This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren
To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here Shogren_Commentary on Romans
VII. The Resolution of a Particular Conflict in the Church of Rome (14:1-15:13)
A. Christians are accountable to God with respect to ethical decisions (14:1-12)
B. Christians must not cause harm to others, but edify them (14:13-15:6)
C. God wants all believers to live in harmony (15:7-13)
VII. The Resolution of a Particular Conflict in the Church of Rome (14:1-15:13)
Chapter divisions are not part of the original text, and here is a case where must continue to read up through 15:13. In this section Paul raises the issue of how to deal with unspiritual “quarreling” which might divide the church. Some think he was dealing with some hypothetical situation, but since he gives so much detail, we conclude that he was describing an actual debate in Rome, in which Christian was divided against Christian.
People “in the flesh” cannot dwell in peace with each other; they are poisoned by “strife” and other social sins (1:29-31). Christians too might fall into “dissension and jealousy” (13:13). Their internal debate has to do with three practices observed by people called “the Weak”: some observed a sacred day; abstained from wine; ate no meat. The “strong” thought that all days were alike sacred; also, that it was permissible to eat meat and drink wine. The most likely explanation is that the Weak were those Jews who believed that these scruples represented God’s will for them (14:14, 20). Then Paul begins in 15:7-13 to speak of Jew and Gentile Christians. Paul, though Jewish, regards himself as one of the Strong (15:1) and does not agree with the scruples of the Weak, since “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking” (14:17).
This section is Paul’s central teaching about how to handle the so-called adiaphora (the singular form is adiaphoron), “indifferent” matters: practices where one believer quotes some Bible truths, another emphasizes others, and they come to different conclusions. In fact, Christians cannot even agree on which practices are truly on the list of adiaphora. Hence, part of Paul’s task here was to convince both parties that their choices in these three areas were genuinely adiaphora.
Although this passage of Romans is similar to 1 Corinthians 8-10, it does not describe the situation faced in Corinth, in which there was uncertainty over whether one could eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul’s answer in that epistle was long and complex, with several conclusions: (1) such meat is in no way “tainted” or poisonous to the spirit – meat is meat; (2) still, it should not be consumed if it damages someone’s conscience; (3) a meal offered to an idol in a sacramental meal, a parallel to the sacrament of communion, is a symbol of alliance to a pagan god – therefore a Christian must not participate (that is, the practice (3) is not adiaphoron). In Romans 14, Paul focuses mostly on (2), the damage that might be done to another believer.
This tension has its roots in the historical background of the Roman church. Years earlier the emperor “Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome” (Acts 18:2). Jews were technically not allowed in Rome between the years 49-54 d. C., at which time Claudius died and the order was revoked. The result was that the church had been predominantly Jewish beginning on the day of Pentecost; then it became a primarily Gentile church between 49-54; and Jews and Jewish Christians returned to Rome beginning in 54 and through the year 57, to the time when Paul wrote this epistle.
When the Jewish believers returned, they experienced culture shock. Whereas their practice of the faith had been Jewish Messianic, they came back to a church where the numbers and influence lay with Gentile believers.
The Jews expected to worship Christ on Saturday, but already in the 40s and 50s, the Gentile church was meeting on Sunday (see Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:1-2; see the reference to Pliny below). This explains the issue of the “more sacred day”, but what of the wine and meat? Most Jews drank wine, thus so too Jewish Christians in moderation (1 Tim 3:3). Jews ate meat, so long as it was kosher. The fact that Paul uses the Jewish adjective for impure meat in 14:14 (koinos, see Mark 7:2; Acts 10:14, 11:8; and the verb koinoō in Matt 15:11; Mark 7:15; Acts 10:15, 11:9; Acts 21:28), once again leads us think of Jewish purity concerns.
Some have suggested that the problem is that those Jews still did not have kosher butchers on whom they could rely; but since the Jews had inhabited the city for several years, this is unlikely. Another explanation lies in the story of Daniel and his three friends. “The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table” (Dan 1:5). Daniel 1:10 LXX even uses the same two words for food and drink (brōsis and posis) that Paul uses in 14:17. Thus the Jewish Christians were rejecting the meat and drink of Rome just as Daniel had refused the dainties of Babylon, as a protest against the imperial conqueror of Israel.
The law of love in 13:9-10 includes the active effort to seek good for the other and to do no harm to a neighbor, especially to another believer. If the Romans had followed the law of love, then both the Strong and the Weak would have known precisely how to act.
A. Christians are accountable to God with respect to ethical decisions (14:1-12)
Although Paul urges peace and tolerance in the church, he also labels the stricter Christians as weak in the faith, or “one whose faith is weak” (NIV). If their faith were stronger they would not have judged the Christian who followed his conscience. Paul addresses himself to the others and tells them to accept or receive these other believers in love and not treat them with contempt. To “accept” means “more than merely tolerate him. It means that he is fully accepted into the communion of the church, without discrimination” (Cevallos y Zorzoli, p. 226, our translation). That is, the Roman church was in the opposite situation of that in Galatia, where Jewish Christians were making the Gentiles feel like outsiders.
In v. 4 Paul introduces a fresh standard of evaluating the Christian’s behavior: Jesus is the Lord of each believer, and it is to him that each is accountable. We have heard about his lordship since 1:4 and in 8:39 the believer in the Lord Jesus cannot be separated from God’s full love and acceptance. In 10:12, there is no Jew or Gentile in Christ “the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him”. This does not mean that the church must not evaluate whether some behavior or another is righteous – the apostle does so all the time, for example in this section – but it does mean that the first principle is that they must answer to Christ or God (14:12) for their actions.
Paul begins with those who believe that one day or another is of special spiritual significance. This is not some pagan holiday, since the person observes it “for” or “to the Lord” Jesus, that is, as an act of Christian obedience. The best explanation is that Messianic believers thought it was not only proper, but a divine mandate, that they guard the weekly Sabbath. The rabbinic traditions show the tremendous importance of precise observance of tithing, purity and Sabbath observance in first century Judaism. For example, in the 2nd century AD, Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai would teach that, “If the Israelites keep two successive Sabbaths in a proper manner, they will be saved immediately” (b. Šabb 118b [Neusner]). Not so, says Paul – the age to come does not arrive if and when Israel observes the Sabbath correctly; rather, the kingdom is manifested in the Spirit’s presence (14:17). It is known that Judaizing Christians pressured Gentiles into accepting Sabbath observance (see Col 2:16).
What a revolution in Paul’s thinking, then, when he approves the notion that before God every day is alike, or that all food is pure (14:14) – Messianic Jewish believers would have been left speechless to hear that they were adiaphora. The reason is not hard to find: Christ has already come, he died, and he lived again (v. 9). Even though the Law God gave was “holy, righteous and good” (7:12) – including the Sabbath and purity laws – believers have died to its authority and power (7:4, 6). They follow another authority, Christ himself, and his law is that we love one another and not cause harm because of mere days, eating or drinking. Thus, while all Christians make decisions based on their own conscience, love does not allow them to act as individual units with their own private ethic. The more spiritual the believer, the more he will pay attention to others and their needs (Phil 2:2).
In v. 11, Paul adapts yet another passage from Isaiah, where Yahweh declares: “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.” (Isa 45:23; see also Psalm 95:6). It is similar to Joel 2:32, where everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved. It is striking that Paul takes yet another Yahweh text from the Hebrew Scriptures and applies to the Lord Jesus (10:9-10, 13, also that “Jesus Christ is Lord,” see Phil 2:10-11; it reminds us of the popular chorus, “He Is Lord”). Paul knew well the context of Isaiah, and it would not have escaped his attention that the divine salvation will eventually come to “all the descendants of Israel” (Isa 45:25, see Rom 11:25-26) but also to all the Gentile nations (Isa 45:22).
B. Christians must not cause harm to others, but edify them (14:13-15:6)
What a statement for Paul to make in v. 14, that “nothing is unclean in itself” (cp. Mark 7:15 – “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them”). Both Jesus and Paul went directly contrary to Second Temple Judaism, and they invalidated the basic assumption of the Weak Roman Christians.
And like Jesus, Paul pointed to the kingdom of God, not Sabbath or ritual purity, as the ultimate truth. The Jews began with the truth that God is the King of the Universe by virtue of his being Creator and Lawgiver. In the end, God would manifest his righteousness by intervening in human history, redeeming his people and judging the wicked. Jesus too spoke of the eschatological kingdom that would come in the end times (e.g., Matt 6:10). But Jesus also pointed to an exorcism of a demon and said that it signifies that “the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt 12:28). Thus, while the kingdom is still future, it can also be said that wherever God is at work in power, his kingdom is present today (see Col 4:11; esp. 1 Cor 4:20). This was something that the rabbis had not anticipated, that long before the end of the age, God the King would step into history and forever changed the world in which we live. And when God is active among us in Christ and through the Spirit, practical details about food and drink diminish in importance, since the believer can now experience kingdom the higher blessings of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (v. 17). Again, a loving believer, who experiences God’s rule, will for that reason not leave a “stumbling block or obstacle” for another, and is concerned if someone becomes “distressed”.
Paul is being repetitive, but slowly he returns to express in positive terms how the church should look: it is a place of “peace and to mutual edification” (v. 19), and every member must make an effort to maintain it. In 12:17-21 he has already shown how important it is to live in peace even with people outside the family of faith. But common experience shows that at times it is harder to be patient with other Christians than it is with the rest of the world. We expect more from Christians: if people have faith in the Lord, we imagine, then they should agree with us, since we are sure that we have faith, and since, on that basis, we have drawn certain conclusions about how Christians should live (14:1).
Edification is a favorite theme for Paul – each Christian is to see that he builds up all other Christians. This might come through encouraging them, or through the service we bring to each meeting of the church (1 Cor 14:12). He rejects the opposite of edification, called a “stumbling”. In 1 Corinthians Paul uses a verb which means “to cause to stumble” (skandalizō, see Matt 5:29-30; 13:21; 18:6; 18:8-9; John 16:1; 1 Cor 8:13; it is related to our word “scandal” but has a different meaning). Here he uses a noun (proskomma, see Rom 9:29-30; 14:13; 14:30; 1 Pet 2:8) that means a cause of stumbling. In both cases, this is not some minor nuisance – it refers to a disturbing spiritual downfall, up to and including apostasy from the faith. And so (v. 22a), sometimes the best path is to keep our opinions between ourselves and God, rather than grind down other believers. Still, this does not mean that people should never verbalize their set of beliefs (see Stott, p. 368).
Paul gives a principle in v. 23 that is useful in many situations: the believer is to act by faith. When someone, ignoring his own conscience, drinks wine, it doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong: he has deliberately chosen to rebel and for him it is non-faith, or sin.
Speaking again to the “strong” in conscience (15:1), Paul repeats what has gone before, especially in 14:1. Christian liberty is not the freedom to “please” (areskō) ourselves (see the same verb in 8:8, 15:1, 2, 3; and especially 1 Cor 10:33). Christ is the ultimate example of such self-sacrificing love – “even Christ did not please himself” (15:3; see 2 Cor 8:9). But he did not simply tailor his public behavior in order to cut down on ethical arguments – his love led to his rejection and death. In v. 3 Paul quotes from Psalm 69:9 (he follows precisely the Greek version, the Septuagint). It is one of the most often quoted of the Psalms, for example, showing how the betrayal by Judas was predicted centuries beforehand (see John 15:25; Acts 1:20). The writer of the psalm is not only rejected by his enemies, but also by his own friends. The NIV unpacks the complex sentence of Rom 15:3 with, “The insults of those who insult you [that is, God] have fallen on me.” As Jesus taught, those who rejected him rejected the Father, and when they insulted him upon the cross they were blaspheming God. Paul quotes this psalm, first because it was thought by Christians to be messianic, but also because it was so appropriate for this section: Let us not insult others whom God loves, because by doing so we insult God himself (see too 1 John 4:7-8).
Paul develops his attitude toward the Old Testament in 15:4 – although no-one can be saved by Torah-observance, nor even a gospel mixed with Torah, still Christians must develop a profound understanding of the Old Testament. He assumes that even Gentile Christians will recognize the verses he uses in these chapters; in 7:1 he says, “I am speaking to those who know the law”. In 1 Corinthians 10:11 he reminds the believers of Israel’s wickedness in the wilderness, and concludes that “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” He quotes or alludes to the Scriptures, frequently the Greek version, the Septuagint, about 50 times in this letter. Paul would have been comfortable with the phrase of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit…who spoke by the prophets.”
Practical Thought: Some Christians are shocked to learn that there are ethical or practical matters over which other believers disagree. If God has a plan for us, and his Spirit teaches us how to live, then how in the world can spiritual believers come to disagree? Their initial reaction is, “My personal convictions are the simple truth; this other person’s choices must therefore be compromises with the world.”
It is not easy even to compose a list of true adiaphora; one group might insist that a particular point is a matter of private conscience, while another might argue that the Bible is absolutely clear on that same point.
Although the ethical issues of Romans 14 are not those of 1 Corinthians, the underlying principal is the same: it is a wicked sin to allow our behavior to cause another believer to stumble in his walk with God. And while no Roman Christian ever acted like Cain, taking a brother into the field to kill him, still they might commit a far greater sin by destroying his brother spiritually by his carelessness, by what the lawyers call culpable negligence.
There are those who are focused on their liberty in Christ that they forget the law of love. Perhaps they are from a legalistic background where all sorts of worldly activities were forbidden. Then they grow in their faith and lose their former fears: a sister buys a blouse with straps rather than long sleeves or a brother plays a game he could not before. But take care! The kingdom of God is not a matter of shoulders or billiards. I have been at theology conferences where, mixed together with heavy Bible talks and heady Christian fellowship, there is a great deal of excitement among younger believers who are laying plans for cigars and brandy and beer after the meetings. Their eyes sparkle as they talk about different brands. They remind one of adolescents, who turn twenty-one and gleefully try things which were denied them before. Perhaps their equivalents in Rome were making plans to go to a local steak house, despite the troubled expressions on the faces of other Christians. But the excitement over some novelty is not the same as joyful Christian freedom, which is the right to make choices, informed by the Bible, guided by the Spirit, while focusing on love for God and love for one another.
Taken to another extreme the doctrine of adiaphora can lead to a “tyranny of the weak.” In this case, the church falls to the standard set by the least common denominator, since the pickiest believer can veto any liberty that he finds in any way objectionable. So many times has it happened that someone says, “You should give up your style of music! It might cause someone to stumble.” As a first priority, the musician should consider what is the most loving standard he should follow; this may mean he should voluntarily suspend – but not renounce! – his liberty (v. 22; see the whole of 1 Cor 9). But second, it might be proper for him to seek further light on the situation: “Does this music cause you to stumble, that is, falter in your faith?” Often the response is, No. “Do you have someone in mind, whose walk with Christ is being harmed?” Again, perhaps not. But the suggestion is that maybe, somehow, someone might be hurt. In this game of controlling behavior, liberty is shut down but only for some hypothetical scenario which might one day happen. No: what Paul is dealing with is a situation that causes known serious distress, even complete spiritual destruction (14:15, to which 1 Cor 8:11-13 adds sin, wounding, a fall).
Then too, there are cases in which both sides perceive that the Bible is perfectly obvious, and argue that the opposing group simply is disregarding the Word. The question of race in the church has historically been one such topic. Some Christians have believed that based on clear biblical teaching, one must permit and even encourage racial integration in the church; others have said that, supposedly also based on other clear biblical teaching, African-American Christians should be excluded from white churches and should congregate with others of their race. This cannot be analyzed and resolved solely on the basis of the Strong (integrationists) trying not to offend the Weak (segregationists). Why? Because love must push the majority into seeing that there is a third party involved: beyond the Strong and the Weak, there are those Christians who will be deeply harmed if the Weak are to have their way! The Strong in that instance must make a convincing case that they Weak are required by the law of love to give up and give in. By extension, one wonders how this might be applied to the possibility of women teachers in the church. Both sides appeal to the Bible. One group appeals to a set of verses and constructs an exegetical argument that women might be teachers of men; another points to another set of verses and by the same exegetical tools argues that women may not be teachers of men. The added dimension here is that, there are not simply two groups with differing opinions; a third group consists of those women who believe that they have a divine calling to teach in the church. Hence their backers naturally do not feel that they have the right simply to waive their opinion for the sake of the Weak, since it would lead to a policy that affects and restrains many other Christians, in fact, more than half of the worldwide body of Christ; it cannot therefore be a question of personal or party opinion. I point this out, not to give weight to one side or another of this contentious issue, but to remind us that the policies of the church cannot be managed just by small groups within it without due consideration for those who will be affected by them. Again, the Weak should document that they or others will be spiritually “shipwrecked” by a more generous policy.
This is why we wish to tone down the absoluteness – viz., the phrase “complete flexibility” – of the commentator who says that we should display “inflexible commitment to the basics; complete flexibility on the adiaphora: this was the posture of Paul that he would like every one of us to emulate.” (Moo, Romans, p. 882). Certainly, Paul himself was broadly flexible (1 Cor 9:19-23; Acts 16:15 provides an entertaining example of Paul backing down before an insistent Lydia from his policy of not allowing people to offer him patronage), but not absolutely so (Gal 2:11-13). In addition, Paul is not saying that we should give up our freedoms because of another’s fear, suspicion, difference in taste; he is saying that a loving Christian will suspend his God-given rights if spiritually it might cause real and lasting harm to another. And it is that heightened level of urgency to which Paul refers to in vv. 20-23.
C. God wants all believers to live in harmony (15:5-13)
Paul now draws to a conclusion and leads his readers in worship of the God of perfect compassion. He moves beyond the issue of days, wine, and meat in the Roman church, exalting more broadly the unity of the church. In v. 5 he prays that they might indeed follow Jesus’ example of love and self-sacrifice (see especially Phil 2:1-11). 15:6 foreshadows the rest of Paul’s teaching in this chapter: the goal is a union of all believers into one “choir”, who worship God together despite their differences. In v. 7, again, we hear of “acceptance” – if Christ accepts you and accepts your brother or sister, then you must accept one another. In Rome this included literally opening the doors of your house church to all other believers (14:1).
Now Paul finally talks about Jews and Gentiles: all along we have suspected that this was the fault line on which the Roman church was divided. Christ served Israel as its redeemer (Mark 10:45) and fulfilled the promises that God made to the patriarchs; in particular we think of the promise to Abraham that his descendants would be blessed. But, Paul has already shown in 4:16, the promise to Abraham has also fallen on Gentile believers in Christ. And indeed, all believers, from Israel and all the nations, may find God’s mercy and glorify God (15:9a).
What is God’s ultimate purpose? His “united choir” will include singers/members from all nations on earth. The sense is similar to what we find in Romans 11 – there is one sole olive tree; and Gentile believers are invited to join the tree to become full members. Now, he uses the motif of a choir, which had its beginning as the true Israelites and is now open to Gentile believers – all singing to the one God, since he is the God of all nations (3:29).
So, Sing praise to God, through Jesus Christ, all you nations!
Let us begin by thinking of music on a literal level. What type was the church used to? The synagogues in the Diaspora would probably have had chanting or singing, probably limited to the adult men. Beyond that, Israel had a rich tradition of psalms and musical instruments. Jews in the Roman church who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem would have heard the Levitical music in the Second Temple; according to later rabbinic traditions, it included at least singing, percussion instruments and trumpets and was “professionally” produced. In the Americas too some churches use musical parts, instruments, and above all a sound system; if the sound level from the platform is high enough, then it becomes a performance, since only a few people may be heard during worship.
If we think of the temple or of modern Christian music, we will miss Paul’s point entirely. First-century Christian music was group worship: “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Eph 5:19). It was probably very simple, based what some had heard in the synagogue. The earliest description of church music is found in a report from Pliny the Younger to the emperor Trajan (in circa AD 111), in which he reported that Christians used to “chant verses alternately among themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god.” The typical Roman congregation probably worshipped with everyone singing, men and women, Jew and Gentile, with one tune and one text. It is common experience that supplies Paul with his motif (see also the various references to song in the Revelation).
Here then is the surprise: if the gospel saves Jews and Gentiles, then that means that Jews and Gentiles may – no, must! – glorify God with one voice, both now and for eternity. There is no Us and Them in this choir, only one God and his one people.
As he does in other places where the Jews might need special convincing, he quotes from the Scriptures, showing from their very own Bible that he is right (see 3:9-18; chapters 4; 9-11).
9 – The psalmist testifies about Yahweh among the pagans (Psalm 18:49). The psalm tells of the persecution of the writer and how God gave him victory over the other nations. It tells of God’s vengeance: “He is the God who avenges me, who subdues nations under me” (Psalm 18:47). So, in its original context his praise of Yahweh is hardly “evangelistic”, but a song of vengeance on his enemies and their gods. But Paul turns this psalm into a positive: Gentiles will glorify God for his compassion on all the nations!
10 – All nations are invited to rejoice along with God’s people Israel (Deut 32:43). He has already used this part of Deuteronomy to explain God’s plan to save the nations, and to provoke Israel to jealousy for their own ultimate good (Rom 10:19). So the fact that the Gentiles are praising God should remind Jews of their own need for the gospel.
11 – All nations are invited to praise Yahweh; here there is no reference whatever to Israel (Psalm 117:1). This shortest of psalms is also the most universalist.
12 – God’s specific plan was to raise up a Davidic messiah in whom all nations must hope (Isa 11:10). Isaiah is another favorite book of Paul, and he quotes one of its messianic passages. Despite the destruction of the Davidic kingdom, “the Root of Jesse will spring up” (Jesse = the father of David; see other “root” titles in Rev 5:5; 22:16). The future king will be anointed by the Spirit. All nations will hope in him. Once again, the promises made to Israel are now fully available to those who put their hope in Israel’s Messiah, and the Bible text shows us how to have hope (15:4).
Paul prays that they will abound in that joy and peace (v. 13) – the joy of worship, the peace and joy of God’s kingdom (14:17). No personal ethic or list of rules about Sabbath, meat, and wine can make people experience those gifts of God – but they are easily available to each believer by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Practical Thought: Before we think of unity in the church, let’s examine Paul’s teaching method in this section. Paul quotes verses, often as the authoritative word to prove a point (9:15; 12:20; 14:11). In our preaching we might be guilty of quoting verses as if they were simple maxims, not bothering to explain what they mean in their context or in the history of redemption. Paul did not simply state a Bible verse, expecting it to work magically in the lives of his readers. Rather, he explained what the text meant and prayed for the Spirit to work in their hearts. There is another false idea that the preacher’s role is simply to teach Bible content and let the Holy Spirit do the work of applying it. If the Word is properly explained, it is assumed, then the connection will be made. But Paul does not do this either – when he tells the Gentile and Jewish Christians that, according to the Bible, they are one people of God, then he tells them how they should act upon it, often in very specific terms. So, Paul is not only quotes Scripture here, but shows the Romans how they can live out the equality of Christians of all backgrounds.
How might disunity appear in the church? Let’s focus on Latin America, whose experience parallels that of many other nations:
Victims of our own success: In its early stages, a gospel movement tends to be made up of the poor and marginalized. Within their walls they find a new egalitarianism that bridges the divide between gender or race and has a flattened power structure with participation by all members. But when the church becomes successful in socio-economic terms, old boundaries reassert themselves. Less favored groups begin to be pushed out to the margins, and power becomes concentrated in the hands of fewer leaders. The uneducated poor are made to feel less welcome, since they symbolize the past and bring shame to the upwardly-mobile. To use the “choir” model of this passage, we might imagine a few people who have microphones, and they tend to be the amplified voices of a few dynamic males with good social credentials.
The elevation of Jewish forms over Gentile, or of Gentile forms over Jewish: For the last century and a half, there has been a movement of Jews to Messianism. While they express their faith in traditional ways, they do not insist that all others do the same nor claim that their way is superior. This movement does not transgress Paul’s teaching in these chapters and does not concern us here. But recently, Latin Americans have heard that believers who use Hebrew terms such as shalom or Mashiaj (Messiah) or Yeshua; or observe Jewish holidays; or listen to “messianic” teachers, are somehow on a higher level than are normal Gentile (or to use their pejoratives, “Roman” or “Greek”) believers. Or, as I have been told, they hear a Gentile Christian should never teach the Bible, but only Jewish believers. This divides Christ’s choir just as some did in the first century, and much of the New Testament was written to combat it.
Making one specific version of the Bible the only authority and rejecting Christians who use other versions. The Reina Valera 1960, some say, is the Word of God, and all other versions are Satanic corruptions; those who use them are supposedly apostates and in a conspiracy to remove the deity of Christ or justification by faith or the Trinity or who knows what from God’s Word. This same phenomenon has also afflicted the English-speaking world by those who promote the sole use of the King James Version. These groups in effect or even explicitly pledge themselves to using an edition of the Greek New Testament from the 1500s (nicknamed the Textus receptus) as God’s only true edition. Others say that the Sociedad Bíblica (the International Bible Society) is a front for the Catholic Church or the Illuminati. One website states that the Nueva Versión Internacional (the Spanish version of the NIV) is a homosexual version and should be thrown away. The issue of Bible versions is always a delicate one; some people have strong opinions, but beyond that, for some it has turned into a sect, eating away at the unity that the church should always be promoting.
- What are some areas where you and other believers disagree about what is holy behavior? How do you decide if these are adiaphora – see our comments on Romans 14 – and which are matters that are truly important to God?
- Does the church make a worldly distinction between Christian “superstars” and regular believers? What would an ideal church look like if everyone was equal in its service to God?
“Romans Commentary, Romans 14:1-15:13,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica