us. We fully affirm the gospel and that our salvation is secured by grace through faith” (pp. 1-2). Their Hebrew Roots teachings, they claim, are only about how we ought to live as Christians: what does obedience look like? I also have to give them credit for tackling the biblical passages that present the most significant challenges to Hebrew Roots theology. (The very passages many Hebrew Roots teachers try to avoid.) 119M also consistently invites their readers and viewers to test their teachings, which I find commendable. And that’s exactly what this article is about. We’re going to look at their teachings in The Pauline Paradox regarding the fourteenth chapter of Romans. Specifically, three glaring errors that need to be exposed.
On pages 69-73 of The Pauline Paradox, the author(s) engages with chapter fourteen of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. (Note: Paul’s complete thought runs from Romans 14:1–15:13.) In his excellent commentary, The Message of Romans, John Stott explains that in the two previous chapters—Romans 12 and 13—Paul emphasizes the importance of love in terms of loving both our enemies and our neighbors. And here in chapter 14, he provides a practical example of what it means to “walk in love” (Rom 14:15) with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
In this passage, the apostle discusses the relationship between two groups of believers in Rome, who he refers to as “the weak in faith” (Rom 14:1-2) and “the strong” (Rom 15:1). Paul cautions the two groups not to pass judgment on one other regarding two matters: food and days of observance. Regardless of their position on these issues, Paul admonishes both groups to accept one another. And he further urges the strong in faith to follow the example of Jesus and voluntarily constrain their personal freedom to avoid causing the weaker brothers and sisters to stumble (Rom 15:1-3).
The big problem in this passage for 119 Ministries (or any Hebrew Roots adherent) is that Paul is telling both groups of believers that whatever food they choose to eat (or not eat), and whichever days they choose to observe (or not observe), it’s all acceptable. This is a big deal. The Law of Moses is particular about what foods can and can’t be eaten and what days have to be observed. If Paul viewed Christians as being under Mosaic Law, this would be the time to admonish the church in Rome to keep it. Yet here in Romans 14, Paul refers to food and days as matters of opinion rather than requirements of obedience. He teaches that disagreements on these matters shouldn’t cause division in the body of believers. We are each free in Christ to follow our conscience in these areas.
The anonymous author of The Pauline Paradox surely sees the danger to Hebrew Roots theology. His discussion of Romans 14 begins by stating, “This chapter couldn’t be referring to the Sabbath and the dietary instructions” (p. 69). This book aims to re-interpret Paul’s writings in such a way that the Law of Moses, with its required observance of the Sabbath and kosher food laws, is seen as applying to Christians today. The author tells us so on the first page: “Ultimately, our goal will be to show that Paul did not teach that the Messiah did away with any of the commands of the Law” (p. 1).
To do this, the author must argue that the matters of food and days discussed in Romans 14 aren’t referring to the Sabbath and kosher food laws. Instead, he claims Paul is talking about lesser matters not required under the Law: “This chapter is regarding things outside of God’s Law that were matters of contention between believers in the first century” (p. 69). Unfortunately, in trying to bend the biblical text to support a Hebrew Roots narrative, the author’s arguments end up tangled in knots. Let’s look at three places where this happens.
1. Mere Opinion
Paul’s discussion in Romans 14 begins with this statement:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.Romans 14:1-3
119 Ministries correctly frames the discussion regarding food: “Paul defines the debate for us in verse two—this was a quarrel between strict vegetarians and those who eat meat” (p. 72). The text does not explain why some believers had chosen to abstain from eating meat. But we do find some clues.
We know that early Christians were mostly Jewish followers of The Way. Gentiles were rapidly coming to faith in Jesus the Jewish Messiah (Yeshua HaMashiach) and being grafted into their faith community (Rom 11:11-24). And in Romans 14:14, when Paul discusses “unclean” food, we recognize this as a category of Jewish kosher food laws. Further, Paul closes this passage by urging the believers in Rome to live in harmony with one another (Rom 15:5-7), and he points out that Christ is the hope of Jews and Gentiles (Rom 15:8-13). These contextual clues suggest that the dispute among the Roman believers that the apostle Paul was addressing was a matter of Jewish-Gentile relations. And the “weak in faith” (14:1)—those abstaining from meat—were Jewish believers in Jesus. But why would they have been abstaining from all meat? Our 119 Ministries book offers a theory:
Some Jewish believers in Rome believed that meat purchased from certain Greek sources was considered “unclean,” even if the meat came from a clean animal permitted by God’s Law. . . some believers were concerned about the possibility that meat purchased from the marketplace had derived from pagan sacrificial offerings . . . This belief that such a possibility rendered clean meat unclean was based on nothing more than man’s opinions.”The Pauline Paradox, pp. 72-73
The 119M author frames the issue of abstaining from eating meat as a matter of “man’s opinions” rather than kosher food laws. The belief that meat from pagan sacrifices was biblically unclean, according to the author, was a matter of mere opinion, not Law. This claim sounded suspicious to me. Could meat sacrificed to pagan gods be considered “clean” under the Law of Moses? I decided to put it to the test.
The commandments that constitute the Law of Moses are scattered across the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Over the centuries, there have been a number of Jewish sages and rabbis who have numbered and categorized that list of mitzvot (commandments) for us. The Jewish Virtual Library provides a list of these 613 mitzvot, and I read through them all to see what they said about food or drink sacrificed to idols. It turns out the 119 Ministries claim is wrong. Eating meat sacrificed to idols is not just a matter of opinion; it is prohibited in the Law of Moses.
In what is traditionally #203 of the 613, a law is derived from Deuteronomy 32:38 that the Jews were “not to drink wine poured in service to idols.” (Some Jewish sources expand this Law to say: “not to eat or drink anything offered as sacrifice to an idol.”) Deuteronomy 14:21 is interpreted as law #188, typically codified as “not to eat the meat of an animal that died without ritual slaughter.” And law #393, derived from Leviticus 7:18, says Jews are “not to eat from sacrifices offered with improper intentions.”
Interestingly, modern Christians may not necessarily read the verses cited above and derive the same legal conclusions that the early Jews did. Rabbi Jack Abramowitz offers some modern Jewish insight on meat sacrificed to idols in an article called Disinvited. He says:
The Torah cautions us in several places not to forge treaties with the idolatrous inhabitants of Canaan. One such warning is in verse 34:12. Here it gives a reason for this ban: if we get complacent with them, we’ll end up eating from their sacrifices, which we are not to do . . . anything used in the worship of an idol, even something seemingly insignificant like water or salt, is prohibited for use . . . the Torah says, “the fat of whose offerings they ate, they drank the wine of whose libations” (Deut. 32:38). We see that the Torah equates the meat of idolatrous offerings and the wine of idolatrous libations in this regard.Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
The Christians in Rome whom Paul referred to as “weak in faith” were most likely made up primarily of Jewish believers in Jesus. And first-century Jews certainly would have seen eating meat from pagan sacrifices as an issue of the Law of Moses, rather than mere opinion. The most likely explanation for their abstinence from meat is that, due to a continuing commitment to Jewish kosher food regulations, they opted to avoid meat altogether rather than risk breaking any of the Mosaic commandments.
Paul’s message to the strong in faith is: don’t judge your weaker brothers and sisters who choose not to eat meat out of their respect for the Mosaic prohibitions. (And it’s worth noting that in Romans 15:1, Paul puts himself in the strong group who understands that no food is unclean in itself.) Conversely, Paul’s message to the weak in faith is: don’t judge your stronger brothers and sisters who are comfortable eating any kind of meat.
In either case, Paul teaches that each group is to accept the other with love and grace because God has accepted them all. And he further explains that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). To the chagrin of Hebrew Roots adherents everywhere, Paul is teaching that food and days of observance, under the New Covenant of Christ, are, indeed, matters of opinion. They are permitted but not required. Christians are not under the Law of Moses.
2. Common and koinos
Sadly, The Pauline Paradox does not stop at just one glaring error on the topic of food. It makes a second glaring mistake, but this time in a different language. Paul writes:
I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.Romans 14:14-15
In this passage, the apostle is openly stating that all food is inherently clean. And in light of 14:2-3, we can further clarify that he means all meat is clean. Paul teaches that food is only unclean to the person who considers it unclean as a matter of personal conscience. This statement, of course, directly contradicts the Hebrew Roots worldview. Thus, 119 Ministries attempts to re-interpret this verse by appealing to the original Greek:
…the word translated as “unclean” is koinos. This is not the Greek word used elsewhere in the New Testament when speaking of ‘unclean’ animals (akathartos). Rather, koinos is used to denote common things. For example, in Acts 10:14, Peter says, “I have never eaten anything that is common [koinos] or unclean [akathartos]. In this verse, Peter uses two independent Greek adjectives when speaking to God, and it’s clear that he made a distinction between the two words—one is merely common, and one is unclean.The Pauline Paradox, p. 73
The book labors the point that there is a difference between common and unclean. It claims that the Greek word koinos isn’t used anywhere else in the New Testament to refer to “unclean” animals. This whole line of reasoning jumped out to me as fishy. So I decided to test it. In fact, I put it through two tests. It failed them both.
By the way, these are the kinds of tests we should all be doing when we come across claims we’re not sure about. Let’s be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 who examined the Scriptures daily to see if the things they were being taught were true. The only reason groups like 119 Ministries can get away with these false teachings and rack up millions of views on their videos is that many Christians don’t spend enough time in the Word. And the more time we spend with the real thing—Holy Scripture—the easier it is to spot a counterfeit.
Test 1: Word Study
The first thing I wanted to test was the author’s statements about the Greek word koinos. So I looked up Romans 14:14 in an online lexicon. The entry confirmed that 119 Ministries is correct that the English word “unclean” was translated from the Greek word koinos.
Then I looked up the Greek word koinos in an online concordance. Here’s a summary of what it revealed:
|Strong’s Concordance||Usage: (a) common, shared, (b) Hebraistic use: profane; dirty, unclean, unwashed.|
|HELPS Word studies||properly, common, referring to what is defiled (stripped of specialness) because treated as ordinary (“common”) . . . is always used negatively, i.e. for what is profaned – except in Jude 1:3|
|NAS Exhaustive Concordance||Definition: common.|
NASB Translation: common (3), common property (1), impure (2), unclean (5), unholy (5)
|Thayer’s Greek Lexicon||2. by a usage foreign to classical Greek, common i.e. ordinary, belonging to the generality; by the Jews . . . unhallowed, levitically unclean. (Entry lists both Romans 14:14 and Acts 10:14 as using this “levitically unclean” meaning.)|
|The Englishman’s Concordance||Shows Romans 14:14 translating koinos as unclean, not as common.|
So what does all this tell us? Well, for one thing, when the 119M book states on page 73 that the Greek word koinos is not used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer to “unclean” animals, that’s simply not true. Our word study above confirms that koinos is used in several NT places to refer to unclean animals.
Secondly, even if the author’s raising of “unholy vs. unclean” is valid, it is a distinction without a difference. In Rom 14:14, Paul either says that all meat is clean (as every Bible translation indicates) or that all meat is holy. Either way, the apostle’s statement indicates that the regulations of the Law of Moses are no longer binding.
Test 2: Context
The next thing I investigated was how the Greek word koinos is used in context in the other passage cited in the 119M book: Acts 10:14. This is the passage that runs from Acts 10:9-16 where Peter has a vision:
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common (koinos) or unclean (akathartos).Acts 10:19-14, emphasis added
Before looking at the rest of the passage, let’s review what 119 Ministries claimed about Acts 10:14 (bolded above).
Peter uses two independent Greek adjectives when speaking to God, and it’s clear that he made a distinction between the two words—one is merely common (koinos), and one is unclean (akathartos).The Pauline Paradox, p. 73
The case this book makes is based on the words common and unclean having two separate meanings. And that case falls apart in two ways. First, it renders Peter’s claim absurd. When Peter says he has “never eaten anything that is common,” are we supposed to believe that he was claiming to have never eaten food that was “common” in the plain sense? Has he never eaten food that was shared property or ordinary? If that were the case, what point would Peter be trying to make? Under the Law of Moses, Jews were commanded to avoid unclean food, not ordinary, common, shared food. In fact, the sharing of common food during both regular meals and feasts was celebrated in Jewish culture.
Secondly, and more glaring, is the fact that the very next verse in this passage reveals that the two Greek words do mean the same thing. Let’s finish reading this passage, picking up from verse 14:
But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.Acts 10:14-16, emphasis added
The bolded phrase above plainly reveals that clean (koinos) is used in this passage to mean the opposite of common. In other words, common means unclean. So when Peter said, “I have never eaten anything common or unclean,” he was using those two adjectives as synonyms. This is similar to how one might say, “I don’t like food that is hot or spicy.” Biblical authors regularly use repetition like this to add emphasis. Thus, it turns out the simple act of reading Acts 10:14 in context is all it takes to disprove this particular claim by 119 Ministries.
3. A Matter of Days
The second issue Paul talks about in Rom 14 is the matter of days of observance. The 119M book suggests that, rather than laws about Sabbath or feast days, the real issue here is what days Christians should fast. Again, the goal of this book is to downplay any reference to the Law of Moses and instead re-interpret Romans 14 as discussing lesser matters. The author faces this head-on, stating, “This verse couldn’t be referring to the Sabbath because of some obvious problems” (p. 70).
He then lists three problems with the days of observance referring to the Sabbath, and each issue he lists “begs the question.” In other words, the arguments he presents all assume that his conclusion is already true. His three arguments are (pp. 70-71):
- “God’s Law defines sin . . . If we could decide for ourselves when the Sabbath should be kept, then that means we could define sin for ourselves.” This statement assumes that keeping the legal Sabbath is required of Christians.
- “It’s already been demonstrated throughout this book that Paul kept and taught the Law of God and was not against it.” Assumes the book’s argument is correct that the Law of Moses is required of Christians.
- “This entire chapter is in the context of disputes over ‘opinions,’ and the Sabbath is not a matter of opinion.” Assumes that keeping the legal Sabbath is required of Christians.
To state it another way, the author approaches this issue in Romans 14:1-15:13 with the stated intention of proving that the Law of Moses is still in effect. And he does so by assuming the Law of Moses is still in effect. That is circular logic.
When it comes to building the case that the issue of days refers to fasting, the author offers the reader a sort of “blunder sandwich” by placing one error on top of another. He begins by stating,
The second matter is related to which day, or days, believers should fast: “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him” (Romans 14:3).The Pauline Paradox, p. 70
The author argues that this passage in Romans is referring to traditional days of fasting. He seems to be suggesting that in 14:3, the phrase “the one who abstains” refers to someone who abstains from all food. In other words, it means “the one who fasts.” Yet, as we saw earlier, the author refers to this same passage (14:3) in his argument about food. There he (correctly) frames the discussion not as an issue of fasting but as “a quarrel between strict vegetarians and those who eat meat” (p. 72). The latter is correct. Paul does not contrast “those who eat anything” with “those who eat nothing.” He contrasts them with those who “eat only vegetables.” Thus, the phrase “the one who abstains” in 14:3 refers to eating meat, not fasting.
Indeed, the issue in view is not fasting but kosher food laws. This is further evidenced by the fact that kosher food laws were one of the chief issues of contention between Jews and Gentiles in the early church. (More on that below.) Moreover, Paul wraps up this passage in Romans with an appeal to mutual acceptance between the Jews and Gentiles (Rom 15:7-13). His position is that keeping the Mosaic dietary restrictions is permitted but not required. Paul teaches that no matter which side of the issue the believers in Rome land on, they are to accept those on the other side of the issue. So, contrary to what The Pauline Paradox claims, 14:3 is not about fasting.
But that’s just the first layer of error. The author then takes his incorrect interpretation of 14:3 and reads that into 14:5-6, which say:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.Romans 14:5-6
The book summarizes this passage by claiming:
The “day” that Paul is referring to is a matter of eating or abstaining. In other words, the opinions . . . addressed in this chapter concern fasting . . . Apparently, early believers disputed over which days during the week one should fast.The Pauline Paradox, p. 71
Here we see the author reading his false interpretation of fasting from 14:3 into 14:5-6. He’s conflating Paul’s two statements about days and food, reading them as a single topic. As if Paul is talking about which days to abstain from food.
But that would be a complete left-turn from how the apostle began this whole discussion. We saw that Romans 14:2-3 are talking about abstaining from meat, not fasting. Then, in 14:5, Paul introduces the idea of days to the debate. He has now put two topics on the table: days and food. And by the way, these two issues aren’t just random. As James Dunn points out in his commentary on Romans:
[Jewish] dietary rules constituted one of the clearest boundary markers which distinguished Jews from Gentiles. The observance of the Sabbath was another. Thus, eating unclean food and violating the Sabbath ranked together as the two chief hallmarks of covenant disloyalty, while strictness in both was of fundamental importance in maintaining covenant faithfulness.James D.G. Dunn, Romans in The Word Biblical Commentary (1988)
And in Romans 14:6, we see Paul commenting on each of these issues: “The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord.”
Lastly, notice how, as Paul develops his argument in this passage, he refers to what is eaten, not when it is consumed (parenthetical comments added):
For if your brother is grieved by what (not when) you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what (not when) you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.Romans 14:15
Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what (not when) he eats.Romans 14:20
Paul is not teaching about which days to fast (i.e., when you eat), but rather which foods are clean (i.e., what you eat). The idea of fasting is foreign to this passage in Romans. In fact, Paul does not discuss fasting anywhere in the book of Romans. And yet, that is what 119 Ministries teach.
In Romans 14:1 – 15:13, the group of believers Paul referred to as “the weak in faith” were primarily Jewish believers in Jesus who wanted to maintain their Jewish covenant identity as the Gentiles were being grafted into their faith community. They wanted to continue to observe the days and the dietary regulations. And Paul teaches that’s just fine. Whether or not a believer in Jesus wants to keep these regulations, we are not to judge one another about it, but rather accept each other just as God has accepted us.
Paul’s teaching in this passage aligns with the decision of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:1-29. The apostle Paul was at that council. Their decision matches what he teaches here: the sacred Mosaic traditions are permitted but not required. In other words, contrary to what our anonymous author(s) at 119 Ministries teaches, Christians are not under the Law of Moses.
In a passage that almost sounds like it could be aimed directly at 119 Ministries (and other Hebrew Roots organizations), Paul wrote:
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother . . . For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.Romans 14:13, 17-19
12 thoughts on “Romans 14: Food & Days”
I appreciate your desire for Truth to reign, however I must point out the irony here. You claim the dishonest usage of material that 119 uses, however, you have essentially committed the same flaw. I am not sure of your experience with Koine Greek but simply pulling up a concordance (written by people with presuppositions) to note that koinos is used as unclean is not only intellectually incorrect but dishonest and deceitful- we know this is not sufficient for word studies and assumes a stance of expertise in the word or language.
If you are to approach the koinos word honestly and with integrity you’ll acknowledge that the word is never used biblically in the same sense of akathartos (unclean) but in a common and ritually defiled way, as you will see demonstrated in Mark 7 regarding Pharisaic traditions. You will also never find koinos used in secular or extra biblical sources to mean Mosaically prohibited animals.
In the search for the Truth of kosher laws applying still or not you have to first find a way to resonate the blatant usage of koinos rather than akathartos. As students of the Word we do not adjust the Text around our ideas but let It stand on it’s own feet. Being intellectually dishonest for the sake of defending the Truth, as we see it, is still dishonesty, just as previous people have added “thus He declared all foods clean” in Mark 7, breaking the command of not adding to or taking away from Scripture, to support their dogma. Paul, and the other writers, were meticulously careful with that words they chose to use and any Greek student worth their salt would not connect koinos and akathartos together with the same meaning or even intended meaning. God’s response of not calling things unclean does not stand as an opposite towards these two words holding the same meaning- that is poor and assumptive exegesis.
I am not a supporter or partner of 119 I am just a student of the Word who came across your article and felt led to say something about your approach with koinos. It is inappropriate and tarnishes any point someone is making when they blatantly mishandle the Text for their own means. It is a double standard, and if we wish to be the ones shining forward the Light we should at least be honest with the way we do it.
Wrestle with the fact that koinos is not akathartos, the eisegesis applied to that and other instances surrounding dietary laws, remove yourself from dogmatic and traditional viewpoints and take an honest look at Scripture and I believe you’ll find yourself quite surprised. I would also suggest reading Dr. Troy Martin’s article on Colossians 2:16-17 for a respectable and comprehensive approach to the Greek, which should really motivate the way in which we approach the rest of Scripture considering his “revolutionary” discovery from the Greek alone.
R. L. Solberg
Thanks, Rick! I have to say it’s a bit of a red flag for me when someone throws all concordances under the bus as “written by people with presuppositions.” Do you carry the same suspicion about other research tools like English dictionaries and thesauruses? 🙂 Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me you’re taking the position that consulting a concordance is dishonest and lacks integrity. And further, that concordances are not to be trusted. If that’s the case, then I would have to respectfully, yet wholeheartedly, disagree with you.
We all have our biases and presuppositions. Even you. As a scholar, it’s my duty to be aware of my own biases and do my best to follow the text where it leads, even if I don’t like what it says. And I know I don’t always get it right. This is why I really appreciate feedback like yours. When my errors are pointed out, I get the chance to correct them and learn.
That said, I stand by my conclusions in this article. And I would challenge you to examine your own biases, which are readily apparent in your comments. We should all be prepared to follow the text where it leads, even if we don’t like what it says!
14:1-15:6 Among believers there are two groups, those with “strong trust” and those with “weak trust.” The latter are depicted in this passage as feeling they must abstain from meat or wine and/or observe certain days as holy, while the former feel no such compunctions.
On the basis of this passage Messianic Jews are sometimes asked by Western Churched Gentile Christians to stop observing Jewish holidays or keeping kosher. Or they are criticized as having “weak faith” if they adhere to Jewish practices. But the specifics of the passage are clearly in a Gentile cultural and religious context, not a Jewish one. It does not teach thai following Jewish practices is a sign of “weak faith.” Rather, it exhorts believers, Jewish or Gentile, whose trust is “strong” not to look down on those whose trust they consider “weak” — precisely the opposite of the behavior described above.
The passage also teaches the “weak” not to pass judgment on the “strong” for failing to observe practices the “weak” consider important, since all believers are equal before the God who has delivered them. Invidious distinctions and disputes should give way to caring for one another and mutual upbuilding, in imitation of the Messiah. The rabbis too teach that the gifted, the rich and the learned should not boast against those who have not received those blessings from God. They too teach against having a “holier-than-thou” attitude. They too teach that all in Israel should care for each other and build up the community.
The problem in the passage does not come from the behavior it teaches but from identifying precisely who are the “strong” and the “weak” and drawing out the implications.
it is clear from the passage itself that the “weak” cannot be equated with observant Messianic Jews. For nothing in Judaism requires a Jew to be a vegetarian (v. 2). It is argued that kosher food might not have been available. But Rome had a large Jewish colony (Ac 28:17); it is unthinkable that it would not have had a shochet (ritual slaughterer). It is argued that the shochet might have been unwilling to sell to Messianic Jews. But this is a gratuitous assumption for which there is no evidence, and the willingness of the Jewish leaders of Rome to come and listen to Sha’ul (Ac 28:17ff.) argues against it. Also nothing in Judaism requires a Jew to refrain from wine (v. 21); the only exceptions are Nazirites during the period of their vow and cohanim on duty. On the contrary, wine-drinking is so much a part of Jewish ritual that it is lent an aura of sanctity which, at least until recently, made alcoholism very uncommon among Jews.
For these many reasons we conclude that the “weak” cannot be Messianic Jews who are “not yet free from the Law.”
The weak are believers, either Gentile or Jewish, who have not yet grown sufficiently in their faith to have given up attachment to various ascetic practices and calendar observances. Their tie to these activities, however, is not supported by a rational though mistaken ideology, as with the legalists of (2) above. Rather, it is irrational and emotional, linked to psychological needs, social pressures or superstition, or it may simply be a matter of habit. When their activities in these areas are questioned in “arguments over opinions” (v. 1), they are not “fully convinced in their own minds” (v. 5), not “free of self-doubt” (v. 22), but rather easily “upset” or even “destroyed” (v. 15) and thus able to “fall away” or “stumble” (vv. 20-21). This is why Sha’ul calls them “weak.” At least four distinct groups of people fit the description:
(a) First are Gentiles who, as in (1), want to avoid the appearance of evil by maintaining physical and emotional distance from anything that reminds them of their previous idolatrous practices. In this category should also be included anyone, Jewish or Gentile, who wants to avoid the trappings of his former sinful way of life.
(b) Second are Gentiles who adopted elements of Jewish practice as part of their faith along with believing in Yeshua. They have, as it were, bought what they considered a whole package and have not yet unwrapped it and decided what is really important for them. In the first century the phenomenon was common enough to require considerable attention in the New Testament (Acts 15 and the whole book of Galatians, for starters). Today it rarely happens in relation to Jewish practices, but it is very common for someone to accept Yeshua in a particular Christian setting and only afterwards discover that some of the practices he has picked up in that setting are not essential to his faith.
(c) Third are Gentiles or Jews who have brought into their faith practices found in other religions with which they are familiar. These practices often appeal to their religiosity but are irrelevant or even contrary to the Gospel. I have known people saved out of New Age religions who continued yoga-style meditation until they realized it was harmful.
(d) Fourth are Messianic Jews who have not grasped how the incorporation of the New Covenant into God’s Torah and the presence of the Holy Spirit in themselves alters the way in which the Torah is to be applied. They therefore feel a compulsiveness about observing ceremonial and ritual details. When their faith grows stronger they will be free not from the Law but from this compulsiveness. But “weak” is the wrong word for Messianic Jews who have decided out of conviction to observe the Law as interpreted by the rabbis in the same way as a non-Messianic Jew would, except for such parts of it as they believe might conflict with the Gospel. Their reasons might be, for example, in order to strengthen their sense of Jewish identity, or to demonstrate that believing in Yeshua does not turn a Jew into a Gentile, or to help preserve the Jewish community by upholding its distinctives publicly. Or they might simply be satisfied that in most instances the rabbinic directives and principles adequately express God’s will. So long as they do not impose their pattern on others but uphold the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the Body of the Messiah, neither passing judgment nor looking down on those who behave or believe differently, they are among the “strong in trust,” not “weaker brothers.”
https://www.eternalgod.org/q-a-7975/ It looks like even Dr Troy Martin has his OWN bias, given the type of church from which he hails.
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a Festival or a New
Moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is
of Messiah. Colossians 2:16-17
This verse has been used to say that no one should be keeping these things. Nothing could be further from the truth! These verses are in fact saying just the opposite, that one needs, and should be keeping these things and no one should be judging one and telling one that one should not be doing so!
The key to this verse is the phrase “shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Messiah.” The Greek word for shadow is, skia`(G4639) which means: “an image cast by an object and representing the form of that object: opp. To the thing itself,…”
The skia (shadow) that Colossians refers to is the shadow that the Messiah is casting; but most important is the fact that the shadow represents the thing casting it. In other words, the shadow, in this case the Festivals, kosher, etc., are a picture and true representation of the Messiah.
We can see further proof of this in Hebrews 10:4-7…
For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.
Therefore, when he came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering You did
not desire, but a body You have prepared for me. In burnt offerings and
sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come; In the
volume of the book it is written of me; To do Your will, O G-d.’”
Hebrews 10:4-7 (from Tehelim/Psalms 40:6-8)
If the sacrifices could not remove sins, then what was their purpose!
Hebrews 10:7 gives us the answer:
Behold, I have come; In the volume of the book it is written of me.
This is the purpose of the Festivals and sacrifices, to show us the Messiah. Would they show us the Messiah any less after he came, than before? Salvation is by faith, it has always been that way. The ancient sages taught this as well. Worship was to be given to G-d and Him alone. He gave us very specific details as to how He wanted to be worshiped.
Today, we have discarded the outline and replaced it with how we think G-d should be worshiped. G-d is not impressed with our effort to worship Him as we choose. He simply wants us to do as He has instructed and have faith that He knows what He
wants better than we do.
“When the L-rd your G-d cuts off from before you the nations which you go to
dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself
that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before
you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations
serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the L-rd your G-d
in that way; for every abomination to the L-rd which He hates they have done to
their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.
Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor
take away from it.” Deuteronomy/Devarim 12:29-32
Are you willing to address how Rom 6:14 (or all of chapters 6-8) is dealt with in the Pauline Paradox?
Do you have an article which helps to create a clear definition of “under the law”? For example, what it meant for Israel, what it means for Christians to not be.
The term “upo потоп” (“under law”), which appears five times in this letter, never means simply “under the Torah,” in the sense of “subject to its provisions,” “living within its framework.” Rather, with one easily explainable variation, it is Sha’ul’s shorthand for “living under the oppression caused by being enslaved to the social system or the mindset that results when the Torah is perverted into legalism”
under [the] law:
(3:23; 4:4-5, 21 and 5:18; also Rom. 3:19; 6:14-15; 1 Cor. 9:20-21) under [the] law can alternatively be rendered under subjection to legalism. The word under is the Greek word upo which means controlled by (as in under the control of or in subjection to sin, see Rom. 3:9). If one is not controlled by or in subjection to law/legalism, then how is one under, controlled by or in subjection to grace? In the same sense that we have accepted Yeshua’s yoke which is easy and light to be under (Mt. 11:28-30), this is in contrast to the yoke of legalism which is not easy and light to be under. YHWH’s people are living en (i.e. within the framework of Torah, but not to be upo (i.e., in subjection to) legalism. YHWH’s people are in a faith/trust relationship with Him and always have been under grace and “under” Torah (a gracious subjection), but never under legalism (a harsh subjection)
Most Christians suppose that “erga nomou,” literally, “works of law,” a term which appears three times in v. 16, must mean, “actions done in obedience to the Torah.” But this is wrong. One of the best-kept secrets about the Brit Chadasha/New Covenant is that when Sha’ul writes “nomos” he frequently does not mean “law” but “legalism.”
I make my case by quoting from two distinguished Gentile Christian scholars without any Messianic Jewish axe to grind. С. Е. B. Cranfield, in his commentary on the book of Romans, writes:
“…it will be well to bear in mind the fact (which, so far as we know, had not received attention before it was noted in [Cranfield’s article in) the Scottish Journal of Theology, Volume 17,1964, p. 55) that the Greek language of Paul’ s day possessed no word-group corresponding to our ‘legalism,’ ‘legalist’ and ‘legalistic.” This means that he lacked a convenient terminology for expressing a vital distinction, and so was surely seriously hampered in the work of clarifying the Christian position with regard to the law. In view of this, we should always, we think, be ready to reckon with the possibility that Pauline statements which at first sight seem to disparage the law, were really directed not against the law itself but against that misunderstanding and misuse of it for which we now have a convenient terminology. In this very difficult terrain Paul was pioneering. If we make due allowance for these circumstances, we shall not be so easily baffled or misled by a certain impreciseness of statement which we shall sometimes encounter.” (C.E.B. Cranfield, The International Critical Commentary, Romans, 1979, p. 853)
Cranfield is right — except for his speculation that he was the first. Forty-three years earlier Ernest De Witt Burton, in his classic commentary on Galatians, also made clear that in the present verse “nomos” means “legalism” and not God’s Torah:
“Nomou is here evidently used… in its legalistic sense, denoting divine law viewed as a purely legalistic system made up of statutes, on the basis of obedience or disobedience to which men are approved or condemned as a matter of debt without grace. This is divine law as the legalist defined it. In the apostle’s thought it stands for a reality only in that it constitutes a single element of the divine law detached from all other elements and aspects of divine revelation; by such detachment it misrepresents the will of God and his real attitude towards men. By erga nomou Paul means deeds of obedience to formal statutes done in the legalistic spirit, with the expectation of thereby meriting and securing divine approval and award, such obedience, in other words, as the legalists rendered to the law of the Old Testament as expanded and interpreted by them. Though nomos in this sense had no existence as representing the basis of justification in the divine government, yet erga nomou had a very real existence in the thought and practice of men who conceived of the divine law after this fashion…. The translation of this phrase here and constantly… by ‘the works of the law’… is a serious defect of [ version s that have it].” (E. Burton, The International Critical Commentary, Galatians, 1921, p. 120)
Thanks, Rob, for your in-depth article. Would you ever consider writing a 3rd book on this very topic? This isn’t just about Torah Observant groups or HRM, but the whole issue of religious Veganism is also rearing its unscriptural head?
What do you think?
BTW, I have both your excellent books.
I enjoy your site so far.
Thanks for upholding the Word and combating the Pet Doctrines that have made life so confusing to so many.
From the time of Paul the self righteous have saught to establish their own salvation by claiming they’ve got the “special truth”. That they’re the Enlightened. It exists in so many forms & even exists in born again believers as they so desperately need to Add to Christ’s finished work. It’s all about weak faith… Or no faith at all. Coincidencely, the end of Romans has much to say about this very phenomenon.
Great stuff, thanks
R. L. Solberg
Thank you, James!
Remember at ROM.7:1 I speak to those knowing the Torah. this is important to always remember when reading shual. he is sometimes complicated.2 Peter 3;15,16. Another point Paul never mentions that he is a christian always observing Torah. ELOHIMS Instructions not Moses.
Rob, As an apologist, theologian and teacher at a Bible college what role does the cultural, historical, archeological and linguistical background “play” when trying to understand what was written, moreso Shaul/Paul of Tarsus?