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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Romans 14

Verses 1-99

Ch. 14:1 9 . Christian practice: mutual toleration: each individual directly responsible to the Redeemer

1 . Him that is weak , &c.] Lit. But him that is weak , &c. The “ but ” marks a slight contrast with the previous passage. Probably this is q. d., “I have just spoken of vigour and thoroughness in your spiritual life; but let this be such as to leave you gentle and sympathetic with imperfectly-enlightened converts. Be severe with self, gentle with others.”

in the faith ] So lit.; but render in his faith . See notes on 12:3, 6. Here, as there, a subjective explanation of the word “faith” is better, in view of the usage of this Epistle.

receive you ] The Gr. tense is the present, and perhaps indicates (what is otherwise probable) that St Paul means not only the first welcome of a new believer, but the continued welcome a full recognition ever after of his standing as a Christian. Same word and tense as 15:7.

but not to doubtful disputations ] Lit. not to criticisms of (his) scruples . The word “ but ” is not in the Gr., and changes the exact point of the clause, which is q. d., “ receive him, do not criticize him; let him in with a welcome , not with a call to discussion .” The noun rendered “ criticisms ” (or its cognate verb) is used (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12:10 ; Hebrews 5:14 ;) for detection of differences; and again (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:31 , E. V. “ judge ourselves,”) for judicial enquiry and sentence , literal or figurative. “ Criticism ” thus fairly represents it in a context like this, where needless keenness in balancing varying convictions, and the consequent sentence of private or public opinion, is in view. “His scruples ”: same word as 1:21, (E. V. “imaginations,”) where see note. Here it is the reasoning of the mind with itself; doubt and perplexity.

Some general remarks are offered on the subject and the teaching of this chapter.

1. Two passages of St Paul’s writings afford striking likenesses or equally striking contrasts to Romans 14:0 ; viz. 1 Corinthians 8:0 , and the Epistle to the Galatians as a whole. In all these three places St Paul has in view differences of opinion within the visible Church. In 1 Corinthians 8:0 , as here, he argues for mutual toleration; in Galatians he lays down, with unbending decision, the line between irreconcilables.

2. This difference may be explained by the different quality and aspect of the controversies. In Galatia the question was of primary principle; at Rome and Corinth it was, on the whole, of secondary practice. How to be justified before God was the Galatian problem. How the justified should live was, at least in the main, the problem at Rome and Corinth. For there is no proof that the “weak brethren” differed from the “strong” on the great principle of Justification by Faith. Their error was that the path of duty, laid before the justified, included a moral obligation on the obedient children of God to abstain from certain sorts of food and to keep the Mosaic feasts. All the Roman Christians agreed that the justified must not lie nor steal; but the “weak brethren” held that, in the same way, they must not taste “unclean” food, nor neglect the festivals. The error in Galatia affected the very principle of the work and grace of Christ; the error at Rome did not, at all necessarily, do so. St Paul was thus perfectly consistent in writing Galatians 1:6-9 , and Romans 14:1-10 .

3. It is unmistakable, from all the passages in question, on which side apostolic truth lay. St Paul clearly decides against the principle of the “weak brethren;” though he treats it as an error which might lawfully and usefully be met by toleration and the quiet influence of tolerant example.

4. The question has been much debated whether the observance of the Sabbath was one of the tenets of the “weak brethren,” and so whether it is here ruled by St Paul to be not of permanent moral obligation. (Cp. Colossians 2:16 .) If by “the Sabbath” is meant the last day of the week strictly, the answer to both questions must be yes . But as to the observance of a divinely-consecrated Weekly Rest, it is evident (from Genesis 2:3 and Exodus 20:8-11 , and cp. such passages of prophetic doctrine as Isaiah 58:13 , Isaiah 58:14 ,) that the institution stands on a very different level from that of the monthly and yearly Mosaic festivals. It is antecedent to all Jewish law, and in the Decalogue of Exodus it is based on strictly universal grounds, and placed among the great elements of moral duty. No doubt it is impossible to trace the whole process of transition from the observance of the Seventh day to that of the First; but the plain fact remains that the sanctity of the primeval weekly worship-rest was of a kind most unlikely to be slightingly put aside by the Apostles; and thus in such places as this and Colossians 2:16 it is far more likely that the wrong opinion in question was that the whole Mosaic code of festivals was still binding in full detail; that therefore the Saturday was the only possible Sabbath; and that it was to be observed by the Rabbinic rules.

How to deal with those who might reject the Weekly Rest altogether might be a difficult question. But all we are here called on to enquire is whether it was likely that St Paul, with the O. T. before him, would treat the Sabbath (the Sabbath apart from its Rabbinic aspect) as a thing of the same quality as, for example, the new-moon feast.

2 . believeth that he may eat ] Lit. believeth to eat; i.e. has faith which leads him to see that sorts of food are no longer a matter of religious scruple.

who is weak ] i.e. in his faith. See on ver. 1.

eateth herbs ] This is given as an extreme case. Anxious scrupulosity would adopt vegetarianism as the simplest solution of the questions raised by the Mosaic precepts, complicated by the possible “defilement” of animal-food by idol-sacrifices.

3 . God hath received him ] Lit. God did receive him ; i.e. at the crisis of his conversion; on the sole revealed condition of his accepting and confessing Christ as his Saviour and Lord. Same verb as that in ver. 1.

This clause may probably refer to both the two preceding clauses; but its main reference (see next verse) is to the fact that the “ strong ” Christian, in spite of his apparent laxity, had been welcomed by God.

4 . Who art thou that judgest ] The verb “ judge ” connects this with the “judgment” passed by the “eater of herbs” upon the Christianity of his “stronger” brother. The word “judge” here (as in Matthew 7:1 ) manifestly does not forbid the entertainment, nor the right expression, of opinions , but the assumption of a tone of judicial opinion: the thinking of others from a level of isolated authority and sanctity.

standeth or falleth ] In the sense of acceptance or non-acceptance.

Yea, he shall be holden up ] Lit. But he shall he made to stand . The “but” points out that of the two alternatives just given (“standing,” “falling,”) the former, in this case, is certain.

5 . One man esteemeth , &c.] Lit. One man judgeth day abeve day, but another Judgeth every day . The “ judgeth ” in the second clause is an echo from the first, without which it would be obscure. As it stands, it means not only, as E. V., “esteemeth every day alike,” but “every day good alike;” with a suggestion that the “strong” believer will be careful to assert his freedom in the spirit of one who wishes not to secularize but to consecrate his whole time.

On the question of the Sabbath, see last note on ver. 1.

fully persuaded ] “Quite sure.” Cp. 4:21. This word directs individual Christians not to stubborn fixity in their own opinion as such, but to earnest pains, as in the Lord’s presence and by His revealed will, to form that opinion clearly. Each man not only has a right to “his own” opinion, but (a very different matter) is responsible for it to the Lord.

6 . regardeth ] Lit. thinketh, mindeth . Same word as e. g. 8:5.

unto the Lord ] i.e. the Lord Christ , “the Lord of the dead and living” (ver. 9). The word thus used is a good implicit proof of St Paul’s view of the supreme dignity of Messiah; especially when we find him just below writing, in the same connexion, “he giveth God thanks.” It would indeed be unsafe to say that in that clause “ God ” means specially or exclusively “ Christ .” But the two words are so used that no such gulf as that between Creator and Creature can possibly divide them. “ Unto the Lord: ” i.e., as one who not only is responsible to Him, but owns that he is. This seems to be required by the use made of the fact of thanksgiving just below.

and he that regardeth not not regard it ] Documentary evidence appears to exclude this part of the verse. But as an explanatory gloss it is just and valuable.

He that eateth ] Probably read And before this clause.

for he giveth God thanks ] And so evidences his sense of subjection and responsibility.

and giveth God thanks ] Here again, the inward sense of responsibility to “the Lord” is evidenced by the outward act of thanksgiving to “God.” The thanks given is, of course, for the food (vegetable, or “clean” meat), which he does eat.

7 . For none of us ] Us the justified, the “sons of God.” Here (and in vv. 8, 9,) St Paul states the great principle on which the practice in question is, or should be, based. He takes it for granted that each Christian owns, and acts upon, a sense of the Lordship of Christ, because that Lordship is a Divine fact.

liveth to himself ] See last note on ver. 4. Here, as in 1 Corinthians 4:0 , the argument passes from the Christian’s independence of man’s judgment to his deep dependence on the Lord’s. To “live to himself” is here, manifestly, not so much to live a “ selfish ” life as to live a life in which the mere dictates of conscience and will are the supreme rule, irrespective of Christ. Q. d., “none of us believers can make anything lower than Christ and His will the rule of life. Opinions, convictions, conscience itself, must be brought for light and correction to Him; for we are His.”

Strictly speaking, this is a digression, as the main purport of the passage is to insist on the lawful freedom of believers with regard to one another .

8 . we die unto the Lord ] In view of ver. 9, this must mean, “when we die, we do not pass out of His bondservice, but only into another mode of it: in the world to come we are still at His command, responsible to Him.” Not so much the act of death as the state of the departed seems to be in question here. (The usage of the Gr. verb rendered “die” fully admits this: it must occasionally be rendered “ lie dead .”)

The whole of this passage is deeply significant of the true object of a Christian’s life. We are bound indeed to “live to others;” but this bond is but a part of the supreme obligation (of which non-religious philanthropy knows nothing, though it owes to the Gospel so much of its original impulse,) to “live and die unto the Lord.” There are some excellent remarks on this in Memorials of a Quiet Life , III. 130.

whether we live therefore ] “Therefore” gathers up the facts just stated into one summary expression.

the Lord’s ] His bondservants. Cp. St Paul’s own personal confession, Acts 27:23 .

9 . died, and rose, and revived ] Better, probably, died and came to life . The words “ and rose ” appear to be interpolated. The balance of the clauses is thus made precise: He died and lived; He is Master of the dead and living .

that he might be Lord ] that He might become the Master . The emphasis is on the word Lord, or Master. Here St Paul states one great intended effect of the mode of Salvation. It was Redemption , Deliverance by Purchase; and thus it made the saved the personal possession of the Saviour. It was also, specially, through Death and Revival; with a view (among other objects) to the realization by His servants that He who, to save them, had dwelt in both worlds , was their Master in both .

10 23 . the same subject: mutual care and love more important and sacred than eager assertions of liberty

10 . But why dost thou ] “ Thou ” is strongly emphatic here, as in contrast to the Lord. So just below, in the next sentence. Cp. ver. 4.

thy brother ] Here, evidently, “thy brother in Christ;” one of the “many brethren” who are such as being adopted by the Eternal Father in the supreme Elder Brother (8:29. See also on 12:10).

all ] Strongly emphatic; the critic as well as the criticized will be there all on one level.

the judgment seat ] Lit. the bema ; the Gr. equivalent of the Lat. tribunal . (Same word as e.g. Matthew 27:19 ; Acts 18:16 , Acts 18:17 ). The great Session is imaged under the forms of imperial law.

of Christ ] The true reading, probably, is of God . On the interchange of the words Christ and God in this context, see on ver. 6. It is significant that in 2 Corinthians 5:10 (the best commentary on this passage) the undoubted reading is, as in E. V., “ of Christ .”

The “judgment seat” here is that of the Great Day, when “the books will be opened.” This passage by no means implies that the Christian must wait till then to know whether he is accepted or not; a thought which would contradict both the letter and spirit of e.g. ch. 5:1 11, and 8. (See especially also 2 Timothy 4:8 .) But it does imply that the judicial declaration of his acceptance, and also of the Lord’s verdict upon his life of new obedience, will be made to him as to one at the bar and before the Judge . The Judge will be his Brother, but yet his Judge, his King.

11 . it is written ] Isaiah 45:23 . The Heb. there runs, “By myself have I sworn … to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” The LXX. runs, “By myself I swear, … that to me every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear (by) God.” Here St Paul substitutes one frequent formula of Divine Oaths for another; and paraphrases “shall swear to me” by its practical equivalent, “ shall confess ( my sovereignty ) before me .” (Cp. Psalms 63:11 ; where to “swear by God” is to take the oath of faithful allegiance to Him.)

12 . every one of us ] Because the prediction (finally to be fulfilled when Messiah finally triumphs) emphatically speaks of “ every knee, every tongue.”

give account of himself] “Himself” is, of course, emphatic. The Christian is dissuaded from “judging” by the remembrance that his Judge will ask him hereafter for his own “peculiar book 1 1 The phrase is borrowed from Herbert’s pregnant little poem, “Judgment:”

“Almighty Judge! how shall poor wretches brook

Thy dreadful look,

Able a heart of iron to appal,

When thou shalt call

For every man’s peculiar book?

“But I resolve, when Thou shalt call for mine,

That to decline;

And thrust a Testament into Thy hand.

Let that be scann’d;

There Thou shalt find my faults are Thine.” ,” not for his neighbour’s.

13 . judge this rather ] The verb “to judge” is used elsewhere (e.g. Acts 20:16 ,) in the sense of “to decide, to determine.” Here, of course, it is so used with epigrammatic emphasis just after the use of it in the ordinary sense.

that no man put , &c.] Wonderfully does this passage shew the harmony of true Christian independence with Christian unselfishness. The Gospel teaches that man has not merely a right to his opinion; a truth which, taken alone, leads to little save mutual repulsion or indifference. It teaches that he is responsible for his opinion to the Lord; and this leads his Christian neighbour to thoughtful watchfulness lest his own example should lead another astray in this deep matter of forming the opinions for which account must be given. See 1 Corinthians 8:0 throughout for illustrations.

14 . by the Lord Jesus ] Lit. in the Lord Jesus ; i.e. as one who is both a “member of Christ” and acts under His special influence.

unclean ] Lit. common (as margin E. V.); i.e. ceremonially unclean. Cp. Acts 10:15 .

of itself ] Lit. by means of itself ; i.e. per se : “nothing makes itself unlawful” for food.

but to him , &c.] Lit. unless to him , &c. But the Gr. idiom is rightly rendered in E. V. So Rev. 20:27, where lit. “ unless they which are written , &c.”

Here St Paul appeals to the feet that individual conscience, however misguided, must never be violated by its possessor. Mistaken conscience calls for correction by better light , but never for violation. To follow conscience is, in itself, no security that we are doing what is per se right; but to violate conscience, which is our actual view of right and wrong, is always wrong. Here, for instance, the “weak brother,” so long as his conscience scrupled about a certain sort of food, would do wrong to eat it, though his scruple was an error; and the “strong brother” would be really tempting him to sin by not patiently explaining the error and leaving him to reflection on it, but rudely, sarcastically, or slightingly, inducing him to override his unchanged convictions. Cp. the instructive language of 1 Corinthians 8:10 .

15 . But ] Another reading is For . The documentary evidence is doubtful; and the evidence of connexion favours But . If For is adopted, it must be explained by treating ver. 14 as a parenthesis; and thus connecting vv. 13, 15: q. d., “resolve to lay no stumblingblock for others; for you do lay a stumblingblock, when you neglect their scruples about food.” Reading But , the connexion shews it to be a word not of contrast but of pursuance: q. d., “But, granting what I have just urged, it is the opposite of Christian love to neglect your brother’s scruples.”

grieved ] put to pain; the pain of a conflict with conscience such as either to lead to its violation, or to harden prejudice.

with thy meat ] Lit., and better, on account of thy food . “ Meat ,” in the E. V., is never exclusively “ flesh -meat.” The word is akin to French met; a thing put on the table. In market-language “green meat” still means vegetables; and so in some country districts “meat” alone still does. Here, of course, the word is inclusive of flesh.

not charitably ] Lit. no longer according: to love: “Thou forsakest the rule of Christian love which hitherto thou hast followed.”

Destroy not him ] The natural effect of neglect or contempt of the mistaken scruple would be to frighten, or embolden, the “weak brother” so as to become careless of his conscience in general; to “regard iniquity in his heart,” (Psalms 66:18 ,) and so to cease to “abide in Christ.” Cp. the language of 1 Corinthians 8:11 . Here the question what God would do for the protection or restoration of the “weak” Christian is manifestly out of sight, and out of place: not His covenant, but His servants’ duty and responsibility, is before us here. So again in ver. 20. “ Destroy ” is the present imperative in the Gr., and indicates that a course of conduct, not an isolated and finished act, is intended.

thy meat ] There is a subtle reproof in the word “ thy; ” a suggestion of the selfishness underlying the conduct in question.

for whom Christ died ] The profoundest of all motives for a Christian’s tenderness and care. Here, of course, the reference is to the Lord’s death for His Church , (Ephesians 5:25 ,) of which the “weak brother” is a member by faith.

16 . then ] therefore . The word sums up and applies the previous reasonings.

your good ] i.e. your Christian light and liberty, in the “kingdom of God.” Misuse of this would be sure to embitter Christian intercourse, and to weaken the tenderness of conscience and so the holiness of life in the community. Cp. 1 Peter 2:12 , 1 Peter 2:15 , 1 Peter 2:16 .

17 . the kingdom of God ] This important phrase occurs elsewhere in St Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:20 , 1 Corinthians 4:6 :9, 1 Corinthians 4:10 , 1 Corinthians 4:15 :50; Galatians 5:21 ; Ephesians 5:5 ; Colossians 4:11 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:12 ; 2 Thessalonians 1:5 ; 2 Timothy 4:18 . In these passages (as generally in N. T.) the radical meaning of the phrase is always the same the Reign of God over Redeemed Man, revealed and effectuated by the Gospel. This radical meaning branches into different references; and thus the Kingdom may mean (according to the varying contexts) (1) the state of grace in this life; (2) the state of glory in the life to come; (3) the revealed truths which are the laws and charter of the kingdom; (4) the dignity and privilege (here or hereafter) of the subjects of the kingdom. This latter is the special meaning here. Q. d., “What we gain as the subjects of the Kingdom of God is not freedom to eat what we please, but the possession of righteousness, peace, and joy.”

righteousness , and peace , and joy in the Holy Ghost ] In view of the argument of the Epistle it is best to explain these sacred words by ch. 5:1 5. “ Righteousness ” is the state of the justified in the eye of the Holy Law; “ peace ” is the reconciliation of God and believing man; “ joy in the Holy Ghost ” is the blissful realization of this state of peace and mercy, by the hearts in which “the love of God is poured out by the Holy Ghost given unto us.” These Divine gifts stand here in supreme contrast to the petty gains of temporal and bodily freedom of choice and pleasure.

18 . For he that in these things , &c.] The “ for ” indicates a connexion somewhat as follows: “the privileges of the Gospel are above all things spiritual: for the subjects of God’s evangelical kingdom approve themselves as loyal to their King, and worthy of their privileges in the eyes of men, not so much by insisting on ceremonial freedom, as by bringing the influence of their spiritual peace and joy to bear on their service of Christ.” “ In these things: ” another reading, not so well supported, is “ in this thing .” If adopted, the “ this ” must refer to the whole idea of spiritual privilege.

serveth ] The word bears a suppressed emphasis. The assertor of ceremonial liberty is reminded that he is the bondman of the Lord, precisely in virtue of his freedom from the doom of the law. See ch. 6.

acceptable to God ] As the servant who uses the Master’s talent in the Master’s business.

approved of men ] As standing the test of sincerity and reality. (The Gr. word suggests the idea of testing, assaying .)

Fact abundantly illustrates the Apostle’s words. The disciple who “in these things serveth Christ ” may or may not be popular with men around him; but he is quite sure, on the whole and in the long run, to be recognized as real . No doubt the “strong” Christian is implicitly warned that punctilious assertions of liberty are very likely to have the opposite result.

19 . the things which make for peace ] Lit. the things of peace . So below, the things of mutual edification . For remarks on the harmony between St Paul’s eirenicon here and his stern warnings (e.g. in Galatians 1:0 ) against foundation-error, see long note on ver. 1 above.

edify ] Cp. 15:2. The metaphor here has its usual (but not invariable) reference to the state and growth not of the individual but of the community .

20 . destroy not ] Lit. loosen, dissolve, pull down . The word is used in contrast to the idea of building up in the previous words. Same word as e.g. Matthew 26:61 , Matthew 26:27 :40; Acts 6:14 ; 2 Corinthians 5:1 ; Galatians 2:18 .

the work of God ] i.e. His building, the Church of His redeemed.

All things indeed are pure ] As regards eating or abstinence.

with offence ] Lit. by means of a stumbling-block ; i.e. induced to do so by force of mere example, while his conscience is adverse or undecided.

21 . It is good ] The word is in antithesis to the “ it is evil ” just before. The “strong” Christian might deem his own exercise of liberty good per se; and his “weak” brother’s obedience to scruples evil per se . The Apostle shews him that the exact contrary might be the case. Not the principle of liberty, but its application , might be positively mischievous, and the practical “breach” of the theory might be its truest “honour.”

For a still stronger expression of the noble principle of this verse, see 1 Corinthians 8:12 . Never did that principle more need to be remembered than at the present day.

offended ] Here, of course, as throughout this passage, the word bears its antiquated meaning “ is made to stumble .”

is made weak ] In his obedience to the sense of duty.

22 . Hast thou faith? ] “ Thou ” is emphatic, and marks the contrast of the persons the “strong” and the “weak.” “ Faith ” here, as throughout the Epistle, is (in its radical idea) justifying faith; trustful acceptance of the Propitiation. But it has here a special reference to the results of that faith in regard of ceremonial restrictions the “strong” Christian’s decided view that he is wholly above such restrictions, because “justified by faith.”

have it to thyself ] i.e. keep it to thyself . The Gr. verb in this phrase can be rendered either “ have ” or “ keep ; and thus affords a slight “play” on the same word (“ Hast thou faith?”) just before. St Paul’s meaning is that faith, with its results, is not a matter for personal display the use to which many Christians were tempted to put it. Admirable is this plain warning in the very Epistle in which the preciousness and power of justifying faith have been the primary topic.

before God ] In the calm, and heartsearching, secrecy of the soul’s intercourse with Him.

Happy is he , &c.] In this clause, and the next verse, we have a double warning; (1) of the “strong” Christian’s risk in the eager assertion of his liberty; (2) of the “weak” Christian’s sin, should he violate his conscience the thought of which must check the conduct of the “strong” in dealing with him. The present clause may be paraphrased, “Happy is the man who so understands his liberty as never to misapply it to sinful indulgence! For the risk is great; self -assertion may easily take the place of the assertion of free grace; and so you may persuade yourself to accept as an act of true freedom what is really a moral wrong, and thus bring yourself into judgment.”

condemneth ] Lit. judgeth ; but the connexion implies the guilt of the party on trial, and thus E. V. is practically right.

23 . And he that doubteth ] This verse, like the last clause, is really aimed at the “strong” Christian’s mistaken conduct. He is reminded of the real sin he may occasion in his “weak” fellow-Christian. See last note but one.

doubteth ] He whose conscience is not at ease on the question of “meats.”

is damned ] Lit. hath been condemned . The perfect gives the thought that ipso facto , then and there, he passes under God’s sentence of displeasure, as a rebellious child.

The idea of eternal doom is not, of course, at all inherent in the words; the sentence may be only one of merciful chastening. But even thus, this verse is a suggestive comment on the Divine view of the sinfulness of the lightest transgressions.

not of faith ] i.e. he “takes a liberty,” not on the right principle but on the wrong; not from clear conviction that it is authorized by his acceptance in Christ by faith, but from neglect of conscience. And all such acts, as being results of a known wrong principle, are sins.

It is plain from the context that St Paul does not assert that every act is sinful which is not directly based on conscious faith in Christ; but that every act of “liberty” of the kind in question , not so based, is sinful; for it can be based only on neglect of conscience.

for ] Lit. but , or now ; the argumentative word.

At the close of this chapter many MSS. place the Great Doxology, 16:25 27. See on this question, Introduction , ii. § 3.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Romans 14". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.