The Sabbath in Romans 14:5, 6?

by Peter Salemi



Paul wrote: "One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks."

From this statement, it could appear to some that Paul is saying that whatever day one chooses to rest and worship is irrelevant so long as one is "fully convinced in his own mind" and "observes it to the Lord." Does this mean that the Sabbath is no different from any other day or that we are free to choose whatever day we wish to observe?

To come to that conclusion, one must read it into the verse, because the "Sabbath" is nowhere mentioned here. In fact, the word Sabbath or references to Sabbath-keeping are not found anywhere in this epistle. The reference here is simply to "days," not the Sabbath or any other days of rest and worship commanded by God. Keep in mind that Paul, earlier in this same epistle, had said: "The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12); "The doers of the law will be justified" (Romans 2:13), and "I delight in the law of God" (Romans 7:22). If he were saying here that Sabbath observance is irrelevant, such an assertion would be completely inconsistent with his other statements in this same letter.

What are the "days" Paul mentions here? We must look at the context to find out. Paul was writing to a mixed church of Jewish and gentile believers in Rome. In verses 2 and 3 Paul discussed vegetarianism ("he who is weak eats only vegetables") and continued this theme in verse 6 ("he who eats...and he who does not eat").

The passage in question about "days" is in verses 5 and 6 is directly associated with eating and not eating. There is no biblical connection between the weekly Sabbath observance and fasting, so these verses have to be taken out of context to assume that Paul was referring to the Sabbath.

"The close contextual association with eating suggests that Paul has in mind a special day set apart for observance as a time for feasting or as a time for fasting" (Everett F. Harrison, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 10, p. 146, empahsis added). In no way was this related to Sabbath observance because God’s Sabbath is a "feast" day (Leviticus 23:1-3), not a day when one must abstains from eating meat. The Sabbath is nowhere mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Romans; it simply wasn’t the issue. The "days" mentioned here are obviously connected with avoidance of meat. What then was Paul talking about? He was talking about fast days. The whole beginning of the 14th chapter of Romans is about food and how people’s beliefs about food should not be interfered with. The fast days could be observed according to each believer’s conscience. A man could eat or not eat, keep the day or not keep it. Each man could observe FAST DAYS, or not observe them, according to his own convictions "fully convinced in his own mind."

He that does not eat, regards the day [of fasting].

He that eats, does not regard the day [of fasting].

The "days" that Paul was referring to were the traditional fast days mentioned in Zechariah 7:5-6.

The Gentile Christians in Rome did not keep them because they had no cultural interest in the anniversary fasts that were observed during the Jews’ captivity in Babylon.

These are the four traditional fasts mentioned in Zechariah:

1. The fast of the 4th month, in remembrance of the breaking of the wall of Jerusalem.

2. The fast of the 5th month, in remembrance of the burning of the Temple.

3. The fast of the 7th month, in remembrance of the killing of Gedaliah, which completed the Dispersion.

4. The fast of the 10th month, in remembrance of the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem, (see Jeremiah 52:6, 12-13; 2Kings 1,3,8,25)

It is of interest to note that those dates commemorate the judgments of God upon a people who refused to keep the Sabbath Day holy. (See Jeremiah 17:19-27). Man made commemoration not something God commanded.

Even the Jews themselves had different convictions about the observance of those days— because those fast days were never commanded by God.

After the Captivity (when the Temple was being rebuilt) the men of Bethel also wondered if they should observe these fasts unto the Lord. For example, they asked Zechariah: "Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain, as I have done these many years?" (Zechariah 7:2-6)

When you read Zechariah’s answer, notice the striking similarity of his words to those of Paul to the church at Rome. Compare Zechariah 7:5-6:

"When ye FASTED and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast UNTO ME, even to Me (YHWH)?

"And when ye did EAT, and when ye did drink, did ye not EAT FOR YOURSELVES and drink for yourselves?"

With Romans 14:6, 7:

He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks....For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself." (Quotes from his article "The Truth About Romans 14" "Let Every Man Be Persuaded In His Own Mind" By Harold Kupp, emphasis his).

It is interesting how Kupp compares this to the other Commandments of God to show the absurdity of this interpretation to mean God’s laws, "You see, Paul could not have been talking about keeping the Sabbath day holy, because obedience to Elohim’s Law is not optional. It is ludicrous to suggest that any of the Ten Commandments, for example, can be disobeyed ‘unto YHWH’! Think of the absurdity of saying, ‘He that stealeth, to YHWH he stealeth; and he that stealeth not, to YHWH he stealeth not"’ (ibid, emphasis added).

Because of this false interpretation of Romans 14, people believe that any day can be the Sabbath, it’s all up to the believer. Biacchiocchi writes: "the belief that everyday is the Sabbath is absurd…the end result …is that no REAL worship is offered to god, because nothing really matters. These views are deceptive devices designed to do away both the belief and worship of God. The theory that everyday is the Sabbath ultimately results in no Sabbath at all" (Sabbath in the New Testament, p.179, emphasis added).

God warns those who call everyday a Sabbath, "Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them" (Ezekiel 22:26). "[They] made no distinction between the clean and unclean (Lev_10:10), the Sabbath and other days, sanctioning violations of that holy day. ‘Holy’ means, what is dedicated to God; ‘profane,’ what is in common use; ‘unclean,’ what is forbidden to be eaten; ‘clean,’ what is lawful to be eaten" (JFB Commentary, emphasis added). To make the Sabbath a common everyday occurrence is condemned in the Bible itself. The difference between Unholy and Holy must be shown. That day is dedicated and was set apart by God, and it should be recognized as such.

*Note on Romans 14:1-3 about Vegetarianism- In the first three verses Paul acknowledges people’s opinions regarding certain foods. Some believed in eating "all things," in context meaning "herbs" and "meats," not all meats including the unclean. It was a question of eating just herbs or both meat and herbs. In the Church, many with different Jewish backgrounds believed in eating meats prescribed in the Old Testament, but there were those of the Essenes in the church that believed "...that the regenerate man should eat only vegetables, like the primitive race in Eden. Hence, for one or all of these causes, some thought meat ought to be abstained from entirely.

Disputes arose over the difference" (People’s New Testament, emphasis added). Therefore Paul added, "Let not him that eateth [meats] despise him that eateth not [meats just vegetables]; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him" (v.3). There were "disputes over opinions." (EMTV). The Strong in "faith" were to "welcome him" but "not" to argue over different opinions in food, "As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions."(v.1 English Standard Version). The weaker in faith believes he can only eat vegetables, then let him, the other believes he can eat both, then let him, it’s all a question of personal interest, "One person believes that he can eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables." (Interational Standard Version). The food laws of the Old Testament were not the issue, but of personal choice between vegetarianism and meats.

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