|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
14:1-6 Differences of opinion prevailed even among the immediate followers of Christ and their disciples. Nor did St. Paul attempt to end them. Compelled assent to any doctrine, or conformity to outward observances without being convinced, would be hypocritical and of no avail. Attempts for producing absolute oneness of mind among Christians would be useless. Let not Christian fellowship be disturbed with strifes of words. It will be good for us to ask ourselves, when tempted to disdain and blame our brethren; Has not God owned them? and if he has, dare I disown them? Let not the Christian who uses his liberty, despise his weak brother as ignorant and superstitious. Let not the scrupulous believer find fault with his brother, for God accepted him, without regarding the distinctions of meats. We usurp the place of God, when we take upon us thus to judge the thoughts and intentions of others, which are out of our view. The case as to the observance of days was much the same. Those who knew that all these things were done away by Christ's coming, took no notice of the festivals of the Jews. But it is not enough that our consciences consent to what we do; it is necessary that it be certified from the word of God. Take heed of acting against a doubting conscience. We are all apt to make our own views the standard of truth, to deem things certain which to others appear doubtful. Thus Christians often despise or condemn each other, about doubtful matters of no moment. A thankful regard to God, the Author and Giver of all our mercies, sanctifies and sweetens them.
Verses 1-23. - F. The duty of enlightened Christians towards weak brethren. From moral duties in general of Christians towards each other and towards all the apostle now passes to such as they owe peculiarly to each other as members of a religious community, united by a common faith. He has already (Romans 12:16) admonished his readers to be "of the same mind one toward another;" but, as was remarked under that verse, this did not imply agreement of view on all subjects, such as is impossible where there are many minds. In this chapter he recognizes the impossibility, having immediately before him what was then patent, the inability of some, through prejudice or slowness of conception, to enter into views of the meaning of the gospel which to himself and the more enlightened were apparent. He by no means departs from what he says elsewhere (cf. Galatians 1:6-10) about no denial of fundamental doctrine being allowable in the communion of the Church; but in matters not touching the foundation he does here inculcate a large and generous tolerance. In these, as in all other relations between men on the earth together, the all-inspiring principle of charity is to rule. Who the "weak brethren" were whose scruples he especially inculcates tolerance of in this chapter cannot be decided positively. It will he seen that they were persons who thought it their duty to abstain from animal food, and perhaps also from wine (vers. 2, 21); and there is allusion also to observance of certain days (ver. 5). The views that have been taken are as follows: -
(1) That they were the same class of Jewish Christians as are spoken of in 1 Corinthians 8. as over-scrupulous about eating of things that had been offered in sacrifice to idols.
(2) That they were such as were scrupulous in avoiding unclean meats, forbidden in the Mosaic Law. (Or, as Erasmus and others suggest, views (1) and (2) may be combined.)
(3) That they were ascetics. In favour of view
(1) is the fact that the drift and tone of the exhortation is exactly the same here as in 1 Corinthians 8, with similarity also of expressions, such as ὁ ἀσθενῶν, ὁ ἐσθίων βρῶσις, βρῶμα, ἀπολύειν πρόσκομμα, σκανδαλίζειν. Against it are the facts
(a) that in the chapter before us there is no allusion whatever to idol-meats, as there is throughout so markedly in 1 Corinthians 8; and
(b) that abstinence from all animal food whatever (and apparently from wine too) is spoken of in this chapter. Objection (a) has been met by saying that the ground of the scrupulosity referred to might be so well known that St. Paul did not think it necessary to mention it when he wrote to the Romans. To objection (b) it is replied that there might be some who, in order to guard against the risk of buying at the shambles, or partaking in general society of viands connected with heathen sacrifices, made a point of abstaining from meat altogether, and (it has been suggested) from wine too, which might have been used in libations. This is the view of Clement of Alexandria, Ambrosiastor, and Augustine, among the ancients. View (2) is that of Origen, Chrysostom, Theodoret, Jerome, and others, among whom Chrysostom accounts for the total abstinence from meat as follows: "There were many of the Jews that believed, who, being still bound in conscience to the Law, even after believing still observed the ordinances about meats, not as yet venturing to depart from the Law; and then, in order not to be conspicuous in abstaining from swine's flesh only, they abstained from all flesh, and ate herbs only, that their practice might seem to be rather fasting, and not observance of the Law" (so also OEcumenius and Theophylact). But this seems to be a conjecture only, and hardly a likely one. And further, it fails to account for abstinence from wine, which seems to be implied; on the part of tome at least, in ver. 21. (It may be observed, however, that this is not of necessity implied. Abstinence from meat is all that has been spoken of before, and again in ver. 23; and St. Paul may possibly mean only to say, in ver. 21, that if by abstaining from wine also he could avoid offence to a weak brother, he would willingly so abstain. Still, the natural inference is that he would not have mentioned wine had there not been some who made it a point of conscience to abstain from it.) If the weak brethren were ascetics, according to view (3), it is most probable that they were Jewish Christians who had imbibed the principles of the Essenes. These were a Jewish sect, spoken of especially by josephus, who aimed at scrupulous observance of the Law of Moses, and strict personal purity. With this view they lived in communities under rule, partaking of the simplest fare, and some abstaining from marriage. It does not appear that they were strict vegetarians when living in community; but we are told that they might only eat such meat as had been prepared by their own members, so as to be secure against any pollution, and that, if excommunicated, they were consequently compelled to eat herbs. (For what is known of them, see Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 2; 8:2-5; 'Ant.,' 13:05. 9; 15:10. 4, 5; 18:1. 2, etc.; Philo, 'Quod Omnis Probus Liber,' see. 12, etc.; Pliny, 'Hist. Nat.,' 5:16, 17.) It is far from unlikely that some of these would be attracted to Christianity; and this especially as some of their principles, as described by Josephus, seem to have been endorsed by Christ himself (see art. on "Essenes," in 'Dict. of Christian Biog.,' vol. 2. p. 202); and, if so, they would be likely to carry their prejudices with them into the Church, and, when living outside their original communities, they might abstain entirely from flesh as well as wine. Or it might be that other Jews, Essenic in principle and feeling, had sought admission into the Church. Philo, in Eusebius, 'Praep. Evan.,' 8. fin., and Josephus, 'Vit.,' 2. 3, intimate that supra-legal asceticism, under the influence of Essenic principles, was not uncommon in Judaism in their time. The latter (c. 3) speaks of certain priests, his friends, who were so God-fearing that they subsisted on figs and nuts, and (c. 2) of one Banns, who had been his master, who ate no food but vegetables. What is still more to our purpose is that we find evidence of pious ascetics of the same type subsequently among Christians. Origen ('Contra Cels.,' 5:49) speaks of some as living in his time; and even the apostle St. Matthew, and James the Lord's brother, were afterwards credited with a corresponding mode of life. Clement of Alexandria ('Paedag.' 2:1) says of the former, "Matthew the apostle partook of seeds and acorns and herbs, without flesh." Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius (2:23), says of the latter that "he drank not wine or strong drinks, nor did he eat animal food; a razor came not upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil; he did not use the bath." It is to be observed that abstinence from ointments was one of the practices of the Essenes (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 8:2. 3). Augustine ('Ad Faust.,' 22:3) transmits the same tradition as to the abstinence of James from flesh and wine. Whatever foundation them might be for these traditions, they at any rate show that in the second century, when Hegesippus wrote, abstinence such as is intimated in this chapter was regarded as a mark of superior sanctity by some Christians. Farther, in the 'Apostolical Canons' (Canon 51.), Christians who abstained from marriage, or flesh, or wine, are allowed to be retained in the communion of the Church as long as they did so by way of religious restraint only. Against the above view of the weak brethren of the chapter before us having been ascetics of the Essenic type, is alleged the strong condemnation of persons supposed to have been of the same sort in Colossians 2:8, 16, seq., and 1 Timothy 4:1-5, which is said to be inconsistent with the tender tolerance recommended here. But the teachers referred to in the later Epistles, though inculcating practices similar to those of the "weak brethren," appear to have been heretical theosophists, the germ probably of later Gnosticism. Their tenets may indeed, in part at least, have been developed from Esseuism; but it was no longer mere conscientious scrupulosity, but principles subversive of the faith, that St. Paul set his face against in writing to the Colossians and to Timothy. Canon 51. in the 'Apostolical Canons' above referred to may be adduced as distinguishing between the principles on which asceticism might be practised allowably or otherwise; it being therein laid down that any who abstained from marriage, flesh, or' wine, not by way of religious restraint, but as abhorring them, forgetting that God made all things very good, and that he made man male and female, and blaspheming the work of creation, should be cast out of the Church. It remains to be observed that there was diffused among the Gentiles also, through the influence of the Neo-Pythagorean philosophy, an asceticism similar to the Essenic (see Senec., 'Ep.,' 108, and Porphyr., 'De Abstin.'), which Eichhoru supposes the "weak brethren" of this chapter to have been affected by, regarding them as mostly Gentile Christians. But Jewish influences are much more probable; the scruples referred to in 1 Corinthians 8. were certainly due to them; and observe ver. 5 in this chapter, which cannot but refer to Jewish observances. Further, Origen, in the treatise above referred to, expressly distinguishes between Christian and Pythagorean asceticism. His words are, "But see also the difference of the cause of the abstinence from creatures having life as practised by the Pythagoreans and by the ascetics among ourselves. For they abstain because of the fable concerning the transmigration of souls;... but we, though we may practise the like, do it when we keep under the flesh and bring it into subjection" ('Contra Cels.,' 4). Verse 1. - Him that is weak in the faith (rather, in faith, or in his faith). The article before πίστει does not denote the faith objectively. Cf. Romans 4:19, μὴ ἀσθενήσας τῆ πίστει. In 1 Corinthians 8:12 it is the conscience that is spoken of as weak, τὴν συνείδησιν ἀσθενοῦσαν. Persons are meant whose faith is not sufficiently strong and enlightened for entering fully into the true spirit of the gospel so as to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials. Receive ye (i.e. take to yourselves with kindness - with reference, it may be, both to persons seeking admission into the Church and to those already in it who could not get rid of their scruples. The verb, which is προσλαμβάνεσθε, occurs in a like sense in Acts 28:2, and Philemon 1:12, 17. It may be regarded here as the opposite of ἐκκλεῖσαι θέλειν of Galatians 4:17), but not to doubtful disputations; rather, unto - i.e., so as to result in - judgments of thoughts. The Authorized Version has in margin, "to judge his doubtful thoughts," which is probably nearer the true meaning than the text. Διαρίσις means elsewhere dijudicartio (1 Corinthians 12:10; Hebrews 5:14), not "disputation" or "doubt" (as has been supposed from the verb διακρίνεσθαι, meaning "to doubt"). "Non dijudicemus cogitationes infirmorum, quasi ferre audeamus sententiam de alieno corde, quod non videtur" (Augustin, 'Prepos.,' 78).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Him that is weak in the faith,.... This address is made to the stronger and more knowing Christians among the Romans, how to behave towards those that were inferior in light and knowledge to them, with regard to things of a ritual and ceremonial kind: and by "him that is weak in the faith", is meant, either one that is weak in the exercise of the grace of faith, who has but a glimmering sight of Christ; who comes to him in a very feeble and trembling manner; who believes his ability to save him, but hesitates about his willingness; who casts himself with a peradventure on him; and who is attended with many misgivings of heart, faintings of spirit, and fluctuation of mind, about his interest in him: or one that is weak in the doctrine of faith; has but little light and knowledge in the truths of the Gospel; is a child in understanding; has more affection than judgment; very little able to distinguish truth from error; cannot digest the greater and more sublime doctrines of grace; stands in need of milk, and cannot bear strong meat; is very fluctuating and unsettled in his principles, and like children tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine: or rather one that is weak in his knowledge of that branch of the doctrine of faith, which concerns Christian liberty; and that part of it particularly, which respects freedom from the ceremonial law: it designs one, and chiefly a Jew, who though a believer in Christ, and an embracer of the other truths of the Gospel, yet had but very little knowledge of Gospel liberty; but though that believers were to observe all the rituals of the Mosaic dispensation, not knowing that they were abolished by Christ. The phrase is Jewish; it is (m) said,
"what is the meaning of the phrase, in Rephidim, Exodus 17:1 it signifies such as are of weak hands; as if it had been said, because the Israelites were , "weak in their faith".''
The advice the apostle gives, in reference to such a person, is to
receive him; not only into their affections, and love him equally, being a believer in Christ, as one of the same sentiments with them, only in this matter, but also into church fellowship with them. The Syriac version reads it, , "give him the hand": in token of communion, a form used in admission of members. The Gentiles were apt to boast against, and look with some contempt upon the Jews, and were ready to object to their communion, because of their want of light and knowledge in these matters; but this was no bar of communion, nor ought a person to be rejected on account of his weakness, either in the grace, or in the doctrine of faith, when it appears he has the true grace of God; and much less on account of his weakness in that branch of it, concerning Christian liberty; for since Christ does not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, nor despise the day of small things, churches should not: it may also intend a receiving of such into intimate conversation, at their private meetings and conferences; taking particular notice of them; giving them proper instructions; praying with them and for them; endeavouring to build them up in their most holy faith, and to bring them into the knowledge of those things they are weak in; bearing their weaknesses patiently, and bearing with them in great tenderness: thus such should be received,
but not to doubtful disputations; to vain jangling and perverse disputings, such as will rather perplex than inform them; and will leave their minds doubtful and in suspense, and do them more harm than good.
(m) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 77. 1.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Ro 14:1-23. Same Subject Continued—Christian Forbearance.
The subject here, and on to Ro 15:13, is the consideration due from stronger Christians to their weaker brethren; which is but the great law of love (treated of in the thirteenth chapter) in one particular form.
1. Him that is weak in the faith—rather, "in faith"; that is, not "him that is weak in the truth believed" [Calvin, Beza, Alford, &c.], but (as most interpreters agree), "him whose faith wants that firmness and breadth which would raise him above small scruples." (See on Ro 14:22, 23).
receive ye—to cordial Christian fellowship.
but not to doubtful disputations—rather, perhaps, "not to the deciding of doubts," or "scruples;" that is, not for the purpose of arguing him out of them: which indeed usually does the reverse; whereas to receive him to full brotherly confidence and cordial interchange of Christian affection is the most effectual way of drawing them off. Two examples of such scruples are here specified, touching Jewish meats and days. "The strong," it will be observed, are those who knew these to be abolished under the Gospel; "the weak" are those who had scruples on this point.
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