I Corinthians 8–10. On Meat Offered to Idols Or
What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do.
Key Notes: The non-existence of idols. The freedom of the believer. Israel's experience as a case-study. Three rules for doubtful practices.
In Chapters 1–4 Paul took up the problem of intellectual pride and division. In chapters 5–7 he taught on sexual sin: incest, prostitution, and problems in marriage. In this extended section of chapters 8–10, Paul deals with meat offered to idols. That is a non-problem—at least to us. Other issues such as intellectual pride, sexual mores, worship and church order give us immediate applications. In order to make this text practical, we will need to find some contemporary problem or problems to replace the issue of meat offered to idols.
Why would food offered to idols be a problem to them? It was considered an act of worship. The worshiper brought an animal in sacrifice and the animal was dedicated to a god. Part of the animal was burned on the altar; some of the animal was given to the priest as income for him; the rest of the animal was returned to the worshiper for a feast, or to be sold in the market-place. Israelite ritual was much the same.
Jewish law forbade Jews to eat food offered to idols. The Second Jerusalem Council laid this regulation on the Gentiles. (Acts15:29). However, OT Law does not expressly forbid eating meat offered to idols. Paul is not dogmatic. The idol is nothing. Food is morally neutral.
However, Paul is obviously concerned because he spends pages talking about it.
He discusses three scenarios:
eating in the temple of the idol 8:12
eating in the house of a pagan 10:27
buying meat in the market 10:25
What comparable issues might we be interested in? Think of those things that the Bible does not prohibit but that people think are wrong, Christians or non-Christians. The list of things we may think are wrong but not forbidden in Scripture differs with various cultures. We may use tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, pornography, social dancing, or gambling as examples in place of meat offered to idols.
ICor.8:1–13 In the first section, Paul argues that not every believer knows that the idol has no real existence: it is only an image made of wood, stone or metal. Therefore nothing offered to an idol is affected—made either sacred nor profane. But he says that the weak new convert from paganism, still partly enthralled by the idol, may be upset when he sees the more mature believer eating in the temple, which to him is an act of worship. He then may make the wrong inference: if he can do it, I can do it too. This might lead the weak believer back into idol worship, a spiritual disaster.
ICor.9:1–29; In the second section, Paul anticipates his readers’ thought: “I have a right to do as I please. Why should I be bound by some weakling’s conscience? ”
He argues for the strong believer’s rights using his financial needs as an example.
He is free.
He has rights.
He is qualified as a church leader.
He is an apostle.
He had a personal vision of Christ.
His proof-of-service is the Corinthian church.
Therefore he has a right to be provided with food and drink.
He has a right to have a wife with him in his journeys.
He has a right to personal income, although he and Barnabas did not take it.
He lists three supporting arguments for his right to the church’s financial support from OT and NT.
* You do not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain. Deut25:4
*The priest has the privilege to be fed from the altar. Deut.18:1
*Jesus commanded that those who proclaim the Gospel should get their living by the Gospel. Lk.10:7
But he would rather die than be denied the privilege of giving out the Gospel free of charge.
He has also deprived himself of a stable culture; he adopts the culture of whatever group he is trying to reach, if by any means he may save some. He also disciplines his body, so that he can win the prize and not be disqualified. He will give up anything for the sake of the pagans he is trying to reach.
ICor.9:28–10:13 He goes on to compare the Corinthian believers with Israel in her infancy coming into the Promised Land.
They too were qualified by baptism into Moses, the Cloud and the Sea.
They also had spiritual privileges; they ate supernatural bread and drank from Christ, the Rock in the desert.
But they were disqualified by their performance.
They were idolaters. Ex.32:7–1
They indulged in immorality. Num.25:1-
They tested the Lord. Num.21:5,6
They grumbled. Num.16:41; Ex.16:2
Their failure is for our instruction.
Temptation is common to all of us, but God will provide an escape.
10:14–11:1 In the third section, he returns to the theme of meat offered to idols. He warns the mature believer against worshiping idols, always a temptation. Behind the idol (which is nothing but wood, stone or metal) is demonic power. We cannot participate in the Lord’s supper and also sit at the table of demons.
In conclusion, the believer is free to eat whatever is offered, so long as it is not pointed out that the meat was previously offered in sacrifice. But if it is pointed out, then one must refrain for the sake of the other person. He tries in every way to please others so that he may win them.
May the believer knowingly eat meat offered to idols? Certainly not.
We should imitate Paul.
In this long section, three kinds of people brought to in mind:
The weak believer, wounded by the behavior of the strong.
The pagan, to be won by whatever means possible.
The strong believer, still vulnerable to demonic attack.
The rule of doubtful practices and secondary ethical issues:
- Think of the new Christian.
- Think of the nonbeliever.
- Think of yourself.