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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Romans 14

 

 

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Verse 1

1. It is often the case that the supposed weak conscience is a pitiful self-conceit that fixes a false importance on trifles, and magnifies its own importance by imposing its notions as a law upon others. To obey its dictates is simply to gratify this self-conceit and to increase this dictatorial disposition. Such cases need to be managed with great wisdom and good temper. 2. It is not seldom the case that such whims threaten to make themselves a part of the Christianity of the locality and time, so as to deform and debase it, and, by rendering it repulsive to people of good sense really do an immense moral damage. So the Jesuits are said to carry this compliance so far, even among heathens, that they allow much of paganism to remain with a thin varnish of Christianity spread over the surface.

St Paul’s own example well illustrates his principles. He consented to circumcise Timothy because he thereby did not acknowledge circumcision to be a condition of salvation, but did secure Timothy access to those who so acknowledged it. He refused to circumcise Titus in order that the circumcisionists should not be too fully encouraged, and in order that circumcision might not be attached even as a non-essential but permanent appendage to Christianity. He would sooner die than consent to an act of circumcision as a condition or means of salvation. And so at a later period (1 Timothy 4:3) he commands Timothy to reject the heretics who required to abstain from meats, as if the time of temporizing on that point was past.

So long, indeed, as the weak brother is simple and sincere, and a delicate compliance may win his attention and tend to secure a stronger faith, it is of momentous importance to bear with him. Yet an eye must ever be had to extricating him from his weak scruples, and emancipating into the full, pure, comprehensive morality of the heart through Jesus Christ. This is the true rational Christianity.


Verses 1-6

1-6. According to the great body of commentators, these rejecters of meats, sabbaths, and wine were Jews; but the difficulty is that Judaism taught no such rejection. To avoid this objection Alford supposes that they were very scrupulous Jews, who, like Daniel and his companions, ate vegetables alone to avoid the defilement arising from Gentile cookery. Similar was the case of Tobit, (Tobit 1:10-11,) and of certain Jewish priests sent prisoners to Rome, mentioned by Josephus, (Life, § 3.) But there seems this peculiarity in all these quoted cases, that the persons were under duress; whereas the weaklings of this chapter were regular residents at Rome, able to prepare their food in their own way. Moreover, no shadow of such a compulsory reason for this vegetarianism appears. The eating of herbs, the abstaining from wine, and the judging of days, were all three alike, it would seem, a matter of explicit doctrine.

Others identify them with the Essenes, (note on Matthew 3:7,) but these were residents not of cities, but of the deserts and rural sections. So was Banos, the ascetic teacher with whom Josephus for a while was disciple.

Our own opinion is that they were Gentile, as most of the Roman Church was. Their doctrine was a streak of Orientalism in Rome, where all opinions found a home. Those mystic Aryans, the Brahmans, had at this time infused something of their tenets from India into the West. The fundamental maxim was, (even as early as Simon Magus,) the absolute evil of matter. (Note on Acts 8:9.) Thence they abstained from every bodily luxury; they denied at Corinth the resurrection of the body; blending with Judaism, they forbade meats in Colosse; and they denied the reality of the body of Jesus in Asia Minor, where they were opposed by St. John. This heresy was yet in the germ at Rome, and hence was mildly treated by Paul.

It is, indeed, objected that those mystics were not the gentle weaklings here described, but proud pretenders to eminent perfection in their abstinences.

But, 1, It is not so clear (as our notes on Romans 14:3 may show) that these weak in faith were very gentle in their judgments; and, 2, The phrase in 1 Timothy 4:3, commanding to abstain from meats, shows a tendency to hold this abstinence to be a requisite of true Christian piety. As to their doctrines about days, see our notes on 5, 6.


Verses 1-14

5. Treatment of Weaklings in Faith, Romans 14:1 to Romans 15:14.

The vegetarian and over-sabbatarian, Romans 14:1-6. We all live under one final Judge, the Lord Jesus, Romans 14:7-13. Avoidance of fatal offence to morbid consciences, Romans 14:14-23; continued, Romans 15:1-7.


Verse 2

2. He may eat all things—That is, according with the apostle’s own opinion, that all eatables were equally innocent.

Eateth herbs—Plainly under the supposition that herbs alone are morally innocent. This is a different case from those who abstain from meats offered to idols only, or from those who abstain from meats that may have been touched by Gentile hands.


Verse 3

3. Let not—The apostle himself belongs not to the weak or over scrupulous side, but to the strong or less scrupulous. He therefore first conciliates both sides, and then (Romans 14:4) strongly maintains the sustainability by God of the stronger but less scrupulous thinkers.

Despise—The natural feeling of the sounder mind toward the morbid conscience is contempt.

Judge—The feeling of the stricter conscience toward the less scrupulous is condemnation. These weaklings are not so clearly weaklings in their own estimation. On the contrary, the apostle warns them against arrogant judging, and through 10-13 cites them to the judgment seat of Christ.

God hath received him—A protective against the strong judgment of the weakling, continued through next verse. 4.

God is able—Though condemned for lax conscience, God is mighty to sustain the advocate for the innocence of every diet. It is not always the stricter side of a moral question that is right.


Verse 5

5. Day above another—Literally, day over day. Inasmuch as the apostle in the former instance mentions the strong opinion first, namely, that which favoured eating all things, and which the apostle himself held; so by parallelism this must be the stronger opinion, and held by the apostle himself, as being the first. And there is proof from the apostle’s conduct that he did esteem one day above another.

Every day alike—The word alike being in italics is of course not in the Greek, and, as supplied by the translators, perverts perhaps the meaning. Let it be noted that the Greek word accurately twice rendered esteemeth expresses in both cases precisely the same state of mind. And then we have the result that, whereas one’s esteem raises a particular day to a certain holy elevation over another, so the other’s esteem assumes to raise all to the same holy elevation. That is, Paul elevates the seventh day above the others to a sabbath, and the other equalizes all days, not by sinking the sabbath to a secular day, but by raising all days to a sabbatical rank. So that as all his eating of vegetable food is a holy fast, (Matthew 3:4,) so all his days are, in his mysticism, holy sabbaths. Paul will not now condemn this high strain of conscience; but he will defend the esteemer of one day above another against the censoriousness of this ultra pietist.


Verse 6

6. Regardeth it unto the Lord—Paul justifies the maintainer of the special day as acceptable to God. But it is remarkable that the following clause, He that regardeth not the day to the Lord he doth not regard it, is decided by scholars to be spurious. It was originally inserted by copyists, who inferred it to be needed from the fact that in the last half of this verse both the positive and negative side of the eating of meats are commended as being done unto the Lord. It is therefore very remarkable that while in regard to the eating of meats both sides are thus commended in regard to days it is only one side, namely, the esteem of the special day alone that is so sanctioned. This appears to be a decisive indication that it was the apostle’s own opinion. This passage, therefore, is a strong proof-text of the validity of the Christian sabbath. (See Dr. Fairbairn’s work on “Revelation of Law,” whence much of this argument is suggested.)

In our Saviour’s life every day was a sacred day, redolent with the holiness of the sabbath; and yet one day was by him acknowledged to possess that special rank. Similarly, in Paul’s own life every day was holy, yet one in seven only was sabbath. What Jesus did, what Paul did in his human measure, that these pietists professed and aspired to do, and perhaps succeeded; namely, drown the special sanctity of one day in the general sanctity of all, and so doctrinally abolish the sabbath. It is one thing to raise every day to a sabbatic holiness, and another to sink the sabbath to an ordinary secularity. Yet this mysticism of these pietists marred the practical soundness of secular Christian life; and, though bearing its palliations, was a weakness in the faith, productive of ungrounded censoriousness, and endangering perseverance in Christian life.


Verse 7

7. None of us—None of us as men, and especially none of us as Christians.

Liveth to himself—However self-sufficient in our judgments, we are not independent beings. We are fastened by strong ties to the throne of God.

By creation, by redemption, by self-consecration, (see notes on chap. Romans 5:1-2,) we are Christ’s and God’s.


Verses 7-13

Tolerance enjoined in view of the Judgment of God the Lord of both, Romans 14:7-13.

The apostle now impressively dissuades both parties from judging each other by the fact that they were tied to the judgment throne of God. It would be a fearful usurpation of that awful office of the infinite and holy One should brother Christians sit in judgment upon each other.


Verse 8

8. Live… die—The apostle with plentiful reiteration seeks to impress the contending parties with the ties which bind them to the judgment seat, and which should hush all angry contention about non-essentials. Living or dying we are the Lord’s property, and neither side is to be assailed or damaged by the other.


Verse 9

9. Died… rose… revived—By the correct text this should read simply, Christ both died and lived.


Verse 10

10. Thy brother—Each party admitted the other to be Christian, and therefore brother.


Verse 11

11. WrittenIsaiah 45:23, quoted substantially, not verbally. The prophet is describing the supremacy of Jehovah in the blessed future, and the apostle applies it to Christ in that his highest act of supremacy is the judgment of the world.

Every tongue shall confess—In the prophet, Every tongue shall swear; that is, swear, or confess by oath, allegiance to God. The words describe not a universal salvation, but a universal subjection, willing or unwilling, to the divine judgment.


Verse 12

12. Every one of us—Of every party, whether judging or judged of each other. Each must come under the final scrutiny of God.


Verse 13

13. Judge this rather—Rather than judge each other, let us judge what our own conduct should be toward each other.

Stumbling-block—(See note on Matthew 18:7.)


Verse 14

14. Unclean—In the Greek, common; a word derived from Old Testament use as a term antithetic to consecrated or set apart. The term being Jewish, might seem to imply that the weaker brethren were Jews. But in New Testament use it came to signify impure or profane in general. Thus in Hebrews 10:29, it is applied to the despised blood of Christ, and translated unholy; and in Revelation 21:27, it is applied to any thing too impure to enter heaven. It is the word which the apostle, with his Jewish training, would use to designate that impurity which Orientalism attributed to all matter.


Verse 15

15. Grieved—The grief which one Christian may be supposed to feel when he beholds the transgression of another.

Charitably—According to the law of love, which requires the sacrifice of our own convenience and taste for the good of the souls of others.

Destroy not—The grieved brother might be induced through disgust to leave the Christian communion, and so be lost. It was the strong brother’s duty if possible to retain him within the Christian circle, even for the very purpose of inspiring him with a purer, firmer grounding in Christian faith and morality.

This passage belongs to that large class of proof-texts which show that a Christian may totally apostatize from a true faith, and so be finally lost, by warning against that result as a confessedly and practically possible reality. Such texts require us to fear such a catastrophe as what not only may happen, but for aught we know has often happened. The customary reply to this is that these warnings are the means to prevent that catastrophe, and God’s grace will take care that this shall always be successful. But if God has predetermined that no Christian shall ever fall, the very means used to prevent the fall are falsehoods. God’s pre-determination eternally precedes the warning and falsifies it. But here the warning is not given to the Christian not to apostatize. It is given to the destroyer; it warns him not to make another person apostatize. It directs him to consider that result as sure from a certain course of his own. And so sure does the apostle feel that result to be, so practically inevitable, that he is ready in the case to eat no meat so long as he liveth. (1 Corinthians 8:13.) Surely his Roman and Corinthian readers would think it very strange if the apostle should add in a sub-tone, “But the case of a weak brother’s being destroyed is by God’s decree absolutely impossible!” All these warnings are at once neutralized when the Christian has been told, “Do not be alarmed; God has determined from all eternity that you shall never fall.”

For whom Christ died—This proves to a demonstration that Christ’s death for a man is not incompatible with the man’s final destruction. It both proves that Christ died for all, and that all men will not necessarily be saved because Christ died for all.


Verses 15-23

Warning to the Strong against Injuring Weaker Brethren, Romans 14:14-23.

After declaring his firm belief that nothing was intrinsically impure, and thus classing himself with the strong, the apostle earnestly presses upon them the duty of so using their liberty as not to offend and destroy the souls of the feebler brethren.


Verse 16

16. Your good—Your right-doing as in eating meat, or your Christian integrity in any case.

Evil spoken of—Endeavour not only to be and do right, but also so to appear clear and right that others may not misinterpret you to their own soul’s damage.

It, perhaps, often needs an apostle to apply and modify these principles wisely and apply them rightly. Generally, in this world, it is about as much as a man can do to be and do right, and then let his character in the long run speak for itself. It is often right for a man to say, “It is my business to be right, it is other folks’ business rightly to interpret me.” Yet there are other cases, like the present, where it is of primary importance to secure that others may not be harmed by misunderstanding our principles of action.


Verse 17

17. Kingdom of God—The divine dominion in the soul under Christ.

Not meat—Its essence is not in distinctions of food.

Righteousness—Of heart and life.

Peace—With God, with our neighbour, with ourselves.

Joy—The result of our righteousness and peace. The whole process is beautifully expanded in Romans 6:1-5.

In the Holy Ghost—This clause is to be applied to each of the three.


Verse 18

18. In these things—In the three traits of God’s kingdom in the heart just mentioned.

Serveth Christ—In the triad of graces we observe a true universal morality, devoid of narrow ritualisms and dietetics; and yet we are truly serving Christ.

Approved of men—The character and conduct of the man in whom the triad reigns really approve themselves to the consciences of men. The world may persecute because the person is specifically Christian; it may profess to despise his profession. But the true traits of the Christian character command the involuntary respect of men.


Verse 19

19. Therefore—Since religion consists not in meats, but in spiritual graces.

Follow… peace—By neither insisting on meats, nor stiffly refusing to avoid meats.

Edify—Build up; a metaphor borrowed from architecture. The Christian is a true temple of God. Beware lest instead of building him up we tear him down.


Verse 20

20. The work of God—The Christian who, however weak, is God’s building, and so must not be destroyed or demolished.

All… pure—Free alike from that impurity which Orientalism ascribes to all matter, (note on Acts 8:9;) from the old patriarchal and Mosaic distinction of certain things as unclean, and from any imaginary contamination from idols which are just nothing at all in the world.

It is evil—Literally, evil to the man. Although all things are pure from evil in themselves, yet there is evil to the man who eats with damage to his brother.


Verse 21

21. Any thing—The italic words are of course supplied by the translator. The complete sense requires nor to do any thing; for the apostle means to generalize the precept, Do nothing that may ruin the soul of thy brother.

We have already said that it almost needs an apostle’s wisdom correctly to apply the apostle’s maxim.


Verse 22

22. Hast thou faith?—We prefer the different reading which admits the following rendering: What faith thou hast, have to thyself before God. Do not protrude it out upon thy brother to his damage. By faith we here by no means understand, with Dr. Hodge, “a firm persuasion of the lawfulness of all kinds of meat.” Such a variance in interpreting this most important word from its uniform meaning throughout this epistle is arbitrary and dangerous. We strictly understand it to be justifying faith in Christ; that faith which the weakling had, but in which he was obscure. Now what stronger, clearer faith thou hast in Christ alone, by which thou seest that these scruples are no proper part of Christianity, so have it to thyself and God as to hurt nobody else.

Condemneth… alloweth—You in your clear faith in Christ can eat meats. Happy is your case; you are not self-condemned in your liberal allowance. There is a harmony between your faith, your conscience, and your conduct. Not so your weak brother, as the next verse shows.


Verse 23

23. And—Rather, but. He whose obscure faith in Christ allows him to believe meat a criminal matter, and so both doubts and eats, is not happy, but self-condemned. His conscience and conduct are at war, and he is wretched, though not perhaps as bad as he thinks himself. Yet his case is bad. He has intended to do wrong. And even though the objective act was not intrinsically wrong, its rightness was an accident; the unhappy man has really in his heart purposed to violate the law of right. Dr. Hodge pertinently says, “It is wrong to do any thing which we think to be wrong. The converse of this proposition is not true. It is not always right to do what we think to be right.”

Damned—Is here used in its old English sense, condemned; that is, condemned by himself and condemned by God; not necessarily eternally ruined.

Eateth not of faith—He eats not according to the clear free faith of the strong man, for that would have banished his doubt and reconciled his conscience and conduct. He eats not according to his own feeble faith, for that authorizes the doubt by which he is self-condemned. He acts from no Christian or moral faith or principle at all, but from an unholy impulse.

Not of faith is sin—The Christian’s whole true life is a life of faith which faith authorizes every innocent act. Whatever comes not from that is transgression. The Augustinian argument (noticed by Alford, and in Lange’s Commentary on the passage) drawn from this clause, showing the non-salvability of infidels and heathen, has no force. We do not, nevertheless, obviate it by the methods of the commentators just named. The faith described in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews was a faith of those who never knew Christ, yet was a faith intrinsically equivalent to a faith in Christ. Faith, through all the dispensation of mankind, (and in some sense every man is by himself a dispensation,) is intrinsically and essentially the same principle. (See note on Romans 2:6.) And whatever is not of this faith is sin, and whose hath not this faith is eternally damned.

There is a formidable authority of manuscripts in favour of inserting here the doxology which stands at the end of the Epistle. This is obviously a most unsuitable place, as there is nothing here in the train of thought to awaken so lofty a strain. The most natural solution of the fact of its being here placed is that the customary reading of the Epistle in the Churches (see page 5) ended here, (the remainder of the Epistle being held of a less edifying character and so not read,) with the closing doxology superadded. A few manuscripts have the doxology in both places, and a few others entirely omit it.

Upon the fact of its prevalent insertion here, Renan, following in the train of adverse German criticism, founds the assumption that the Epistle properly terminates here, and that the after parts are but partially genuine. But as he feels obliged to admit the genuineness of several passages in this portion of the Epistle, his picking and culling other parts for opinions become so capricious and artificial that his whole criticism breaks down.

He furnishes a theory of his own, that Romans is truly an Encyclical Epistle. That is, the body of it was written for and sent to several of the principal Churches, with different Introduction and Conclusion in each, suited to its particular Church, and that “the editors” have appended several different conclusions to the existing copy. But these “editors,” we have given reason to believe, are imaginary beings. (See p. 5.) If they existed soon after the writing of the Epistle, both they and their readers would have seen the mistake; if long after, they could never have called in the various copies scattered through the Christian world, so but that a variety of introductions as well as terminations would have been extant at the present day.

Renan says there are properly four endings of the Epistle, namely, at Romans 15:33; Romans 16:20; Romans 16:24 and Romans 16:27. But Renan is too parsimonious. If a doxology or a benediction closing up a topic, with, perhaps, an Amen, is an ending of the Epistle, there are no less than seven such endings. And this calls to view the fact that Romans is not only the most climactic and triumphal, (see note Romans 8:39,) but the most doxological of all Paul’s Epistles. God the Creator wakes a doxology at Romans 1:25; Christ the Redeemer at Romans 9:5; God the divine Governor at Romans 11:36. A benediction upon his entire audience of Roman readers is pronounced at Romans 15:33; upon his circle of saluted brethren at Romans 16:20; and upon the double circle of saluters and saluted at Romans 16:24. Then, with all suitableness, the whole is closed with the grand doxology of Romans 16:26-27. This survey of the whole entirely dispenses with all the theories of “separate pieces of parchment,” “various times of writing,” “fourfold endings,” “encyclical epistles,” etc., which commentators, critics, and sceptics have so needlessly invented.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Romans 14:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/romans-14.html. 1874-1909.

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