There are three issues discussed in this section of scripture that are used to support the Christian view that Torah has been done away with. We will discuss these three 'proof texts' in this teaching. The three erroneous teachings we will address are:
1. The 'weak in the faith' are those who observe Torah.
2. The 'strong in the faith' can now eat whatever they want.
3. A believer in Yahshua can worship or rest whenever he chooses, for all days are the same.
"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye. . .
One of the helpful keys to understanding Romans chapter 14 is to remember that it is preceded by Romans chapter 13. Sha'ul teaches us something important about Torah before he gives us his advice on how to handle the weak in the faith. The last seven verses of chapter 13 give insight on how to put on the Messiah. In verse 9, Sha'ul, (who, we remind you, was raised in the only scriptures in existence thus far) teaches us what the phrase 'to love thy neighbor' means.
"Owe no man any thing, but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not murder, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be ANY OTHER commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to its neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law."
Sha'ul interprets for us what Yahshua meant when He said to love thy neighbor. If one observes the commandments concerning how to treat your neighbor, then one is loving thy neighbor. This is true love. When one loves this way, then Torah is established. (In the language in which Sha'ul was raised and the scriptures were written in, the word 'fulfill' means 'to establish'.) Sha'ul goes on to remind us to 'cast off the works of darkness' and to 'put on the armor of light'. In chapter 13 we see that Sha'ul is continuing to hold Torah up as the means to loving your neighbor and distinguishing what is works of darkness. With this in mind let's keep following Sha'ul's teaching into Romans 14.
Most Christian commentators, including a long time mentor, begin their commentary on this chapter with presupposed conclusions. Two of which are that chapter 14 is a contrast between the strong in the faith and the weak in the faith; the weak in the faith being those who still observe Torah and are still 'under the law', and the strong in the faith being those who are 'free' from the law and are just walking in the spirit. But is that what the basis of this chapter is all about? And could it be that the actual problem Sha'ul is addressing is something that he had previously dealt with in Corinth?
If you carefully read the first verse you will see that Sha'ul is talking to someone ABOUT the weak in the faith. The subjects are the 'weak' not the strong. What does the phrase 'weak in the faith' mean? Let's go back and define 'weak'. This word in the Greek is 'astheneo. This word is used in the Greek culture to describe someone who is feeble, or sickly, or impotent. Here is how it is used in it's p'shat or literal sense.
"Heal the SICK, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons; freely you have received, freely give."
"In these lay a great multitude of IMPOTENT folk, of blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the movement of the water."
"And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on those who were DISEASED."
"Is any SICK among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of YHVH."
These are but a handful of examples of how this word is used in it's literal sense. The p'shat meaning of weak is also the background for it's use in a person's character, stamina, morals, ethics, and perseverance. It is used to describe the difference between our own strength and the power of Messiah in us.
2 Corinthians 12:10
"Therefore, I take pleasure in INFIRMITIES, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Messiah's sake; for when I am WEAK, then am I strong."
When I am weak, I am strong. The very essence of this statement is what Romans 14 is all about. When we lay aside our own ways, our own abilities, and our own strengths, and let YHVH work in us, then we are strong. Why? Because His ways are strong! As you trace this word throughout its use in the Greek, you will see that it is always in contrast with YHVH, the word of YHVH, or the Messiah Himself. We are weak and He is strong. Hear carefully a few words about Avraham.
"And being not WEAK IN THE FAITH, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb. He staggered not at the promise of 'Elohiym through unbelief, but was STRONG in the faith, giving glory to 'Elohiym, and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able to perform."
The contrast is clear. The inability to trust 'Elohiym (unbelief) is to be weak in the faith. Trusting what 'Elohiym had said and promised is to be strong in the faith. Is this not the very essence of what Yahshua said about Himself and His relationship with His Father?
"And he that sent me is with me. The Father hath not left me alone; for I DO ALWAYS those things that please Him. As he spoke these words, many believed on Him. Then said Yahshua to those JEWS who believed on Him. If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."
"He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judges him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself: but the FATHER, who sent me, HE GAVE ME A COMMANDMENT, what I should say, and what I should speak."
Yahshua listened and trusted His Father, just as Avraham did, and continued in the Father's word. This is the foundation of the strong. But, according to the definitions of the early church fathers and THEIR disciples, Sha'ul, Kefa, Yochanan, and Yahshua Himself were all 'weak' in the faith. To associate those who followed Sha'ul, who followed Yahshua, who followed His Father, with that which is sickly, diseased, and impotent, is, well, I'd rather not say.
We have researched some examples of how the 'weak' is defined in the Brit Chadashah. But how is this word originally defined in the Tenakh? There are a handful of words that employ the idea of being weak, but the most dominant and defining word is kashal. This word goes back to the verb and the action more clearly, and is used most often as the basis for the Greek word 'astheneo. The word means to fall down or to stumble, and is also used quite often to contrast the 'strength' of YHVH with the frailties of the enemy.
"YHVH is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? YHVH is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they STUMBLED and FELL."
"For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength FAILETH because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed."
Here we have stumbling, falling, and failure identified with weakness. Let's read further.
"And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of STUMBLING and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, for a trap and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall STUMBLE and FALL, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken. Bind up the testimony; seal the LAW among MY disciples. . . To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no LIGHT in them."
The contrast is between those who fall and stumble (do not trust) and those who bind up Torah and speak according to Torah. If we read carefully the context of Yesha'yahu 8:1-13, we will see a different picture emerge from the one that is consistently presented by many Jewish and Christian teachers alike. Yesha'yahu begins this chapter by addressing the drunkards of Ephraim, the crown of pride, and their refusal to listen to the God of Israel. Then we arrive at verses 7-13.
"But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of THE WAY. The priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink; they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the THE WAY through strong drink, they err in vision, they STUMBLE in judgment. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean. Who shall He teach knowledge? And whom shall He make to understand doctrine? Those who are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; For with stammering lips and another tongue will He speak to this people. To whom He said, This is the rest by which ye cause the weary to rest, and this is the refreshing; yet they WOULD NOT HEAR. But the word of YHVH was unto THEM precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little, that they might go,and FALL backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken."
How many times has this passage been preached and taught in the context of defining how God teaches His word? The repetitious and redundant phrases used here are not just an attempt to create doublets. The phrases repeated in verses 10-13 are a nursery rhyme familiar to Yesha'yahu's readers, being used to illustrate the way YHVH has to speak to this stubborn, disobedient, childlike people. He is actually poking fun at them. The contrast is between those who understand doctrine and those who have to be treated like children. The drunken Ephraimites who stumble and fall are those He must speak to like this.
"Therefore is justice far from us, neither doth righteousness overtake us. We wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness. We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes; we STUMBLE at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places like dead men . . . For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and as for our iniquities, we know them."
"Therefore shalt thou FALL in the day, and the prophet also shall FALL with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother. My people are destroyed for LACK of knowledge; because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me; seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy 'Elohiym, I will also forget thy children."
Those who are 'weak', as defined in the Tenakh, are those who fall and stumble. They know not the ways of their God, although they call out to Him in the night.
There is only one mention of the word 'weak' along with Torah. It is found in Romans 8:3. Listen carefully to what Sha'ul teaches here.
"There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them who are in Messiah Yahshua, who WALK not after the FLESH, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Yahshua hath made me FREE from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was WEAK THROUGH THE FLESH, 'Elohiym sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who WALK not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
Within Torah (law) is the penalty for sin, and that is death. For the wages of sin is death. It is not Torah in and of itself that is weak, but rather the fact the we do not obey Torah. To walk in the flesh, is to struggle to obey Torah, or any system of law for that matter, in our own strength, which by nature is weak. Sha'ul is saying that because of our trust in Messiah and our walk in HIS Spirit, the righteousness of Torah is now established IN us, when we walk after Him and not after our own strength. Those who are 'strong in the faith' are those who are relying on the presence of the WORD of YHVH in them, and not upon themselves. When Sha'ul is finished speaking in Romans 14, he begins Romans 15 by addressing the 'strong' with the following words:
"We then, that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification. For even Messiah pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. For what ever things were written in EARLIER TIMES, were written for our LEARNING, that we, through patience and comfort of the SCRIPTURES, might have hope."
Now Sha'ul is addressing the strong. He is exhorting them to bear with those who are weak, lacking in trust. This implies that something can be done to give them strength or cause them to be strong and that they do not have to be resigned to being weak. Then, Sha'ul reminds us to be patient, for the things that are previously written are written for our learning (to strengthen us). This is virtually the same advice given by Ya'akov in Acts 15 when ruling on what to do with novice Gentile believers. We will write unto them, says Ya'akov, and tell them to abstain from their former pagan ways, and they will go and listen to Mosheh of old (Torah) being preached in the synagogues every Shabbat. In other words they will grow and learn of Torah.
I believe that to begin this chapter by presupposing that the 'weak in the faith' are those who keep Torah, is reversing the testimony of scripture. The terminology used by Sha'ul is already well defined and established in the scriptures. To throw out the meaning of his words and attempt to interpret them without their background is to start a whole new religion. Next time we will go on to finish the context given us in verse one of Romans chapter 14. What did Sha'ul mean by "doubtful disputations?"