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Romans 14: Food, Faith, And Fasting

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When discussing the continued new covenant mandate to live by The Torah of Yah, one passage that comes up from time to time is Romans 14. There are several things in this chapter that are often misconstrued as “proof texts” by antinomians who believe these statements somehow validate their belief that they do not have to follow The Torah as “Christians”. These portions of the passage are generally used against what we might call “the big four” points of Torah-keeping that are most frequently objected to: the Leviticus 11 food laws, The Sabbath Day, The Torah-appointed Feast Days, and the application of Deuteronomy 12:29-31 to popular Roman Catholic holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and “SaintDays. So I want to go through this chapter and examine some of the points and what they are really talking about.

Before we begin, it is imperative to note, as I often find myself doing when entering a discussion regarding the writings of Paul, that Paul was a fully Torah-observant Jew. What most anti-Torah “Christians” tend to overlook about Paul is that he already settled the issue of where he stood on The Torah. In the Book of Acts we find a familiar story that starts with an encounter he had with the prophet Agabus. Here he is warned that when he goes to Jerusalem he would be arrested. As the narrative plays out, this is exactly what happens, and he is then charged with the “crime” of teaching against The Torah and that it is no longer necessary to follow at least some of the commandments of God. Does that sound familiar? It should, as this is exactly what modern-day “Christians” seem to believe Paul taught.

But an interesting thing happens when we get to Acts 24. Here we find Paul defending himself against these accusations, stating in verse 14: “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way (which they call a sect), I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything written in the Torah and the Prophets.” Then in the next chapter, as his trial continues, he declare in verse 8: “I have committed no offense against the Torah or against the Temple.” He also says that he committed no offense against Caesar, but that is not really important to our point here. And if there is any remaining doubt on Paul and The Torah, Acts 29:23 says that he was teaching people about Yeshua using The Torah.

The plain fact of the matter is we have so many Torah-positive statements made by Paul that it is clear he was a Torah-keeper who upheld and taught his followers to live by The Torah of Yah. This is clear in statements like Romans 2:13 that says, “For it is not the hearers of Torah who are righteous before God; rather, it is the doers of Torah who will be justified,” and Romans 7:12 where we read, “The Torah is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” On top of this, we see Paul telling the community of Yeshua’s followers in the region of Corinth to celebrate the biblical Feast Days (1 Corinthians 5:7-8) and to touch no unclean thing (2 Corinthians 6:17). And for those who contest that the latter is a reference to the food laws because of a perceived context issue, I will remind you that he was directly quoting the old covenant prophet Isaiah and the word used here is the exact same word used in The Septuagint in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 regarding that which is unclean.

It is simply an irrefutable fact that the apostle Paul taught a Torah-positive Gospel, in harmony with what Yeshua and the other apostles taught. So with that in mind, let’s dig into Romans Chapter 14.

Weak Faith

The first theme we see is that of food, in a passage often used to say that “Christians” today are allowed to eat whatever they want to, including things that are prohibited by The Torah. Let’s take a look at what the passage says.

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of disputes about opinions. One person has faith to eat anything, but the weak eats only vegetables. Don’t let the one who eats disparage the one who does not eat, and don’t let the one who does not eat judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. Yes, he shall stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

—Romans 14:1-4 (TLV)

What the antinomians tend to do is, as they so often do, pull a portion of a sentence out of this passage and use it to declare themselves free from what they call “the bondage of The Law”. In this case, it is taken from verse 2: One person has faith to eat anything. Ignoring or just being plain ignorant of the actual context of what Paul is talking about here, this partial sentence is taken and used to say: “See, Paul said we can eat anything, and that means anything—pork, shellfish, rodents, whatever we want to eat, Paul said right here that we can eat anything.” Some do, however, take it even further in saying that if a person insists on the Torah dietary restrictions, they are weak in their faith, still holding onto the old laws.

To gain a better understanding of the context regarding the real issue here, we must turn to 1 Corinthians chapters 8 and 10 where Paul is clearly addressing the same issue, based on the language used, which was dealing with meats that were sold in the local markets. In reading through these two chapters we find that those of the weak faith Paul was addressing were people who bought into an idea that since some pagans sold meat in the market that may have been offered to idols, they should eat only vegetables. On the surface, this seems understandable as Acts 15:20 and 29 plainly tells us that we are not to eat things sacrificed to idols. The problem is that these sincere people were doing what the Pharisees were often so guilty of, creating what some call “fence laws”.

A “fence law” is where the Jewish leaders and others, such as these that Paul labeled weak in faith, would create a rule that in theory would prevent them from accidentally violating The Torah. This is what these people were doing here, they thought that the only thing they could do to ensure they didn’t eat something offered to idols was to go vegan. I often point this out to people today who seem to think that they should be vegans as “Christians” or any other label of biblical faith—there is a trend in some Messianic and Hebrew Roots Movement circles to embrace veganism as well, and here in these chapters of Romans and Corinthians we have Paul labeling this as an act of weak faith. I know that those today are not concerned with meats offered to idols, that they believe this practice is better for their health. But I would still label it as weak faith. Why? Because God Himself gave instructions regarding meats that we are not to eat and meats that we are to eat. This is especially true at Passover where there is a literal commandment to eat lamb prepared with bitter herbs.

In order to embrace the modern trends toward veganism in biblical faith communities you must reject the meats that God tells us to eat, which means you are not truly placing your faith in Him. He would not tell you to eat something that is bad for your health. Clean meats like salmon, chicken, beef, lamb, turkey, duck, deer, and goat are well known to be very beneficial for human health, and some would say essential. There is a reason that Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 gives some meats to eat, God knows better than we do as He is The Creator. If He says, “Don’t eat that,” you best not eat it—remember what happened in Genesis 3? But if He says, “This is what you should eat,” then the logical conclusion is that we should believe God and eat it.

There is some wisdom in listening to leading health and wellness studies, but at the end of the day God’s Word is to be our primary source for living. Either we believe God over everyone else or we don’t. This is a prime example of even the most sincere believers falling for a “did God really say” Genesis 3 scenario. They may not be so easily conned into eating something God clearly said not to eat like pork or shellfish, but some are being tricked in the opposite direction in refusing to eat things that God told us to eat (see 1 Timothy 4:3-5).

Paul was not telling people here that they are now free to eat literally whatever they want, including things prohibited by The Torah. A little further into this study I will show more evidence of this, but first we need to turn to the next point of discussion.

Sabbath And Feasts Optional?

From this opening point about food that was potentially offered to idols, Paul turns toward another thought that is often taken to mean that something from The Torah no longer needs to be kept, at least not as a mandate. Let’s take a look.

One person esteems one day over another while another judges every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes that day does so to the Lord. The one who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and the one who abstains, abstains to the Lord, and he gives thanks to God.

—Romans 14:5-6 (TLV)

What people tend to do with this passage is make the claim that Paul is referring to the biblical seventh-day Sabbath and the annual Torah-appointed Feast Days and claiming that they were no longer mandated, but perhaps optional at best. If you want to keep celebrating these times that even Yeshua and the apostles kept, great, have at it. But “don’t you dare try to put any Christians under the bondage of The Law and say they have to celebrate them.” Again, however, this argument falls apart when you figure out what Paul was really talking about.

There is not one thing in the records from the first century or theology dating to the time of the apostles that would suggest Romans 14, particularly verses 5 and 6, be viewed as pertaining to the Torah established days of worship—such as The Sabbath vs. "Sunday", The Feast Days vs. "Christmas" and "Easter", and so on. The focus of this chapter is about matters of food—not the clean and unclean dietary regulation from Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, but rather a somewhat misconstrued idea that if someone bought [biblically clean] meat at the local market they might be at risk of idolatry, because some meat at the markets came from animals that had been sacrificed to idols or pagan gods. This is verified, again, not only through other statements in this chapter, but also in comparing to the statements made in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and 10:14-33, as well as considering the instruction in Acts 15:20, 29 to not eat anything that had been sacrificed to an idol or pagan god.

Romans 14:5-6, therefore, is not an overturning of the Holy Days appointed by Yah or a permission to make our own “holidays” that go against the command of God regarding the appropriation of pagan religious traditions (Deuteronomy 12:29-31), but about man-made voluntary Jewish fasting days. To learn about these, one must refer to the Talmud, not The Bible. Consider these words from Talmud Tractate Ta’anit 11b:

Rav Yirmeya bar Abba said: There is no completely stringent communal fast in Babylonia, except for the Ninth of Av alone. All other fasts, even those which are fixed and routine for the community, are treated as individual fasts, with regard to both the customs of the fast itself and the halakhot of who is obligated to fast. Rav Yirmeya bar Abba said that Reish Lakish said: A Torah scholar is not permitted to sit in observance of a fast, due to the fact that his fasting reduces his strength for the heavenly service of Torah study and mitzvot.

These concepts are foreign to the modern “Christian” because most have never even heard of the Talmud, let alone looked at what it says, and this therefore leads them to a wrong conclusion that the passage is overturning those times that The Torah commands. We must keep in mind that the early followers of Yeshua were themselves a sect of first century Judaism, known as The Nazarenes and The Way (Acts 9:2, 19:9, 19:23, 22:4, 22:14, 24:5, 24:14, 24:22). Like with many other matters, Paul was here in Romans 14 addressing a dispute between various Pharisaical sects from the schools of Hillel and Shammai. Understanding this context shows that this had nothing to do with what was mandated by The Torah of Yah. Paul was referring to these disputes over extrabiblical fasting days and whether they should be regarded as mandated or optional.

It would not make sense to conclude that Paul was speaking against The Sabbath or Torah-appointed Feasts when elsewhere we see these being fully upheld—there are 85 Sabbaths highlighted in Acts being kept by the apostles and early followers of Yeshua, Hebrews 4:9 tells us that The Sabbath remains for God's people, Paul expressed a strong desire to attend one of the Feasts in Jerusalem (Acts 20:16, generally considered a reference to Shavuot as the Days of Unleavened Bread are highlighted in vs. 6), and Paul admonished the communities of Messiah followers in the region of Corinth to "keep the Feast" (1 Corinthians 5:7-8, referring to Passover and Unleavened Bread). Nobody in first century Israel or the extended communities who followed Yeshua would have thought Paul was talking about The Sabbath or Torah-appointed Feasts in Romans 14:5-6. Because of the cultural setting of the original audience of Paul’s letters, they would have known he was referencing to the ongoing disputes about extrabiblical fasting days.

Don't You Judge Me!

The next thing we find in the discourse of Romans 14 is a favorite line of antinomian “Christians”. Take a look.

But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you too, why do you look down on your brother? For we all will stand before the judgment seat of God.

—Romans 14:10 (TLV)

I am often amused and saddened at the same time when I see people go toward these passages—Matthew 7:1-2 is another favorite—and boast about how they can do whatever they want and if you dare to raise a standard of true biblical holiness they want to rant about how you are judging them. First of all, warning the wicked of their sin is not judging anyone, it’s literally doing what The Bible says to do. Second, there are many things we are actually told to judge. Consider these things The Bible tells us, as followers of Yeshua, to judge:

• Judge righteously (John 7:24)

• Judge sin within a body of Believers (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)

• Judge matters between brethren (1 Corinthians 6:5)

• Judge preaching (1 Corinthians 14:29)

• Judge false spirits and those who preach and teach counterfeit faith (2 Corinthians 11:1-4)

• Judge works and workers of darkness (Ephesians 5:11)

• Judge false prophets and false apostles (1 John 4:1, Revelation 2:2)

• Judge false believers among the fellowship (1 John 2:18-20)

As you can see, there is quite a bit we are supposed to judge, so the entire concept of “don’t judge” tends to be taken way out of proportion. The reality is that most of the time, at least in my experience, that “Christians” rail about not judging is when someone issues a legitimate warning against sin that those same “Christians” are involved in.

I never hear “Christians” saying, “don’t judge, don’t judge, don’t judge,” when the sin being discussed is something the “churches” almost unanimously regard as sin—such as various sexual sins, abortion, lying, stealing, and other such things. But the moment you bring up the Leviticus food laws or the moment you mention The Sabbath or the moment you ask about the Feast Days or the moment you dare to talk about the pagan Roman Catholic origins of their beloved Christmas and Easter festivals all of a sudden you are judging them.

The reality is that there is a difference between judging someone—which would be more like actually casting them into hell, something no human has the authority to do—and following the biblical mandate to warn the wicked of their ways and of the biblical consequences of their actions. If they reject the truth, that’s their problem when they stand before God to actually be judged. But telling people that they are in sin and need to repent is not judging them.

The Stumbling Block

The next thing we see in the passage is this idea of not placing a stumbling block in front of your brother in the faith. What this means is that we should not do something that may cause others to deviate from their faith to a point that may cause them to fall into sin.

Therefore let us not judge one another from now on, but rather decide this—not to put a stumbling block or a trap in the way of a brother.

—Romans 14:13 (TLV)

Oddly enough, a lot of “Christians” today act like the stumbling block is Torah-keeping. Somehow they have concluded that The Torah is what prevents people from entering into faith in Yeshua. This, of course, is part of the error of Marcionism, as well as being rooted in the agenda of Satan, the ancient serpent, from Genesis 3 where he launched his mission to lead the masses into a belief that they don’t really have to follow the commandments of Yah as given in The Torah. In order to know what the stumbling block is we need to turn again to 1 Corinthians 8 where Paul was clearly addressing the same problem.

But that knowledge is not in everyone—some, so accustomed to idols up until now, eat food as an idol sacrifice; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food will not bring us before God. We are no worse off if we do not eat and no better off if we do eat. But watch out that this freedom of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For suppose someone sees you—who have this knowledge—dining in an idol’s temple. If his conscience is weak, won’t he be emboldened to eat idol sacrifices? For the one who is weak is destroyed by your knowledge—the brother for whom Messiah died.

—1 Corinthians 8:7-11 (TLV)

You see, the issue here was still food that was offered to idols. Some like to use these passages to say that there is no longer a prohibition at all against eating such meat, but this would be in direct conflict with the ruling of the Jerusalem Council from Acts 15. Paul consistently taught that the freedom extends only to not being told the meat came from a pagan sacrifice, but once that was made known you were to refrain as this would begin a chain reaction where others would say, “Well, if they can do that, then surely I can do this,” with the latter always being something worse.

I remember several years ago I knew a particular Bible teacher who embraces a lot of questionable worldly entertainment and seemed to participate in some watered down Halloween celebrations. I interacted with one of his students who at first seemed quite zealous for a true holiness lifestyle. But it did not take long before I saw this student begin to change. Whereas at first they were supportive of my stance against things like Halloween, she changed and embraced all of it—not a watered down “church” version of it—and began to oppose my teachings. Then some time later I saw this young lady celebrating a literal Hindu festival. This is the kind of thing Paul was calling a stumbling block. Living by The Torah is not a stumbling block, it’s what we’re supposed to be doing.

Nothing Is Unclean?

I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Yeshua, that nothing is unholy in itself; but it is unholy for the one who considers it unholy. For if your brother is grieved on account of food, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy by your food the one for whom Messiah died. Therefore do not let what is good for you be spoken of as evil—for the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, but righteousness and shalom and joy in the Ruach ha-Kodesh.

—Romans 14:14-17 (TLV)

This is yet another passage that is often used by those who claim the food laws no longer have to be followed, particularly as many translations like the King James Version render verse 14 to say: there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. The problem with this, however, is that the word used here is the Greek koinos (κοινός), which is the word used regarding things that went against man-made religious rules. This is the same word translated in Acts 10:14 as common and contrasted with unclean, which would be akathartos (ἀκάθαρτος). So this passage is clearly not referring to the Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 food laws, but again is being given in the context of idolatry where Paul is continuing to emphasize that otherwise biblically permitted foods are not koinos, however, if you are told the meat was from an animal sacrificed to an idol or pagan god it then becomes prohibited.

Another part of proving this to be true is in verse 15, as well as other uses in the chapter, of the word food, which is the Greek bróma (βρῶμα). When you dig into this word a little, Strong’s Concordance defines this as: articles allowed or forbidden by the Jewish law. Now, that definition is written with a particular “Christian” bias, but what it’s ultimately telling us is that bróma is defining food based on The Torah. I have heard some scholars propose that the Greek used to write the latter parts of The Bible wasn’t just any Greek either, but Jewish Koine Greek, which is a known specific dialect of Greek used by the Jewish people of that time period, which was more of a Hebrew-based Greek. In other words, it was Greek, but it was written and spoken in a way more related to Hebrew culture than actual Greek. This is also a theory that would help explain why these Greek writings read more like Hebrew. Some contend that this is because they were originally written in Hebrew—and we do have early testimony that some, such as Matthew’s Gospel, were originally written in Hebrew—but this idea that a Jewish Koine Greek was used would also explain that and it helps solidify the use of words like bróma as being a clear reference to food only as it is defined by The Torah.

You know, at times I have had people throw verse 17 at me—for the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking—as if this too somehow proves that God no longer cares about His food laws. But this is an argument based in ignorance. Sure, the kingdom of God is not about eating or drinking, but it is about obeying God. The very next thing it says is that the kingdom of God is about righteousness, and if we turn to Deuteronomy 6:25 we find where God defines righteousness: “It will be righteousness to us, if we take care to do all this commandment before Adonai our God, just as He has commanded us.” Then it mentions being in The Spirit of Yah, and Ezekiel 36:27 tells us that anyone filled with The Spirit will be caused to walk in God’s Law, The Torah. You see, you cannot take a partial statement—or even a whole verse, chapter, book of The Bible, or single Bible author—and use it to go against the entire Bible on a topic. Not one thing in The Bible ever deems the Torah food laws obsolete, so we can be sure that Romans 14:17, telling us that the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, is also not telling us that we can now disregard the dietary prohibitions found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.

When we get to Romans 14:18 it says: “For the one who serves Messiah in this manner is pleasing to God and approved by men.” Of course, the message throughout The Bible—from cover to cover, Genesis through Revelation—is that a life pleasing to God is one that keeps His commandments. In some form the phrase “If you love God, keep His commandments” is used eighteen times in Scripture and it’s the only way loving Yah and loving Yeshua is defined anywhere in The Bible. A life pleasing to God is a life of Torah-obedience. This would especially include following the food laws, keeping The Sabbath, celebrating His Feast Days, and shunning pagan Roman Catholic holidays like Christmas, Easter, and Halloween, along with all of the “SaintDays.

Verse 20 is another statement that can easily be misread and misrepresented if we fail to consider the overall context dealing with idolatry and meats that may have been part of pagan sacrifices. Many take the words, “stop tearing down the work of God for the sake of food, indeed all things are clean, but wrong for the man who by eating causes stumbling,” to mean that we can now disregard the Torah food laws, but that deviates from the context of the passage. We know the work of God for the new covenant Believer includes putting The Torah into the mind and writing The Torah onto the heart and then filling him or her with His Spirit to cause them to walk in it. So to read into this passage the idea that the food laws no longer have to be followed is, in reality, an act of tearing down the work of God.

Living By Faith

The final words of Romans chapter 13 are: Whatever is not of faith is sin. I often point out that living by The Torah is about the highest act of faith, worship, and love you can offer to God.

Regarding faith, obedience to the commandments of Yah is literally a declaration that you truly believe that He is God. Think about it. What does it say of your belief that God is God if you buy into the idea that you don’t really have to obey His commandments? Think about it. We’re doing a study out of the book of Romans, so consider what this passage says:

Do we then nullify the Torah through faithfulness? May it never be! On the contrary, we uphold the Torah.

—Romans 3:31 (TLV)

It’s amazing what happens when you connect the dots within Scripture. Often people look at Romans 14:23 and seek to define sin by whatever goes against modern “Christian” concepts of faith, but when we bring in context from elsewhere, even in this exact same book, and especially deferring to the whole counsel of Scripture, we find out that faith and living by The Torah go hand-in-hand. You cannot live by faith if you are not living by The Torah.

Like all other passages that are frequently used to claim we no longer have to follow the Torah food laws, keep The Sabbath, celebrate Yah’s Feast Days, shun pagan holidays, and other such things, when we put Romans 14 to the test of a whole Bible context it too falls flat. As always, there is a Torah-positive way to understand the statements of Romans 14 that harmonizes with the rest of The Bible instead of making it contradict, conflict with, and allegedly void other parts of The Bible.

I hope that through this study you have seen that no matter where you go in Scripture, The Bible is always telling the same message from beginning to end, and that message always includes the view that keeping the commandments of Yah, as found in His Torah, is the expectation of living in covenant with Him and being a citizen of His Kingdom.

Blessings and Shalom

©2023 Truth Ignited Ministry

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