Month Aviv 1:30, Rosh Chodesh Preparation Day, Year:Day 5937:030 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Thursday 9 May 2013
Just Who is Weak in the Faith?
There is a tendency on the part of many Messianics to judge believers by putting them into one of two different categories:
Everyone is Torah-Disobedient
- 1. Those who obey the Torah; and
- 2. Those who do not.
And as I hope to demonstrate in this short study of the 14th chapter of Romans, not only is this an unrealistic categorisation of people but it is not the way we are to judge those of the Household of Emunah (Faith). As we will see, every believer ('Christian' or 'Messianic') is Torah-obedient to one degree of another and everyone is Torah-disobedient to one degree or another too. The trouble with most who judge one way or the other is that they do so mostly on the basis of external observance because this is the easiest way to judge - by sight.
Are You Strong or Weak in Faith?
As we shall now see, judgment of the Household of Emunah (Faith) is to be made on the basis of two things only:
And it is the duty of the strong to assist those who are weak. This is the subject material of this famously abused 14th chapter of Romans.
- 1. Those who are strong in Emunah (Faith); and
- 2. Those who are weak in Emunah (Faith).
"1 Receive one who is weak in the emunah (faith), but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for Elohim (God) has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to Yahweh; and he who does not observe the day, to Yahweh he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to Yahweh, for he gives Elohim (God) thanks; and he who does not eat, to Yahweh he does not eat, and gives Elohim (God) thanks. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to Yahweh; and if we die, we die to Yahweh. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are Yahweh's. 9 For to this end Messiah died and rose and lived again, that He might be Master of both the dead and the living. 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Messiah. 11 For it is written:
'As I live, says Yahweh, every knee shall bow to Me,And every tongue shall confess to Elohim (God).'
Is Romans 14 Evidence That Yah'shua Abolished the Torah?
"12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to Elohim (God). 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way.
14 I know and am convinced by the Master Yah'shua (Jesus) that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Messiah died. 16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of Elohim (God) is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and shalom (peace) and simcha (joy) in the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). 18 For he who serves Messiah in these things is acceptable to Elohim (God) and approved by men. 19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for shalom (peace) and the things by which one may edify another. 20 Do not destroy the work of Elohim (God) for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. 22 Do you have emunah (faith)? Have it to yourself before Elohim (God). Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from emunah (faith); for whatever is not from emunah (faith) is sin" (Rom 14:1-14, NKJV).
I don't know how many debates I have heard between Christians and Messianics over the correct interpretation of this chapter. As it is such a key one, it is right that we devote some time to studying it carefully. For Evangelical and other Christians, this chapter is one of the key pieces of New Testament evidence that Yah'shua (Jesus) abolished the Tanakh (Old Testament) Kashrut rules on what foods may be eaten and what may not, along with the observation of any kind of Sabbath, New Moon or Festival Day.
Is Torah Simply Optional?
However, there is no uniform interpretation of this chapter amongst Christians. There are those who categorically say that eating kosher or observing special set-apart, holy or qodesh days is now virtually forbidden and at the other extreme there are those who say it is optional and that we can choose our own holy days like Christmas, Easter and so forth. The latter would maintain that those Messianics who do observe the festivals, sabbaths and new moons are "weak" in their emunah (faith) and need to be patiently 'helped' to give them up, whereas the former (in the hostile spirit of Martin Luther) would demand that upon accepting Yah'shua (Jesus) they be obliged to stop practicing kashrut and observing moedim.
A New Covenant View of Torah
As we will see, this chapter says the very opposite. Rather, believers are exhorted by Paul, whether Gentile or Judahite, whose emunah (faith, trust) is strong, not to look down on those whose emunah (faith, trust) they consider to be weak! In other words, the Torah-obedient talmidim (disciples) are those with strong emunah (faith) and they are admononished not to look down on weaker converts who have not as yet fully started observing Torah, and specically in matters of diet and moed (feast) observances. The message is: give people time and help them along patiently without forcing them.
Torah Operating in Grace
Likewise, Romans 14 instructs the "weak" not to pass judgment on those who are "strong" because the "strong" won't imitate the practices and customs of the disobedient "weak". And the reason is that all believers are of equal worth before Yahweh no matter how far along they are in their discipleship. Instead of putting up barriers between the Torah-faithful and those who are perceived as not being Torah-faithful, the overarching message of the apostle is that all should care for one another by being mutually edifying, thus imitating the way the Master treated the talmidim (disciples) with all their weaknesses and faults. No one is to have a 'holier-than-thou' attitude towards other believers at different stages of their spiritual growth and submission.
Four Interpretations of the "Weak"
Messianic Jewish Bible translator and commentator, Dr. David Stern , offers four different interpretations in identifying those who are the "weak" ones of Romans 14. These I have modified somewhat to better harmonise my understanding of Scripture:
The Weak as Idol Worshippers
- 1. The weak are Gentile Christians who abstain from what has been sactificed to idols, as in 1 Corinthians 8 & 10. But Paul does not here deal with idol worship as a problem, even though there are at least a dozen parallels between Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 & 10. Therefore this cannot be the correct interpretation;
The Weak as Legalists
- 2. The weak are legalists, either Gentile or Jewish believers, either Judaisers (Gal.2:14) or some other category, who believe they earn a righteous status before Yahweh by their works. However, a major point of Paul's epistle to the Romans is precisely that such persons are not merely "weak" in emunah (faith, trust) but are utterly lacking in it: they're unbelievers not believers! However, in Romans 14 the "weak" in emunah (faith, trust) are clearly portrayed as authentic believers. Therefore this interpretation cannot be correct either;
The Weak as Torah-Observers
- 3. A good many Protestants try to read into Romans 14 the presupposition that the New Testament abrogates all the ceremonial and ritual details of the Torah, such as kashrut (food laws) and the moedim (appointments or festivals). They are the weak who as Messianics still observe these now unnecessary Torah 'details' because they have not yet realised that there is no longer any need to do so. According to this understanding, Gentile Christians, along with those Jews who have "freed themselves from the Torah (Law)", are not to look down on their "weaker brethren" for abstaining from pork, celebrating Passover or fasting on Yom Kippur. On the other hand, they say, Messianics who, in their weakness, do practice these observances have no ground for a 'holier-than-thou' attitude toward those who do not because they no longer have to. On the contrary, not only do these Messianics have a direct command not to pass judgment on their brothers who do not keep the Torah (Law) any longer, but there is impplicit in this interpretation an indirect, subliminal message to the "strong in emunah (faith, trusting)" that they should aspire to patiently persuade the poor, deluded "weak" Messianics to become "strong in emunah (faith)" by eventually dropping the Torah altogether.
As you will see in the many articles on the subject on our website division, New Covenant Torah, the New Testament nowhere abrogates the Torah. Though Yah'shua's (Jesus') sacrifice now eliminates the need for all blood sacrifices, including all of those originally mandated on the moedim (festivals) and therefore changes how we are now to observe them, it nowhere abrogates those set-apart times because the New Testament itself "has been given as Torah" too (Heb.8:6b, JNT/CJB). As a result, Torah itself has been transformed:
Or as another translation eloquently puts it:
"For if the system of cohanim (Levitical priests) is transformed (to Melchizedek priests), there must of necessity occur a transformation of Torah" (Heb.7:12, JNT/CJB).
This is an allusion to the Messiah bringing the Besorah (Gospel) to the Gentiles in the last days:
"For when there is a 'changing of the guard' of the Kedunah (Priesthood), this behechrach (necessarily) also affects the Torah" (Ibid, OJB).
Clearly the Messiah is bringing Torah throughout the whole earth, for the sake of the Gentiles. It is not being abolished but transformed or changed into something better and higher! This is fully consistent with Paul's teaching that the Gentiles have been brought into Israel by ingrafting (Rom.11) - they have become Hebrews by adoption! The relationship between the original biological Hebrews who accept Yah'shua (Jesus) as their King and the newly ingrafted Gentiles is spelled out in detail in Acts 15, Galatians and later on in Romans 15:27.
"Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Ruach (Spirit) upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for emet (truth). He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His Torah (Law)" (Isa.42:1-4, NKJV).
What are these changes to the Torah in the New Covenant? The major changes are not to the Torah itself but in how to apply it in the New Covenant in Messiah Yah'shua (Jesus) - how to establish priorities among the conflicting mitzvot (commandments) that might govern a particular situation (e.g. Jn.7:22-23, Gal.12:2b). Such changes are not so much in the content of Torah as in the levim (hearts) of those entrusted with determining how to use it. Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself made it very clear that He had not come "to destroy the Torah (Law) or the Nevi'im (Prophets)" (Matt.5:17, NKJV). To say that He came to abolish the Torah, as Protestants claim, thoroughly distorts His statement if it is interpreted to mean that He came to entirely abolish the ritual, ceremonial and civil aspects of the Torah and to preserve only the moral aspects.
It is, in any case, perfectly clear from Romans 14 that the "weak" cannot be equated with observant Messianics because there is nothing in Torah that requires a Hebrew to be a vegetarian (Rom.14:2). It is sometimes argued that kosher food might not have been available but as we know, Rome had a large Jewish colony (Ac.28:17) and it is unthinkable that it would not have had a shochet (ritual slaughterer). It is also argued that the shochet might have been unwilling to sell to Messianics but this is a gratuituous assumption for which there is no evidence, and the willingness of the Jewish leaders of Rome to come to listen to Paul (Ac.28:17ff.) argues convincingly against it.
For these and many other reasons we have to conclude that the "weak" in Romans 14 were not Torah-observant Judahite believers in Yah'shua (Jesus).
The Weak as Believers Clinging to False Practices & Beliefs
- 4. Who, then, are the "weak"? They are believers, whether of a Hebrew or Gentile background, who have not yet grown sufficiently in their emunah (faith, trusting) to have given up attachment to various ascetic practices and calendar observances whether Talmudic or pagan. Their tie or connection to these activities, however, is not supported by a rational though mistaken ideology, as with the legalists in #2 above. Rather, it is irrational and emotional, linked to perceived psychological needs, social pressures, traditions or superstitions, or it may simply be a matter of deeply engrained habits they are loathe to change. Consider how hard it is to break a lifetime's habit observing, for example, the pagan Gregorian calendar or the Talmudic Jewish one and readjusting to the true Creation Calendar today! When their activities in these areas are questioned in "disputes over doubtful things" (Rom.14:1, NKJV), "arguments over opinions" (JNT/CJB) or "setting him straight in arguments" (OJB), he is "fully convinced in his own mind" (v.5, NKJV), not "free of self-doubt" (v.22, JNT/CJB) but rather easily "grieved" (v.15, NKJV) or "upset" (JNT/CJB) or even "destroyed" (v.15), and is thus able to "fall away" or "stumble" (vv.20-21). And this is why Paul calls them "weak".
This at once should make us aware on our enormous responsibility in how we handle those who are weak in the faith, be they antinomian (lawless) evangelicals or Messianics besotted with all things Jewish with which they refuse on principle to ever find fault with however unscriptural. But more than just these two categories are implied in Romans 14:
Avoiding Reminders of Former Sinful Lifestyle
- (a) First, there are those Gentiles, as in #1, who want to avoid the appearance of evil by maintaining physical and emotional distance from anything that reminds them of their previous idolatrous practices. In this category should also be included anyone, Judahite or Gentile, who wants to avoid the trappings of his former sinful way of life.
David Stern tells the story of a musician he once met who had been addicted to heroin and under its influence had used his guitar to express the anguish of his existence in desperate, despondent blues. On coming to emunah (faith) he not only stopped using drugs but destroyed his record collection and his guitar. Two years later he still felt himself too "weak" in his emunah (faith) to play his instrument. Making music is obviously not sinful, but he was afraid that playing guitar might resuscitate his habits of the "bad old days". For the sake of the welfare of his own soul and sanity he constructed this additional "fence around the Torah" for his own spiritual safety. To have not done so would have caused him to sin. Doubtless you can think of many other examples.
Uncritically Adopting Jewish Practices Wholesale
- b. Second, there are Gentiles who started imitating the practices their Judahite brethren as part of their emunah (faith) along with believing in Yah'shua (Jesus). These Judahites came from multiple backgrounds and brought with them not only Torah practices but also the oral traditions of the Talmudists which were either not a part of the Torah or were superceded by the New Covenant. One of these was circumcision, the sign of the Old Covenant, which Judahite converts were insisting that Gentile converts submit to in addition to baptism. This had to be resolved by revelation (Acts 15 & Galatians). The circumcision controversy has been resurrected by modern Messianic Jews and others who refuse to yield to Paul's reminder that it is no longer a mitzvah in New Covenant Torah:
Today Messianics are still sifting through all the Jewish accretions trying to figure out whether such things as tzitzit, phylacteries, prayer shawls, skull caps and other such things are required of the followers of Yah'shua (Jesus) or not. Those who study these matters out carefully soon find out that either most of these items are not essential to their emunah (faith) or that they are simply exchanging new paganised practices with their former pagan practices (like Christmas) and compromising the purity of their new-found Torah lifestyle!
"Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the mitzvot (commandments) of Elohim (God) is what matters" (1 Cor.7:18-19, NKJV).
Retaining Pagan Practices
- c. Thirdly, there are both Gentiles and Judhites who have brought into their emunah (faith) practices found in other religions with which they are familiar and which appeal to their religiosity. Most are either irrelevent or contrary to the Besorah (Gospel). Many bring New Age and occultic practices with them such as Yoga and Kabbalism until they realise they are both unscriptural as well as harmful. Others bring oriental religious ideas about vegetarianism or veganism with them believing that they are a 'higher' and 'more spiritual' form of diet than that of meat-eating and often look down on their meat-eating brethren.
Failing to Understand the New Covenant Way
- d. Fourth, there are Gentile and Jewish Messianics who have still not grasped how the the incorporation of the New Covenant into Yahweh's Torah and the presence of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) in themselves alters the way in which the Torah is to be applied. They therefore feel a compulsiveness about observing ceremonial and ritual details and are quick to condemn others who are not as 'keen' or 'zealous' as they are. When their emunah (faith) grows stronger they will be free not from the Torah but from the compulsiveness and will give other believers the room to act according to their knowledge and conscience. The reason the Council at Jerusalem did not impose the whole of Torah on the first Gentile converts all at once was because it did not want to choke out the more important New Life in Messiah they were experiencing - the anointing of the spring festivals - by inadvertantly shifting the emphasis away from the Ruach (Spirit) to external things which figure more prominently only from the midway point of Shavu'ot when they then become a matter of covenant obligation for the older and maturer in the emunah (faith) but not before.
It is therefore seriously erroneous on the part of evangelicals to mark Messianics as "weak" because they observe Torah. They may justifiably fault many Messianics for observing all the 'extras' of rabbinical Judaism which are most definitely not a part of New Covenant Torah and they are right to chide those Messianics who yet have no idea what the New Covenant is but who insist, rather, on a 'New Old Covenant' or 'Renewed Covenant' and so miss the whole point of the spiritual change from the Levitical to Melchizedek Priesthoods. Likewise, evangelicals are right to criticise those Messianics who are attempting to re-erect the old "wall of partition" (Eph.2:14, KJV) in attempting to create two separate groups of believers - 'Gentile' and 'Jewish' - with all the Úlitism that flows therefrom, when the Besorah (Gospel) recognises only one people - Messianic Evangelical Israelites!
Maturity vs. Immaturity
In the mix that is contemporary Evangelical Protestantism and Messianic Judaism there is most definitely "weakness" on both sides of the false divide based on mutual misunderstandings of the Besorah (Gospel) and New Covenant Torah. It's often a question of good cop/bad cop when the two groups attack one another and accuse each other of either being "weak" in the emunah (faith) or - worst of all - outright pagans and unsaved. The "strong" in the emunah (faith) are those who are slow to condemn and who recognise that everyone is at a different place in their discipleship and that what it boils down to often is maturity verses immaturity. Those who are mature should have a patient, tolerant father-like attitude toward those who are immature, guiding them firmly but non-compulsively in emet (truth) and ahavah (love), as the Master would have done, and not meeting out fiery condemnation because of continuing degrees of lawlessness. For it is a serious offence in Yahweh's eyes to choke or strangle one who is young in the emunah (faith)!
This was the revelation that Yahweh gave me a few days ago and which I have felt strongly to share with you as we start a new calendar month tomorrow. May we show grace toward those who are weak in the emunah (faith), not condemnation, patiently correcting and guiding as opportunity permits. Amen.
Continued in Part 2
 David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary (JNT Publications Inc., Clarksville, Maryland: 1992), pp.432-433
Comments from Readers
 "Thank you, very good to get this information!" (KE, Sweden, 12 May 2013)
 "A big Amen to that word! Loved it!" (AH, Sweden, 12 May 2013)