THE ROMAN CHRISTIANS SHOULD NOT CRITICIZE AND CONDEMN ONE ANOTHER ON ACCOUNT OF DIFFERENCES OF OPINION ; THE STRONG MUST HAVE REGARD FOR THE WEAK
A Summary of Romans 14:1-23
In the Roman Church there was a Jewish, as well as a larger Gentile element. The Jewish Christians there, as elsewhere, naturally retained, to a greater or less extent, their love for the Law and the Mosaic observances. It was likely, therefore, that some of these converts in Rome should carry their inherited practices and prejudices so far as to observe some of the Mosaic feasts, and so distinguish between different foods as entirely to abstain from certain meats and drinks. This some of the Gentile Christians would doubtless imitate; and thus there was danger of uncharitable divisions in the Church,—those who were given to these scrupulous and obsolete customs, and those of stronger and more enlightened consciences, who might look down upon and despise their weaker brethren, morally forcing them perhaps to act against their own conscience.
St. Paul, therefore, thought it well to treat this subject in writing to the Romans, and to urge all to abstain from unfavorable judgment of one another, leaving all judgment to God (Rom 14:1-13a
). He then counsels the strong to bear with the weak, and not to do anything that could scandalize the latter (Rom 14:13b-23
Rom 14:1. Now him that is weak in faith, take unto you: not in disputes about thoughts.
The Apostle first adddresses the strong, and touches upon the principal object of possible disagreement. The strong should bear with the weak. All have not the same conscience, though all mean to do their best.
Weak in faith, i.e., he that, while firmly admitting the great principles of faith, does not fully realize their import in all matters. Such a one has imperfect knowledge, and does not understand that justification through faith in Christ has freed him from all the ceremonial observances of the Mosaic Law; hence he abstains from meat and wine, scrupulously fearing they may be unclean, having first been offered to idols. Fr. Lagrange thinks “faith” here does not mean simply conscience, otherwise there would be question of the whole moral law, and not of certain Jewish observances only. The term doubtless means the living principle of conduct.
Take unto you, i.e., admit into your company and friendship.
Not in disputes, etc., i.e., not disputing and judging about one another’s ideas of right and wrong, thus interfering with one another’s consciences, even though one is erroneous in some things.
Rom 14:2. For one believeth that he may eat all things: but he that is weak, let him eat herbs.
The principle laid down in the preceding verse is now illustrated. St. Paul is giving an example of two extreme parties.
One, i.e., the strong Christian believeth, i.e., is persuaded, convinced that he can eat any kind of food without injury to his faith or conscience; whereas he that is “weak in faith” refuses to eat meat out of fear of contamination, and satisfies himself with herbs only.
The English let him eat, etc., is a wrong rendering of the Greek indicative εσθιει (estheil), found in all the best MSS. The correct translation of the last clause of this verse is: “But he that is weak eateth (only) herbs.”
In the Vulgate se before manducare should be omitted, and manducet should be manducat.
Rom 14:3. Let not him that eateth, despise him that eateth not: and he that eateth not, let him not judge him that eateth. For God hath taken him to him.
The practical application of the above principle is that the Christian with strong faith and a right conscience should not despise his brother of weaker faith and erroneous conscience; and also that the latter should not condemn the former as lax and guilty of violating the law of God, because such a judgment would be against God Himself, who hath taken him, i.e., the strong Christian, and made him His faithful servant and a member of His Church.
Rom 14:4. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own lord he standeth or falleth. And he shall stand : for God is able to make him stand.
St. Paul cautions the “weak” not to condemn the “strong,” because both are the servants of the same Christ (Rom 14:7-9
), and no one has a right to judge another man’s servant
: only the master is the lawful judge of his servants. All Christians, therefore, being the servants of Christ, will be judged by Christ according to their individual service, and the judgment upon them of any one else besides Christ is wrong and out of place (see below, on verse 12).
To his own lord, etc., i.e., a servant is approved or condemned by the sole judgment of his master.
And he shall stand, i.e., this strong Christian shall not fall from his faith and piety because God will provide for him.
Deus of the Vulgate should be dominus.
Rom 14:5. For one judgeth between day and day: and another judgeth every day: let every man abound in his own sense.
A second example is given to show that the actions of one Christian do not pertain to another.
One, i.e., a Jewish Christian distinguishes between different days, judging some to be more sacred than others; another, i.e., a strong Christian makes no more distinction between days than between meats, knowing that the old Mosaic observances regarding the Sabbath, the New Moon and other feasts, no longer oblige under the New Dispensation. St. Paul later on (verse 14) gives his personal advice about meats, but he does not return to the distinction of days.
Let every man abound, etc. This and the equivalent Vulgate reading, unusquisque in suo sensu abundet,—which can only mean: suo sensui dimittatur (St. Thomas),—do not conform to the Greek, which is: Let every man be certain in his own mind (Cornely), i.e., a conscience practically and morally certain is the only kind with which it is proper to act.
The Vulgate diem inter diem would better be diem plus quam diem.
Rom 14:6. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord. And he that eateth, eateth to the Lord: for he giveth thanks to God. And he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth thanks to God.
The Apostle now urges mutual tolerance, because both the parties in question are prompted by the same spirit and intention of serving and pleasing God. The scrupulous Christian who regards one day as holier than another, and refrains from certain foods, does so because he feels he is thus pleasing and serving God. In like manner the strong Christian, who disregards these distinctions, is moved by his desire to do the will of God, as is evident from his giving thanks to God after the example of his Lord and Master (Matt. 15:36
Rom 14:7. For none of us liveth to himself; and no man dieth to himself.
Rom 14:8. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord. Therefore, whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
A proof that each Christian is following his conviction and conscience in all he does is this, that each one is living, not for himself, but for his Lord. The Christian who lives up to his calling consecrates his whole life and actions, together with his death, to God. Having been purchased at a great price (1 Cor. 6:19-20
), by the very blood of his Master, the true Christian knows that both in life and in death he is the property of his Lord Jesus Christ.
Rom 14:9. For to this end Christ died and rose again; that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living
Christ died and rose again to establish the relationship described in the preceding verses. By His death and Resurrection He acquired universal dominion over all men, He conquered death and opened the gates of life to all.
The Vulgate, mortuus est et resurrexit follows the Greek απεθανεν και ἀναζάω (died and rose);. A better reading has: απεθανεν και εζησεν (died and lives again), mortuus est et revixit.
Rom 14:10. But thou, why judgest thou thy brother? or thou, why dost thou despise thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Since we are all servants of Christ, none of us has a right to set himself up as judge of his fellow-servant. Christ is the judge of us all.
, scrupulous Christian, why do you judge and condemn as a transgressor of the Law your brother for whom you ought to have real charity? or thou
, Christian of strong faith, why do you despise your weaker brother as a superstitious fellow? Both of you have usurped a right which belongs to God alone, before whose tribunal we must all appear to render an account of our works (Rom 2:6
The best Greek MSS. have “judgment seat of God,” instead of judgment seat of Christ
. To St. Paul it is all the same whether he says judgment seat of God
or of Christ
(2 Cor. 5:10
), because Christ is also God.
Rom 14:11. For it is written: As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
The Apostle now cites a conflation of Isaiah 45:23 and Isaiah 49:18, according to the LXX, to prove that all men must appear before the judgment seat of God. The citation was probably from memory, because it is not literal. The direct meaning of the Prophet’s words is that Yahweh, the only Saviour, shall receive the homage of the whole world; however, the question of the judgment is also implied.
As I live is in the LXX, “I swear by myself,” i.e., by the life which I live.
Every knee shall bow to me, i.e., all men shall render homage to Me as their Sovereign and Supreme Judge.
And every tongue, etc., is in the LXX, “And every tongue shall swear by God.” The sense in either case is the same, because every lawful oath is a recognition of God’s omnipotence and supreme justice.
The flectetur of the Vulgate ought to be flectet.
Rom 14:12. Therefore every one of us shall render account to God for himself.
The general conclusion is drawn: each one shall have to give an account to God for his own life and actions. God, therefore, is the supreme Judge of all we do, and we should not rashly judge one another. This counsel is meant in particular for the weak Christian who is over solicitious for the doings of the strong.
Rom 14:13. Let us not therefore judge (κρινωμεν) one another any more. But judge this (κρινατε) rather, that you put not a stumbling block or a scandal in your brother’s way.
The preceding verses have been chiefly addressed to the “weak”; but now St. Paul, first counselling both weak and strong not to judge each other, turns his attention to the “strong” and bids them beware of scandalizing their weaker brethren.
Judge this, etc., i.e., take care that, etc. (κρινατε, used in a different sense from κρινωμεν just preceding). Various modern translations bring out the subtle difference better than the one used here. For example, the RSVCE reads: Then let us no more pass judgment (κρινωμεν) on one another, but rather decide (κρινατε) never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
Stumbling block . . . scandal, both mean an obstacle put in another’s way which can cause one to fall. The former is placed by chance, or carelessness; the latter, with deliberate intent to trap. The “strong” Christian should keep in mind the delicate conscience of the weak and avoid, as far as possible, eating meat or doing anything in the latter’s presence which would cause him to act against his own conscience, or with a doubtful conscience, and thus fall into sin.
. I know, and am confident in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself; but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
St. Paul here, as in 1 Cor. 8:1-6
, clearly declares his own position regarding things clean and unclean. He fully approves of the doctrine of the strong Christian, and holds in theory that it is lawful to eat any kind of food; but in practice it may sometimes be necessary to abstain from certain foods out of charity to one’s neighbor (verse 15).
I know, and am confident
, etc., i.e., on the authority of the teaching of Christ (Mark 7:1 ff
.), or as a minister and Apostle of Christ (Rom 9:1
; 2 Cor. 2:17
), I am certain that nothing is unclean of itself
, i.e., of its own nature (δι εαυτου); or, according to another reading, “through him” (δι αυτου), namely, through Christ, who abolished the distinction between foods (St. Thomas). This was against the teaching of the Pharisees, commonly followed by the Jews, that certain meats were unclean and contaminating by their very nature. Of course if one really thinks a food is unclean, then it becomes so subjectively for him: an erroneous conscience is binding.
According to the reading of the best MSS. the Vulgate per ipsum should be per seipsum, or per se.
Rom 14:15. For if, because of thy meat, thy brother be grieved, thou walkest not now according to charity. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
For if (ει γαρ, according to the best MSS.) probably refers back to verse 13, verse 14 being a parenthesis. If the meat which you, as one strong in the faith, are able to take, grievously offends your weaker brother, who thinks your conduct seriously wrong and is thereby unnecessarily angered, you ought to avoid it; otherwise your appetite, and not charity, rules you.
, i.e., do not, by your example, encourage your weak brother to act against his conscience and do what he thinks to be wrong; for thereby you lead into serious sin and ruin a soul for whom Christ died (1 Cor. 8:8
; Matt, 18:6-7).
Rom 14:16. Let not then our good be evil spoken of.
According to the ancient opinion (St. Chrysostom and others) our good here refers to the Christian faith, or the kingdom of God in the Gospel. This meaning fits in well with the following verse and could be sustained, if the best reading were ημῶν το αγαθον (“our good”), instead of υμων το αγαθον (“your good”). Following, therefore, the better reading St. Thomas, Cornely and others understand by “our good,” or “your good,” the liberty received from Christ to eat all meats of whatever kind. Hence the Apostle’s meaning is: Let us not so use our Christian freedom that it will be misunderstood, vilified and calumniated by our weaker brethren. This liberty we have from Christ is a great blessing, but we should use it with prudence, so that it may not become an occasion of sin to those who do not understand it fully.
The nostrum of the Vulgate ought to be vestrum, and the “our” of the English ought to be “your,” according to the best Greek reading.
Rom 14:17. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but justice, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
The kingdom of God, i.e., according to one opinion, the essence of Christianity and the Gospel (Cajetan, Maier, etc.); or, that by which God reigns in our souls: God reigns in us by justice, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (St. Thomas, Cornely). To use or abstain from certain foods is a minor affair considered in itself, and when compared with those fundamental and essential virtues by which we are spiritually united to God. If, however, the use of any foods should imperil the spiritual life of our neighbor, the justice within us, which requires us to render to everyone his due, will demand that we abstain from such foods.
Peace is an effect of justice or sanctity.
Joy is the natural outcome of justice and peace, and the product of charity which the Holy Ghost diffuses in our hearts, moving us to seek the glory of God and the good of our neighbor.
Rom 14:18. For he that in this serveth Christ, pleaseth God, and is approved of men.
In this, i.e., in justice, in peace, etc.
Pleaseth God, because he procures the glory of God.
Is approved of men, i.e., men do not have wherefore to find fault with him, as they do in the case of verse 16.
Rom 14:19. Therefore let us follow after the things that are of peace; and keep the things that are of edification one towards another.
This is a conclusion to the passage which began in verse 16. The best MSS. have, we follow after, etc., instead of let us follow after.
Keep is not in the best MSS., and so custodiamus of the Vulgate should be omitted.
Rom 14:20. Destroy not the work of God for meat. All things indeed are clean: but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
The Apostle returns to the thought of Rom 14:14
; but the repetition is not useless, because here he brings out the high character of the weak Christian who is imperiled by the other’s conduct: this weak Christian is the work of God who has converted and sanctified him. Although all things are clean in themselves, it is evil for the strong Christian to disregard the tender conscience of his weak brother, and, by doing in his presence what the latter thinks is wrong, to lead him, by force of example, to violate his own conscience and eat the food which he feels to be unclean.
. It is good not to eat flesh, and not to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother is offended, or scandalized, or made weak.
It is good and noble on the part of the strong Christian to abstain from all those indifferent things whereby the weak may be offended, i.e., made weak in his faith or unsettled in his conscience.
Not to drink wine
. Some of the Christians perhaps thought wine was unclean because “the heathen used to pour libations to their idols from the firstfruits of their wine, and offered many sacrifices at the wine-presses themselves” (St. Aug.). Cf. 1 Cor. 8:13
Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Blessed is he that condemneth not himself in that which he alloweth.
The Apostle counsels the strong man to follow in private his convictions and eat anything he pleases, but to be careful when there is danger of doing harm to another. Blessed, he says, is the man of strong faith who is not tormented by doubt and scrupulosity in his actions.
Faith, i.e., a firm conviction, a clear conscience regarding the lawfulness of eating all kinds of foods.
Have it to thyself, etc., i.e., let it guide thy conduct in private.
Blessed is he that is not troubled in conscience by his own conduct or actions, i.e., blessed is he whose conscience approves his actions.
Rom 14:23. But he that discerneth, if he eat, is condemned, because not of faith. For all that is not of faith is sin.
He that discerneth, i.e., he that hesitates and acts with a doubtful conscience is condemned, i.e., is culpable and actually guilty of sin. A conscience practically and morally certain is the only rule of conduct.
All that is not of faith, etc., i.e., all that is not approved by a certain conscience is sinful; “faith” here means a good conscience.