Sunday, September 13, 2009

Romans 14:5-6 and observing holy days and diets

I have been thinking about these verses since I taught on them at my men's study group and I ran my interpretation by them, and now I throw it out to a broader audience to see if I can get more feedback. My concern in this passage is with Paul's admonition to not judge a brother who observes Old Testament holy days and a kosher diet out of conviction, and further, his admonition for each person to be fully convinced in his own thinking about these things(as if it were an option available to all Christians to be conscience bound by such practices). What I am thinking is that Paul has in view a temporary patience with those who are bound in conscience by the law's teaching on these things. Further, I don't believe that Paul envisions that the church will have to long deal with this kind of a division in piety and practice.

My argument is twofold:

First, Paul is dealing with people he calls "weak" who were brought up in Judaism and taught the scrupulous observance of holy days and diets as a form of piety before the Lord. Now a contemporary Jew, brought up within a strict orthodox setting, might have the same struggles and make the same claim. Though I am sympathetic to that claim, and am open to making a concession in this kind of a situation, I still believe there is a vast difference between the person Paul is talking about in Romans 14 and the contemporary person brought up in strict Judaism. The person Paul is addressing as the "weak" was brought up under Judaism when the Mosaic covenant was yet in force, and was the only covenantally sanctioned relationship between God and any people on earth. Mosaic legislation, along with the rest of the canonical Old Testament scripture was the most up-to-date revelation from God which instructed people in covenant piety and duties. Further, the temple was still in standing in Paul's day and the sacrifices were still being offered. In other words, this was a unique redemptive-historical period in a time where there was real covenantal overlap. That is not true today, and therefore I argue that Paul's advice in dealing with the struggle between the weak and the strong on holy days and diets, is historically and contextually conditioned and limited to the apostolic era.

Second, we must also bear in mind, that one reason this struggle between the "weak" and the "strong" was able to percolate as it did, was because of a lack of thorough and sustained apostolic teaching to help clarify what New Covenant piety and obligations were. The church at Rome was not founded by an apostle; it was most likely founded by Jews converted at Pentecost who took the gospel back home to Rome when the feast was over. There is no indication by the time of the writing of the letter to the Romans that any of the apostles had spent much time there teaching these Christians the distinctives of the New Covenant. So, bearing that in mind, Paul admonishes the "strong" to bear patiently with the "weak" and he admonishes the "weak" to not be haughty and sit in judgment on the "strong" who were simply acting in accordance with their conscience. However, once they did receive in-depth apostolic instruction in these matters, explaining how holy days and diets were covenantally conditioned duties prescribed for "the church under age" until Christ came and fulfilled their meaning and set them aside.

The bottom line is, Paul would admonish us to be sensitive to people who come to church who have a lot of spiritual baggage, whether that be temptations to engage in old sins which were technically speaking "matters of Christian liberty" but were used to the point of abuse and led to enslavement to sin, and people who grew up in various sects and cults and false religions. He would advise the "strong" not to use their Christian liberty in such a way that would lead these new converts to do things their conscience was not ready for. However, I firmly believe, he would advise the church to thoroughly instruct these new believers, and lead them into maturity. Beyond that, I do not believe he would have us allow people to entertain for a second that they are being pious by observing Old Covenant holy days or diets. In other words, we he would not tell contemporary Christians that they are free to get an opinion on these matters and be bound in conscience by the opinion that they must observe holy days and diets.

Well, those are my thoughts, please give this some thought and offer me some feedback.

1 comment:

Reformed4ever said...

I agree with your exposition and appliations of this difficult passage, and misinterpreted passage. I have one question: what about so called New Covenant Holy Days? Do you think we can apply this passage to the celebration of Advent, Lent, etc.?