Who Are the "Weak in Faith?" (Part 5)

(Read the series.)

The Meaning of “Weak In Faith”

We have been examining the “weak” of Romans 14:1, finding him to be more honorable and biblical  than his description, “weak in faith,” would suggest. Here, we will turn to the term “weak in faith” and see a way of interpreting it that fits better with everything else we read about this brother.

We have seen that when brothers differ over an issue, one is sometimes called “weak” and the other “strong.” That’s true when the issue is relatively unimportant (food—the kingdom isn’t meat or drink; food does not commend us to God). In the case of food, it becomes important when someone attaches idolatry to it in their thinking. And it’s true when biblical principles more closely apply (Sabbath days—are they of perpetual obligation?). It’s even true when the “right side” of the issue is obviously the side of the “weak.” Regarding knowledge, while the “strong” claims knowledge, the “weak” sometimes have superior knowledge (1 Corinthians 10:1). Sometimes the strong have equal claim to knowledge (Romans 14:14a).

Paul weighed in on the issue of temple-idol-meat. He called out one side as right and one side as wrong. We don’t have the benefit of an Apostle who comes into our arguments and solves our debates on these clear issues. But we do have the benefit of observing the way he chose to intervene. What is significant about his method is that he did not say, “This is an obvious case, so it isn’t a weak/strong issue.” Nor did he say, “This is an obvious case of Scripture application. In this case, the weak, immature, unbiblical brother is the one who fails to apply Scripture and feels he can eat.” Therefore, maturity of faith and excellence of application of the Word are not correlated with “strength.” Nor are immaturity and poor application correlated with “weakness.”

What consistently differentiates the weak and strong? Strictness. Knowledge and biblical correctness can go either way, but the weak is always the one who can’t do something. Whether it is temple-idol-meat and he is right to be weak, or if it’s market-idol-meat and both sides are right, according to their own convictions, the “weak” is always the one with inabilities.

“Strength” and “ability” (and “weakness” and “inability”) are always closely related. The former is a general attribute, while the later is always in reference to some particular threshold. In English we would say, “He is strong” or “He is able to lift 300 lbs.” We would hardly ever say “He is strong to lift 300 lbs.” But in Greek, the same word would is used whether the 300 lbs. was mentioned or not: “He is δυνατός” or “He is δυνατός to lift 300 lbs.” The KJV translates δυνατός as “able” far more often than “strong.” There isn’t a way of expressing ability in Greek except to use some form of “strong.”

The ambiguity between strength and ability causes us to ask if there is similar ambiguity between weakness and inability. In Romans 15:1, the “weak” brother is called ἀδυνάτων, which is the negation of δυνάτων, strength.

Friberg’s lexicon says:

ἀσθενέω… be weak, be powerless; 1-literally, of bodily ailment be sick, be ill, be diseased … figuratively, of incapability of any kind be weak, be incapable (2Cor. 12:10)

ἀσθένημα… weakness, incapability; figuratively as the result of a conscience being bound to legalistic requirements (Rom 15:1)1

In English we say, “He is weak” or “He cannot lift 30 lbs.” We also use “cannot” for moral inability. If you suggest to your neighbor that you might kill your cat, he might say, “No! You can’t do that!”2 He doesn’t mean it would be impossible for you. He means that you should not do it. You are morally unable. To get closer to Paul’s words, you can’t in good faith kill your cat. This inability would not indicate a lack of faith. In fact, your faith that right and wrong exist and that killing your cat is wrong render you unable. Thus, you are unable in faith.

The idea of weakness, and especially ἀσθενέω, doesn’t show up a lot in the New Testament. When it does, it is generally physical and sometimes financial inability. Here are some uses of “weakness”/ ”inability” that are pertinent to this discussion:

1. Mark Reasoner gives an example of the Latin word infirmior in Roman literature. One of the characters in Horace’s Satire 1.93 refuses to speak of a matter on the Sabbath out of respect for the Jews. He calls himself a “somewhat weaker brother.” The term is used by the character to describe himself and “thus is not primarily a term of derision or scorn”4. He was talking about his refusal to break the Sabbath, even though the character himself was not a Jew. His “weakness” cannot be located in his faith, since he himself didn’t share that faith with his Jewish friends. His weakness is located in his refusal to do what would bother his friend. He must be referring to his inability to do a certain thing on the Sabbath5.

2. The philosopher Philodemus in On Frank Criticism, mentions that some students are resistant to criticism. The teacher must be more frank or harsh with them. These students, who continued do things they shouldn’t were called “strong” while the students who listen and submit to the wisdom of their teacher were called “weak.” Philodemus uses a different word for “weak” (ἁπαλόί, not ἀσθενέω) so his writing is of limited value to us. Still, a philosopher whose writings were available to Paul thought of “weakness” in moral areas not as moral ineptitude, but as indicating teachability and appropriate acceptance of scruples6.

3. In Romans 8:3 we see that The Law was unable “ἀδύνατον” to save in that it was “ἀσθενέω” through the flesh. The Law was unable to bring salvation, and Paul uses both “not-strong” and “weak” to describe that in parallel phrases. The Law through the flesh wasn’t “weak” to save—as though it would be moderately good at saving, but often would fail; it was unable to save.

4. In 2 Corinthians 13:4, we see that Jesus was crucified “in weakness.” What attribute of Jesus that led to the crucifixion is Paul talking about here? Jesus was not without faith or knowledge. Nor was he, in a sense, unable to stop it7. But in another sense, He could not stop and be obedient to the Father. This voluntary, inability is the heart of obedience to any conviction.

In 1 Corinthians 8, the brother has a conscience that is “weak.” This phrase means that his conscience is unable to eat idol-meat in the temple. This fits well with Paul’s clear argument in favor of the conviction of the weak.

In Romans 14, the brother is unable “in faith.“ The word “in” is added to make “in faith” because the Greek part of speech makes more sense in English when a preposition is added. But is “in” the right preposition? “The faith” is a noun in the dative case. Most take it as a dative of sphere8, which shows the area or item on which an action has taken place. Where is the man weak? In his faith. Also common is the dative of means9. This shows the means or instrument by which something was accomplished. How did he become weak? By his faith.

Let’s look at “faith” as a dative elsewhere. Romans 4:19-20 (NIV): “Without weakening in his faith …he…was strengthened in his faith.” We can also read these as datives of means. He was strengthened by means of faith. Specifically, he was strengthened to conceive a child by means of his faith. William Sanday discusses the dative with regard to Abraham having been strengthened in faith in Romans 4 (emphasis mine):

ἐνεδυναμώθη τῇ πίστει.  τῇ πίστει is here usually taken as dative of respect [Sphere], ‘he was strengthened in his faith.’ i.e., ‘his faith was strengthened or confirmed.’ In favor of this would be μὴ ἀσθενήσας τῇ πίστει above; and the surrounding terms (διεκρίθη, πληροφορηθεὶς) might seem to point to a mental process. But it is tempting to make τῇ πίστει instrumental or causal [Means] like τῇ ἀπιστίᾳ to which it stands in immediate antithesis: ἐνεδυναμώθη τῇ πίστει would then = ‘he was endowed with power by means of his faith.’ … And we can hardly doubt that the passage was taken in this way by the author of Heb., who appears to have had it directly in mind: comp. Heb 11:11,12 Πίστει καὶ αὐτὴ Σάῤῥα δύναμιν εἰς καταβολὴν 10

This would make “strengthened in faith” in Romans 4 about Abraham’s faith and fertility similar to what was said about Sarah in Hebrews 11:11-12. There the dative “faith” clearly must be read as a dative of means. Where did Sarah strengthen? In her fertility. How did this happen? By means of faith.

Taken this way in Romans 14, “unable by faith” means “unable [to eat meat] by [means of] faith.” The faith was the instrument that caused the inability to eat meat.

The brother in Romans 14 was either weak/unable in his faith or by his faith. “Unable by faith” fits perfectly with all that we’ve seen about the convictions of the unable brother coming from his application of Bible principles and the Lordship of Christ. And it changes what we think about the “weak.” His character, the origin of his weakness, the way he is to act, whether he should be encouraged to change, and the way he should be treated all change11. If this brother is unable by means of his faith, then his faith may be (must be!) very robust. After all, it was robust enough to stop him from doing what he otherwise would do.

Understood in this way, the “unable” brother has thought a lot about his convictions. His inabilities shouldn’t be viewed as making him inferior or immature. Being “unable by faith” is not better or worse—nor more or less knowledgable—nor more or less logical—nor more or less faithful to God.

What I’ve said in this paper is not proof that we should interpret “weak in faith” as “unable by faith” (and “conscience is weak” as “conscience is unable”). By itself, many readers will find this translation unfamiliar and improbable. But they should see that it is possible. And we already have seen that all of Paul’s writings about ethics depict a “weak” brother who is noble, logical, and biblical, and presumably right in his convictions. The translation of “ἀσθενοῦντα τῇ πίστει” that is most consistent with such a brother is “unable by faith.”

Notes

1 Friberg, Timothy, et. al., Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Trafford Publishing, USA, 2005, p. 78.

2 Gerhard Kittel, Ed., TDNT, Vol. 1, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2006, p. 490. This Greek word is often used in LXX for the Hebrew “kashal,” which means, “to stumble,” or “to fall,” or “to tremble in fear of falling.” The “weak” is so because he observes an action that would be sinful and would cause him to fall. This might be the origin of how ἀσθενέω came to be applied to this group. They are prone to falling. They will sin and fall if they eat. That means their title of “weak” refers to what they can’t do, rather than why they can’t do it. This seems to explain the parallelism of 2 Corinthians 11:29, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?”

3 http://community.middlebury.edu/~harris/Texts/HoraceOdes.html (written in Latin perhaps 80 years prior to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans)

4 Cranfield, C.E.B., Epistle to the Romans, Vol. II, from The International Critical Commentary, T&T Clark International, New York, 1979, p. 700. Contra Cranfield, p. 700: “That the use of the term ‘weak’ … originated with those who disagreed with the persons so described is virtually certain. The weak will hardly have referred to themselves as ‘the weak (in faith)’.” The usage of “weak” as a self-appellation by Horace argues against Cranfield’s assertion.

5 Reasoner, Mark, The Weak and the Strong, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 54.

6 Konstan, David, translator, Philodemus, On Frank Criticism, Scholars Press, Atlanta, 2007, p. 11-12.

7 Matthew 26:53

8 Sometimes called Dative of Place, Locative Dative, or Locative.

9 Also called Dative of Instrument or Instrumental Dative. Though here only these two are considered, there are other Dative uses. For instance, this could be a dative of advantage. That would render the phrase, “unable in honor of the faith.” This seems unlikely as it wouldn’t fit with other passages involving dative cases of “faith,” (e.g., Romans 4, Hebrews 11). Dative of Cause would render almost the same meaning as Dative of Means.

10 Sanday, William and Headlam, Arthur, Ed., The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, The Epistle to the Romans, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1905, p. 115.

11 The full ramifications of taking “in faith” as a Dative of Means (“Unable By Faith”) are beyond the scope of these papers.

Dan Miller Bio


Dan Miller is an ophthalmologist in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He is a husband, father, and part-time student.

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There are 14 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

Almost sounds like an ancient Greek equivalent of "I just couldn't bring myself to do it."  Is that halfway close?

Looking forward to a discussion of the Greek if there is one.  Having learned my Greek the honest way--as constants and variables for engineering and physics equations of course--I am at something of a disadvantage except I can "sound it out", sort of.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

"I just couldn't bring myself to do it." - another example in English of the use of can't, couldn't, unable, for moral scruples.

My brother in law works at Bibles International. In discussing these papers with him, he suggested I ask one of the Greek consultants there at BI. He told me, "I have never been very happy with the lists of designations for the various cases. I consider them quite artificial and unnecessary. The general purpose of the dative case seems to be to tie a noun in a secondary relationship to a verb, or in a modifying relationship to an adjective. The semantic meaning is determined by the content of the nouns and verbs in question, so that the "meaning" of the case has little to do with the meaning of the phrase."

Don Johnson's picture

Hi Dan, your whole series is very interesting and helpful. I think Paul's attitude towards the 'weak' in Romans 14 is very much as you portray it here in this last piece, although I can't confirm the grammatical argument myself. I am strong enough in Greek to understand what you are saying, but not strong enough to give a definitive answer! I am wrestling with a dative in 15.18 right now, and finding myself in disagreement with virtually every commentator! (That probably means I'm wrong.) Anyway, the comment of your BI friend is interesting.

Anyway, I appreciate your work on this and will see if I can find some time to work through a bit more on my own.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dan Miller's picture

Don,

Thanks. I've put a lot of work into this passage over the last 25 years. I am hoping for two things in this series:

1. In the case that I'm wrong or partially wrong, I want confrontation and correction.

2. In the case that I'm right here, or better to say that the word has spoken clearly to us here, I want us to hear it further and spread it. 

 

This is the time for #1. Part 4 sought to address sections of these passages that seem inconsistent with the understanding I've explained. Did I miss some? I expected more discussion on that paper. I expected that readers would say, "What about X?" and bring up sections that I didn't address. Does no one here disagree with this? The paragraph with references 10-16 in Part 1 should indicate how unusual my interpretation is. 

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Quote:
I am wrestling with a dative in 15.18 right now, and finding myself in disagreement with virtually every commentator!
Romans? 15:18 "For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed,"

I read this: "Christ has accomplished... by word(dative) and deed(dative)" - datives of means, describe the means of instrument by which Christ accomplished things. I'll check some commentaries...

Don Johnson's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

This is the time for #1. Part 4 sought to address sections of these passages that seem inconsistent with the understanding I've explained. Did I miss some? I expected more discussion on that paper. I expected that readers would say, "What about X?" and bring up sections that I didn't address. Does no one here disagree with this? The paragraph with references 10-16 in Part 1 should indicate how unusual my interpretation is. 

I'll work on this some, I've got a very demanding schedule and have to budget time. I might be able to work on it tonight, or tomorrow night. Anyway, if there are challenges from me on these points, I'll let you know.

On the Rm 15.18, the question is, "by word and deed", does that go with Christ's accomplishment through Paul (99.9% of everybody says yes) or does that go with the Gentiles obedience? In the corner of the latter is perhaps me, and perhaps the NASB. The KJV and ESV appear to go with the vast majority, check the differences in punctuation. It also doesn't help that the verse division occurs where it does between v. 18/19. There are two prepositional phrases that follow in v. 19 that go with Christ's accomplishment. Anyway, as I use the NASB, I was a little shocked to see the commentaries lining up unanimously against me. I am slowly coming around to their point of view for various reasons, but it has been a struggle!

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dan Miller's picture

Don Johnson wrote:
...On the Rm 15.18, the question is, "by word and deed", does that go with Christ's accomplishment through Paul (99.9% of everybody says yes) or does that go with the Gentiles obedience? ...
What's the difference? Christ's work through Paul was the bringing about of the faith and obedience of the gentiles. (que an argument about God's sovereignty and Man's choices)

Don Johnson's picture

The issue in interpretation is: does "by word and deed" refer to what Paul did to bring the Gentiles to obedience (dative of instrumentality), or does it refer to the sphere in which the Gentile's obedience is exhibited? Almost all commentators go with the former, which was jarring to me, reading the NASB which seems to imply the latter.

Anyway... I will get back on topic next. Will definitely take time tonight to work my way through your entire article again.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dan Miller's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

The issue in interpretation is: does "by word and deed" refer to what Paul did to bring the Gentiles to obedience (dative of instrumentality), or does it refer to the sphere in which the Gentile's obedience is exhibited? Almost all commentators go with the former, which was jarring to me, reading the NASB which seems to imply the latter.

...

A dative noun usually attaches to a verb, functioning as an indirect object of the verb. "Obedience" in v. 18 is a noun, so my initial response was to say, "No - the datives "word and deed" can't be attached to it; you need to look back to 'has accomplished' for the verb to which they attach."

However, I did find This long discussion of the Dative, including, near the end, "b. Datives After Certain Nouns." He lists some nouns that can take a datives. "Obedience" isn't on the list, and I find no other cases of "obedience" with a dative adjective. 

-------

And on topic, in the same article, he says, 

Then an example of an embedded kernel with a dative can be τῇ πίστει ("in or by faith") together with just about any action word (verb or noun). Adding this one dative noun to a phrase "packs" in a whole book of theological connotations. It means the action is done through a full reliance on the power and teachings of Jesus Christ our God, with a trust that raises hope leading to endurance through difficult situations, while holding confidence in His concern, care and love towards us, and believing in His wisdom and ability to accomplish all that is needed.

 

 

Dan Miller's picture

"Weak in faith" - "Whether or not your conscience can muster enough confidence to allow you do this activity without self-condemnation. See v. 2 'One has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables.' Also v. 22 (talking mainly to those in the free group) 'Do you have faith? Keep it to yourself before God.' Are we supposed to keep our saving faith to ourselves? Absolutely not. So, to be 'weak in faith' is to have a conscience that cannot muster enough confidence to allow you to do a particular thing without self-condemnation."

http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=31914133480

J.D. Crowley is a missionary with a huge heart for how these conscience passages call us to cultures different from our own. His Romans Commentary is here: http://www.amazon.com/Commentary-Romans-Cambodia-ASEAN-Bible-ebook/dp/B0...

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He takes a slightly different view of "weak in faith," but functionally, they are close to interchangeable. 

Both of us take "weak in faith" to mean inability to do something. But I would say he reads "in faith" as a dative of sphere. But he limits "faith" in a way that many commentators do not.

For him, "faith" is confidence to do something without guilt. So it's relatively unrelated to "the faith" in the sense of belief in Christ and belief in what God has said. So, dative of sphere, because his inability ('weakness') is in the sphere of confidence. He is unable in his confidence to something.

For me, "in faith" is about "the faith" - in the sense of what God has said. God says through John, "Little children, keep your heart from idols" (1J5:21). If that sort of message from God causes some people to apply it to market-idol-meat. They abstain. And their inability comes by means of their faith (dative of means).

Really, both fit with the overall picture of the weak as being on equal moral ground with the strong. And I have to admit that J.D.'s view fits really well with the way "belief" is the action of the strong. In Rom 14:2, and 22 the strong is the one "believing," or as J.D. puts it, "having confidence" to act. 

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So, it could be that J.D.'s view of "weak in faith" is right and mine is wrong. Could be. What cannot be is that "weak in faith" means that the man's faith is immature or that he falters in his saving faith. Because those types of faith are not ones that we should "keep to ourselves."

Don Johnson's picture

I agree with that last paragraph. 

Would like to give you a more in depth reply, and hope to get there eventually, but other duties press. I have some done, but wasn't to work my way through it carefully and send something fairly concise once I am done completely. 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dan Miller's picture

I received a PM yesterday, which was quite long (2700+ words). It has a lot of critique of these first 5 papers. I'm going to post parts of it in the corresponding threads along with responses. 

 

Emphasis Issues

Much of the criticism relates, I think, to my emphasis. In these first 5 papers, I have been seeking to explain the weak brother. I believe Paul describes him as much more Biblical, logical, and mature than most consider him to be. Because my emphasis was on explaining and bolstering the weak brother, I might have under emphasized the ways in which the strong brother also is Biblical, logical, and mature.

 

Genuine Differences

But some of his criticism is due to genuine differences in how we understand the Scripture. I hope these can be resolved by looking to Scripture and letting it speak.

 

Exegesis vs. Eisegesis

Andrew: What we certainly should not do is to take our transport our theological conclusions directly into other texts, then define terms and base our conclusions from our assumptions. That’s eisegesis. Even if all of our theological assumptions are correct, we should not use them as the starting point for interpreting passages. Interpretation should always begin with exegesis. Defining the terms within their context and then coming to theological conclusions that are based on that passage. It is only after we complete our work within the context of each passage and each book do we look at the broader context of Scripture. At that point we use clearer passages to explain more complex passages. And then we check our conclusions to see if they agree with the rest of Scripture.

In general, I agree with what he says here. And I believe that once one compares Scripture with Scripture, my view will bear out. I do not believe I’m reading into the Text, but letting the Text speak.

Andrew believes that I have taken a erroneous view of "weak" and read that into the Text. I don't think so. I believe that the Text forces us to see the weak brother in a manner inconsistent with the ignorant-unfaithful-immature view which is common.

Dan Miller's picture

Andrew: Furthermore, you say,

The Jerusalem Council, while not requiring circumcision, dictated that εἰδωλόθυτα (idol-meat eaten in the temple) should be avoided. Jesus repeated the prohibition of εἰδωλόθυτα in His letters to the churches. This further reinforces the idea that the position of the “strong” in 1 Corinthians 8-10 is a very dangerous position.

My question would be, why did they prohibit the eating of meat in the temple? I think most people link the prohibition to Paul’s explanation in I Corinthians 8:10-13,

For if somebody sees you, the one who has this knowledge, dining in an idol's temple, won't his weak conscience be encouraged to eat food offered to idols?  11 Then the weak person, the brother for whom Christ died, is ruined by your knowledge.  12 Now when you sin like this against the brothers and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ.  13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won't cause my brother to fall.

The usual argument is that they prohibited the new gentile followers from eating meat sacrificed to idols because it would cause a Jewish brother to fall, which would be a sin against Christ. On the other hand, if we take your interpretation, the “strong” position would not be simply a “very dangerous position,” it would be outright sin! Iif your interpretation is correct then eating the meat would be a clear violation of the Jerusalem Council’s ruling. Now is the time to apply the analogy of Scripture and say that that conclusion would not be correct.

I think that the answer to "very dangerous" vs "outright sin" will have to wait for future papers. But I think you're basically on the right track here.

Andrew: You also employ the logical argument that since Paul is being a peace-maker, it wouldn’t be very effective for him to call one side “weak” and the other side “strong” if he’s trying to help them get along with each other. {In other words, why would Paul say that one group is wrong and the other is right, then say, “but you two need to get along with each other anyway :)” If Paul is really saying that the strong are right why doesn’t Paul just tell them to eat the meat like God told Peter in his vision?}
I think the best answer is given in Romans 14:14 as you labored to indicate. The people consider the meat to be unclean, so it would violate their conscience for them to eat it. And Paul doesn’t want them to violate their conscience. But what about Peter? Well, for one thing, I’d say that if God spoke directly in 3 sequential visions, it would probably be convincing. That is to say, you’d no longer consider the meat to be unclean if God revealed it to you directly, not once, not twice, but three times. Also, I would say that it was important for Peter and Paul to be an example to others in this area, so it was important for Peter and Paul to be convinced. I also agree with you that the 2 situations are not entirely equivalent because in Peter’s case God was speaking about the cleanliness of animals in general, while Paul is dealing with meat sacrificed to idols (not just pork).
Of course, those who are weak would never call themselves weak. We can agree on that. Which is why Paul labors the teaching that the strong must not be prideful, judgmental, or cause others to stumble. If your interpretation is correct (that both groups can be correct) why wouldn’t Paul equally tell the weak to accept the eaters and to avoid causing the eaters to stumble?
On the other hand, I think we can also agree that immature Christians do actually exist whether this passage refers to them or not, yes? Does that mean we should not seek to strengthen them? Should we not seek to disciple them in spite of their lack of self-identification as weak? I think your conclusion does not follow your reasoning.

Let me point out one thing first. Look at the bold-underline sentence: "Of course, those who are weak would never call themselves weak. We can agree on that." NO - we do not agree on that. I believe that these passages force us to read "weak" in a completely non-pejorative way. I illustrate this with normal expressions of moral inability:

Dan (Part 5, above) If you suggest to your neighbor that you might kill your cat, he might say, “No! You can’t do that!”2 He doesn’t mean it would be impossible for you. He means that you should not do it. You are morally unable. To get closer to Paul’s words, you can’t in good faith kill your cat.

The primary way to express ability in Greek is δυνατός and inabilty is either ἀδύνατος or ἀσθενέω. My thesis is: when the meat-abstaining brother read Romans and saw that Paul calls him "weak," he was totally fine with the term. All he reads is "unable [to eat meat, in this case]." He knows he's the guy who can't eat. Is it bad to be a guy who can't do something? Yeah, but not if you think it's sin.

Just as you might say, "I can't kill my cat, because it would be wrong," Paul would say, "You're weak to kill your cat, because you reason that it's unclean."*

 

* assuming you'd feel guilty about killing your cat.

apward's picture

In saying, "Of course, those who are weak would never call themselves weak. We can agree on that." I was referring to your argument that Paul doesn't mean to call them immature because that wouldn't be conducive to a peacemaking situation. In your response, you assumed the position that "weak" does not mean "immature," but means "unable by his faith." I know that's your position, but I was addressing one specific argument against the possibility of "weak" as "immature."

My point is that those who are actually immature do not self-identify as immature, yet we still have an obligation (Rom. 15:1-2) to disciple them, bear their weaknesses, and build them up. Paul clearly tells the strong to accept the weak, not to look down on them, not to criticize them, but to bear their weaknesses in order to build them up.

Dan Miller's picture

My point is that those who are actually immature do not self-identify as immature, yet we still have an obligation (Rom. 15:1-2) to disciple them, bear their weaknesses, and build them up.

Yes. I agree with some of what you are saying. Blaise Pascal makes this point hilariously. I don't have the quote in front of me, but it's basically, "A short person readily acknowledges his shortness and asks a taller person to get something off the high shelf. But an unintelligent person never does. He denies his deficit and insists on using his own thoughts."

Looking at the text, however, I see Paul addressing "the weak" and giving them commands. Clearly Paul expected them to self-identity as "weak" or at least Paul expected them to accept Paul's "weak" title for them. 

We have both said that immature people do not self-identity as immature. 

And Paul did expect the weak to self-identity as "weak."

Therefore, it would seem that Paul did not think "weak" would be read as "immature." 

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