This review of Romans 14 is provided by BrianJ, a Mormon.
NET: Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions.
NIV: Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.
NKJV: Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.
NRSV: Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.
receive/accept/welcome: It seems as though Paul meant this as an instruction to “receive in full fellowship; i.e., as a member,” as opposed to merely “welcoming as a (temporary) guest.” Still, I wonder if he wouldn’t extend this advice to the latter as well. Do we receive/welcome/accept guests or visitors the same as we do new converts of our denominations? Should we?
One problem with interpreting Paul here is that he was writing with a Christianity in mind that is quite different than today. I realize that there were differences in doctrines taught in the different cities during Paul’s day, but the delineations were not nearly as demarcated as they are today. Is it reasonable to extend Paul’s admonition to include interfaith relations? Would Paul encourage a Catholic to receive a Baptist? an Evangelical to accept a Mormon? a Mormon to welcome an Anglican?
weak: I confess that I’d like to misread Paul here as well. I’d like to read this verse as an indication of his self-awareness: Paul wrote some confusing, difficult stuff in the chapters we’ve already covered, and here he is backing down (intellectually speaking) to acknowledge that a lot of people aren’t going to understand everything at first pass.
But that would require misreading what Paul means by “weak in faith.” “Weak” must refer back to Paul’s use of “weak” in previous chapters to mean someone who is holding onto old religious traditions; their weakness is made manifest by their inability to let go of the outwardness of the Law and make the leap to the new covenant. Thus, Paul makes no concession (at least here) to those who don’t understand—or trust—his previous chapters.
disputes/quarrels over opinions: This is where I saw some irony if I purposefully misread Paul. Throughout our group study, we’ve had many disputations—in fact, to some degree that was one of the purposes of our group discussion. So even though Paul, in chapter 14, wasn’t talking about discussions like ours, I wonder what he would tell us. Some sort of adaptation of this verse, encouraging flexibility and friendship, or would he favor a more hard-lined approach? Would Paul tolerate differences of opinion over matters of doctrine, or just over something he sees as trivial (such as what one eats)?
Actually, that’s the kind of question we’ve had all along in regards to Paul: How far is Paul willing to take his rhetoric? How far would Paul extend this forbearance? Some of us have taken Paul’s words with full force, whereas others have suggested that Paul might be exaggerating his doctrinal positions for effect.
Verses 5-6: What I still don’t get from Paul is whether he is merely tolerating the idea of holding on to certain religious “rules” or if he actually respects the practice. It seems the former, since he keeps referring to such people as “weak.” Is this why (some) Evangelicals criticize Mormons for our adherence to rules of Sunday dress, Sabbath activities, Word of Wisdom, etc.?
Verses 7-9: I find this analysis very odd. Not that I dispute the conclusion in verse 9, but it seems kind of thrown in there—almost like a reflex “amen!” If I just look at the logical flow of these verses, I come up with: Christ died and was resurrected so that he could be Lord of…people who eat pork and people who don’t (?).
Verse 13: Okay, I promise never to put a stumbling block in my brother’s way…but tell me: what is a stumbling block? How am I to know if I’ve placed one? Paul’s teaching seems straightforward enough, but in practice…. Paul used as an example the eating of kosher foods, telling both “sides” not to make it an issue for the other “side.” That’s a fine example, because it’s easy to see how pork chops or crab cakes could cause disputations between early Christians, but where I get a bit lost is in knowing how to apply this today. How can I know what will cause my brother to stumble? (And isn’t it, at some point, still his decision whether or not to stumble?)
Verse 15 anticipates this concern, even if it does not explicitly answer it. “Do not destroy by your food someone for whom Christ died” (NET). Ahh, well said Paul: you expertly call us petty. There’s no room to complain about another’s “weak faith,” saying anything like “What? I have to give up meat because my (ignorant) brother doesn’t understand that it’s okay to eat? What’s next? Give up milk, cheese, bread? How about my clothes or musical preferences? Maybe my brother should just grow up!” No, there’s no room for any of that because, after all, Jesus gave up his very life! Points like this make me very grateful for Jesus’ example of charity.
Verses 19-20: I’ve hinted at this already, but what if we took “food/meat” in these verses as merely a metaphor. A metaphor for…doctrine? ritual? worship style or ritual? etc.? Is that taking Paul’s words too far out of context, or would Paul endorse that exercise?