NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FOURTEEN (Lesson VIII)
It is quite clear that while Jesus and His disciples visited the synagogue each Sabbath Day, and the earliest missionary services by Paul the Apostles were conducted on the Sabbath, that Lord of the Sabbath said that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.1 It appears that the Jewish converts wanted to keep the Sabbath holy but the Gentiles had no such inclination. In fact, Paul believed that Christians should live every day in honor of the risen Lord and Savior and not make one day more holy than the other. But at the same time, there was no prohibition to Christians gathering on whatever day or time of day they wanted to give thanks, praise, and worship to the KING of Kings and LORD of Lords. What Paul is pointing out is that those who prefer Sunday should not speak disingenuously of those who prefer Saturday.
Frédéric Godet shares what he sees going on in Paul’s mind. As the Apostle sees it, to elevate one day above another is an attempt to distinguish one as more important than another. In doing so, they felt that the day became more sanctified and so the Day was worshiped instead of Him. Thus, those who held that day in high esteem were then more sanctified as well. There is a little irony in discerning one day as more important than another. Is it more important because it commemorates some event in the past? Or does the actual date itself, such as Christmas always fall on the 25th of December whether it be a Saturday or Sunday or some other day of the week? The more dates that are set apart as holy does not guarantee the person who observes them as gaining in holiness. The Apostle Paul does not take sides on this issue. All he asks of anyone is that this practice should be personal based on one’s convictions. The expression, “in their own mind,” contains the idea of an individual’s choice. And the term “should be sure,” means to be filled to the brim. It denotes a state of conviction which leaves no more room for doubt or hesitation.2
Jewish scholar David Stern offers his perspective. He doesn’t believe that the Apostle Paul is generally referring 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 a particular calendar. Each should be fully convinced in their own mind. This principle for dealing with doctrinal and practical disputes applies to the Greek concept of adiaphora (matters about which the Bible is indifferent),3 and must be balanced against 2 Timothy 3:16. 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 their own mind while at the same time “outdoing one another in showing respect for each other.4”5
Verse 6: Those who think one day is more important than other days are doing that for the Lord. And those who eat all kinds of food are doing that for the Lord. Yes, they give thanks to God for that food. And those who refuse to eat some foods do that for the Lord. They also give thanks to God.
Paul did not write this to promote promiscuity or lack of morals. To take this in a secular way is completely out of harmony with the true meaning. Everything mentioned here is that which already is done in our daily observance of God’s Word. Today we could compare this to our thoughts on fasting, communion, prayers, church attendance, etc. Sure, all of these are done in one degree or another to honor God. Other things, however, that are designed to satisfy the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the lust of one’s ego are not meant to honor God, and, therefore, cannot be included in the list provided by Paul in this chapter.
I have met believers who when they speak to Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, et al, they speak down to them and are very critical of their beliefs. Paul scolds anyone who would do that. All should be accepted at their level of faith and understanding of God’s Word. If they begin to see more in you than they do in themselves let them ask for greater clarity, don’t force it on them. Not only will you be doing them a favor but you will be doing God a favor. When I first joined the Boy Scouts, in Bisbee, Arizona, we learned how to tie knots. I thought I had a pretty good idea because I knew how to tie my shoelaces and tie up my little brother when we played cowboys and Indians. But when I saw some of the older scouts tie what they called the figure 8 knot; square knot and bowline knot, I immediately asked, “How did you do that?” I wanted to learn. Let your faith in God do the same thing to those who are spiritually still trying to learn how to tie their shoes.
Paul knew that the Jews in the congregation in Rome were accustomed to observing all the special days ordained by God.6 Some of them memorialized marvelous acts of God and some were done in obedience to God’s directives.7 Also, there were those days on which particular forms of reverence to God were performed.8 What Paul wanted them to know was that those things which honored God and were done out of gratitude to Him should not become a reason for arguments because one did it one way and another did it a different way and some who didn’t do it at all.
Not only that but when a person did anything on a special day or a specific occasion they were to thank God for the privilege of honoring and reverencing Him. Look at what Jesus did before He broke the bread and dividing the fish to feed the multitude.9 He gave thanks to bless the meal. Apparently, this became a custom among believers that is practiced to this day.10 But Paul felt that things might get out of hand, so he wrote to Timothy: “The Holy Spirit tells us in plain words that in the last days some people will turn away from the faith… They will say, ‘Do not get married. Do not eat some kinds of food.’ But God gave these things to Christians who know the truth. We are to thank God for them. Everything God made is good. We should not put anything aside if we can take it and thank God for it. It is made holy by the Word of God and prayer.”11
When it comes to how we should honor and thank God for what He’s done for us through our Christian conduct, several early church writers have a few things to say. For instance, Chrysostom notes that Paul continues his exposition from the previous verse. The issue at stake is not a fundamental one. Both sides are doing what they think pleases God the most, that’s why both end up by giving Him thanks. This proves that the differences between them turn out to be a minor one. Nevertheless, Paul aims a blow at the Judaizers because he accepts the validity of all foods.12
Then Pelagius credits the person who fasts in order to pray and honor God’s goodness and not on account of other people doing the same is observing that day for the Lord.13 At the same time, the person who eats in honor of God’s blessings eats that they might have strength to preach the Gospel for which every convert should thank God. Such individuals are not devoted to their stomach but to the salvation of others.14 But it is also true that if by the example of the person who does not eat meat many are saved, they can all return thanks to God. For the person who gives thanks only with their voice gives thanks alone, but the person who gives thanks in their actions gives thanks along with many others.15
Reformer John Calvin gives us his impression of Paul’s intent here. He advises everyone that in order for them to understand Paul’s purpose in this verse, it is necessary to distinguish between the notion, which anyone may have entertained as to the observance of days, and the observance itself to which they feel bound to do so. Calvin feels that such notions stem from superstitions. This is something that the Apostle Paul does not deny. In fact, he has already condemned it by calling it a “beggarly element,”16 and he will condemn it again even more plainly.
Now, the person who is a slave by such superstition does not dare to violate the seriousness of keeping such days as holy. In their mind, this was approved by God because they dared not to do anything with a doubtful conscience. What indeed could the Jews do who had not yet made such progress as to be delivered from scruples about such days? They had the Word of God in which the keeping of certain days was commended; there was a necessity laid on them by the Law and its annulment was unthinkable for them. Nothing then remained but that they, waiting for a fuller revelation, should keep themselves within the limits of their own knowledge and not to yet embrace the benefits of liberty given by the Gospel. It was something they did out of habit before embracing it by faith.17
Calvin goes on to observe that Paul is telling us that whether we feel free to eat certain foods or abstain from them, we are to give thanks to the Lord for what we do eat. So in Calvin’s mind, that meant that what we eat is impure and abstinence is impure when we don’t give God thanks. It is only the name of God, when invoked, that sanctifies us and all we have. Furthermore, it has been suggested as a question by some whether the Christian Sabbath is included here? The very subject in hand proves that it is not. The subject discussed is the observance of Jewish days, as in Galatians 4:10, and Colossians 2:16, and not what belonged to Christians in common.18
1 Mark 2:27
2 Frederic Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Adiaphora is a Greek word and means “things that are indifferent.” It has its origin among the Greek Stoic philosophers (4th century BC) who first used the concept to indicate a given act that was neither a vice or a virtue. It is not used anywhere in the New Testament.
4 Romans 12:10
5 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Exodus 12:14, 42
7 See Exodus 16:22-26
8 Isaiah 58:2-7
9 Matthew 14:19; 15:36
10 See 1 Corinthians 10:30-31
11 1 Timothy 4:1, 3-5
12 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 25
13 See Matthew 6:18
14 See 1 Corinthians 10:31-32
15 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 See Galatians 4:9-10
17 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Calvin: Ibid., footnote