What “weak” means in the Book of Romans

The traditional meaning for “weak” in Romans 14 is that it applied to anyone that continued to follow the Torah after they believed, but that is a “replacement theology” interpretation. The Roman congregation in the book was not a “Christian” church because there was no such thing at the time. That would not have been allowed under Roman law and this congregation in Rome was obviously flourishing at the time. Paul was writing to messianic believers still meeting under the oversight of a traditional synagogue structure.

Gentiles were coming to faith in Yeshua and were attending traditional synagogues on holy days and Sabbath. Paul taught the Corinthians to follow the “paradosis” or Jewish laws (or halakah) and traditions because that’s what he did and he followed Messiah (1 Cor 11.1-2), so he told the Roman believers the same thing.

Their behavior was the subject of much discussion as seen in Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council. The prophets foretold that when the Messiah came, the Gentiles would come in droves to the faith. What was confusing to the Jewish people was whether or not they had to become Jews (be circumcised) or not. The Messianic Community, led by James and other apostles, decided that the Gentiles did not need to be circumcised to be saved according to the 18 Edicts of Beit Shammai (Acts 15.19).

However, there were certain standards that were required in order to have table fellowship and to participate in synagogue activities with other non-believing Jews in the congregation. These synagogues were made up of three types of people: non-believing Jews; believing Jews and believing non-Jews (who were once Gentiles=pagans). The responsibility was on the non-Jews to modify their behavior (Acts 15.19-29), not the other way around. They did not have to become Jews through ritual circumcision and practice all of the Torah, but they had certain standards to follow which were stated in Acts 15.19-20. It also says that they were to go to the synagogue where Moses (Torah) was taught so that could learn and observe what applied to them (Acts 15.21).

As they exposed themselves to what they heard in the synagogue, they would comply and observe that which was applicable. For instance, if a particular law found in the Torah applied to a priest, or a woman, they didn’t have to observe that, and so on.  In Romans, Paul teaches that the responsibility for this change was upon the non-Jews (Gentiles) that attended. In the first 12 chapters of Romans Paul dealt with 2 groups who attended, non-Jews who believed and Jewish non-believers. Both groups were to observe the Torah while dealing with conflicting issues between these groups. Where Paul brought up critical issues concerning Torah, he was addressing Jewish non-believers, not Jewish believers.

In Chapters 9 through 11, Paul deals with Jewish non-believers who did not follow Yeshua yet and the arrogance of some non-Jewish believers who began to think they “replaced” Israel. He also deals with how these non-Jews were to behave towards these Jews who did not accept Yeshua. The idea that someone who followed the Torah was “weak” is completely foreign to what the Bible says and it certainly was not what Paul actually believed and taught. He said the Torah was confirmed by our faith (Rom 3.31).

The concept of “weak” faith is directed towards a Jewish person who did not believe that Yeshua was Messiah yet. What makes a believer “strong” is the knowledge and acceptance of Yeshua as Messiah. Paul continued to see the faith of his Jewish brethren who had not yet accepted Yeshua as a valid faith. What they observed was biblically given and God “approved” of him. The “strong” (believers in Yeshua) in Romans were not to judge the “weak” (those who did not believe in Yeshua) but they were to accommodate them in practice. These Jews were the ones who were “weak” because they lacked the knowledge that Yeshua was the Messiah, not because they were Torah observant. The term “weak” cannot be applied to anyone who is Torah observant.

Sources
The Book of Romans, Yashanet
Personal notes

Posted in Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Questions, Understanding the New Testament

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