Does Romans 14 show that the Fourth Commandment about the seventh-day Sabbath is no longer in effect? What was Paul addressing in this chapter?
Romans 14 is mistakenly used by some as “proof” that there is no Sabbath law today. There are actually three main subjects discussed by Paul in this chapter. Because two of them are believed by some to relate to the biblical food laws (found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14), we cover them in a separate article: “Does Romans 14 Abolish the Law of Clean and Unclean Meats?”
As that article explains, the first subject had to do with “doubtful things,” yet Paul would never refer to the Old Testament as “doubtful.” The Greek word for “doubtful” means “reasonings” or “opinions” (NKJV Study Bible, 2007, notes on Romans 14:1-2). In other words, Paul was addressing matters of personal opinion in this chapter, not matters of law.
Personal opinions about days
Anti-Sabbath teachers cite verse 5 and part of verse 6 to make their claim that Paul here showed there is no longer any specific day set aside by God for worship: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.”
If we fail to think the subject through completely, these verses might seem to support the hypothesis that Paul was saying there is no Sabbath. But think through what the practical consequences would be of teaching that there is no Sabbath day made holy by God for worshipping Him.
It would mean that one believer could decide that Monday should be his day of worship, while another might be convinced Wednesday would suit him. Still another might find Friday more convenient. Quite likely, in a large group, each day of the week would be chosen by some. And, according to those who say Paul was talking about the Sabbath in Romans 14:5-6, everybody would be right!
What confusion that would cause! There would be no true “congregation,” which means a group that “congregates” or comes together for a meeting. When would they meet for worship? Which meeting day would God bless, if any? There would be no cohesion, no community of believers.
When thought through to the logical conclusion, the claim that Paul was teaching there is no Sabbath is obviously wrong. Notice also that the word “Sabbath” is not even mentioned—it is not the subject. Notice also that “day of worship” is not mentioned—that isn’t the subject either.
A good summary of the chapter is: Put a higher value on keeping unity in the community of believers than on your personal opinion when it comes to eating meat versus vegetarianism, fasting or not fasting on a given day or about diet in general, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”What is the subject and what did Paul mean? Allow the Bible to speak for itself, as we do in “Does Romans 14 Abolish the Law of Clean and Unclean Meats?”
In order to understand any part of the Bible, it is necessary to take what is said in context. The entirety of verse 6 reads: “He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.”
The plain meaning
How were the people “observing” a day? The key words here are: “He who eats” and “he who does not eat.” This is a specific reference to the spiritual exercise of fasting. This fact does not occur to many readers of the Bible, because they aren’t acquainted with fasting. But Christ said that His disciples would fast, and there are numerous references throughout the New Testament to fasting. A fast for spiritual purposes is going without food and water (usually for a day) for the purpose of spending extra time in prayer, Bible study and meditation in order to draw closer to God. Fasting is truly a cleansing, as well as a strengthening experience. (For more about the subject of fasting see our article “What Is Fasting?”)
Paul is not talking in verses 5 and 6 about people picking their own weekly day of worship! Choosing not to eat for a day in order to “observe it to the Lord” referred to choosing a day on which to fast. When one fasts is an individual matter. The tone Paul takes continues the theme from the first few verses. To put it in plain language, he was saying that strong-minded (opinionated) believers should not try to force their personal preferences on each other about individual matters.
Romans 14 is about believers needing to respect personal differences between themselves; it is about not assuming that one’s opinion is right or that a differing opinion is wrong. A good summary of the chapter is: Put a higher value on keeping unity in the community of believers than on your personal opinion when it comes to eating meat versus vegetarianism, fasting or not fasting on a given day or about diet in general, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (verse 17).
For further study on this topic, read the article “Was the Sabbath Changed to Sunday?”