Understanding Romans 14:5
By Calvin Burrell
Many Christians give little or no thought to the seventh-day Sabbath of Scripture. Others have examined the question and been persuaded against Sabbath by two Bible verses that can appear, on surface, to overturn the seventh day of the week as a Christian observance.
The fourteenth chapter of Romans deals with issues that troubled the early Church, like eating meat, drinking wine, and observing days. Concerning the latter, Paul wrote, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (v. 5).
This inspired counsel from the Apostle to Gentiles reduces the importance of special days for the Christian. Some celebrations on the church calendar, at least, are optional; we may observe them or not without displeasing the Lord. When we think of the seventh day Sabbath of Creation, of its centrality in the Decalogue, and especially of Christ’s teaching and example regarding it, we may rightly question whether the ambiguity of Romans 14:5 applies here.
Based on this verse, many affirm that all time is sacred and that no day is more important than another. This proposition deserves reflection, both from the standpoints of Scripture and of human nature. We are not likely to regard all time as holy unless some of it is set apart as uniquely so. This is precisely what happened at Creation. The Sabbath is the only day God ever hallowed above others.
If all days are treated equally holy by people, then all will become equally unholy–eventually. Just as it is important to have an appointed place for corporate worship, so it is vital that we have an appointed time for it. We seldom do anything regularly without a time for it.
The Sabbath serves as a guardian on all our time. Keeping it holy in a Biblical sense increases the likelihood that every day will be lived in the center of God’s holy will. Sabbath is the blessed day of God that leads us to the house of God with the people of God to believe the Son of God, to receive the Spirit of God and to do the will of God continually–according to His Word. Because we keep one day especially holy, God’s presence and purposes are more easily remembered every day of our lives. Forget Sabbath today; forget God tomorrow.
Considering the debate Paul faced over circumcision, it is scarcely possible that he could have dismissed the Sabbath with this one verse without even mentioning the day, or without facing greater debate—not recorded in the New Testament. “Every day” in verse five here can mean “every day except the Sabbath,” just as it does in Exodus 16:4.
When Paul says, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind,” we should ask, “Convinced by what?” By the declarations of men that all days are equal? Or by God’s creation-week declaration that the seventh day of the week is holy (Genesis 2:2-3)? And by Jesus’ statements that He is Lord of the Sabbath and that God made Sabbath for all our benefits (Mark 2:28-28)?
Romans 14:5 was written about doubtful topics–not those the Bible makes plain. Bible scholars agree that a doubtful text should not be used to negate a plain one. Paul would be vexed to know that any statement of his was isolated to abolish any part of the God-spoken, God-written decalogue. When teaching on Christian duty, rather than the means to salvation, he wrote that God’s “law is holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12); and that “keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (I Corinthians 7:19).
It still matters.