Romans 14:2, One man has faith…eats vegetables. Is Paul teaching in this passage that it is permissible for believers to eat “all things” including unclean meat, which includes rats, bats, scorpions, lizards and cockroaches?
First let’s examine the greater context of Romans 14:2, which is 14:1-15:6. Messianic Jewish biblical scholar David Stern in his Jewish New Testament Commentary states that among believers there are two groups: those with “strong faith” and those with “weak faith.” The latter are depicted in this passage as feeling they must abstain from meat or wine and/or observe certain days as set-apart (kadosh), while the former feel no such compunctions.
Stern continues, it is clear from this passage itself that the “weak” cannot be equated with Torah-observant Messianics. Nothing in YHVH’s Torah-law requires an Israelite to be vegetarian (verse 2). It is argued that kosher food might not have been available in Rome, but Rome had a large Jewish colony (Acts 28:17), and it is unthinkable that it would not have had a shochet (ritual slaughterer). Also nothing in Torah requires one to refrain from wine (verse 21); the only exception are Nazirites during the period of their vow and cohanim (priests) on duty. On the contrary, wine drinking is so much a part of Jewish ritual that is lent an aura of sanctity that, at least until recently, made alcoholism very uncommon among Jews.
In Sterns opinion, the weak are believers, either Gentile or Jewish, who have not yet grown sufficiently in their faith to have given up attachment to various pagan ascetic practices and non-biblical Greek or Jewish calendar observances. (This is not a reference to the biblical feasts or appointed times that YHVH spells out in his Torah-law.) He then lists four types of people who fit into this category: (1) Gentiles who want to avoid the appearance of evil by maintaining physical and emotional distance from anything that reminds them of their previous idolatrous practices… who want to avoid the trappings of their former sinful way of life. (2) Gentiles who adopted elements of Jewish practice as part of their faith along with believing in Yeshua. They have, as it were, bought what they considered a whole package and have not yet unwrapped it and decided what is really important for them. In the first century the phenomenon was common enough to require considerable attention among the early believers (Acts 15 and the whole book of Galatians, for starters). (3) Gentiles or Jews who have brought into their faith practices found in other religions with which they are familiar. These practices often appeal to their religiosity but are irrelevant or even contrary to the gospel. (4) Finally, Messianics who have not grasped how the incorporation of the Renewed Covenant into Elohim’s Torah and the presence of the Set-apart Spirit in themselves alters the way in which the Torah is to be applied. They therefore feel a compulsiveness about observing ceremonial and ritual details. When their faith grows stronger they will be free not from the Torah-law but from legalistic compulsiveness (Stern, pp. 431-434).
On the phrase in Romans 14:2, “One man has faith … eats vegetables,” Messianic Jewish biblical teacher JosephShulam writes that the references to “vegetables” (and thus to “meat” by contrast) most likely relates to the problems associated with food offered to idols; vegetarianism was not a religious or theological issue per se during the Second Temple period. The Jewish believers’ sensitivities derive from extensions or “fences” against the possibility of idolatry and or from traditional interpretations concerning kashrut (the laws concerning clean and unclean animals and ritual slaughtering), as well as the laws concerning ritual purity. To exclude meat from one’s diet was a solution to those who doubted the origin of meat, its method of slaughter, and the possibility that it might have been offered to idols before sale in the market. When the “weak” person refrains from eating food that has been offered to idols, Paul considers him in effect to question whether Elohim has more power than the idol (A Commentary On the Jewish Roots of Romans, pp. 457-458).
So contrary to popular opinion, Romans 14 is not discussing whether or not it is permissible to eat unclean meats, but rather vegetarianism as opposed to meat eating as a means of avoiding eating meat sacrificed to idols. So once again, in examining the Hebraic and historic cultural context of the passage we see that the traditional Christian interpretation of this passage as an invalidation of the biblical kosher laws is erroneous and a matter of men’s traditions making of none effect the plain Word of YHVH (Matt 15:7-9 and Mark 7:7-9).
Romans 14:14, Nothing is unclean in itself. In this verse, is the Apostle Paul declaring that there is no longer a distinction between clean and unclean foods, therefore making void the biblical dietary laws? Let’s analyze the contextual and linguistic aspects of this passage to see what Paul is really saying here.
The word unclean (koinos) in this verse can also mean “common,” and in three places in the Apostolic Scriptures the two words “common” and “unclean” are used side by side; q.v. Acts 10: 14, 28 and 11:8, which says, “But I said, Not so, Master: for nothing common [koinos] or unclean [akathartos] has at any time entered into my mouth. “From this example, we see that unclean in Romans 14 can also mean “common” as we find in Acts 11. The word for unclean in Acts 11:8 is an entirely different word; therefore, akathartos is a reference to unclean meat, as proscribed by the Torah. Koinos, on the other hand, cannot mean unclean meat in Romans 14, or else Acts 11:8 would be a superfluous and unexplainably redundant in using two words that mean exactly the same thing. The word koinos is used elsewhere in the Apostolic Scriptures not to mean “unclean,” as in “unclean meat,” but “unclean” as in unwashed hands (Matt. 7:2), or “common,” as in something that is shared commonly among people (Acts 2:44; 4:32; Tit 1:4; Jude 3). Of the seven places this word is used in the Apostolic Scriptures it never means unclean meat.
In David Stern’s Jewish New Testament Commentary, on Romans 14 he states that Paul is not abrogating the biblical dietary laws. On verse 14, Stern states that Paul is referring to ritual purity, not whether something is unclean (nonkosher) meat or not. What is ritual purity? It is a reference to either how something was slaughtered, and whether it was bled properly, or whether the meat had previously been sacrificed to idols before being sold in the public meat markets—a common practice in that day in pagan cities.
Furthermore, Paul could not have been advocating eating swine, and other unclean meats, without making himself into a total hypocrite and liar, since in several places in the Book of Acts he strongly states (toward the end of his life) that he was a Torah-observant Jew and walked orderly and kept the Torah (Acts 21:20), and that he had not broken any of the Torah laws (Acts 25:16), which would have included the dietary laws contained in the Torah.
Let’s also keep an important point in mind when speaking of YHVH’s biblical dietary commands: When someone gets born again or regenerated spiritually their digestive system does not change. Eating unclean or biblically unkosher meat is, from a purely medical standpoint, deleterious to one’s health regardless of whether one is a believer in Yeshua or not.