I have already addressed clean and unclean food, the assumed dispute in Rom 14:1-4.
“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. 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.” Rom 14:5-6
The Greek word translated “above” in verse 5 is para, a common preposition which is not translated “above” in the New Testament except for here. As an example, remember that the Greek for the Holy Spirit is Parakletos, the Helper? Literally, The one who comes beside (para). The prep can mean different nuances of from, beside, by, with, at, or of depending on the grammar of the noun which is its object. The normal Greek preposition which denotes a position above, is huper, which is not in this sentence.
Para can sometimes mean more or less than. For example,
Out of the 200 times this preposition occurs in the Greek New Testament, very few times does the grammar demand “more than” or “less than.” Four times, by my count? Luk 3:13, 13:2, Rom 14:5, and 2 Cor 11:24.
To further complicate things, “one” is not in the Greek, nor is “alike.” So reading the Greek just as it is, it reads:
“One person esteems a day (more or less than, “above”) another; another esteems every day.”
To the non- Jews who were translating the Bible centuries after its events, esteeming every day made no sense, but they were familiar with esteeming one day ABOVE another – an obvious reference to the Sabbath. They added the “alike” in for clarity, because it made more sense to them with it in. So back to whether one day is above another or not in a minute. What does esteeming every day, taking out the “alike,” mean?
We know now, what maybe the original translators from the 1600s didn’t know then: that in the pagan culture in which Paul lived, among the Gentiles which were Paul’s mission field, every day was dedicated to a different god. Sunday was the first day of the week and thus dedicated to the sun god as the most important god in the pantheon. This is why where I live, on Sunday evenings, the pagans gather at the beach to venerate the sun as it sinks into the Gulf of Mexico. Still today! So on Sunday, the devout pagans sacrificed to the sun god. Monday was dedicated to the moon god, (moon day), so on Mondays the pagans sacrificed to the moon god. Tuesday was dedicated to the war god (Ares in Greek, Tiw in Saxon, so Tiw’s day) and so on through out the week.
This might be what Paul means when he says others esteem every day. It does not necessarily mean that every day is esteemed alike. That changes the meaning of the original, to make it seem as if no days were esteemed at all, and that was not happening in his place in his time. That happens in our culture in our time, but not in his. We have to remember the first rule of Bible interpretation: CONTEXT! Including the context of the culture and time in which it was written!
So now back to one day being esteemed above another. Because para is never translated “above,” Paul’s intent might have been, One person esteems a day more than another, or, One person esteems a day less than another. Or even, One person esteems a day alongside another, or nigh unto another, or even, against another – all accepted translations of the preposition para in this grammatical construction.
Which way to translate it? It is a guess, because in this letter Paul is answering a question posed to him by the church at Rome, and we do not know what the question was. We do know it had to do with differing personal interpretation in gray areas, which were doubtful things (vs. 1) – something the Old Testament (the only Scriptures they had) did not address clearly. It very well could have had to do with pagan Gentile customs associated with esteeming days mentioned above that might have been retained culturally among those coming to faith in Christ. The context of the chapter is cultural idolatry, so that it had something to do with pagan practice or custom is an educated guess.
But it is a guess, that is the thing. What if the debate was similar to one that is becoming more and more common in the church in our days: whether if we esteem EASTER, then we have honored Ishtar the fertility goddess and a great enemy of YHVH? What if that is the ONE DAY that the Romans were asking Paul about? Or what if some in the church did not celebrate the resurrection of Yeshua on Ishtar’s day because they were loathe to give any honor to the goddess at all? These are true gray areas. That is why Paul seems to be saying, in verse 4, Hey, how can you judge for another person whether by doing this (eating, or esteeming days, or whatever) he is really practicing idolatry in his heart or not? Only God knows!
We assume, because we have been raised with an anti- Torah bias, that the text MUST be talking about Sabbath, but can you see how that is a pure assumption? But I think that to say that the verse MUST mean, that if we are honoring the Sabbath as God commands numerous times and places throughout Scripture (not a gray area), that those who do so are weak in the faith, is an interpretation coming from an anti- Torah bias that has been imposed on the text, but which the text does not require.
The main point is in verse 12:
“So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”
Each one of us needs to be fully convinced in his own mind (vs. 5)! And if someone’s practice is different from yours, in a gray area, in a doubtful thing, then let us not judge one another anymore. My personal opinion is that anything which God has previously addressed specifically in the Old Testament or through the mouth of Jesus, is NOT a gray area. That is me. 🙂 It pays for us to know just what God has said! Yeah, but Christine, even in Habakkuk? Who reads that? YES, even Habakkuk! The Word of God has been preserved as it is for a REASON! We ought not to be ignorant of it!