Any day can be a Sabbath?
It’s interesting to note that when one reads down the entire chapter of Romans 14, the reader will find certain words and phrases missing that would indicate he is speaking about religious festivals. Not only that, the style in which Paul writes these words differ’s greatly to the stern and aggressive rebukes as that found with respect to religious festivals in places like in the book of Galatians. For instances, while addressing them about holy days (Galatians 4:10), Paul first expresses how those days were “weak and beggarly elements” which had them in “bondage” –verse 9. The “days” spoken of in Romans 14, however, are spoken of in a way as if it is not that big of a deal for one person to choose one day as more esteemed then the other. This is an important point to keep in mind when reading down Romans 14. If he had holy days in mind, he would have treated that issue as seriously as he did with it in Galatians chapter 4.
Beginning in verse 1, Paul says:
(1) Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
In the immediate context, Paul introduces who he is speaking about: those who are weak “in the faith.” Even in our times, we tend to not receive those weak in the faith for various reasons. When a person becomes a Christian for the first time, and encounters all the truths of the word of God, they become to zealous for the word that sometimes we classify them as a bit fanatical, or over-zealous. When we receive them, as we nevertheless should, we receive them to “doubtful disputations.” Paul tells the Romans not to do this. In this case, though, the issue surrounding some of these “weak Christians” is found in the very next two verses:
(2) For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
(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.
It’s important to remember that when he says “weak” he is not speaking about sick people, for verse 1 told us these are people who are weak “in the faith.”
Now verse 2 tells us that those Christians weak in the faith who were found among the Romans Christians believed they should eat only herbs. In verse three he tells the Romans Christians not to judge him, for God “hath received him.” This context is very important to keep in mind, for with this we will learn what Paul means when he speaks about “days.”
(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.
In other words, don’t judge this individual, for God can use him as much as he can use the other. As we will notice while we continue, being “judgmental” seems to be the focal point.
(5) One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
Paul was, from the very beginning, speaking about Christians in the faith and the beliefs with respect for foods, do we think he would not all of a sudden drift off to another topic all together and speak about the Sabbath day? The way most Christians interpret this verse would make it seem like Paul was doing just that. But if we consider both the immediate context along with the very next verse, we will learn that there is a specific issue Paul was trying to zero in on:
(6) 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.
Note carefully that the same logic used for the day is used also for the eating! Just as one can esteem a day for the Lord, one can eat for the Lord. Or, just as one can esteem a day not for the Lord, one can not eat for the Lord.
day regarded unto the Lord -------- eateth unto the Lord
day regarded not unto the Lord ---- eateth not unto the Lord
In other words, however you interpret the “day” you will also need to use the same logic to interpret the “eating,” for both are being treated the same way. Now, let’s for a moment do as our opponents do and interpret the words “esteemeth a day” the way they do. They say it’s talking about religious festivals and most of the times they chose it to mean the Sabbath day. This would mean that if we can esteem any day to be our Sabbath, then we can eat any-thing we’d like. But this is problematic, for the Lord forbade the eating of certain foods which are unclean, like swine:
(17) They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD. (Note: this is prophetic text speaking about the second coming of the Lord – verses 15-16. Therefore even just before his coming the eating of Pork will be displeasing to him)
Or (if you don’t believe eating pork is wrong) would Paul be teaching that we can freely chose to eat whatever we want, even things that which we know could get us sick, like certain insects? Remember, this same Paul told us to treat our bodies with caution, for therein dwells the Holy Ghost (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This is the problem with saying that Paul is telling us we can choose any day to be our Sabbath.
Similarly, if we say he’s telling us we can chose not to esteem any day, then that means we can likewise chose not to eat anything. Is starvation the will of God?
What a mess! We can’t choose either one of these interpretations for on both ends we end up contradicting some other portion of scripture!
Now let’s put two and two together here, using the bible as our divine interpreter. Paul first speaks about foods, then he speaks about days. Foods… days. Where else in the bible have we found these two things connected? Take a look:
(5) Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
(12) I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
(14) Matthew 9:14
Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not
That’s right! With “fast” we know the bible is talking about the abstaining of “eating foods.” Just like Paul, Isaiah also speaks about the “eating” of foods in connection with “days.” In other words, when we allow the bible to interpret itself, we find out that Paul is speaking to the Romans about fasting on certain days! Apparently, some (the weak in faith) felt they should eat on certain days, but not on other days. Other must have disagreed with them. Paul settles the dispute, telling the more mature Christians to receive these who feel they should fast in this manner and not to dispute, or debate them on that issue. Why? Because nevertheless… “We shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ.” –Romans 14:10.
The fasting is not for themselves anyway. Whatever we do, beginner or not, we do it for the Lord:
(7) For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
(8) For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.
(9) For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
Then he tells us we will all, whether weak in the faith or no, stand before the judgment seat of the Lord. Therefore let us not do the judging, for we will also be judged.
Apparently, the issue over when to fast did not cease with the Romans:
(1) And let not your fastings be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and the fifth day of the week;
(2) but do ye keep your fast on the fourth and on the preparation (the sixth) day. (click here)
Although the Didache is not part of the canon of scripture (and for good reasons) we find it noticeable that the issue over “when” to fast was still present at least a century after Paul wrote those words in Romans chapter 14. Its also hinted in Luke 18:12 that the idea on when to fast, or at least how many times in a week to fast, was present even before the epistle to the Romans was written.
There’s more that Paul is telling in this chapter of course, but we can at least see for now that he is not dealing with the Sabbath issue at all. His concern was rather on how the Christian Romans were dealing with the weaker Christians and their new found faith.
For further study, see:
-Hebrews 3 and 4: Does today replace the Sabbath day?
-Did the change in calendars effect the Sabbath?
-Who kept the Sabbath?