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BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION (6): What Is Not of Faith


It is amazing how people, thinking they are serious students of the Bible, will take just a small portion of a verse and from it craft a “rule” for interpreting the entire Bible. One example of this is in a combination of two verses in Romans – 14:23 and 10:17.

But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. – Romans 14:23

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. – Romans 10:17

Some link these two verses together to make a rule about the silence of the Scripture. Their conclusion is that anything not mentioned in the Scripture is forbidden. Of course, there is no uniformity of application among those who make this rule and who use it to bind their conclusions on everyone in the church.

For example, one may argue that the Bible has nothing to say about one church sending to another church to assist the receiving church in support of a missionary because there is no example of such in the Bible, hence it cannot be “by faith” since faith comes from hearing the message of Christ, and “whatever is not of faith is sin.” Another may argue from the same premises that it is wrong to have multiple cups in serving the Lord’s Supper – and so on ad infinitum.

Is this a valid way to interpret and apply Scripture? I do not believe it is for a number of reasons.

The Fruit Test

One reason I do not accept this as a valid application of the two verses in question comes under the saying of Jesus, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16).

The “fruit” of this principle is a history of splintering the church. To the two “doctrines” supported with this use of Scripture mentioned above, you can add many others, doctrines accepted by one or more groups within the Church of Christ.

  • No separation of the Church for Bible Classes
  • No use of printed materials in Bible Classes
  • No fellowship rooms in the “Church Building”
  • No Church cooperation in local or foreign evangelism
  • No Church support of a Bible College
  • No “located preachers”
  • No Church buildings
  • No pitch pipes to pitch a song
  • No clapping during worship
  • No “praise teams” leading worship
  • Etc., Etc., Etc.

Many would even add to this list, “No instruments of Music in Christian worship.”

That the principle has proven divisive and that those who attempt to follow it are inconsistent in how they apply it shows (to me anyway) that this is a principle that is at least “suspect.” One of the things police use in solving serial crimes is to identify any common denominators between the crimes. Now, a common denominator may be coincidental. It is not proof. But if the same person is known to be present at all instances of, say a series of arson fires, the police will want to have a very close look at this person.

The common use of this principle by many who divide the church over a host of issues makes me think we need to have a very close look at this principle.

Context

The context of Romans 14:23 denies the use that is made of the portion extracted from the verse to establish this principle. In fact, the rest of the verse itself denies that use of the singe clause that people extract to make the principle.

But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. – Romans 14:23

This verse speaks of one eating with “doubts” contrasted with one whose eating is “from faith.” When one eats, but believes eating the meat is sinful, to him it is sin – not because it is a sin to eat meat, but because he eats even though he believes it is wrong.  The man who eats without doubts does not sin, for he does not violate his conscience. Faith here means essentially the same thing as confidence or a good conscience.

As such, it bears little (if any) resemblance to Paul’s use of faith in Romans 10:17. That verse is in a series of statements about how men come to a saving relationship to Jesus.

  • Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (v. 13).
  • How can they call on Him if they do not believe in Him (v. 14)?
  • How can they believe in Him if they have never heard of Him (v.14)
  • How can they hear without someone telling them (v. 14)?
  • How can someone tell them unless he is sent (v. 15)?
  • Not all accept what they hear (v. 16)?
  • So, faith comes by hearing the Word of God (v. 17).

Here, there is a definite word or teaching from God about His Christ. This is the word that is preached in the gospel. The preaching of the word communicates the faith (in v. 17, faith has the article and means “faith in Christ”).

In Romans 14:23, the construction and context are quite different. There is no article with faith. The emphasis is on a contrast between one who has doubts and one who has none.

It is disingenuous to link these two verses together as if faith has the same significance in each of them. Here some use this slight verbal similarity between two verses to forge an unbreakable link between them as if they were speaking of the same thing when they are not.

The Larger Context of Romans 14:23

The entire context of Romans 14 puts the lie to the use of verse 23 some make of it. They use this verse to draw lines and separate God’s people. The context of Romans 14:1 – 15:13 is that, though Jew and Gentile may differ on things such as eating meat and observing days, they are to accept one another as Christ has accepted them (15:7).

In 14:1-14 Paul discussed the wrongness of passing judgment on our brethren in “disputable matters.” In verses 15-22, he taught how we can walk in love toward one another when we differ. Verse 23, in that context, shows that if we, by insisting on our “right” to eat meat influence someone to eat against his conscience, we cause him to sin. Thus, we are not walking in love toward that brother. Chapter 15:1-7 continues this plea for us to walk together in unity, not by one compelling the other to yield to his scruples or to give up his own, but by accepting one another in the Spirit of Christ.

Chapter 15:8-13 describes that Spirit of Christ by which He lived and died so that Gentiles, too, may share in God’s gift of grace. He does this by quoting four Old Testament passages (which 15:4 says are given for our learning) about how the Christ had an interest in the Gentiles as well as the Jews. This section closes with the following:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

Those who want to take the Word of God seriously need to be more careful than this in linking verses together. I’m sure you have heard of the man in the (probably apocryphal) story who wanted to get a message from God, so he let his Bible drop open while he had his eyes closed and put his finger on a verse – three times. He saw the following statements under his finger when he opened his eyes:

He went away and hanged himself. – Matthew 27:5

Go and do likewise. – Luke 10:37

What you are about to do, do quickly. – John 13:27

Let’s not let our indiscriminate “joining” of one passage to another with no consideration of context distort the message of God’s Word.

NEXT (7): Silence of the Scriptures

PREVIOUS (5): False Teachers Among You

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