We have seen that the text of Romans 14 establishes that in matters of “food and drink” it is expected that those who believe in a practice to respect and not cause to stumble those who do not believe in that practice and vice versa. We have also seen in matters of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit”– the direct commands and specific examples of Scripture– there ought to be no compromise in any way.
We have come now to the third portion of our study in examining the arguments used to undervalue Romans 14 and its principles, and we have already discussed how misconceptions of “doctrine” and “binding” have led to false conclusions and how concepts from other passages of Scripture are used to taint interpretations of Romans 14, among other issues. Let us now continue with our examination of arguments undervaluing Romans 14 with more “categorical” arguments, rejecting the principles of Romans 14 outright in modern application or rejecting them in certain circumstances and see how they compare with the message of Romans 14 itself.
Arguments and Answers
Argument: Romans 14 was applicable only to the Roman church in the first century CE when Paul wrote to them and is not applicable to any other situation.
Answer: This argument is impossible to “disprove” per se because it strikes at the heart of Biblical interpretation. It is evident to all that the letters of the Bible (and even the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation) are written to various audiences in the Mediterranean world of the first century CE. How can it be said that any of it is applicable to anyone living on the North American continent in the twenty-first century CE?
Very few if anyone who would make this argument would argue that nothing from the New Testament is applicable to us today nor would I or anyone else assert that everything written in the New Testament is directly applicable to us today. At the end of almost every letter Paul writes instructions and greetings dealing with the specific individuals in the churches and in his entourage, and while I can be edified by these messages they are not directly applicable to me. Can this same thing be said regarding Romans 14?
One of the primary ways of measuring the relevance of a passage is to see if it appeals to universal truths. If a passage directly lends itself to application in other situations than the one directly addressed, the best interpretation will be to understand where the passage can be applied and to then do so even in the modern era. Romans 14 certainly appeals to universality in Romans 14:21:
It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth.
Will anyone assert that this statement is no less true today than it was in the 50s CE? Paul appeals here (and below, as we shall see) to general principles to solve a particular situation that developed in Rome; this requires that the general principles be more universal than the specific circumstance in Rome in the first century. We can see, therefore, that the principles of Romans 14 are most certainly relevant today.
Argument: The situation in Romans 14 cannot be replicated again in the churches and therefore irrelevant to us today.
Answer: While this argument is similar to the one given above, the difference is in how it argues for irrelevance by asserting that the situation is not replicable in any church today. What shall we say to these things?
We must first establish that there was more than one situation that involved the principles of Romans 14 in the Roman church. The main issue spoken of regarded the consumption of meats; we also see, however, that the observance of days was mentioned in the same context in Romans 14:5-6:
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. 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.
So we can see that the principles of Romans 14 involved two situations in Rome; is it still not replicable today?
This argument, like the one before and the one below, both invert the message of Paul in Romans 14 by asserting that the situations came first and then the principles while it is evident that Paul takes principles that already exist and apply them to the situations. Paul begins his discussion of the principles with the discussion on judgment in Romans 14:4-12:
Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? to his own lord he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be made to stand; for the Lord hath power to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. 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. For none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But thou, why dost thou judge thy brother? or thou again, why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God.
For it is written, “As I live, saith the Lord, to me every knee shall bow, And every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Paul begins by establishing a pre-existing truth: all of us will be held individually accountable for our actions at the seat of judgment, and then takes that pre-existing truth and derives the conclusion that in matters of “food and drink–” liberties– there is no room for us to judge the servant of another.
From this demonstration and conclusion Paul then inserts the issues of division into the principles established in Romans 14 in Romans 14:13-21:
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling. 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. For if because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love. Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he that herein serveth Christ is well-pleasing to God, and approved of men. So then let us follow after things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another. Overthrow not for meat’s sake the work of God. All things indeed are clean; howbeit it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth.
Paul has made very general statements that can surely apply in more situations than the ones mentioned. It is possible for things other than meats and days to be stumbling blocks to a brother? Is it possible for a good to be spoken evil of in more situations than food and days? Are there practices that concord more to “food and drink” than the “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17)? Does Paul limit the idea of striving for peace to peace only in situations involving food and days? Can we overthrow the work of God by more than just meat? And finally, if the principles of Romans 14 apply only to the issue of meat, why does Paul say that it is good to not do ANYTHING by which a brother will stumble?
It is evident from the text that Romans 14 appeals to more universal characteristics of Christianity than mere food consumption and days but to the attitude of tolerance in matters of no concern to God. The principles were not created for the situation; Paul utilized pre-existent principles from both the prophets of old and the truth in Jesus Christ and applied them to the specific situations in Rome. This is compelling evidence to show that there can and will be situations within the Lord’s Body that, while not exactly like the situation in Rome, will nevertheless need to be handled with the same principles. We have seen, therefore, that it is not accurate at all to say that the principles of Romans 14 are irrelevant because we cannot replicate the situation.
Argument: The principles of Romans 14 are applicable only to situations involving individuals and have no place in situations involving the assembly.
Answer: This argument posits a complete separation between issues of “individuals” and issues of the “assembly.” Is this a legitimate distinction?
While it is certainly true that Christians are called to assemble to worship and to edify (Hebrews 10:25), and the collective of all Christians are considered the “church” (Greek ekklesia, the assembly), both in a local and in a universal sense, the need to assemble and be a part of the assembly in no way negates individual responsibility. Even when the Christians in a certain area assemble and are the assembly, there is still a group of individuals who are individually liable for their actions and the events of the collective. We are told, for instance, in 1 Corinthians 11:27-30, that each of us is to discern the body of our Lord when we partake of the Lord’s Supper lest we partake in an unworthy manner and the guilt of the body and blood of the Lord comes upon us. There is no doubt that we are to assemble to partake of the Lord’s Supper and that it is an event in the assembly (1 Corinthians 11:20); will we say that if one person does not partake in a worthy manner that the entire assembly is liable? We are told to worship God in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24); if one member of the assembly is not worshipping in the proper spirit in song or in some other way, is the entire assembly charged with sin? We can see from these Biblical examples that while we assemble with the saints and are thus part of the assembly we are individually liable for our participation in the assembly.
If, then, we are individually liable in participating in the assembly, and our final judgment will include our participation within the assembly, how can it be said that the principles of Romans 14 do NOT apply? If a brother has a lack of faith in a means by which a practice is performed in the assembly which is a liberty, and we all are individually liable for the events and participation in the assembly, we should not put a stumbling block in our brother’s way (Romans 14:13)! We also appeal again to Romans 14:21: if we are to not do anything by which our brother stumbles, does this by necessity require us to not do anything in the assembly by which our brother stumbles that would not cause us to stumble? If we are a part of the assembly and liable for the events in the assembly, are we not to be just as quickly condemned as violating the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit if we cause a brother to stumble during the assembly in regards to a liberty as if it were an event outside of the assembly? We can see, therefore, that since we are individually liable for our actions in participation in the assembly Romans 14 applies just as much as if it involved practices outside of the assembly.
Having examined the arguments under-valuing Romans 14 by dismissing its relevancy, please click here to examine the arguments of those who undervalue Romans 14 in its application.