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18 November 2018

Paul’s Appeal for Tolerance on Holy Days and Food Laws

Paul and Barnabas
Paul laid a theological foundation in chapters 1 through 11 of Romans. Beginning in chapter 12 he dealt with practical matters causing tensions between Jewish and Gentile believers over issues of food and calendrical observations.
The Apostle appealed for tolerance in disputes over such matters and argued that each one is free to follow his or her conscience on them.
(Romans 14:5) - “One man esteems one day beyond another, but another man esteems every day alike; let each one be fully persuaded in his own mind.”
Paul prepared his audience with a general exhortation to love one another (12:8-14), “for he that loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law.” Therefore, believers should “cast off the works of darkness,” “walk in the light,” avoid “envy and strife,” and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul exhorted the “strong” to receive the “weak in faith,” but not for “disputing opinions” (14:1). Paul presents two key issues (14:1-6): first, one believer “has faith to eat all things while he that is weak eats vegetables.” Second, one believer “esteems one day more than others, another esteems every day” the same.
The issues were common to a Jewish cultural context. The first one is not a question of eating meat versus vegetarianism. Devout Jews had scruples about food based on the Levitical “holiness codes,” especially about ritually “unclean” meat.
Not only were Jews forbidden to eat meat from “unclean” animals (e.g., swine), even “clean” animals had to be butchered according to Levitical regulations. If such “clean” meat was unavailable in a local market a common solution was to follow a vegetarian diet.
The second issue reflects Jewish calendrical practices, most likely the observance of the weekly Sabbath, but possibly also the other holy and feast days of the annual Hebrew religious calendar.
Paul does not take a firm stand on either issue; he does not rule that Levitical dietary restrictions must be followed or not, or that the Sabbath must be observed or not. Instead, he encourages tolerance. He whose conscience is free to eat meat of various sorts must not “despise him that chooses not to eat.”
          Likewise, the scrupulous Jew who “eats not” must not “condemn him that eats meat,” for God has received him. In the same way, a man who esteems every day the same must not disrespect the man who esteems one day more than others, and vice versa. “Let each one be fully persuaded in his own mind.”
Both groups of believers “live unto the Lord” and belong to him. Jesus is lord and judge of both. In the end, “all of us shall present ourselves to the judgment seat of God” where each shall “give an account to God.” Therefore, “no longer let us be sitting in judgment upon one another”; instead, refrain from “putting a cause of stumbling before your brother.”
In the light of the Cross, no longer is anything “profane of itself, except only to him who reckons anything to be profane; to that man it is profane” because it violates his conscience.
Brethren should not divide over matters of food. The kingdom of God is not “eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in Holy Spirit” (14:17). Diet has no bearing on one’s standing before God. Instead, pursue things that promote peace and edification among brethren; do not for the sake of food “cast down the work of God!”
If one whose conscience is weak is offended by the diet of another, the latter should lovingly put aside his “right” to eat or to esteem every day the same, for the sake of his brother “for whom Christ died.”
Just because one is free to eat meat of any sort, or not to honor one day more than others, does not mean one must always exercise that freedom. It is far better to forego personal liberty for the sake of others, especially those of weaker dispositions. All things “may be pure” but actions that cause others to stumble certainly are not (14:20-21)! Since diet is irrelevant to one’s standing before God, there is no harm in putting aside the freedom to eat meat for as long as is necessary.
In Romans 15:1-4, Paul classifies himself among the “strong in the faith.” The implication is that he is not scrupulous about his diet and does not esteem some days over others.
Nevertheless, “we who are strong are to be bearing the weakness of them who are not strong, and not to give pleasure to ourselves.” The strong must instead give pleasure “to his neighbor for what is good for edification,” just as “Christ did not give pleasure to himself, but even as it is written, ‘The reproaches of them that were reproaching you fell upon me’.”
Just as Jesus denied what was rightfully his for the sake of others, so believers ought to behave among one another.
Paul could not in good conscience make such arguments if he believed that Christians were obligated to conform to the Levitical dietary regulations or to its required calendrical observations. Paul leaves it to each individual to decide for him or herself, even though under the Law such practices were not optional.
Paul’s call for tolerance, patience, and self-denial demonstrate that for him the Levitical food laws, holy days and so on, were no longer in force. One should also note that those classified as “weak in the faith” are those believers with scruples about diet and the observance of holy days.

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