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Romans 14

The Day, The Herbs, The Unclean

The themes of Romans 14 are respect and conscientiousness.

In regard to respect, we ought to give those we differ from us the benefit of the
doubt in regard to their spirituality. We are not their judges. And the one that is
their Judge also desires to justify them.

In regard to conscientiousness, each man will be judged based on what he knows to


be true. A man may sin against the Lord by doing something that he doubts to be
allowable even if that activity would otherwise be innocent.

These moral lessons and timeless principles have the utmost value and are useful in
any congregation today.

But some confusion exists regarding the examples that Paul uses to flesh out his
teachings on respect and conscientiousness.

In short, the scenario that illustrates the principles involves two classes of
Christians. One class that is weaker in the faith also tends to dispute on doubtful
questions. They make a case for eating “herbs” while the other class believes it is
permissible to eat “all things.”

The herb eaters also esteems “one day” above “another.”

Generic or Specific?
Some understand the example scenario as being highly generic. Any one who eats
herbs as a religious conviction, anyone who honors one day (as Sabbath) above
others, would in this view be viewed as those weaker Christians that ought to be
respected.

Others understand the example scenario as being specific in nature. A real and
identifiable class of Christians were advocating a doubtful and identifiable position
and causing arguments. In this view the chapter takes an important stand on the
specific topic of the keep-the-law-of-Moses error.

A little Bible information that was known to all in Paul’s day and known to few in our
own could settle the question of whether the chapter should be understood as
generic or as specific.

The New Testament Issue


Christians from Jerusalem differed from Paul on the question of the Law of Moses.
This is the reality that forms the background for much of the New Testament. This
argument was eventually settled by the counsel in Acts 15. Paul had been right.

What was the position of his opposers?

But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying,
That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the
law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of
this matter. And when there had been much disputing . . . Ac 15:5-7

From this passage it is apparent that there was enough confusion to cause a lot of
arguing.

Galatia, Colossi, Ephesus, Rome


The confused ones had at one time included the apostles. In Galatians 2 the apostle
Peter had been influenced by such persons “from Jerusalem” to feign a fear of
becoming unclean by eating with Gentiles. Gal. 2:12.

And, in fact, the entire church of Galatia had been confused by this same class.
They had accepted another gospel that relied on a covenant of works and was
represented by “Jerusalem which now is.” Galatians 3:1-3; 4:25.

The men of the Colossian church had similar trouble. The law of Moses included
various washings and ceremonies of respect for “holy” days. Men were judging non-
conformists. Col. 2:14-16.

The Ephesian church had similar trouble. Paul reminded them that the gospel had
broken down the middle wall between them, as Gentiles, and the Jews of Jerusalem.
And how did it break down the wall? By taking away the “law of commandments
contained in ordinances.” Eph 2:15.

What do we know about these troublers of the churches? For one thing, they argued
with Paul and Barnabas. For another, they traveled from the heart of Israel to reach
the areas with gentile churches.

And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and
said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be
saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and
disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain
other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about
this question. Ac 15:1-2.

The audience of Romans included them that “know the law” (Ro 7:1). When we find
that immediately after the introduction Paul addresses the religious sin problems of
those who claim to be circumcised Jews and who boast in the law (2:12-3:4), we
understand that the plague doctrine mentioned in almost all of Paul’s epistles had
made it to Rome also.

The Confusing Part


The Christians who advocated keeping the Mosaic law had one confusing fact at
their disposal. It seemed that Jesus had authorized Christians to keep Passover.
When Jesus last kept it he had bidden his disciples to commemorate the event.

But how would a Christian keep Passover? The original directions involved the
eating of bitter herbs and a sacrificed lamb and unleavened bread. Exodus 12:8.
And if a man was not “clean” he could not partake until a later date when he would
be clean. Numbers 9:7-11. It was a highly esteemed day by keepers of the feast.
And it was not at all esteemed by those who understood Paul’s message that the
rites and rituals under Moses had been replaced by a different class of rituals
(baptism and the Lord’s Supper) under the gospel.

This issue was big in Rome. It was the date of Passover, in fact, that divided the
church in Rome from that in Constantinople hundreds of years later.

Romans 14
So when persons who understand this Bible history and background come to
Romans 14 the chapter does not seem so difficult to understand.

There is only one Bible topic that combines the elements of Romans 14.

1. A topic that was doubtful and a source of arguable in the churches like
Rome
2. A topic that involved the question of eating “herbs”
3. A topic that involved the honoring/not honoring of a certain “day.”
4. A topic that involved the esteeming of things/persons as clean/unclean.

And that topic is that of the keeping of Passover, and by extrapolation, keeping the
other feasts.

In the early chapters the book of Romans clearly addressed the question of the 10
Commandments and concluded that they are enforced by faith (Romans 3:31), that
commandment keepers will be justified in the judgment (Rom 2:12-16), that we are
obligated to keep the 10 Commandments (Romans 13) and that it is by knowing this
spiritual and holy law that we can know what “sin” is (Roman 7:7, 12, 14).

In short, Paul taught in Romans, as in Galatians and Colossians and Ephesians and
as the apostles did in Acts 15, that while we are to obey God’s commandments, we
are no longer to follow the symbolic ceremonies. Understood this way, Romans fits
in with the rest of the New Testament.

What if someone were to urge this as a reason for being careless in diet and
heedless of the Commandment that begins “remember”? They would be pitting Paul
against himself. Even if that were inadvertent, it would be unfortunate. The blessing
that comes with obedience to God’s Law is countered by the warning that men’s
doctrines, and praise from disobedient persons, can make worship vain.

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with
their lips; but their heart is far from me. 9 But in vain they do worship me,
teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Matthew 15:8-9.

Conclusion:

Some men were esteeming Passover and the week-long feast of unleavened bread.
Others felt that there was nothing special or holy about these days. The former
class celebrated by avoiding defilement so they could be ceremonially “clean.” And
they ate the bitter “herbs” that went with the rituals (and not the lamb because
sacrifices ended at the cross).

Paul urged patience with these conscientious persons, but did not encourage
anyone to allow them to start arguments that might promote their mistaken views.
And never did Paul expect that anyone would think that he was speaking about
Sabbath or healthy living. Everyone knew what the issues were. And to them,
Romans 14 was tactful, yet easy to understand.

Why does it confuse us? We know more about human teachings than about
scripture facts.

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Additional Facts

If there was a point of jealous regard for law among the Jews, it was the Sabbath.
Jesus was routinely accused of breaking the Sabbath. (And he responded to those
charges by teaching that it is lawful to “do well” on the Sabbath. See Matthew 12:1-
12.) And Jesus defended his relation to the wall by saying “think not that I am come
to destroy the law, but to keep it. For truly I say to you that till heaven and earth
pass away” not one particle of the law would pass away. Matthew 5:17-18.

But the Jews that opposed the Christians and Paul though-out the book of Acts,
though they repeatedly brought up the question of circumcision, never did there
address the issue of Sabbath. This is significant evidence of a secondary type that
Sabbath was kept by the Gentile believers.

And when Gentiles read the gospel of John they encountered “Sabbath” with no
word of explanation. (John 5:9, 10, 16, 18; 7:22-23; 9:14, 16; 19:31). But the feasts
and festivals were introduced as being particularly Jewish. (See John 7:2). The
Passover itself was introduced this way three times before it was included as a
familiar part of the narrative. The latter of these three also alludes to the
purification rituals connected with Passover.

Joh 2:13 And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to
Jerusalem,
Joh 6:4 And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.
Joh 11:55 And the Jews’ passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of
the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves.