Commentary on Romans
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Romans 14:1-4

1. Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.

1. Eum vero qui fide est imbecilla, suscipite, non ad disceptationes quaestionum.

2. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.

2. Qui credit, vescatur quibusvis: qui autem infirmus est, olera edit.

3. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.

3. Qui edit, non contemnat eum qui abstinet; et qui abstinet, eum non condemnet qui edit: Dominus enim illum suscepit.

4. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

4. Tu quis es qui judicas alienum servum? proprio Domino stat vel cadit. Stabit vero: potens est enim Deus efficere ut stet.

1. Him indeed, etc. He passes on now to lay down a precept especially necessary for the instruction of the Church, — that they who have made the most progress in Christian doctrine should accommodate themselves to the more ignorant, and employ their own strength to sustain their weakness; for among the people of God there are some weaker than others, and who, except they are treated with great tenderness and kindness, will be discouraged, and become at length alienated from religion. And it is very probable that this happened especially at that time; for the Churches were formed of both Jews and Gentiles; some of whom, having been long accustomed to the rites of the Mosaic law, having been brought up in them from childhood, were not easily drawn away from them; and there were others who, having never learnt such things, refused a yoke to which they had not been accustomed. 413413     Some, as Haldane, have found fault with this classification, as there is nothing in the chapter which countenances it. But as the Apostle’s object throughout the epistle was to reconcile the Jews and Gentiles, there is reason sufficient to regard them as the two parties here intended: and, as Chalmers justly observes, it is more probable that the Gentiles were the despisers, inasmuch as the Jews, who, like Paul, had got over their prejudices, were no doubt disposed to sympathize with their brethren, who were still held fast by them. — Ed.

Now, as man’s disposition is to slide from a difference in opinion to quarrels and contentions, the Apostle shows how they who thus vary in their opinions may live together without any discord; and he prescribes this as the best mode, — that they who are strong should spend their labor in assisting the weak, and that they who have made the greatest advances should bear with the more ignorant. For God, by making us stronger than others, does not bestow strength that we may oppress the weak; nor is it the part of Christian wisdom to be above measure insolent, and to despise others. The import then of what he addresses to the more intelligent and the already confirmed, is this, — that the ampler the grace which they had received from the Lord, the more bound they were to help their neighbors.

Not for the debatings of questions. 414414     Non ad disceptationes quaestionum, μὴ εἰς διακρίσεις διαλογισμῶν; “non ad altercationes disceptationum — not for the altercations of disputings” or debatings, Beza; “not to debates about matter in doubt,” Doddridge; “not in order to the strifes of disputations,” Macknight. Both words are in the plural number; therefore to give the first the sense of “judging,” as Hodge does, cannot be right; for in that case it would have been in the singular number. The words may be rendered, “no for the solutions of doubts.” One of the meanings of the first word, according to Hesychius, is διάλυσις — untying, loosening, dissolving; and for the latter, see Luke 24:38, and 1 Timothy 2:8. according to the frequent import of the preposition εἰς, the sentence may be thus paraphrased, “Him who is weak in the faith receive, but not that ye may solve his doubts,” or, “debate in reasonings,” or, “contend in disputations.” — Ed. This is a defective sentence, as the word which is necessary to complete the sense is wanting. It appears, however, evident, that he meant nothing else than that the weak should not be wearied with fruitless disputes. But we must remember the subject he now handles: for as many of the Jews still clave to the shadows of the law, he indeed admits, that this was a fault in them; he yet requires that they should be for a time excused; for to press the matter urgently on them might have shaken their faith. 415415     Scott’s remarks on this verse are striking and appropriate, — “Notwithstanding,” he says, “the authority vested by Christ in his Apostles, and their infallibility in delivering his doctrine to mankind, differences of opinion prevailed even among real Christians; nor did St. Paul, by an express decision and command, attempt to put a final termination to them. A proposition indeed may be certain and important truth; yet a man cannot receive it without due preparation of mind and heart; — so that a compelled assent to any doctrine, or conformity to any outward observances, without conviction, would in general be hypocrisy, and entirely unavailing. So essential are the rights and existence of private judgment, in all possible cases, to the exercise of true religion! and so useless an encumbrance would an infallible judge be, for deciding controversies, and producing unanimity among Christians!”

He then calls those contentious questions which disturb a mind not yet sufficiently established, or which involve it in doubts. It may at the same time be proper to extend this farther, even to any thorny and difficult questions, by which weak consciences, without any edification, may be disquieted and disturbed. We ought then to consider what questions any one is able to bear, and to accommodate our teaching to the capacity of individuals.

2. Let him who believes, etc. What Erasmus has followed among the various readings I know not; but he has mutilated this sentence, which, in Paul’s words, is complete; and instead of the relative article he has improperly introduced alius — one, “One indeed believes,” etc. That I take the infinitive for an imperative, ought not to appear unnatural nor strained, for it is a mode of speaking very usual with Paul. 416416     This is true, but the passage here seems not to require such a construction. Both sentences are declarative, announcing a fact respecting two parties: the one believed he might eat everything; the other did eat only herbs. The relative ὃς, when repeated, often means “one,” as in Romans 13:5, and in 1 Corinthians 11:21: and the article ὁ stands here for that repetition; an example of which Raphelius adduces from the Greek classics.
   Some think that this abstinence from meat was not peculiar to the Jews; but that some Gentiles also had scruples on the subject. It is true that heathens, who held the transmigration of souls, did not eat flesh: but it is not likely that abstinence, arising from such an absurd notion, would have been thus treated by the Apostle. It indeed appears evident, that the abstinence here referred to did arise from what was regarded to be the will of God: and though abstinence from all animal food was not enjoined on the Jews, yet it appears from history that Jews, living among heathens, wholly abstained, owing to the fear they had of being in any way contaminated. This was the case with Daniel and his companions, Daniel 1:8-16. Professor Hodge says, in a note on this passage, “Josephus states in his life (chapter 23) that certain Jewish priests, while at Rome, lived entirely upon fruit, from the dread of eating anything unclean.” We may also suppose that some of the Essenes, who abstained from meat and from wine, were among the early converts. — Ed.
He then calls those believers who were endued with a conscience fully satisfied; to these he allowed the use of all things without any difference. In the mean time the weak did eat herbs, and abstained from those things, the use of which he thought was not lawful. If the common version be more approved, the meaning then will be, — that it is not right that he who freely eats all things, as he believes them to be lawful, should require those, who are yet tender and weak in faith, to walk by the same rule. But to render the word sick, as some have done, is absurd.

3. Let not him who eats, etc. He wisely and suitably meets the faults of both parties. They who were strong had this fault, — that they despised those as superstitious who were scrupulous about insignificant things, and also derided them: these, on the other hand, were hardly able to refrain from rash judgments, so as not to condemn what they did not follow; for whatever they perceived to be contrary to their own sentiments, they thought was evil. Hence he exhorts the former to refrain from contempt, and the latter from excessive moroseness. And the reason which he adds, as it belongs to both parties, ought to be applied to the two clauses, — “When you see,” he says, “a man illuminated with the knowledge of God, you have evidence enough that he is received by the Lord; if you either despise or condemn him, you reject him whom God has embraced.” 417417     The last clause is by Haldane confined to the strong, and he objects to this extension of it; and certainly the following verse is in favor of his view, for the weak, the condemner, is the person reproved, and therefore the strong is he who to his own master stands or falls. The condemner throughout is the weak, and the despised is the strong. — Ed

4. Who art thou who judgest, etc. “As you would act uncourteously, yea, and presumptuously among men, were you to bring another man’s servant, under your own rules, and try all his acts by the rule of your own will; so you assume too much, if you condemn anything in God’s servant, because it does not please you; for it belongs not to you to prescribe to him what to do and what not to do, nor is it necessary for him to live according to your law.”

Now, though the power of judging as to the person, and also as to the deed, is taken from us, there is yet much difference between the two; for we ought to leave the man, whatever he may be, to the judgment of God; but as to his deeds we may indeed form a decisive opinion, though not according to our own views, but according to the word of God; and the judgment, derived from his word, is neither human, nor another man’s judgment. Paul then intended here to restrain us from presumption in judging; into which they fall, who dare to pronounce anything respecting the actions of men without the warrant of God’s word.

To his own Lord he stands or falls, etc. As though he said, — “It belongs rightly to the Lord, either to disapprove, or to accept what his servant doeth: hence he robs the Lord, who attempts to take to himself this authority.” And he adds, he shall indeed stand: and by so saying, he not only bids us to abstain from condemning, but also exhorts us to mercy and kindness, so as ever to hope well of him, in whom we perceive anything of God; inasmuch as the Lord has given us a hope, that he will fully confirm, and lead to perfection, those in whom he has begun the work of grace.

But by referring to the power of God, he means not simply, as though he had said, that God can do this if he will; but, after the usual manner of Scripture, he connects God’s will with his power: and yet he speaks not here of perpetuity, as though they must stand to the end whom God has once raised up; but he only reminds us, that we are to entertain a good hope, and that our judgments should lean this way; as he also teaches us in another place,

“He who began in you a good work, will perform it to the end.” (Philippians 1:6.)

In short, Paul shows to what side their judgments incline, in whom love abounds.

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