Romans 14:5 – “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”
This verse is sometimes interpreted to mean keeping the fourth commandment is no longer required. Before we deal with that interpretation directly, let’s explore the context.
We find Paul is giving guidance on how believers with diverse backgrounds can come together for fellowship. Let’s begin the previous four verses.
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:1-4)
Paul was telling believers in Rome to prioritize fellowship over correcting every perceived weakness in other believers. He is calling all believers, and especially Jews and Gentiles, to welcome one another – and not for the purpose of arguing to change their mind.
Dr. Craig Keener says this: “In Romans 14:1-23 Paul summons believers to respect one another despite their differences on issues secondary to the gospel that unites us. In light of Paul’s language there and the larger context of Romans, Paul is especially calling Jewish and Gentile believers to welcome one another (see esp. 15:7-12).”
This admonition continues through the whole chapter and into the next.
“Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?“ (Romans 14:10)
“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.“ (Romans 14:13)
“For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.“ (Romans 14:15)
“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.“ (Romans 14:19-23)
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.“ (Romans 15:1-2)
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:5-7)
Teachers tussle over whether Paul is labelling Jews or Gentiles as “weak in faith”. It’s arguable that Paul expects most readers to assume they are the strong one and everyone else is less enlightened. Paul is calling all of us to please our neighbor, welcome one another and live in harmony.
Something we didn’t see in chapters 14 and 15 was a direct mention of the Sabbath. Rather, Paul speaks of esteeming days.
“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:5-6)
The options presented are 1) “esteems one day above another” or 2) “esteems all days alike”. The instruction is, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind”. If this is referring to the weekly Sabbath, Paul never says not to keep it. Rather, he would be saying to keep it whatever day(s) one wishes.
However, context does not require us to think Paul is talking about the weekly Sabbath at all. Right after mentioning the days, Paul says, “The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” He alludes to a disagreement about eating or abstaining from eating.
There is another first century document that speaks of a dispute over days that involved eating or abstaining from eating. Here’s what it says in the Didache.
“VIII. But as for your fasts, let them not be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth days of the week, but do ye fast on the fourth and sixth days.” (Reference)
None of the disputed days mentioned in the Didache were the weekly Sabbath or Sunday. The Torah does not command weekly fasting at all so the Didache must be referring to traditions.
The Didache also mentions “the Lord’s day”. While tempting for modern Western minds to assume this meant Sunday, we can’t make that assumption.
“XIV. But on the Lord’s day, after that ye have assembled together, break bread and give thanks, having in addition confessed your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let not any one who hath a quarrel with his companion join with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be polluted, for it is that which is spoken of by the Lord.” (Reference)
Here’s another translation of the same Didache section.
“On the Lord’s own day, when you gather together, break bread and give thanks [Or: celebrate the eucharist] after you have confessed your unlawful deeds, that your sacrifice may be pure. Let no one quarreling with his neighbor join you until they are reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be defiled. -Didache 14:1-2 (Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 439)”
Was there a day Jesus spoke of as his? How about these verses…
“For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:8)
“So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.“ (Mark 2:28)
“And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.“ (Luke 6:5)
Here’s another observation by 119 Ministries.
“Didache 8:1 uses the name “preparation day” (παρασκευή), which is the traditional Jewish designation for Friday—that is, the day before the Sabbath (Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14; also see Josephus, Ant. 16:163). Since this name carries connotations of preparing for the Sabbath, the author’s use of it might imply that these Christians prepared for and observed the Sabbath.”
Given Paul’s reference to fasting, first century documentation of a dispute over when to fast, and no mention of the Sabbath in chapter 14, Romans 14:5 is probably not referring to the Sabbath.