misquoted verses – vegetarians are weak and wine makes people stumble

Throughout Paul’s writings we find him addressing two food issues:

1. Kosher food laws.
2. Meat sacrificed to idols.

When Paul writes about food, it is about one or both of these two issues. His statements should be understood in these contexts, not modern contexts. For example:

Rom 14:21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.

Modern Christians see this verse as an excuse to declare a reason for not drinking wine. They say:

“In my household, we do not condemn drinking wine, but we abstain because you never know who is in the room with you. It may be a former alcoholic. We would not want to make him stumble.”

I hear this all the time. One of my first actions when having guests over is to offer them something to drink. Romans 14:21 is used by them to claim that drinking should be avoided if someone might binge because of it. While that result may happen, it is not at all what Paul is describing in Romans 14. We can learn the context of Romans 14 from 1 Corinthians 8:

1Co 8:4 Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.
1Co 8:5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords),
1Co 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.
1Co 8:7 However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
1Co 8:8 But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.
1Co 8:9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.

Paul states a couple things:

1. When pagans sacrifice meat to idols, we know that the idols are just statues and it is a meaningless ritual.
2. As such, the meat cannot be “defiled”, and we should not feel bad eating it. [Side note: notice how this contradicts the resolution of Acts 15]
3. Weak Christians feel bad when eating these things, so don’t rile them up by eating in front of them.

The Christians who were abstaining from meat were the type to call out others and cause disputes over the issue (“meat sacrificed to idols”). Paul’s goal is to keep the peace. He calls these Christians weak and then advises strong Christians avoid this theological debate.

In Romans 14, Paul reiterates these points:

Rom 14:1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.
Rom 14:2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables.
Rom 14:3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.

We see Paul introducing a vegetarian. The vegetarian is not someone who wants ethical treatment of animals but someone being super cautious about accidently eating the wrong meat. Most meat was sold in the market at the time of Paul. The markets were usually located directly next to pagan temples. Pagans would sacrifice their animals and then the priests would bring the meat to the market for sale. If you were at a friend’s house for diner, you might pass on the meat because chances were that it was sacrificed to a false God.

market at corinth

This is a picture from my visit to Corinth. Notice the stalls and hill in the background. The temple was on the hill, and the stalls were the shops in which the meat was sold.

Paul calls these people “weak”. Paul is not criticizing vegetarians in general (sadly not the case), but is criticizing Christians who criticize other Christians for what they eat. Paul says “let him who does not eat judge him who eats.” The problem was busybody theologians (notice the judgment “by” vegetarians), not vegetarianism. Paul continues:

Rom 14:15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died…
Rom 14:17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

When Paul talks about the Kingdom of God not being “eating and drinking”, he is not saying we will not eat and drink in the Kingdom. Paul is not making the case that the Kingdom of God is metaphysical. Paul is saying that the point of the Kingdom is righteousness. Food is a side issue. That is the context of this verse.

Rom 14:20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense.
Rom 14:21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.
Rom 14:22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
Rom 14:23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.

In verse 21, when Paul points out that we should not provoke theological fights over food, this issue is not about “it is a sin to drink alcohol”. The theological issue was “it is a sin to consume wine or meat dedicated to a pagan god”. Stumbling was not “falling off the wagon”, but becoming theologically upset or having a hurt conscience. In no sense is this about “animal cruelty”.

Paul’s advice is to eat and drink whatever you want. The spiritually strong would eat all things, and the weak would abstain due to moral concerns. When you do eat, you should do it in faith (meaning you should not feel guilty). Those are is issues.

This principle should not be exported. Once, a friend of mine was told by a certain Christian: “You should not listen to Skillet [a Christian rock band] because it might make me stumble.” That is not the context. The Jews had traditionally been forbidden to eat meat. Paul introduced something brand new that changed the dietary laws (both about Kosher and about idol sacrifices). The leaders of the church also disagreed with Paul’s message. They commanded the gentiles to abstain from things sacrificed to idols. Paul is not making a greater point to “never do anything in any context that might make someone stumble in any sense of the word.” Paul is saying that the Church has to get used to the changes as to what they are allowed.

A side story on vegetarianism:

My brother in law is an “animal rights” lawyer. He was one day explaining how a pig is smarter than a dog. He then added: “That is why we should not eat pigs. You wouldn’t eat a dog, would you?” To which I responded: “There is nothing wrong with that. I would eat a dog.” With no response, the conversation abruptly ended.

In Timothy, Paul makes the case why Christians should expand their meat menu:

Ti 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,
1Ti 4:3 … commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
1Ti 4:4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving;

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Bible, Greek History, History, Misquoted Verses, Morality, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to misquoted verses – vegetarians are weak and wine makes people stumble

  1. theoldadam says:

    Amen.

    Jesus said “it’s not what goes in a man’s mouth that d exiles him…but what comes out of it.”

    We Christians are not bound by any dietary laws. Or any laws, for that matter. “All things are lawful.”

    “But not all things are profitable.”

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