A Scholarly exposition of Romans chapter 14
THE RIGHT AND WRONG INTERPRETATION OF ROMANS 14:5-6
After Colossians 2:16-17 and Galatians 3:16-29; 4:9:11,ex-Seventh Day Adventist Pastor Taylor submits
Romans 14:5-6, as the next text to support his abrogation view of the Sabbath. The text
reads: One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all
the days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind. 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 (Rom 14:5-6). Pastor Taylor quotes the text from the KJV which adds the
phrase he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. This
phrase is omitted in modern translations like the RSV and NIV, because it is not found in
the most ancient manuscripts.
Without examining the nature of the conflict addressed by Paul in these verses,
Pastor Taylor jumps to this conclusion: the sacredness of days is no longer an issue for
Christians. . . Paul makes the Sabbath a non-issue for New Testament Christians. His
instructions have some strong implications for those of us who have, in the past, made
Sabbath a saving truth and one that we judge the loyalty of others by. I had to take a
hard look at some of the things I have taught in the past.
This conclusion misrepresents the Adventist understanding of the Sabbath and
grossly misinterprets the Pauline passage. The Adventist Church has never made the
Sabbath a saving truth in the sense that its observance secures salvation. We are
saved not by observing a day, the Sabbath, but by accepting Christs atoning sacrifice.
However, honoring the Savior on His Holy Day does reveals our loyalty to Him, because
the way we use our Sabbath time is indicative of our priorities.
Three Major Flaws
Pastor Taylors claim that in Romans 14:5-6 Paul teaches that the sacredness of
days is no longer an issue for Christians. . .the Sabbath [is] a non-issue for New
Testament Christians, is faulty for three major reasons. 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
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.
It is unfortunate that Pastor Taylor ignores that the whole discussion is not about
freedom to observe the Mosaic law versus freedom from it's observance , but
about concerns over unessential scruples of conscience dictated by pagan and
sectarians superstitions. Since these differing convictions and practices did not undermine
the essence of the Gospel, Paul advises mutual tolerance and respect in this matter.
That the Mosaic law is not at stake in Romans 14 is also indicated by the term
koinoscommon which is used in verse 14 to designate unclean food. This term is
radically different from the word akathartosimpure, 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 koinoscommon, that is, to be avoided by Christians.
Superstitions Over Astral Influences on Weekdays
It might be helpful to point out that the letter to the Romans was written to a
predominantly Gentile community. Paul himself says: I am speaking to you Gentiles
(Rom 11:13). The Gentiles had developed numerous superstitions regarding astral
influence on the days of the week. This development occurred just before the beginning of
Christianity, when the Romans adopted from the Jews the seven-day week we use
today. Prior to that time the Romans had used an eight-day week, known as numdinum.
This question is discussed at great length in chapter 8 of my dissertation FROM
SABBATH TO SUNDAY.
When the Romans adopted the seven-day week, they decided to name each day
of the week after the planet-god which allegedly controlled the day (Sunday for the Sungod,
Monday for the Moon-god, etc.). The Jewish custom was to designate the days of
the week by number (that is, first day, second day, etc.). Only the sixth and seventh day
had a name, namely, Preparation and Sabbath.
The popular belief that each day of the week was controlled by a planet-god, led
to the development various practices. People preferred certain days for religious or
business practices, abstained from certain foods on certain days and even wore finger
rings set with the stone favored by the planet-god controlling the day.
In researching for my book CHRISTIAN DRESS AND ADORNMENT I was
surprised to discover how many superstitions existed in ancient Rome about the days of
the week. For example, wealthy people wore a different ring each day in accordance to
the stone preference of the planet-god controlling that day. Apollonius of Tyana, a
Pythagorean philosopher of the first century, offers the following list of finger rings set with
different precious stones, to be worn on the proper planetary day of the week to ensure
the favor of celestial influences:
Day Gem of the Day Talismanic Gem Astral Control
Sunday Diamond Pearl Sun
Monday Pearl Emerald Moon
Tuesday Ruby Topaz Mars
Wednesday Amethyst Turquoise Mercury
Thursday Cornelian Sapphire Jupiter
Friday Emerald Ruby Venus
Saturday Turquoise Tourmaline Saturn12
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 Pauls 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 strongRom 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 Pauls 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.
No Controversy Over the Sabbath
If Paul taught his Gentile converts to regard Sabbathkeeping as a personal
matter, Jewish-Christians readily would have attacked his temerity for setting aside the
Sabbath law, as they did regarding circumcision (Acts 21:21). The fact that there is no hint
of any such controversy in the New Testament indicates that Paul never discouraged
Sabbathkeeping or encouraged Sundaykeeping instead.
The preference over days in Romans presumably had to do with fast days rather
than feast days, since the context deals with abstinence from meat and wine (Rom 14:2,
6, 21). Support for this view is provided by an early Christian document, called Didache
(ch. 8, dated about A. D. 100) which enjoins Christians to fast on Wednesday and Friday
rather than on Monday and Thursday like the Jews.
Paul refuses to deliberate on private matters such as fasting on certain days of
the week, because he recognizes that spiritual exercises can be performed in different
ways and at different times by different people. The important thing for Paul is to pursue
what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (Rom 14:19).
Endtime Issues No. 78 Page 9 of 21
If the conflict in the Roman Church had been over the observance of holy days,
the problem would have been even more manifest than the one over diet. After all, eating
habits are a private matter, but Sabbathkeeping is a public, religious exercise of the
whole community. Any disagreement on the latter would have been not only noticeable
but also inflammatory.
The fact that Paul devotes 21 verses to the discussion of food and less than two
verses (Rom 14:5-6) to that of days, suggests that the latter was a very limited problem
for the Roman Church, presumably because it had to do with private conviction on the
merit or demerit of doing certain spiritual exercises such as fasting on some specific days.
A modern day equivalent would be the private conviction of some Christians who wish to
remember Christs birth on December 25the pagan date for the celebration of the
birthday of the Sun-god. As long as the honoring of Christs birth on December 25 is a
private matter, and not made an official Holy Day that every church members is expected
to observe, Paul would recommend tolerance on this matter.
In the Roman world, as noted earlier, there were superstitious beliefs about
certain days being more favorable than others for undertaking specific projects. To court
the help of supernatural power, people adopted various superstitious practices. Church
leaders frequently rebuked Christians for adopting such a superstitious mentality.
Possibly, Paul alludes to this kind of problem, which at his time was still too small to
deserve much attention. Since these practices did not undermine the essence of the
Gospel, Paul advises mutual tolerance and respect on this matter.
In the light of the above considerations, we conclude that Pastor Taylors claim
that in Romans 14:5 Paul makes the Sabbath a non-issue for New Testament
Christians, is without textual and contextual support. He is reading into the passage his
own gratuitous assumptions. The diet and days promoted by what Paul calls the weak
believers, are foreign to the Mosaic Law. They were most likely influenced by
pagan/sectarian superstitions about astral influence on certain days of the
weeksuperstitions which Christians adapted to their own beliefs, as indicated by
superstitious practices connected to Easter and Christmas. This process is well
documented in the annals of church history.---by Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi
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