January 21, 2017

Romans 14 — An Unscholarly Approach

By P. J. Casebolt

I have never made any claims with respect to being a scholar, and so far as I know, no one has ever accused me of being a scholar, at least not to the extent that I have formal training or credentials which are prescribed by the literary community. But I think that I have enough intelligence, knowledge, and experience to recognize scholarship when I see/hear it (or don’t see/hear it, as the case may be).

I have respect for those who have made special efforts to obtain knowledge in a given field, and have also obtained a commensurate degree of wisdom to go with their knowledge (Prov. 1:1-9; 4:7). I am still trying to learn both the writing and speaking of the English language, and a few experts in this area have flattered me into believing that I have at least obtained a passing grade in my efforts.

With the Greek language, it is an entirely different mat- ter. I can neither speak, read, nor write Greek, unless it be a transliterated term like “baptism,” or the Greek word for God’s called-out people, the church. But, I do know some Greek scholars (though not personally), who translated the New Testament from Greek into English, and I’m a pretty good reader of the English language, as well as a fair speaker and writer. And I’m not too overly impressed by philosophers or scholars who resort to human reasoning and what they term “a new hermeneutics,” while “intruding into those things which he (they) hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his (their) fleshly mind(s)” (Col. 2:8, 18).

I used to think I knew where Romans 14 fit into the Book of Romans, and into the other New Testament epistles (to wit, right between chapters 13 and 15). But if some things I’m reading and hearing are true, Romans 14 has at least an hundred more verses than it used to contain, and several of the other New Testament epistles have been deleted to get their contents into Romans 14, and said epistles are rendered completely meaningless.

For instance, let us use Matthew 14 and 16 as an example, then return to Romans 14. In Matthew 14, we have chronicled the events which led to the beheading of John the Baptist. The body (whether with or without the head, I know not), was dutifully buried by his disciples, then they “went and told Jesus” (Matt. 14:12). Without claiming to be a scholar, I know that some events recorded in the Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, are not always recorded chronologically. But in the case of John the Baptist’s death, Jesus visited several other places around the Sea of Gennesaret (Galilee), eventually “came into the coasts of Caesarea” (Matt. 16:13ff), and among other things said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). John the Baptist had been dead for two chapters and several months before Jesus even promised to build his (Christ’s) church at some future date. So, John never built any church for himself, much less one for Christ, the “bridegroom” (John 3:29, 30). Now, back to the Book of Romans . . .

If Romans 14 admits as many false doctrines and teachers as some scholars and their non-scholar disciples claim, then the language of Romans 16:17 is utterly superfluous as well as contradictory. In the latter passage, Paul admonishes, even commands and beseeches, “. . . mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” Such doctrines and their advocates are further identified in the following verse, who “by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (v. 18). If I understand English, the “doctrine” of Romans 16:17 is the same thing as the “doc- trine (gospel) of Christ” in 1 Timothy 1:9, 10.

Scholars tell us that 13 or 14 of the New Testament epistles were written by Paul (and though not a scholar, I can count that far). This being the case, much of what Paul wrote in later epistles (as they appear in the New Testament order), including Romans 16:17, contradicts or nullifies what he wrote in Romans 14. In practical application, as far as false teaching/teachers are concerned, the New Testament ends with Romans 14 the way some interpret it.

Further, it may be claimed that if we are going to have the peace enjoined in Romans 14:19, that we will have to fellowship or bid God speed to those who teach contrary to the doctrine of Christ with respect to marriage/divorce/ remarriage, human institutions usurping the work/mission of the church, and even with respect to the plan of salvation itself (“What must I do to be saved?”). But James answers this supposed dilemma when he says, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable . . .” (Jas. 3:17). Without maintaining the purity of the doctrine of Christ, we can attain only to a worldly definition of peace, and not a peace that is of God (John 14:27).

Let us leave the language of Romans 14 where it is in that epistle, and with respect to other New Testament epistles.