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In Romans 14:23 after looking at the Greek briefly I noticed "is" comes after sin, should Romans 14:23 read "sin is whatever not of faith?". Grammatically should it be that way or is "Whatever is not from faith is sin" the correct way?

Romans 14:23 But the one doubting has been condemned if he eats, because it is not of faith; and anything that is not of faith is sin.

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I get the impression that some people aren't understanding the context of this verse.

The NLT version conveys the meaning of this chapter in modern English:

1 Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2 For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables.

15And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. 21It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. 22You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God.
Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. 23But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.

Many of the Greek proselytes have spent their whole lives as vegetarians, believing that eating the flesh of animals is a sin. Most of them are also ascetics, believing that physical pleasure is a sin.

The Bible teaches that the flesh of clean animals is not only allowed as food, it is to be enjoyed as food, and the Jewish Christians take this lifestyle for granted. Some of them think the Greeks that are learning about Christianity should immediately accept being freed from the pagan restrictions of their past and should immediately start eating animal flesh, drinking wine, and generally enjoying life.

But for these proselytes, this is distressing. Even those that have intellectually accepted God's truth, can't instantly put it into practice.
(Consider if you learned that eating live cockroaches dipped in worm purée was an enjoyable experience. How comfortable would you feel watching others eat it? How would you feel when others encourage you to eat it? How would you feel when others put you down for not eating it?)

Paul's point here is that by belittling the proselytes that are vegetarians, the converted Christians are hurting the cause. These proselytes are going to feel like they would be doing wrong to eat that food. And as a result of these superficial aspects of conversion, many of the vegetarians may end up leaving the church before they ever have a chance to learn its fundamental truths.

For them to deliberately go against this feeling of doing wrong would be, for them, the equivalent of sinning (breaking the law).

This verse is obviously not defining sin as "sin is whatever is not of faith" (i.e. doing something that one has doubts about). The intended meaning is clearly "whatever is not of faith is sin".

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The two alternatives presented by the OP are the same; logically, the last sentence in Rom 14:23 says either:

  • whatever is not from faith is sin
  • sin is whatever is not from faith

The first option is the wording used by Paul and the most accurate translation. However, logically, this is saying that the two are equivalent: sin is equivalent to that which is not of faith and vis-versa.

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  • "logically, this is saying that the two are equivalent". No. If I have faith that it is okay to be a pederast, then using the second translation logically means that this practice is not a sin. Paul is saying that "from faith" is a necessary part of the definition of sin, but no one should believe that it is a sufficient condition, much less a definition. Logically, The two interpretations are: x∉F ⇒ x∈S versus x∈S ⇒ x∉F. Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 14:43
  • @RayButterworth - That is what the txt says. However, you now raise another matter concerning the place of faith in the Christian life by suggesting, that anything is permissible "IF" it is by faith such as pederasty, pedophilia, fornication. If these acts are 'done by faith" (and perhaps love too?) then that makes them OK. Obviously Paul is not saying that - the faith Paul is discussing is a trust in God not a self delusion.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 20:30
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It should be translated for whatever is not of faith is sin.


The literal Greek reads:

πᾶν δὲ ὃ (pan de ho) --- for the whatsoever (words reversed in Greek)

οὐκ ἐκ πίστεως (ouk ek pisteōs) --- not from faith

ἁμαρτία ἐστίν (hamartia estin) --- sin is

John Chrysostom (4th c.) comments here:

For whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Here he shows again that he who acts against his conscience is condemned. For since all things which are not of faith are sin, he who acts against his conscience sins assuredly. For he who doubts of the lawfulness of anything, and yet does it, has not acted from faith; and he who has not acted from faith, sins. For he shows that it is faith which makes things lawful to us, and that nothing is unclean, but what is done without faith. For this reason he calls it also defiled, and says, I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean (Romans 14:14).

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The answer is no, and an explanation can be given based on grammar alone (Wallace, The Basics of New Testament Syntax, pp 30-33). The clause in question is in a subject-predicate nominative construction (S-PN) joined by the linking verb “is.” The predicate nominative provides an alternate description of the sentence’s subject.

In English the subject of an S-PN is determined by word order and therefore easy to identify. For example, in the sentence “cake is a dessert,” cake is the subject. In Greek, however, the subject is not determined by word order but by syntax. The nominative case usually identifies the subject of a sentence. However, in the case of an S-PN where the predicate is also in the nominative case, other markers are used to identify the subject: 1) the subject will have an article 2) the subject will be a pronoun 3) the subject will be a proper name.

Based on criteria #1 and 2, “sin” does not qualify to be the subject. The word “sin” is anarthrous; it has no article. Furthermore, the substantive clause “whatever is not from faith” is formed using a relative pronoun, which qualifies it to be the subject. “Pronouns by virtue of their reference to an antecedent are specific even without a definite article” (ntgreek.net).

The translation “sin is whatever not from faith” is thus not supported by the Greek syntax. One may ask whether or not the clause in Rom 14:24 retains the same meaning when sin is the subject. In other words, is the subject and the predicate nominative interchangeable? In this case the answer is again no. Only when both nouns/substantives meet one of the 3 criteria to be the subject are they interchangeable. Since “sin” does not meet any of the qualifying criteria, it cannot change places with the subject.

The S and PN are in fact not commonly interchangeable. The more common semantic relationship is where the PN describes the class to which the S belongs. In the example earlier, cake is in the class of desserts. Likewise “whatever is not from faith” is in the broader category of sin. And just as it is erroneous to define dessert as a cake, it would be incorrect to define sin as “whatever is not from faith.”

Beyond the grammar, I believe that sin can only be defined by the one who ultimately judges it, God. What Paul is trying to explain is how we discern our own actions (cf Rom 14:4), that whatever goes against our personal convictions is sin.

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You need to learn some basics about Greek (I recommend John Dobson's Learn New Testament Greek) to not fall for such confusions by looking at the interlinear. The interlinear don't help when you don't know the grammar. The verb "is" can occur anywhere in Greek, since its syntax is flexible.

Dan Wallace explains in Basics of New Testament Syntax that to distinguish between the Subject and Predicate Nominative, we need to see their semantic relationship. The usual relationship is that the predicate nominative describes the class of the subject. The subject (S) is a particular, known noun to a category of predicate nominative (PN). S is a subset of PN. Thus, "God is love" cannot be "Love is God". Love is a general broader quality. The Word was flesh cannot be reversed, because flesh is broader than the Word.

There are additional indicators to distinguish the subject. To specify the subject, it is distinguished with the article; it can be a pronoun or determiner (that, this, he), or a proper noun. So, in examples like this is the son, "this" is the subject, and it cannot be the son is this. The determiner this is very specific. And in he is Elijah cannot be reversed as Elijah is he. Pronouns and determiners take priority. Thus, in Rom 14:23 all that is not of faith is sin cannot be reversed, because sin is a broader quality, and all that, is a subset of sin. There are other things that are sins.

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