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  • Writer's pictureRob

The Hundred-Ninety-Fourth (Romans Part 23)

We’re moving on to chapter 14 of the book of Romans this week, and right off the bat it has to be stated that this is a chapter that includes a lot of verses used by individuals to support certain views or beliefs.  As we get into it, you will likely start to realize what that means, if you are not familiar with this chapter at the moment, but the big thing to understand and keep in mind about this chapter is that Paul is not condoning certain beliefs or condemning certain beliefs here.  We will get into some details of this chapter through our study this week, but it needs to be looked at from a 10,000 foot view initially to get a grasp of what Paul intended when writing it.

In this chapter, Paul continues his theme in this letter of trying to get the believers of Rome to get along.  As we have noted previously, there was a wide variety of people that came to Yeshua and joined His body in the city and surrounding areas of Rome, including Jews and Gentiles, and among the Gentiles those with a wide variety of pagan beliefs.  You can tell by some of the things Paul calls out what there was dissension about among them.  They clearly had different views on what foods to eat, whether or not they should drink alcohol, and if there were certain days of the year that should be set apart from others.

One of the details we’re going to go into depth on is food, so we’ll cover that one later after our 10,000 foot view.  It is worth going into a little detail though, on Paul’s mention of what some translations call “special days.”  If you haven’t figured it out yet throughout our studies, as you look into scripture it is always worth it to look at the original language and what it says.  In the cases where you can see multiple different words used for the same idea in a verse, you definitely need to look at the original language, and this is one of those cases.  In the verse where Paul talks about these days, he doesn’t actually say “special day,” or even “observe” (Romans 14:5-6).  He definitely doesn’t say “worship,” as the New Living Translation would have you believe.    

No, Paul uses the Greek word phroneo.  In fact, if you pardon the broken English and just assume for the moment that this word translates to “regard” (which we’ll find is also not the best translation), the literal translation of this portion of the verse is: “The one regarding the day to the Lord regards it and the one not regarding the day to the Lord not regards it.”  If you look across all the different translations after knowing this literal translation, you find that there are a lot of them that impart the beliefs of the translator(s) into the verse and hide the true meaning of what Paul was saying.  Now, let’s figure out what phroneo actually means so we can find out what he meant.  

Strong’s concordance has the definition of this word as “to have understanding.”  If we look at HELPS Word-studies, we find that the root of this word, phren, means the midriff or diaphragm, the parts around the heart.  This root word is referencing what one believes in their heart, and the whole word phroneo therefore means whatever is in one’s heart coming out in their actions.  We can’t forget Strong’s definition though, so when we put it all together in context, what Paul is saying is that there are certain days that some understand in their heart should be set apart from others and this understanding is carried out in their actions.  Also, if you remember awhile ago in a previous study we learned that another word for set apart is holy.  

In other words, Paul’s point is that whether someone understands and therefore acts as though some days are holy or they don’t, we are not to judge them for that.  Going back to the beginning of this study, he is absolutely not saying that no days are holy, he is absolutely not saying Shabbat or Sunday is holy or not holy, he is absolutely not saying the feast days are holy or not holy, he is absolutely not saying December 25th or the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox (easter) is holy or not holy (in fact those "holy" days weren’t even a thing during Paul’s time), etc.  He’s also absolutely not saying that you can consider whatever day you want holy.  He’s not supporting or condemning any special day in this statement, he’s simply saying that we are not to judge those that understand that certain days should be set apart and we are not to judge those that don’t understand that certain days should be set apart.  This does presuppose though, that there are certain days that should be set apart according to YHWH, Paul just doesn't specify what those are in these statements.

We’re going to tie that concept in a bit later to some other things, but for now, let’s jump back up to 10,000 feet.  Paul brings this whole discussion back to base by pointing out that everyone’s just trying to do things for Yeshua, and giving thanks to Him, and in the end all we are to do is love our brothers and sisters in Him at whatever place they are in their walk.  We’re all going to stand in front of YHWH’s judgment seat and “give an account,” so do we want to be explaining to Him why we judged each other or belittled each other?  The Greek word Paul wrote for “give an account” is logos, a familiar word that we’ve looked at time and time again (Romans 14:7-12).  It means a spoken word of logic or reasoning.  

What Paul is saying here, and he included a quote from Isaiah to back it up (Isaiah 45:23), is that we will literally stand in front of YHWH on judgment day and tell him, actually speak to Him, our explanation, our reasoning as to why we did what we did in this body.  I don’t know about you, but that puts things in perspective for me.  This is not going to be some third party reading all the stuff we did and we just stand there silently while YHWH makes His judgment.  Remember when you were a kid and your parent would confront you and ask you why you did something?  Yeah, it’s going to be like that…except YHWH knows everything already and He also knows our heart and intentions (1 John 3:20, Psalm 139:4, 44:21, 1 Chronicles 28:9).

What does that mean?  Are we just supposed to let people do whatever they want in their worship to YHWH?  No, of course not.  Judging someone is different than either helping someone figure out what something means in scripture or pointing out that something someone else is doing is against scripture.  Again, a common use for this chapter is for someone to justify letting believers do things that are clear abominations to YHWH.  One of Paul’s common themes is that everyone has a different role in the body of Yeshua, and one person is not above another except that Yeshua is above all (Ephesians 1:20-22, 1 Corinthians 12:4-26, Romans 12:4).  This means no one can tell another what they should or shouldn’t do, but they absolutely should tell them what they’ve learned through their studies or was given by YHWH’s Spirit.  This goes for anyone in Yeshua’s body, and is a hard concept for some to really grasp because of how all the different Catholic and Protestant denominations have been structured throughout history.  There is only one shepherd, and that is Yeshua (John 10:16).

Paul also makes this concept an inward one at the end of this chapter (Romans 14:19-23).  In other words, initially he stated that we should not look at others to judge or belittle or put a stumbling block in front of, and then he turns it internally to say that we also shouldn’t do things ourselves that we don’t fully believe in.  The word Paul uses is diakrino, which literally means judging back and forth.  Basically, he's saying wavering in our beliefs brings condemnation upon us.  This makes you wonder what Paul actually means, because there are different ways to interpret this statement.    

We know that Paul doesn’t mean we should make decisions about what we believe and never change our minds.  There is too much in scripture for us to know every detail, and scripture isn’t even an exhaustive reference of literally everything, including the worship of YHWH and how we are to conduct ourselves throughout our lives.  So, there’s going to be something new that we find, or are led to, in scripture after we come to a decision on our beliefs.  This new thing may or may not agree with what we believe, but we need to be open to re-evaluating what we believe when we come across it.  Consequently, this also means that we don’t just accept something and believe it when we know that we don’t have enough evidence to believe it.  Even, or maybe especially, when it's someone else in the body telling us we should believe it.

So, if either of these cases is not what Paul is talking about, what does he mean?  He’s talking about those that change what they believe based on their current situation.  For example, let’s say you believe YHWH doesn’t want you to eat a certain thing, but when you get groceries you accidentally buy that thing and bring it home (in this case two things look similar and one you believe you are ok to eat and one you believe you aren’t).  If you decide to eat it anyway by justifying it to yourself, like saying you shouldn’t let it go to waste or YHWH wouldn’t mind me eating it just this once, that is what Paul is describing.  Obviously, this can be applied to many other situations and this is just an example to illustrate a point.

The bottom line is, and what Paul is alluding to in this chapter, is not that one subset of the believers is Rome is right and the other is wrong, it’s that they all (and us as well) should be living and worshipping together in love.  YHWH leads us all to certain things at different times and He sometimes leads us to different things all together.  We should share those things with each other so we can learn and discern whether or not we should accept those beliefs, but we should not force what we believe onto someone else.  That’s not to say that everything is ok to YHWH all of a sudden.  He is unchanging, and constant, and therefore the things He hated as written in Old Testament scripture He still hates today, but if someone hasn’t been led to or convicted of that yet we should not judge them or belittle them for it.  

So, that’s the 10,000 foot view of this chapter, but we would be remiss if we did not address the other major detail that this chapter gets used to “prove,” and that is the eating of certain foods.  Paul mentions food in this chapter more than once (Romans 14:2-3, 6, 15, 17, 20-21), so clearly this was a hot-button issue amongst the believers in Rome.  If you look at commentaries on this chapter and the question of what Paul is referring to when talking about foods, you’ll find there seems to be a consensus that he’s talking about the clean versus unclean food requirements commanded by YHWH.  But, if you haven’t learned yet through life that consensus doesn’t necessarily mean truth, let this example be something that helps you learn it (and, of course, the consensus on evolution…).

The thing these commentaries assume is that Paul mentions eating vegetables because the Jews at the time were choosing to eat like that rather than meat that they weren’t sure had been a sacrifice to an idol, which is one of the things forbidden to be eaten (Ezekiel 34:15, Acts 15:29, Revelation 2:14).  They also use the fact that the word “unclean” appears in this chapter to support this view.  However, something to consider is that the Gentiles that came to join the body of Yeshua also came with their own beliefs, some of which included vegetarianism for various reasons.  The philosopher Pythagoras taught reincarnation and therefore that animals shouldn’t be eaten because they could be reincarnated people, and Plato taught vegetarianism because of his belief that eating meat led people to decadence and war.

What about the word “unclean,” you might say.  Well, we have already figured out, by Paul’s own testimony, that he was the Hebrew of Hebrews, and when you look at a lot of his quotes of the Old Testament they align with the Septuagint version, which means that is likely the version of scripture he was most familiar with.  It was also likely the more readily available version at the time given many more spoke and wrote Greek than Hebrew or Aramaic.  Why point this out?  Because the word that was translated to “unclean,” was the Greek word koinos, and there are no instances in the Septuagint where this word means unclean/impure according to YHWH’s commandments.  This word simply means common, or not set apart.  It exists in other verses in the New Testament in conjunction with the actual Greek word for impurity, showing that it is, in fact, separate and distinct from it (Acts 10:14, 28, 11:8).

If Paul meant clean or unclean meat when writing his letter to the believers in Rome, he would have used the word akathartos.  In fact, he did use this word in three other letters to mean something that is impure to YHWH (Ephesians 5:5, 1 Corinthians 7:14, 2 Corinthians 6:17).  Also, this word is used in the Septuagint for every reference to uncleanness according to YHWH’s commandments, a total of 152 occurrences.  By way of comparison, koinos occurs only five times in the Septuagint, and Paul, as well as the Jews in Rome, would have absolutely known this distinction.  Clean versus unclean is one of the pillars of Jewish belief and tradition, so they would have known it inside and out (and still do!).


The other thing to consider, and for full disclosure I don’t have any proof to back this up, is that because this was such a big part of the Jewish lifestyle, the Jews of Rome almost certainly had figured out a way for them to buy meat that they knew was clean.  Whether it was from a person they trusted, or even other Jews that sold meat, for the centuries that they had already been living in these areas, in and amongst Gentiles with the latest ruling group being the Romans, they wouldn’t have just said, “oh, I guess our people will just be vegetarians now.”  Just take what you can see today as an example.  Of the entire world’s population, Jews make up 0.2% of the 8 billion people.  That’s about 15.7 million out of 8 billion.  As of four years ago, 2.5% of the United States population, or about 7.5 million, are Jews, and what do you see in the world, and more specifically the United States?  An entire approval and labeling system whose sole purpose is to inform Jews whether or not the food inside the container is allowed to be consumed based on YHWH’s commandments (and perhaps some Pharisaical ones as well).  It’s hard for me to believe that they hadn’t created some method of meeting YHWH’s dietary commandments in Gentile areas like Rome in Paul’s time as well.

While this is on the longer side of the studies we normally do (thanks for sticking through it!), this detail as well as the overall idea Paul is conveying in this chapter needed it.  There are a lot of lessons here that we need to take away, not the least of which is that even if so-called “scholars” agree on something, that doesn’t mean they’re right.  We all need to study scripture ourselves and find out what YHWH is trying to teach us through it.  We may get it wrong sometimes and find something against what we believe, but that’s ok.  That’s just Him guiding us to the truth.  The other thing to take away is that Paul was not condoning or condemning anything particular beliefs in this chapter, so therefore it can’t be used by us to do that, even to condone eating whatever we want or observing whatever holidays we want.  We will all find the truth through the leading of the Holy Spirit, and because we’re all at a different point in that journey, we are not to judge, belittle, or create a stumbling block for other believers based on what truth we have been led to believe by Him.

Have a wonderful week!  Shabbat shalom and YHWH bless you!

-Rob and Sara Gene

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