You Are What You Eat: Romans 14

Eating Herbs/Vegetables vs. Eating 'All Things'
2For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. 3Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Romans 14:2-3 KJV

Introduction

Photocredit: Unsplash.com/Stefan Vladimirov
I started the You Are What You Eat Series a long time ago and for some reason, I never finished it. I believe I became tied up with life, probably the podcast, and other ideas. Eventually I forgot I had even started the series. However, I still feel like this is an important topic so I'm picking up where I left off and continuing. If you only recently began following the blog, I'd advise you start from the beginning of the series with "You Are What You Eat: Introduction".

Romans 14:2-3 is the second verse that comes up in defense of eating unclean meat when talking about the dietary law post-Crucifixion that I actually understand why people are confused. This verse explicitly says someone who is weak (in the faith) only eats herbs, implying that the strong in faith eat meat. Unlike the verse we mentioned before in 1 Timothy, there doesn't seem to be a qualifier on meat because it explicitly says "all things." So, why does Isaiah 66 condemn the man eating pork in the end times? Why does Acts 15 tell us we can't eat blood?

Breaking Down the Scenario

We already spoke about the concept of "all" things in previous posts. I can't eat poison or metal; I can only eat things that are edible. As with the other verses we've studied, we should also keep in perspective that Romans was written by Paul, who was Jewish. "Edible" would have referred to clean meats only in his mind. Nonetheless, let's look at the whole scenario and put it in context.

The scenario presented is that there are two men eating somewhere. The one who is strong in faith eats everything on the menu. The one who is weak in faith only eats herbs, re: vegetables. Think about this: the contrast of all things is herbs, not clean meat. If Paul was saying it was ok to eat unclean meat, why would he compare it to vegetarianism? We do not have a juxtaposition of unclean meats (such as pork or shellfish) and clean meats (such as chicken or beef), which are also not herbs/vegetables. So, wthy does the weak in faith believe he cannot eat the chicken on the menu?

In an episode of his radio broadcast,[19] Pastor Doug Batchelor concludes that Paul was referencing foods sacrificed to idols. Of course that muddies the water with Acts 15, which clearly forbids eating food sacrificed to idols. If we bring in 1 Corithians 8 and 1 Corinthians 10 as well, we can get a clearer view of what the actual problem is.

The Gentiles whom Paul wrote to lived an experience completely different from the Jewish Christians. To make a modern parallel, a Jewish follower of Christ interacting in Judea is like a Baptist interacting with a Methodist or Pentacostal. Fundamentally, they believe the same things and use the same scriptures for reference. The differences between them are so small that its possible for them to not even notice. In contrast, a Gentile convert interacting in Rome is like the same Baptist interacting with a Muslim or Hindu. The differences in belief will become apparent much more quickly.

One of these diffrences concerns meet sacrificed to a deity. During this time period, all meat was sacrificed to some deity before being consumed. In Israel, this deity was YHWH, but in Rome it could have been any one of their gods or goddesses. When this food was presented to a Gentile Christian, it presented a conundrum. Someone who was born in paganism may see the meat and instantly be reminded of ritual cermonies to pagan deities—associations cannot be removed overnight. Yet others knew they had not only had they not participated in the ritual, but the god who'd "received" the sacrifice wasn't real. Those who struggled with separating from the their previous lives, abstained from the meat all together (the way a recovering alcoholic may abstain from all alcoholic drinks).

In both 1 Corinthians and the passage in Romans 14, Paul is addressing the disparity between those who can and cannot detach themselves from the pagan lifestyle. In a perfect world, no one would be concerned with who the meat was sacrificed to because everyone would know there is only one God and would understand that there need not be anymore sacrifices anyway. However, since we do not live in a perfect world, Paul must advise on how to hand this matter. The advice given is to act in love and avoid being a stumbling block. New Christians (and even pagans), who saw a person eating meats sacrificed to idols may become confused and believe it is a sign of worship for the false deity. When offered meats sacrificed to idols, the strong Christian was to decline the meat not because the meat was actually tainted, but to ease the conscience of the weaker believers around him/her.[2][3] This also set the Christians apart from pagans by showcasing their dedication to YHWH.

Conclusion

In this passage Paul is not speaking of clean versus unclean. Paul is speaking of (clean) meat vesus not eating meat at all.

Up Next: Acts 15

The next post in this series will tackle Acts 15. There is already a post in the Bible Study section on Acts 15, though it is not specific to the clean vs. unclean meats discussion.[6]

References

  1. Pastor Doug Batchelor. "How does Romans 14 fit with biblical direction to avoid unclean meat?". Amazing Facts; visited 2017 and September 12, 2020
  2. What does the Bible say about eating food/meat that has been sacrificed to idols?". GotQuestions.org; visisted September 12, 2020
  3. Tom Martincic. "Romans 14: Who is the weak brother?". EliYah; visited September 12, 2020
  4. Pastor Joe Crews. "Hogs And Other Hazards". Amazing Facts; visited September 12, 2020
  5. United Church of God. "". Beyond Today. January 31, 2011
  6. Ree Hughes. Acts 15: Disagreements in the Church". PSALMS to God. July 1, 2020

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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