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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
I recently became an Adventist, and some friends have been quoting Romans 14 to me to demonstrate that our health message isn’t biblical and that the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath isn’t required of Christians. Could you comment about that chapter?
In the study of a passage it’s important to notice not only what it says but also what it does not say. In some cases what a passage does not state is more important than what it explicitly states. In this particular case we’ll concentrate on what the passage does not say, then we will make a suggestion about what Paul is dealing with in Romans 14.
1. Paul is not attacking biblical practices. Some of the recipients of this letter apparently believed that one should abstain from eating meat and drinking wine (Rom. 14:2, 21). The Old Testament does not require total abstinence from animal flesh, but only of the flesh of some animals (Lev. 11). Neither does the Old Testament consider grape juice unclean; only the high priest and the Nazarite are forbidden to drink it. The discussion is not over unclean (Greek, akáthartos) food, but over food that is considered common (koinós, the term used in verse 14) and therefore not proper for consumption under certain circumstances.
2. Paul is not discussing the Sabbath. Paul says that the individual who is “weak” values one day more than another, but he doesn’t explicitly state the reason for the distinction. There is no explicit statement from Paul indicating what was done during that day or why the day was considered special.
Whatever it was, the “strong” individual valued every day the same for the purpose or activity that he or she had in mind. Hence, the problem was not the activity, but the arguing over which was the best day to perform it. Those to whom he wrote doubtless understood what Paul had in mind.e should not jump to the conclusion that Paul is discussing here the Sabbath commandment. This is not stated or suggested by the text, and the simple mention of the word “days” does not justify that conclusion. He is not dealing here with the Old Testament torah, or law.
3. Paul did not put the emphasis on the problem of “days.” He dedicates only two verses to that subject and about 21 to the issue of food. Had he been discussing the Sabbath, he would have developed his thought much more, because of the potentially controversial nature of this subject. (A good parallel would be the topic of circumcision and the controversy that topic generated in the churches.) This suggests that for Paul, selecting one day over another was a personal matter, not one in which he wanted to be involved as a referee.
4. Paul is not attacking legalism. Paul is addressing a problem in the church based on differences of opinion. He apparently didn’t consider it to be a threat to the gospel. Whatever church members were doing, they were not going against God’s revealed will; therefore, he does not condemn the practices, but simply gives advice on how to accept the differences in Christian love. The fundamental issue is the unity of the church and the preservation of that unity in spite of the diversity of opinion in some unimportant areas. Paul is not attacking the legalism of false teachers among the believers.
Then what should we conclude? The reference to “days” in the context of abstaining from certain foods suggests days of fasting. This is the conclusion reached by some scholars, both Adventist and non-Adventist. According to them, Paul was probably addressing the practice of days of fasting, during which certain foods were considered “common” and improper for consumption. This would explain the dispute over food.
In addition, some individuals considered certain days as good days for fasting, while others considered all to be of equal value. This would explain the conflict. Fasting was an important topic in the early church. A document written in the second century encouraged believers to fast on Wednesday and Friday instead of Monday and Thursday, as was the practice among Jews (Didache 8.1). As far as we can tell, the Jews did not fast during the Sabbath.