NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FOURTEEN (Lesson VII)
A number of early church scholars have several things to say about this subject of the Roman believers placing certain priorities in their lives when it came to celebrating particular days of the year. Chrysostom believes that Paul may be giving a subtle hint about fasting. It is quite possible that those who boasted of fasting several days a week were being critical of those who did not. It is also likely that even though some fasted, they did not do so on particular days. As Chrysostom supposes, Paul explained to those who fasted out of fear of being criticized that it should be their choice, not someone else’s. Furthermore, when it came to their right standing with God, required fasting was not part of justification.1
Augustine, on the other hand, notes the inconstancy between human and divine judgment. As he sees it, that without looking deeper into the subject on what Paul says here seems to him that this is said about God and man, not about two individuals. The person who picks and chooses what holy days they plan to observe and which ones they don’t plan to celebrate are constantly being changed. But the One whose judgment is the same every day is the Lord. That’s why believers should make their decisions based solely upon what is mutually accepted between their spirit, God’s Spirit, and God’s Word. But their decision must be their own.2 From my study of Augustine and his writings it is quite possible that he represents the Lord’s decisions as those which come through the Church. So the message is clear, any and all directives from God come to the people in the pew through St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
And then we have the thoughts on abstaining from meat on certain days. Early church scholar Constantius is convinced that Paul is saying that there are some people who at certain times of the year abstain from meat but that there are others who have decided they must abstain from meat their entire lives.3 And Pelagius says that each person must become fully convinced in their own mind on these things. That’s why Paul felt obligated in shining some light on a subject which is neither a fixed law in Judaism or Christianity. Each individual should do whatever seems right to them in their effort to please Christ with their commitment to His cause. Furthermore, they should do so only out of love for Him and not earn merit on being more righteous. So it only makes sense that whatever decision they make is one they can live with because their conscience is clear.4 Again, what a person eats or abstains from is not a requirement to be justified before God as one of His children.
Martin Luther points out a dilemma that believers often find themselves in when not wanting to cause any controversy by either criticizing another Christian for their liberal views or putting down a fellow believer for being too conservative. They should consider cooperating and even participating to show humility and create harmony, Luther believes that some may be evoked into acting contrary to their own convictions, and since they think differently on the matter they end up violating their own conscience. They just don’t have the spiritual strength to do otherwise than what others are doing so they can be accepted as part of the crowd. This, in spite of the fact, that their own conscience is screaming for them not to be bullied into doing something they are against.5 It is clear that Luther is speaking about those who Paul calls “the weak” and their response to “the strong” in the congregation.
Fellow Reformer John Calvin shares his interpretation. For him, the Apostle Paul applies the best rule by encouraging everyone to make up their own mind. With this said, it implies that each believer should be certain in their own hearts and minds that they are being obedient to the Spirit’s leading and not the leading of others who they hold in esteem or contempt. The whole point is to please God, not those you want to impress, with your dedication to God. Every believer must keep in mind that the first principle of living right is that everyone must submit to the will of God and never allow themselves to lift a finger while they are in the process of making up their mind. Otherwise, they will end up doing something that exasperates and irritates them more than making them happy with their choices.6
To further examine what Calvin is saying, he implies that it is often more convincing when we decline to join someone in an endeavor that does not fit within the purview of our belief system, we can do so by appealing to a higher or stronger source as the basis for our decision. For instance, if you invite a friend over for a meal and have pork chops or ham, and they decline by saying, “I’m Jewish,” or “I’m vegetarian,” we should waste no time in trying to persuade them to go against their custom. So it is with things that a person may be uncomfortable by joining in when they say: “Thank you so much, but I must decline since I am an Evangelical,” or “Thank you but I can’t. I have very strong convictions about it and would be going against my conscience.”
John Bengel does not say precisely which of these points we’ve examined is correct since all are a matter of choice. As he sees it, a person who has decided on following one way or the other must be committed to the way they choose much like a ship that holds to its course unimpaired either in a narrow canal or in a spacious lake.7 The editor of Calvin’s commentary explains that this idea is inherent in the Greek verb plērophoreō used here by Paul. He writes that this metaphor is borrowed from ships going full steam ahead, and signifies a person having a most certain persuasion of the truth. – Leigh.8 In either case, Paul is saying that it is the same for both groups, those who eat and those who abstain. Both were to do what they were fully convinced was agreeable to the will of God.9
Adam Clarke points to his understanding of what Paul implies here. He thinks that perhaps the word “day,” is here taken for a particular date, time, festival, or such like, in which sense the term “day” is frequently used. Reference is made here to the Jewish institutions, and especially their festivals; such as the Passover, Pentecost, Feast of Tabernacles, New Moons, Jubilee, etc. The converted Jew still thought that to observe these days was a moral obligation. The Gentile Christians, not having been raised in this way, had no such biases. And, furthermore, those who were the instruments of bringing them to the knowledge of God insisted on no such stipulations. Consequently, they paid little attention to these less important things.10 While many Christians today also hold Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, Ascension Sunday, and the Lord’s Day – Sunday, as special if not holy, the requirement to keep the Sabbath, – Saturday as the Jews did their days and feasts, is generally not enforced except for some denominations such as the Seventh Day Adventists.
Robert Haldane acknowledges that even in his day there were some non-Jewish believers who thought that participating in certain Jewish feasts was helpful to their image. We can say that this has continued up until this day. That’s why Haldane notes that the Apostle Paul took it for granted that there were believers in Rome who held different views on this subject. That’s because Haldane feels that Paul is directing his message only to the believers. Even though this is a clear point, it is one of great practical importance. It recognizes that many believers live at different levels in their understanding of the Gospel and the Will of God for their lives. It is proper, however, to believe that the Lord’s Day was not included by Paul in this list since it appears he was talking strictly about meats and days that were peculiar to the Jewish Ceremonial Law. Just as he wrote to the Galatians, he objects to their observing days, and months, and times, and years, because it only kept them in bondage to the Law. Paul called such habits as signs of weakness and lack of resolve to remain liberated in the grace of God that set them free.11.12
Henry Alford offers his views on how these special days apply to Christians, especially Sunday. In his own way, he amplifies what Paul said by putting it this way: If a weak believer celebrates just one particular day as a special holiday, while a stronger believer celebrates many days as holidays, that’s fine. Let each person do what they are comfortable with, in their own minds. Alford goes so far as to say that keeping one day of the week holy for worshiping God is an obligation for all believers whether they choose the first or last day of the week. During apostolic times, there were some believers who gathered on the Sabbath (Saturday) and some on Sunday (the day Christ rose from the dead), but it was never instituted as a law for Christians. Furthermore, there is nothing in the Final Covenant that establishes Sunday as God’s choice over Saturday as a day of rest. It wasn’t until the 4th Century under Emperor Constantine that the Church of Rome decided on Sunday as a sneaky way of denigrating the Jewish Sabbath.
So Alford argues that anyone who insists on celebrating the Jewish festivals and holy days may do so as long as they don’t convince themselves that they are enhancing their salvation through grace. Also, that the argument of whether Christians should meet on Saturday or Sunday as their day of worship are only dealing with church tradition not the Word of God. Alford maintains that had the Apostle Paul been convinced to keep the Sabbath as the Christian day of worship he could not have penned what has written here. Also, the fact that Paul says that the controversy was over “one day,” means that some were elevating one day – out of many – above the others.13
Here is a little more historical evidence on how the Sabbath became Sunday instead of remaining Saturday: When Emperor Constantine I, – a pagan sun-worshiper – came to power in A.D. 313, he legalized Christianity and made the first Law that required all to observe Sunday as a holy day. His infamous Sunday enforcement Law of March 7, 321 AD reads as follows: “On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.”14 The Sunday Law was officially confirmed by the Roman Papacy. The Council of Laodicea in A.D. 364 decreed, “Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday but shall work on that day; but the Lord’s day they shall especially honor, and, as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ.”15 Furthermore, James Cardinal Gibbons freely admits, “You may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we [the Catholic Church] never sanctified.”16
1 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 25
2 Augustine on Romans 80
3 [Pseudo-]Constantius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 199
6 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 351
8 Edward Leigh (1602-1671): Critica Sacra, or Philologicall and Theologicall Observations upon all the Greek Words of the Last Covenant in order alphabeticall, London, 1639; 2nd edit, 1646.
9 John Calvin: Ibid., Footnote 
10 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 268
11 See Galatians 4:9-10; Cf. Colossians 2:16
12 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 597
13 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 119
14 Codex Justinianus 3.12.3, translated by Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 5th ed. (New York, 1902), 3:380, note 1.
15 Strand, op. cit.,citing Charles J. Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church, Vol. 2 [Edinburgh, 1876] p. 316
16 Faith of Our Fathers, 92nd ed., p. 89