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Review of a critic’s response to Romans 14

February 15, 2010

I will be reviewing the merits of a response to one of the posts I’ve written.  The purpose of this review is to show where the response is lacking, in terms of honest interpretation.  As you can read from my original post, I go to lengths (not enough apparently) to highlight the fact that Romans 14, is indeed about food (fasting), and practices that sprung from it.  Paul’s letter to the Romans was intended to correct some of these wrong teachings.  The critic tries to argue that the one verse that talks about “observing days” is about the Sabbath, but doesn’t show us how he came to that conclusion.

Therefore, I have reposted it here (in block quotes) and will go through his entire post.  My block quotes will be in blue. When he quotes me, it will be in (Red) for ease of differentiation.

This post is in response to an SDA critiquing a ministry that I am very active in, CARM.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6

RE: Objection 4

We turn our attention to Romans 14:1-12 and the statement by CARM:

Furthermore, Romans 14:1-12 speaks of our freedom in Christ, particularly our freedom to worship on any day we choose.

To which Glenn objects with:

Again, more texts taken out of context.  I think these guys need to learn the fundamental rules of interpretation. The entire chapter has plenty of food references, and not once does it talk or mention the Sabbath.  What is the chapter talk about then? Fasting. Paul was telling the hearers not to be too concerned about which days to fast on, as some where teaching that certain fast days were mandatory.  That is the context of this chapter.   Here is my posting on that passage:

Romans 14 is about Fasting

I am saddened by how Glenn continues to charge CARM with taking passages out of context. But making the accusation doesn’t make it true, as my previous posts have clearly shown. Here, though, I especially like the statement “The entire chapter has plenty of food references, and not once does it talk or mention the Sabbath.” Now, I may be wrong, but is not the Sabbath a day? Is Saturday not a day of the week now? So what does Glenn make of Paul writing:

So is Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Friday….  The point is, Paul makes no hint of the Sabbath.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems alldays alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord.

Glenn does two things here:

  1. Neglects to learn the context – cultural and otherwise.

This is where I jump in.  I guess looking at the context of the chapter wasn’t clear enough.  If he wants some cultural context, lets look at what a noted church historian, Samuele Bacchiocchi, says about the context of Romans 14.

First, Paul is not addressing the question of the Mosaic law in general or of the Sabbath in particular. The conflict between the “weak” and the “strong” over diet and days cannot be traced back to the Mosaic law. The “weak man” who “eats only vegetables” (Rom 14:2) and “esteems one day as better [apparently for fasting] than another” (Rom 14:5) cannot claim any support for such convictions from the Old Testament. Nowhere does the Mosaic law prescribe strict vegetarianism, and a preference for fasting days.

Similarly, the “strong man” who “believes he may eat anything” (Rom 14:2) and who “esteems all days alike” is not asserting his freedom from the Mosaic law but from pagan superstitious beliefs about the astral influence on the days of the week. The predominant Gentile composition of the Roman congregation (Rom 13:11), apparently favored these pagan superstitions….

…That the Mosaic law is not at stake in Romans 14 is also indicated by the term “koinos—common” which is used in verse 14 to designate “unclean” food. This term is radically different from the word “akathartos—impure, unclean” used in Leviticus 11 (Septuagint) to designate unlawful foods. This suggests that the dispute was not over meat which was unlawful according to the Mosaic Law, but about meat which per se was lawful to eat but because of its association with idol worship (cf. 1 Cor 8:1-13) was regarded by some as “koinos—common,” that is, to be avoided by Christians.

Christians were influenced by the pagan superstitions about the days of the week, as indicated by the frequent condemnation of these by church leaders. For references and a discussion of this problem, see FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY pp. 252-253. There were also sectarians movements which promoted ascetic practices on certain days of the week to court divine help. It is within this context of pagan and sectarian superstitions about the days of the week, that Paul’s statement about the preference given by some to certain days of the week must be understood. After all he was writing to a community composed predominantly by Gentile Christians (Rom 13:11) who were influenced by societal practices.

A second point to note is that Paul applies the basic principle “observe it in honor of the Lord” (Rom 14:6) only to the case of the person “who observes the day.” He never says the opposite, namely, “the man who esteems all days alike, esteems them in honor of the Lord.” In other words, with regard to diet, Paul teaches that one can honor the Lord both by eating and by abstaining (Rom 14:6); but with regard to days, he does not even concede that the person who regards all the days alike does so to the Lord. Thus, Paul hardly gives his endorsement to those who esteemed all days alike.

Finally, if as generally presumed, it was the “weak” believer who observed the Sabbath, Paul would classify himself with the “weak” since he observed the Sabbath and other Jewish feasts (Acts 18:4, 19; 17:1, 10, 17; 20:16). Paul, however, views himself as “strong” (“we who are strong”—Rom 15:1); thus, he could not have been thinking of Sabbathkeeping when he speaks of the preference over days.

Support for this conclusion is also provided by Paul’s advice: “Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5). It is difficult to see how Paul could reduce the observance of the Sabbath, to a matter of personal conviction without ever explaining the reason for it. This is especially surprising since he labors at great length to explain why circumcision was not binding upon the Gentiles. [emphasis mine]

That should be clear enough.  His next objection is this:

2. Adopts an overly-literalistic hermeneutic (e.g. the passage says “day” and not “Sabbath”).

The weak thought some days were more important than others. Given the Jewish background here (see v. 14), the day that is supremely in view is certainly the Sabbath. (Emphasis mine)

Yet he fails to provide any proof of that supreme view. Where is the proof that Paul is indeed talking about the Sabbath?  All we get is a very sketchy conclusion. He goes on…

The strong think every day is the same. Both views are permissible. Each person must follow his own conscience. What is remarkable is that the Sabbath is no longer a binding commitment for Paul but a matter of one’s personal conviction. Unlike the other nine commandments in Ex. 20:1–17, the Sabbath commandment seems to have been part of the “ceremonial laws” of the Mosaic covenant, like the dietary laws and the laws about sacrifices, all of which are no longer binding on new covenant believers (see also Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16–17).

Our critic is not even sure of his claim that the 4th commandment is part of the ceremonial laws.  He provides little solid proof.  The 2 texts he quotes can be addressed easily.

Gal 4:10

10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. (NKJV)

We know Paul when writing to the Galatians is not talking about the Jewish observances.  Why? Galatia was a province in Asia Minor, and most if not the whole church would consist of gentiles.  In looking at Paul’s initial dealings with these people, we find that they had a history of worshipping pagan deities. In Lystra, a city in Galatia, God healed a crippled man through Paul (Acts 14:8-18). The people of the area were so astonished at this miracle that they supposed Barnabas and Paul, whom they called Zeus and Hermes (verse 12), to be pagan gods! They wanted to sacrifice to them, and would have, if the apostles had not stopped them (verses 13-18). This shows that the people in Galatia were generally superstitious and worshipped pagan deities.

It is likely Paul was referring to pagan practices, not the Sabbath.  Colossians 2 also talks about heretical practices, not traditional Jewish customs.  Why, verse 16-18 gives us some insight.

16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. 18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

Obviously, Paul is talking about false teachers, casting judgment on those who do not follow certain traditions they’re trying to impose.  These teachers were imposing certain practices on food and drink, holidays and festivals.  He then advises his readers to not let these teachers cheat them out of their reward, promoting a practice of ‘humility’ and even worship of angels. Where in the 10 commandments do we find worship of angels?  No where, so Paul is obviously not talking about God’s law, but a twisted perverted version these teachers were trying to enforce.

He then closes with this last statement.

However, it is still wise to take regular times of rest from work, and regular times of worship are commanded for Christians (Heb. 10:24–25; cf. Acts 20:7).

I agree with the above statement, although I have to clarify, Acts 20:7 is not a Sunday service, but a Saturday night gathering/farewell dinner for Paul before he left Troas.

In closing, as we can see, his response leaves a lot of questions, and hasn’t really shown us why my initial post was wrong in the first place.  Therefore, honest Christians won’t use Romans 14 as proof that the Sabbath was abrogated.

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