Romans Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern

chapter 14
1. Now as for a person whose trust is weak, welcome him — but not to get into arguments over opinions.
To welcome someone only in order to lure him into a futile dispute, or, equally, to welcome someone who comes only to argue, is not the "love" of 12:8-10 and 13:8-10 but the "quarreling" condemned at 13:13.

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 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. The four most frequently offered candidates are these (of them, (4) is correct):

(1) The weak are Gentile Christians who abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, as in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10. But Sha'ut does not deal here with idol-worship as a problem, even though there are at least a dozen parallels between this passage and that one.

(2) The weak are legalists, either Gentile or Jewish believers, either Judaizers (Ga 2:14b&N) or of some other stripe, who believe they earn a righteous status before God by their works. But a major point of the book of Romans is precisely that such persons are not merely "weak" in trust but utterly lacking in it, unbelievers not believers; whereas here the weak in trust are clearly portrayed as believers.

(3) Many interpreters bring to this passage a presupposition that the New Testament abrogates the ceremonial and ritual details of the Jewish Law, such as kashrut and the Jewish holidays. They see the weak as Messianic Jews who still observe these "Jewish details" because they have not yet realized that there is no longer any need to do so. According to this understanding Gentile Christians, along with Jewish believers who have "freed themselves from the Law." are not to look down on their "weaker brothers" for abstaining from pork, celebrating Passover or fasting on Yom-Kippur. On the other hand, Messianic Jews who do practice these customs have no ground for a "holier-than-thou" attitude toward those who do not. Quite the contrary: not only have they a direct command not to pass judgment on their brothers who do not keep the Law, but there is implicit in this interpretation an indirect, subliminal message to aspire to the "strong faith" that will "free them from the Law."

In Chapter V of my Messianic Jewish Manifesto I have explained why I do not believe the New Testament abrogates the Torah. It is true that Yeshua's sacrifice alters the meaning of Temple sacrifices and perhaps eliminates the need for at least some of them (see Messianic Jews 7-10&NN). But it is also true that the New Testament itself "has been given as Toruh" (MJ 8:6b&N); as a result Torah itself has been transformed (MJ 7:12&N). In particular. Gentiles have been brought into an expanded Messianic people of God (above, 11:23-24&N); and the relationships between Jews and Gentiles in this new Messianic people of God have been spelled out (e.g., in Acts 15, in the book of Galatians, and at 15:27 below). Yet the major changes are not in the Torah itself but in how to apply it, how to establish priorities among conflicting commands that might govern a particular situation (see Yn 7:22-23&N, Ga 2:12b&N). Such changes are not so much in the content of Torah as in the hearts of those entrusted with determining how to use it (Mt 18:18-20&NN). Yeshua himself said he did not "come to abolish the Torah" (Mt 5:17&N); it distorts his statement if it is interpreted to mean that he came to abolish the ritual, ceremonial and civil aspects of the Law and to preserve only the moral aspects.

In any case, 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 28:17N); 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."

(4) 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.

I once met a musician who had been addicted to heroin and under its influence had used his guitar to express the anguish of his existence in desperate, despondent blues. On coming to faith he not only stopped using drugs but destroyed his record collection and his guitar; two years later he still felt himself too "weak" in his faith to play his instrument. Making music is obviously not a sin, but he was afraid that playing guitar might resuscitate his habits of the "bad old days." For the sake of his own soul and sanity he constructed this "fence around the law" for himself.

(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 ihey 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." 

2. One person has the trust that will allow him to eat anything, while another whose trust is weak eats only vegetables.
Eats anything... only vegetables. Sinful is not proposing that the Jewish dietary laws have been abrogated. See 14:1-15:6N above and also Mk 7:19N, Ac 10:17-19N, Ga 2:11-16&NN. 

3. The one who eats anything must not look down on the one who abstains; and the abstainer must not pass judgment on the one who eats anything, because God has accepted him —
4. who are you to pass judgment on someone else’s servant? It is before his own master that he will stand or fall; and the fact is that he will stand, because the Lord is able to make him stand.
Sha'ul chooses his words carefully in order to pinpoint the sin of each. The one who eats anything might take pride in having thought the matter through and freed himself from his fears and compulsions; therefore he might look down on his duller, weaker brother, with his self-created fence around his self-created law. But the abstainer is more likely to develop a "holier-than-thou" attitude and pass judgment on the other as careless or a libertine. In this letter, boasting has already been condemned at 1:22, 30; 2:17-27;3:27-4:2; 11:18,25; 12:3ff.; and judging at 2:1-3. 

5. One person considers some days more holy than others, while someone else regards them as being all alike. What is important is for each to be fully convinced in his own mind.
One person considers some days more holy than others. The reference is not specifically to Jewish holidays but to any days that any believer might have come to regard as especially holy. This is because the "weak" are not specifically Jewish believers, but any believers attached to particular calendar observances (see Section (4) of 14:1-15:6N).

Each should be fully convinced in his own mind. This principle for dealing with doctrinal and practical disputes applies to adiaphora (matters about which the Bible is indifferent) and must be balanced against 2 Ti 3:16, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin. correcting faults and training in right living." Where Scripture gives a clear word, personal opinion must give way. But where the Word of God is subject to various possible interpretations, let each be persuaded in his own mind while at the same time "outdoing one another in showing respect for each other" (12:10). 

6. He who observes a day as special does so to honor the Lord. Also he who eats anything, eats to honor the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; likewise the abstainer abstains to honor the Lord, and he too gives thanks to God.
7. For none of us lives only in relation to himself, and none of us dies only in relation to himself;
8. for if we live, we live in relation to the Lord; and if we die, we die in relation to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord —
9. indeed, it was for this very reason that the Messiah died and came back to life, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
10. You then, why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For all of us will stand before God’s judgment seat;
11. since it is written in the Tanakh, "As I live, says Adonai, every knee will bend before me, and every tongue will publicly acknowledge God" (Isaiah 45:23).
12. So then, every one of us will have to give an account of himself to God.
Judging and boasting do not befit people whose standing before God is equal. Verse 11 quotes Isaiah 45:23, also cited by Sha'ul at Pp 2:10 in a similar context (and compare 15:1-3 below with Pp 2:1-8).

Compare the Mishna:
"[Rabbi El'azar HaKappar (late 2nd century C.E.)] used to say, "Those who are born will die, and the dead will be raised to life again, and the living [that is, the resurrected | will be judged, so that people will know, make known and understand that he is God, the Maker, the Creator, the Discerner, the Judge, the Witness and the Plaintiff; and that it is he who will judge; and with him there is no guile, forgetfulness, respect of persons or taking of bribes; for everything is already his. Understand that everything is according to the reckoning of the account — do not let your velzer [(evil) inclination] lull you in to hoping that the grave will be a refuge for you [that is, that there will be no future judgment]. For it is not by your own will but in spite of yourself that you were created and born, that you go on living, that you will die. and that you will have to give account before the King over kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be he.'"(Avot 4:22) 

13. Therefore, let’s stop passing judgment on each other! Instead, make this one judgment — not to put a stumbling block or a snare in a brother’s way.
The teaching of this verse, which expresses the central point of this chapter, is a midrash on Leviticus 19:14, which says, "You are not to place a stumblingblock before the blind." or, more generally, you are not to bring cruel intended harm upon someone who is helpless. The rabbis interpreted "blind" metaphorically to mean those unlearned in Torah (Sifra to Leviticus 19:14, Bava Metzia 75b, 'Avodah Zarah 21b-22a). This meaning for "blind" would include both those whom Sha'ul calls weak in trust and those whom he considers strong in trust but inclined to pride; until their attitudes change both are relatively helpless, and it is wrong to cause them to commit sin, either in fact or in their own opinion. 

14. I know — that is, I have been persuaded by the Lord Yeshua the Messiah — that nothing is unclean in itself. But if a person considers something unclean, then for him it is unclean;
Nothing is unclean in itself. Sha'ul is certainly not espousing moral relativism. His remark has to do not with human behavior but with rum 'ah ("ritual uncleanliness"). It is not surprising that Sha'ul, having alluded in the previous verse to Leviticus 19, a chapter full of commandments about turn 'ah, continues with a dictum on that subject. It is, nevertheless, a surprising conclusion for a Jewish scholar who sat at the feet oiRabban Gamli'el to reach; indeed he had to be persuaded by the Lord Yeshua the Messiah himself. For the concept of tum'ah pervades not only the Mishna, one of whose six major divisions, Taharot ("Ritual Cleanlinesses"), has this as its central topic, but the Pentateuch itself, especially Leviticus 11-17. The Bible does not always explain why some things are pure and others not. Hygiene is not the issue; for if it were, there would be no reason to exclude Gentiles from the application of these laws. And the rabbis do not speculate much on the reasons. Since the laws of ritual purity apply to Jews only, the statement that nothing is unclean in itself should suffice to free any Gentile whose conscience still bothers him in regard to such matters. As for Jews, even in rabbinic Judaism most of the purity laws gradually fell into disuse (see Encyclopedia Judaica 14:1412). Developing a comprehensive Messianic Jewish theology of ritual impurity is beyond the scope of this commentary. For related issues see Mk 7:1-23&NN. Ac 21:24&N, Ga 2:12bN, MJ 13:4&N. 

15. and if your brother is being upset by the food you eat, your life is no longer one of love. Do not, by your eating habits, destroy someone for whom the Messiah died!
16. Do not let what you know to be good, be spoken of as bad;
Do not let what you know is good, that one need not be in bondage to rules about food, be spoken of as bad, as a result of your flaunting your freedom to eat as you wish. 

17. for the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, shalom and joy in the Ruach HaKodesh.
18. Anyone who serves the Messiah in this fashion both pleases God and wins the approval of other people.
19. So then, let us pursue the things that make for shalom and mutual upbuilding.
20. Don’t tear down God’s work for the sake of food. True enough, all things are clean; but it is wrong for anybody by his eating to cause someone to fall away.
21. What is good is not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.
22. The belief you hold about such things, keep between yourself and God. Happy the person who is free of self-condemnation when he approves of something!
Compare the Talmud:
"It was taught: If there are things which are allowed but which some treat as prohibited, you must not permit them in their presence." (N'darim 15a) 

23. But the doubter comes under condemnation if he eats, because his action is not based on trust. And anything not based on trust is a sin.
Anything not based on trust is a sin. One could call this the principal axiom of New Covenant thinking and behavior. 

next chapter...