Thoughts on Romans 14 – are the food laws abrogated

How often has the above chapter been used as proof text that the law (particularly the food laws) is abrogated? Does it really teach that keeping the laws of God isn’t necessary? Well, if these laws are abrogated, then one can be faithful, while disobeying the food laws. But does this passage really teach that these laws are abrogated? We must conduct a careful investigation to find out.
When dealing with a passage one should identify the audience and the circumstances in which it was written. With this in mind let me point out a few things here:

Rom 14:1 As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions.

So who is the person in question? The answer will greatly help us to understand the passage. Look at the terms weak in faith and welcome him.
These terms cry out that a new convert is in question. Commentaries often apply the first term to Christians who doubt God or who struggle with sin, but such a notion is not really a biblical idea. A sinning Christian is not “weak in faith”, but a sinner who needs repentance. Such a person has no faith, for faith is related to faithfulness, not to head knowledge. On the other hand a doubtful Christian is a new convert who is not yet properly taught the Scriptures. A mature believer cannot be referred to as “weak in faith”. One example is Abraham, who walked with God and believed him against reason.

Rom 4:19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead because he was about a hundred years old, or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

The second term I called your attention to is “welcome him”. This means these new converts were coming into the congregation. Ergo, they were not part of the congregation – another proof that a new convert is in question.

Now let us read on:

Rom 14:2 One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him.

So far there is nothing here about the law, for the law doesn’t command or forbid eating vegetables. Therefore, the argument is about personal conviction, not about the content of the law. We notice that “God has welcomed” this person, that is, he is indeed a new convert.

Now let us skip ahead to v. 5:

Rom 14:5 One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Now this must really be talking about the law! Not necessarily at all. The Pagan world had its own special days. It is the new convert who wants to consume only vegetables and wants to keep certain special days. Why? Because he doesn’t know any better and needs education to learn the ways of God.

Perhaps a good example would be a new convert arguing that Christians should celebrate the Melbourne Cup. Well, it is a Pagan thing, in itself it is nothing unless you are willing to risk the family savings.

Rom 14:13 Then let us no more pass judgment on one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for any one who thinks it unclean.

Does Paul talk about the food laws? Sounds like it, isn’t it? Well, let me refer back to the beginning of the chapter. What is the quest there? The new convert thinks that only vegetables shall be eaten, so it is him that considers meat unclean. Paul doesn’t talk about the dietary laws here. In the law certain animals were declared unclean, not necessarily because they were not fit for human consumption. Unclean means unclean for no other reason but because the law says it, not that it is poisonous or polluted. For example Jews don’t understand why they cannot eat pork. There is nothing wrong with pork, but it is declared unclean in the law.

Therefore, the passage is about how to deal with new converts who come into the congregation with certain ideas, and not whether the law is abrogated or not.


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