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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Romans 14

Introduction

XIV.

There appears to have been a party in the Church at Rome which had adopted certain ascetic practices over and above the common rule of Christianity. We gather that they abstained altogether from flesh and wine, and that they (or possibly some other persons in the same church) also made a point of observing certain days with peculiar sanctity. When we ask what was the origin and affinities of this party, the answer is not quite obvious. It can hardly have been a branch of the Judaising party, such as it was met with in the Churches of Galatia, for then more stress would have been laid on the duty of circumcision, and their antagonism to St. Paul would probably have been more pronounced. Besides, if they had taken their stand upon the law of Moses, that law only forbade certain meats and drinks, and not all flesh and wine. A more plausible theory would be that which connects the party in question with the scruples mentioned in 1 Corinthians 8:4-46.8.13. The avoidance of meat offered to idols might easily be extended so as to cover all meat whatsoever. It would be difficult to ensure the complete absence of such pollution as was involved in the idol sacrifices, and a scrupulous person may have thought that the only safe measure was a total abstinence from animal food. And in like manner, as regards wine, which was liable to be used in heathen libations. The objection to this view is, that there is no allusion to the idol sacrifices, and as the Apostle enters into the subject so minutely in 1 Corinthians 8:0, he might naturally be expected not to pass it over without some allusion here. It seems best, therefore, to regard the practices referred to in the Roman Church as a natural development of ascetic or purist elements within the Church itself. These would be supplied by those who had come over to Christianity from the sect of the Essenes, with the tenets of which sect the allusions in this chapter would quite sufficiently agree. It would appear to have been a further development of the same doctrines which, at a later date, vexed the Church at Colossæ. At Rome, the tendency had hitherto been slight and unaggressive, and the Apostle therefore deals with it mildly; at Colossæ it had become more arrogant and intolerant and therefore, it is rebuked sharply. (See Colossians 2:16-51.2.23.)

The whole of this chapter affords a most striking instance of the practical wisdom of St. Paul. It is a locus classicus on the two subjects, toleration and asceticism.

Verse 1

(1) Weak in the faith . . .—The presence of a single strong master-motive is apt to silence petty scruples. Where the “eye is single”—where all the powers and faculties of the man are concentrated upon one object, and that object the highest that can engage human thought or affection—there will naturally be a certain largeness of view. The opposite of this is to be “weak in the faith.” There may be a sincere desire to lead a religious life, and yet the mind is taken up with petty details, each of which is painfully judged by itself, and not by reference to a central principle.

Receive ye.—Take to yourselves, stretch out the hand of friendship to him.

Doubtful disputations.—The marginal rendering is more exact, “to judge his doubtful thoughts,” or “to criticise his scruples.” The strong are to deal tenderly with the weak, and not engage them in casuistical discussions.

Verse 2

(2) Believeth that he may . . .—Rather, perhaps, hath confidence to eat all things. His faith is strong enough to prevent his conscience from becoming uneasy.

Verse 3

(3) Let not him that eateth.—The two classes of men are exposed to two opposite faults. The strong despise the weak; the weak judge the strong. In the one case there is contempt for what is thought to be narrowness and pedantry. In the other case censorious judgments are passed on what is regarded as levity and irreligion. Human nature alters very little.

God hath received him.—Strictly, received him, admitted him into His Church when he was baptised, and so took him for His own.

Verse 4

(4) Who art thou?—This is addressed to the weak. The Apostle indignantly challenges his right to judge. That right belongs to another tribunal, before which the conduct of the stronger Christian will not be condemned but approved and upheld.

He standeth or falleth.—It seems most in accordance with what precedes to take this of judicial condemnation or approval from the Master whom he serves—i.e., Christ.

Holden up.—The same word as that in the clause following, and similar to that in the clause preceding—“Made to stand.”

God is able to make him stand.—The true reading here is “the Lord”—i.e., Christ; the word is the same as “his Master” above. “Make him stand” seems to be still judicial. “Secure his acquittal,” but with reference to his previous course of conduct on which that acquittal is grounded. The trial is not necessarily reserved for the last day, but is rather the judgment which Christ may be supposed at any moment to pass upon His servants. If they can sustain this judgment, it is only because His grace has enabled them so to act as not to be condemned by it.

Verse 5

(5) One man esteemeth.—For the observance of days and seasons, compare Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:16. From these passages, taken together, it is clear that the observance of special days has no absolute sanction, but is purely a question of religious expediency. That, however, is sufficient ground on which to rest it, and experience seems in favour of some such system as that adopted by our own Church.

Verse 6

(6) Regardeth.—Much as we might say, “he who minds the day,” or directs his thoughts and feelings to it.

He that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.—This clause is omitted by the best MSS. and editors.

For he giveth God thanks.—By the saying of grace at meat, the meal, whatever it may be, is consecrated to God, and he who partakes of it shows that he does so in no irreverent spirit.

Verse 7

(7) Dieth to himself.—Even in the act of death the Christian is conscious of his relation to Christ; he dies “in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13).

Verses 7-9

(7-9) The larger principle holds good, and therefore much more the smaller. It is not only his food that the Christian consecrates to God (or rather, immediately, to Christ, and through Christ to God), but his whole life, to its very last moments.

Verse 9

(9) And rose, and revived.—For these words the best MSS. substitute simply “and lived.” The Received text is a gloss upon this. It was through the resurrection that Christ was finally enthroned at His Father’s right hand, and that universal dominion was given to Him.

Verse 10

(10) Judgment seat of Christ.—The true reading is, of God.

Verses 10-12

(10-12) Such being our relations to Christ, and such the judgment to which we look forward, there is no room for any human judgment. Censoriousness is thus condemned.

Verse 11

(11) As I live.—The original has, “I have sworn by Myself,” for which St. Paul, quoting from memory, substitutes another common Hebrew formula—“As I live,” or, “by my life.”

Shall confess . . .—The Greek word is capable of two renderings—“confess” and “praise:” Most commentators prefer the latter, but it is not quite clear that the English version is wrong. That the word can bear this meaning is, especially in view of James 5:16, unquestionable, and the sense seems to agree better with the next verse.

Verse 13

(13) Judge this rather.—The word “judge” forms the connecting-link between what follows and what has gone before. If any judgment is to be formed at all, let it be rather as a principle to guide our own action, and not in the shape of a criticism upon others. This principle, in the case of those who are themselves liberal and large-minded, should be not to put temptation in the way of their weaker brethren.

Stumblingblock or an occasion to fall.—The same words that occur in Romans 9:33. That translated “occasion to fall,” is the origin of our word “scandal.” It is properly a trap or snare. Both the idea and the word are found in Matthew 18:6 (= Mark 9:42), where it is disguised by the translation “offend,” in the sense of “cause to stumble.” The same translation appears frequently elsewhere. One of the special characteristics of Christianity is its tenderness for the weak

Verse 14

(14) I know, and am persuaded.—The Apostle clearly identifies himself with the less scrupulous party. For one of his intense penetration and grasp on the realities of things, any other position was impossible. But while these essential features in the Apostle’s character find the noblest expression, we cannot but note his attitude of gentle forbearance towards those whose faith is less deep and less robust than his own. This comes out especially in that pathetic and pregnant appeal, “Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.”

By the Lord Jesus.—Rather, in the Lord Jesus. A solemn form of asseveration. The Apostle is speaking from the very depths of his Christian consciousness as one who knows that he has himself put on the Spirit of Christ.

To him that esteemeth.—This would mean, in philosophical language, that the quality of uncleanness was not an objective property in the thing itself, but a subjective quality in the mind of the person regarding it as such. Still, this subjective quality is for the individual a real one, and should be treated as real. (Comp. Mark 7:15.)

Verse 15

(15) But.—The true reading is undoubtedly For, the connection of which is somewhat difficult to trace. It appears to leap over Romans 14:14, and go back to Romans 14:13. We may suppose that the substance of this verse recurs to the Apostle’s mind after the parenthetical statement just inserted, and though he does not repeat it in words, he connects on to it the sequence of his thought. “The Christian should not put a stumbling-block in his brother’s way. Not, indeed, that there is anything unclean in itself, but relatively to the person who so regards it. it is unclean. [Therefore the Christian should be careful as to what he does.] For to cause distress to another about a mere matter of food is to be uncharitable.”

Two stages are noted in the words “grieved” and “destroy.” When one man sees another do that which his own conscience condemns, it causes him pain, but when he is further led on from this to do himself what his conscience condemns, he is in danger of a worse fate; he is morally ruined and undone. The work of redemption that Christ has wrought for him is cancelled, and all that great and beneficent scheme is hindered of its operation by an act of thoughtlessness or want of consideration on the part of a fellow Christian.

With thy meat.—Rather, because of meat, on a mere question of meat.

Verse 16

(16) Your good.—That blessing of Christian liberty which you enjoy. This is not to be used so as to give rise to reproaches and recriminations which will make a bad impression on the outside world.

Verse 17

(17) Meat and drink.—Strictly, eating and drinking.

Righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.—By “righteousness and peace” is not here meant imputed righteousness, or justification and reconciliation with God, but rather the moral condition of righteousness in the Christian himself, and concord with his fellow-men. These are crowned in the confirmed Christian by that feeling of subdued and chastened exultation which is wrought in Him by the presence in his heart or constant influence of the Holy Spirit.

It is remarkable how, with all the wide difference in terminology between the writings of St. Paul and the Gospels, they yet come round to the very same point. The “kingdom of God,” as here described, is exactly what we should gather from the fuller and more detailed sayings of our Lord. “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man;” “The kingdom of God is within you;” “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation;” “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light;” “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness;” “Blessed are the peacemakers;” “Rejoice and be exceeding glad.”
It has not been beyond the power of heathen or even Christian philosophers, such, e.g., as Marcus Aurelius, to arrive at the conception of righteousness and peaceableness as duties to be observed and striven after. The peculiarity of Christianity consists in the unity which it gives to these attributes as naturally flowing from a spring of deep religious emotion, and from the finish and perfection which it adds to them by the introduction of that third term, “joy in the Holy Ghost.” Many individuals have shown, and still show, with greater or less approximation, what the Christian type should be, but the great and only perfect Exemplar is Jesus Himself, and that less, perhaps, in the later portion of His career, when He was fulfilling that other side of His mission, to “bear the sins of many” as the Saviour of mankind, than in the earlier untroubled phase which finds expression in the Sermon on the Mount. This is in closest contact with the normal life of men.

Verse 18

(18) In these things.—The more correct reading is, in this (way). The meaning, however, is the same.

Serveth Christ.—Here the principle of unity which holds together different sides and manifestations of the Christian character is indicated.

Approved of men.—So that He will not be “evil spoken of,” as the uncompromising legalist or anti-legalist is apt to be.

Verse 19

(19) Let us therefore follow.—The best MSS. have the indicative mood, “so then we follow.” There is, however, some good support for the Received text, especially in the patristic quotations and versions; and mistakes of this kind were peculiarly liable to be made.

Edify.—The word has unfortunately lost its freshness of meaning, but we have no other single equivalent for it in English. It is the “upbuilding,” or mutual help and assistance in the spiritual life which Christians receive from their intercourse with each other.

Verse 20

(20) Destroy not.—A different word from that employed in Romans 14:15. It is the correlative and opposite of “edify,” and means to “unbuild” or “pull down.”

The work of God.—The fabric which the grace of God has begun, and which the edification of Christians by each other may help to raise in the soul; the gradual formation of a truly Christian character, both spiritual and moral.

For that man who eateth with offence.—It seems, on the whole, best (though the other view is taken) to refer the “eating” here to the strong in faith, and the “offence” to that which his eating causes to the weaker brethren. The force of the preposition is that his eating is attended with offence.

Verse 21

(21) It is good neither to eat flesh.—These direct, clear, incisive sentences are as characteristic of the style of the Apostle (when he is dealing with moral questions of present urgency, and not with the abstract problems of theology) as the generous impulse which prompts them is of his heart.

Any thingi.e., to do anything; all three words have to be supplied.

Or is offended, or is made weak.—There is a remarkable division of authority for the omission or retention of these words, the Sinaitic and Alexandrine MSS. with the Paris rescript being on the one side, and the Vatican, with the Græco-Latin Codices, on the other; and the versions pretty nearly divided. Here internal evidence comes in, and decides us to omit the words as most probably a gloss.

Verse 22

(22) Hast thou faith?—It is with some reluctance that in deference to the union of the four best MSS. we give up the Received text here, and substitute (by the insertion of the relative) “The faith which thou hast, have to thyself before God,” i.e., reserve the exhibition of it to the privacy of your own direct communion with God, and do not display it ostentatiously in public where it may do harm. “It is indeed”—the Apostle continues—“a happy thing to have no self-condemnatory scruples of conscience, but, on the other hand, it is fatal to have scruples and to disregard them.”

In that thing which he alloweth.—In the acts which he permits himself. He is a happy man who can eat what he pleases, and drink what he pleases, without any qualms of conscience to condemn him while he does so.

Verse 23

(23) And he that doubteth.—The one thing which justifies a man in neglecting such nice and punctilious distinctions is a faith so strong that it can afford to make light of them. Where faith is not strong enough for this, and where the conscience deliberately approves one course, and the other course is chosen, this alone stamps the act as wrong. “He who hesitates as to what he ought to do is condemned, or does wrong, if he eats (in opposition to his conscience), for he has not the one faculty which can overrule the decisions of conscience, and give them a different direction.”

Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.—This is intended as a general principle, but only as a general principle covering this particular kind of case. Where the conscience is in doubt, faith alone can make it right to choose the side against which conscience inclines. Nothing is said about those cases in which conscience is either not appealed to at all, or approves what is done. Hence St. Augustine was wrong in arguing from this passage that even good actions, when done by unbelievers, were of the nature of sin.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Romans 14". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/romans-14.html. 1905.