We have determined that the principles of Romans 14 come into play in issues of liberties; we have seen that those liberties can be defined as practices or means by which a practice can be done that is not required by God and can be substituted or replaced by another practice/means by which a practice is done to the approval of all without compromising truth. This does not mean that issues of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit–” Paul’s language in Romans 14:17 speaking of direct commands, specific examples, and relationships between brethren and God– ought to be compromised for the sake of supposed “unity,” and we have also begun to see that merely because the issue is “doctrine” or that the “weak” brother “binds” the issue does not mean that Romans 14 will not apply. Let us now continue our analyzation of the arguments undervaluing Romans 14 by examining the arguments using other passages in interpreting Romans 14.
Arguments and Answers
Argument: The “weak” brother suffers from a lack of knowledge and Paul tells us who have knowledge to not do anything to cause them to sin; they ought to gain this knowledge and then there will be no problem.
Answer: The underlying premise of this argument is the material Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8. It is believed by many that the situations of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 are identical and that each can be used to interpret the other. While I certainly will not deny that there are similarities between the circumstances of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, they are by no means identical. Let us examine 1 Corinthians 8:1-13:
Now concerning things sacrificed to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth. If any man thinketh that he knoweth anything, he knoweth not yet as he ought to know; but if any man loveth God, the same is known by him. Concerning therefore the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that no idol is anything in the world, and that there is no God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth; as there are gods many, and lords many; yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him. Howbeit there is not in all men that knowledge: but some, being used until now to the idol, eat as of a thing sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God: neither, if we eat not, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to the weak. For if a man see thee who hast knowledge sitting at meat in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through thy knowledge he that is weak perisheth, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And thus, sinning against the brethren, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat causeth my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh for evermore, that I cause not my brother to stumble.
We can see that in this passage, as with Romans 14, Paul does make a distinction between a “strong” brother and a “weak” brother and the topic of discussion is meat sacrificed to idols, but the following differences are easily noted:
- In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul states explicitly that the “weak” brother lacks knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:7), but in Romans 14, no such comment is made and the fact that the “weaker” brother has enough knowledge to condemn his “stronger” brother in the eating of meats demonstrates that he knows at least something (Romans 14:3).
- In 1 Corinthians 8, the circumstance revolves around a Christian eating meat sacrificed to idols; Paul argues that this practice is fine as long as one has the knowledge that an idol is really nothing (1 Corinthians 8:4); a more modern example might be a Christian entering a bar, not intending to drink alcohol, but for some other purpose. The problem of 1 Corinthians 8 is that a “weaker” brother, one without knowledge and easily impressionable, may see another Christian eating meat that was sacrificed to idols and from this receive the impression that it is okay for a Christian to eat meat sacrificed to an idol in the name of that idol (1 Corinthians 8:10); the modern example would be for a weaker Christian to see another Christian entering a bar and from this receive the impression that it is okay for a Christian to go into a bar and drink alcohol. In Romans 14, however, the circumstance is that the “strong” and the “weak” brothers were despising and condemning one another, respectively, over the issue of eating meats (possibly, but not necessarily, meat sacrificed to idols); there is no concern that the “weak” brothers are going to see the example of the “strong” brothers and be led into what is universally sin by eating meat in the name of some idol; quite the contrary! The stumbling-block of Romans 14 is the attempt of the “strong” brothers to eat meat in the presence of the “weak” brothers and/or attempting to compel the “weak” brothers to eat meat despite their conscience (Romans 14:10-13, 21)!
- In 1 Corinthians 8, the issue with the weak brother is the searing of his conscience so that he believes something that is completely false and wrong, notably, that a Christian can eat meat sacrificed to idols in the name of the idols (1 Corinthians 8:10-12); in Romans 14, however, the issue with the weak brother is the concern that the “strong” brother will place a stumbling block in the way of the “weak” brother and induce him to sin against his own conscience (Romans 14:13-17).
- In 1 Corinthians 8, the emphasis of the argument is knowledge: some have it, some do not, and those who do have it ought not give occasion of stumbling to those who do not (1 Corinthians 8:1-7); in Romans 14, however, the emphasis of the argument is lack of judgment, love, and toleration: we will all individually stand before the judgment seat of God and individually must answer for our doings, in matters of liberty before God we are not to judge our brethren, and we are not to destroy with food (any liberty) him for whom Christ died (Romans 14:4-18).
- In 1 Corinthians 8, the “strong” brother is seen to sin unwittingly through his exercising of his liberty and in so doing causing the conscience of another to be seared (1 Corinthians 8:12-13); in Romans 14, however, the “strong” brother is seen to sin by despising those who do not accept his liberty and/or placing a stumbling block– the practice or means by which a practice is performed that his brother does not agree with– in his way (Romans 14:4-13).
These are the most significant differences between Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, and they demonstrate amply that the two texts, although similar, are not identical. Each has their own use: for the “weak” brother who does truly lack knowledge and is easily impressionable, we ought to heed 1 Corinthians 8 and make sure that we do not cause him to have a seared conscience by exercising some liberty which he may not properly understand, and for the “weak” brother who has the conviction that he cannot practice a certain liberty, we ought to heed Romans 14 and not cause him to stumble against his conscience in any way by removing that liberty. We must not, however, treat the “weak” brother of 1 Corinthians 8 as we would the “weak” brother of Romans 14, and, in regards to our current discussion, vice versa, since the issue of 1 Corinthians 8 is knowledge, but Romans 14 deals with matters of unity and judgment.
Argument: We must not accept anyone who in any way goes beyond the doctrine of Christ, and we know that the doctrine of Christ represents all doctrines in the New Testament.
Answer: This argument appeals to 2 John 1:9, seen below:
Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son.
From this text it is argued, as seen above, that regarding all doctrines which Jesus taught, we are not to accept any variance whatsoever, either on the left or the right. Is this interpretation of this verse, however, in harmony with what we have seen in Romans 14 and other texts?
One of the most critical rules of Bible interpretation (the fancy term is “hermeneutics”) is the inner harmony of the text: under no circumstances can we allow for two texts to contradict one another, and if we have a situation where we may have contradiction, we must re-analyze our interpretations and see where we have gone wrong. Brethren, we must do this very thing for our interpretation of 2 John 1:9. Let us do this now.
In our previous lesson we have seen that the term “doctrine” in Greek represents a “teaching.” A doctrine is, simply, anything that is taught. The “doctrine of Christ,” therefore, represents the things which Jesus taught. We have no difficulties considering all of the New Testament and not just the words Jesus spoke as the “doctrine of Christ” since it all was written and taught by His authority (Matthew 28:18-20). Nevertheless, let us look at a particular teaching of Jesus Himself in Mark 7:1-19a:
And there are gathered together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of his disciples ate their bread with defiled, that is, unwashen, hands. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands diligently, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market-place, except they bathe themselves, they eat not; and many other things there are, which they have received to hold, washings of cups, and pots, and brasen vessels.)
And the Pharisees and the scribes ask him, “Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with defiled hands?”
And he said unto them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honoreth me with their lips, But their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.’ Ye leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.”
And he said unto them, “Full well do ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor thy father and thy mother’; and, ‘He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death’: but ye say, ‘If a man shall say to his father or his mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is Corban, that is to say, Given to God; ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father or his mother’; making void the word of God by your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things ye do.”
And he called to him the multitude again, and said unto them, “Hear me all of you, and understand: there is nothing from without the man, that going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man. If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
And when he was entered into the house from the multitude, his disciples asked of him the parable.
And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Perceive ye not, that whatsoever from without goeth into the man, it cannot defile him; because it goeth not into his heart, but into his belly, and goeth out into the draught?”
One of the significant things in this verse is Mark’s conclusion to Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees and the subsequent parable in Mark 7:19b:
This he said, making all meats clean.
The inspired conclusion to this teaching of Jesus is that all meats are clean; it can be said, therefore, with great certainty, that Jesus taught that all meats are clean, and that a doctrine of Christ is that all meats are clean. And yet, as we have seen many times, Paul says the following in Romans 14:14:
I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself: save that to him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
The conundrum is laid before us: we know from 2 John 1:9 that anyone who does not hold to the doctrine of Christ does not have God, and that Jesus teaches in Mark 7:1-19 that all meats are clean. Paul, however, in Romans 14:14 establishes that while all meats are clean they are unclean to those who consider themselves unclean. Would this not mean that those who would consider meats unclean have gone beyond the doctrine of Christ? Absolutely– yet they are accepted and approved by God! What shall we say to these things?
For the humble in heart, those wishing to hear the word of God and obey it fully, there is no conundrum or contradiction. While Christ taught that meats were clean, He never condemned those who personally considered some meats unclean. Paul establishes that there is room for disagreement about the cleanliness of foods in Christ, and establishes that both are approved in Romans 14:6:
He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord: and he that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, unto the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
Romans 14 establishes that there are certain issues– matters of “food and drink,” not, “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17)— in which disagreement can exist without disruption of unity as long as neither group judges the other and neither group causes the other to stumble. If they both abide by Romans 14 they both abide in the doctrine of Christ. 2 John 1:9 is useful for us to know that those who do not hold to the doctrines of Christ– the direct commands and specific examples that comprise the “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit”– do not have God, but this by no means negates the truths of Romans 14 that issues of no importance to God– liberties– do not merit division. Even if the “weak” brother does not accept the liberty, his practices and/or means by which practices are performed are still approved by God and therefore are fully within the “doctrine of Christ;” merely because they are not the only way does not negate their validity.
Having examined the arguments under-valuing Romans 14 in relation to other texts, please click here to examine the arguments of those who undervalue Romans 14 through dismissing its current relevancy.