Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine The Two Kingdoms

No Common Realm

There is a sense in which nothing we usually consider to be in the category of adiaphora (food and drink, certainly; but what about politics? economics? that old and tasty red herring, “culture”?), after the resurrection of Christ, can be called “common” any longer. In the economy of God’s reconciling work in Christ, there is nothing that is not in principle subject to sanctified use in faith.

The Apostle teaches this in Romans 14:

13 Μηκέτι οὖν ἀλλήλους κρίνωμεν· ἀλλὰ τοῦτο κρίνατε μᾶλλον, τὸ μὴ τιθέναι πρόσκομμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ ἢ σκάνδαλον. 14 οἶδα καὶ πέπεισμαι ἐν κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ ὅτι οὐδὲν κοινὸν δι’ ἑαυτοῦ· εἰ μὴ τῷ λογιζομένῳ τι κοινὸν εἶναι, ἐκείνῳ κοινόν. 15 εἰ γὰρ διὰ βρῶμα ὁ ἀδελφός σου λυπεῖται, οὐκέτι κατὰ ἀγάπην περιπατεῖς. μὴ τῷ βρώματί σου ἐκεῖνον ἀπόλλυε ὑπὲρ οὗ Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν. 16 μὴ βλασφημείσθω οὖν ὑμῶν τὸ ἀγαθόν. 17 οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ βρῶσις καὶ πόσις, ἀλλὰ δικαιοσύνη καὶ εἰρήνη καὶ χαρὰ ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ· 18 ὁ γὰρ ἐν τούτῳ δουλεύων τῷ Χριστῷ εὐάρεστος τῷ θεῷ καὶ δόκιμος τοῖς ἀνθρώποις. 19 ἄρα οὖν τὰ τῆς εἰρήνης διώκωμεν καὶ τὰ τῆς οἰκοδομῆς τῆς εἰς ἀλλήλους. 20 μὴ ἕνεκεν βρώματος κατάλυε τὸ ἔργον τοῦ θεοῦ. πάντα μὲν καθαρά, ἀλλὰ κακὸν τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ τῷ διὰ προσκόμματος ἐσθίοντι.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is common in itself, but it is common for anyone who thinks it common. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.

I have given the ESV above, but have modified it to make this point clear. That is, I have translated κοινὸν as “common” where they have it as “unclean.” This difference should highlight one significant feature that sometimes attends the use of the word “common”: it can be a cultic term, setting off what is “sacred” from what is “profane” (and the latter, it should now be clear, is not a neutral term: it is not as though “sacred”=”good,” and “profane”=”indifferent”; in this binary, “profane”=”bad”).

Paul claims in this passage that there is now “nothing…common in itself” (οὐδὲν κοινὸν δι’ ἑαυτοῦ); “everything is indeed clean” (πάντα…καθαρά). There is not an intrinsic quality to certain foodstuffs (or activities) that makes them “common.” They are all, as noted above, subject to sanctified use in faith–to saintly appropriation for the glory of God. None of these things are the kingdom of God, “[f]or the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking.” But they are available for the use of the citizens of that kingdom in their pilgrimage.

The standard for what is “common” or “unclean” is no longer external, as though it is identifiable with certain kinds of “indifferent” actions. It is internal, in the conscience, in the strength of one’s faith, “[f]or whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Correspondingly, one’s decision as to whether to use some particular thing is subject to consideration and love for one’s brothers.

There is a sense, then–to return whither we began–in which a putative distinction between “cult” and “culture” breaks down and is no longer tenable after the victory of Jesus Christ, the firstfruits of the new creation, in which originary creation order is reasserted, reclaimed, and even surpassed in the evangelical freedom of those who have been and are still being themselves sanctified by faith in their Victor and King. “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” belongs to an era that has passed away, swallowed up in the victory of God’s Son.

But the liberty of the children of God is not license, and it must not be selfish and self-serving. It demands rather a much greater regard for others than that to which man is accustomed. It claims each child as a new kind of peripatetic (περιπατεῖς): those who walk in love, the greatest of Paul’s triad in 1 Corinthians.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

4 replies on “No Common Realm”

You have a typo here: “Whoever thus serves Christ isacceptable to God and approved by men.”

Great article! It’s interesting isn’t it? Fad dieting or otherwise, such as the Paleo diet, has us calling certain foods “bad,” intrinsically so in fact. It was a reminder from scripture to not call bad what God has called good, that drew me away from this type of change to my thinking/eating habits. Or in politics, Anarchists eschew all forms of external governance by another. They say the “state” is evil. As a Christian who leans libertarian, I had to deal with the idea that “libertarianism when consistent becomes anarchism.” It’s not true, nor necessary. I am a Christian first and maybe a libertarian. I reject the theory of anarchism, as it is inconsistent with my faith.

Can we really substitute politics, economics, and culture in for food and drink? Since the former can deal with issues containing moral implications while the latter does not, it seems that the inclusion of politics, economics, and culture is not something we can insert into Romans 14.

As for the comment made by Michaelsei, there needs to be a distinction between anarchism on the left and conservative libertarianism.

Dear Curt,

I was admittedly being a little playful by including those. But I’m not sure I understand your question/comment. The passage makes clear that eating and drinking do have moral implications–situationally, though not intrinsically. Are you saying that politics (e.g.) is inherently “unclean”? Or, in contrast, that participation is demanded rather than indifferent?


The real moral implications of eating and drinking are individual and subjective. The moral implications of some political decisions are universal and objective. This is why I stated that Romans 14 does not really apply to the moral implications of some political decisions.

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