What does the word judge in Romans 14:3 mean?

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By BibleAsk Team


The concept of judgment in Romans 14:3 is crucial for understanding the apostle Paul’s message about the unity and acceptance among believers despite differences in personal convictions. The term “judge” in this context is pivotal in understanding the relationship between faith, freedom, and community within the early Christian church.

Context of Romans 14

Romans 14 is part of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, a letter that addresses various theological and practical issues in the early Christian community.

Romans 14:1-4 (NKJV)

“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 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. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.”

In this passage, the issue here wasn’t so much as to judge what one eats, but rather the propriety of eating foods sacrificed to idols. According to the ancient pagan practice, priests offered meat merchandise to idols. Paul told the Corinthian believers—converts both from Judaism and from paganism—that because an idol was nothing (1 Corinthians 8:4), there was nothing wrong, in eating foods dedicated to it.

Key Terms in Romans 14:3

To understand the specific meaning of “judge” in this verse, it is essential to analyze the key terms:

  • Despise (ἐξουθενείτω): The Greek word for “despise” used in this passage means to look down upon or treat with contempt. This term is directed at the person who has the freedom to eat anything and looks down on the one who restricts their diet.
  • Judge (κρινέτω): The Greek word for “judge” here is “krinó,” which means to judge, decide, or condemn. In this context, it is directed at the person who abstains from certain foods and is tempted to condemn the one who eats freely.

Meaning of “Judge” (κρίνω) in Romans 14:3

In this passage, “judge” means to pass judgment or to condemn another person based on their practices regarding disputable matters. Paul uses this word to address a critical issue within the early Christian community: the tendency to evaluate others’ faith and spirituality based on their adherence to specific practices or traditions.

Theological Implications

  1. Unity in Diversity: Paul emphasizes that believers should not judge each other over disputable matters.
  2. Servanthood to Christ: Paul reminds the believers that each person is a servant of Christ, not of one another. Therefore, judgment belongs to God alone. “Who are you to judge another’s servant?” This rhetorical question reinforces the idea that judgment and accountability are ultimately to Christ.

Romans 14:10-13 (NKJV)

“But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written:

‘As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.’

So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”

Paul reiterates the prohibition against judging one another, emphasizing that all believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. This future judgment by Christ should deter believers from assuming the role of judge in the present.

Broader Context in Romans 14

To fully grasp the meaning of “judge” in this passage, it is essential to consider the broader context of the chapter, which deals with how Christians should handle differences in convictions about non-essential practices.

Romans 14:5-6 (NKJV)

“One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.”

Paul emphasizes that each person should be fully convinced in their own mind about their practices. Whether one observes special yearly Jewish feasts (also called sabbath holidays) or eating meats that are sacrificed to idols, what matters is that they do so with a clear conscience and to honor the Lord. This principle discourages judgment because each person’s practice is an act of worship to God.

Romans 14:14-15 (NKJV)

“I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 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.”

It is clear that in Romans 14, Paul is not speaking of the “unclean meats” of Deuteronomy 14 and Leviticus 11. He is not suggesting that the Christian of strong faith may eat anything, regardless of its effect upon his physical well-being. An animal that God had shown as unclean in the OT remains unclean in the NT. For the Jewish digestive system is no different than the Gentile digestive system.

Paul has already made plain, in Romans 12:1, that the true believer will see to it that his body is preserved holy and acceptable to God as a living sacrifice. The man of strong faith will regard it as an act of spiritual worship to maintain good health (Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

Applications of “Judge” in the New Testament

The concept of judgment as presented in this chapter of Romans is consistent with other New Testament teachings on judgment, emphasizing a compassionate and humble approach to others’ beliefs and practices.

Matthew 7:1-5 (NKJV)

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount parallels Paul’s message in Romans 14. Both passages warn against hypocritical judgment and stress the importance of self-examination before evaluating others. This teaching fosters humility and reduces the tendency to judge others harshly.

James 4:11-12 (NKJV)

“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?”

James echoes the prohibition against judging others, highlighting that there is only one Lawgiver and Judge—God. This reinforces the idea that believers should refrain from assuming the role of judge, recognizing God’s ultimate authority.

Theological Perspective

The apostle Paul is not discussing the propriety of eating or abstaining from certain foods but rather urging the believers to be patient and not judge each other. For “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17, NKJV). Therefore, the man of strong faith will “pursue the things which make for peace” (Romans 14:19, NKJV) and will beware lest by his eating or drinking or any other personal practice he destroys the work of God (Romans 14:20) and those for whom Christ died (Romans 14: 15).

Also, Paul urges those that don’t mind eating meats that are sacrificed to idols not to place a stumbling block in a brother’s way by indulging in them (Romans 14:13). And, for a person that his conscience bothers him when eating meats sacrificed to idols, he should leave it alone and not judge the one that eats them. For those that judge show spiritual pride instead of Christian love.

Practical Implications for Today

The meaning of “judge” in this chapter of Romans has several practical implications for contemporary Christian life and community:

  1. Promoting Unity and Acceptance: Christians are called to accept one another despite differences in non-essential practices. This acceptance fosters unity and reflects the inclusive nature of the Gospel.
  2. Respecting Personal Convictions: Recognizing that each believer is accountable to God for their practices encourages respect for diverse convictions. This respect helps maintain harmony within the church.
  3. Avoiding Judgmental Attitudes: By refraining from judging others, believers can create a more loving and supportive community. This attitude aligns with the command to love one another as Christ has loved us (John 13:34-35).
  4. Focusing on Essential Doctrines: The emphasis on non-judgment in disputable matters allows the church to focus on essential doctrines of the faith, such as the divinity of Christ, salvation by grace, and the resurrection.
  5. Modeling Christ-like Behavior: Following Paul’s guidance in Romans 14:3, believers can model Christ-like behavior by being patient, compassionate, and understanding towards others’ practices and convictions.

Conclusion

The term “judge” in Romans 14:3, as translated from the Greek word “krinó,” means to pass judgment or condemn another person based on their practices regarding disputable matters. The issue in this passage wasn’t on what one eats, but rather the propriety of eating foods that has been sacrificed to idols. By refraining from judgment and embracing diversity within the community, Christians can reflect the inclusive and loving nature of the Gospel. This teaching, consistent with broader New Testament principles, calls for a humble and compassionate approach to differences in personal convictions, ultimately fostering a more unified and loving church.

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