|Vol. 13 No. 10 October 2011||
Does the Apostle Paul Contradict
the Apostle John about
Eating Meats Offered to Idols?
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Does the apostle Paul in Romans 14:14-23, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and 10:19-29 contradict the apostle John (and Jesus Christ for whom he wrote) in Revelation 2:14 and 20 about eating meats offered to idols? The question also could easily be expanded to ponder whether the apostle Paul contradicted the apostolic band and the Jerusalem elders who orally and in writing prohibited Gentile Christians from eating “meats offered to idols.”
Acts 15:19-20 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
Acts 15:29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
Acts 21:25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.
Upon closer examination, though, it is clear that the apostle Paul neither contradicted the other apostles and elders in Jerusalem nor Jesus Christ who spoke to the seven churches of Asia through the pen of the apostle John. Rather, the apostle Paul gave reasons for the prohibition otherwise announced, and he addressed the purchase of food in the market as well as attending a meal in the home of a non-Christian; Paul provides details that were not addressed by the references in Acts and in Revelation.
To lay the ground work for advising Christians what they should do respecting either the purchase of food at the market or eating food served in the home of a non-Christian, the apostle first spells out the circumstances about idols that knowledgeable Christians know – namely, idols are not divine, and they are not what their worshippers attribute to them. “…As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:3). The knowledgeable Christian knows this and is confident in his knowledge, but because some Christians are less knowledgeable or must resist temptations to resume the worship of idols, the knowledgeable Christian may have to alter his habits respecting what he buys in the market or what he may eat in the home of a host. “Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled” (1 Corinthians 8:7).
The knowledgeable Christian might even suppose that he could eat meat offered to idols in the very temples of idols, since he knows the difference. However, this course would certainly offend weaker Christians and must not be done. “For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:10-12). Paul does not here endorse knowledgeable Christians eating meat offered to idols, but gives reasons why it would be sinful to do so. In 1 Corinthians 10:19-21, the apostle Paul further condemns even knowledgeable Christians eating meats offered to idols because it is equivalent to (at least attempting or appearing to) having fellowship with devils.
In 1 Corinthians 10:25, Paul addressed buying meat in the market place. “Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake.” In 1 Corinthians 10:27, Paul brings up the circumstance of eating meat in the home of a non-Christian host. “If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.” In both instances, as long as there is no more information discernible regarding the history of the food, the apostle says to eat it. The quality of the food has not been changed merely because it may have been offered to idols. “Paul’s advice here contrasts with the Jewish practice of asking carefully whether food was kosher (ritually pure) or not” (UBS).
The matter, though, changes once awareness that food before one was offered to idols. “But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?” (1 Corinthians 10:28-29). The meat still retains the same quality though now it is known that it had been offered to idols, but now for the sake of a brother with a weaker mental attitude toward food offered to idols, the knowledgeable and charitable Christian ought not to eat that meal. The apostle Paul also addressed this topic in Romans 14:14-23; notice the first two verses of that context: “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.”
Firstly, the apostle Paul did not contradict the other apostles, the elders in Jerusalem or our Lord, but he gave additional information and details. He gave an explanation as to why it was sinful for even the knowledgeable Christian to eat meat offered to idols in idolatrous temples (or in private settings if it were announced that the food had been offered to idols). Secondly, the apostle went further than the previously recorded instruction about not eating meats offered to idols to discuss buying meat in the public meat market, and thirdly, eating food in the home of a non-Christian.
The commentator Adam Clarke concisely summarizes the situation surrounding 1 Corinthians 10:25 – buying food at the local meat market. The same mental attitude respecting the meat market extended to meals in someone’s home – unless it was announced that the food had been offered to idols.
The case to which the apostle refers is simply this; it was customary to bring the flesh of the animal to market, the blood of which had been poured out in sacrifice to an idol; or, taken more particularly, the case was this; one part of the sacrifice was consumed on the altar of the idol: a second part was dressed and eaten by the sacrificer; and a third belonged to the priest, and was often sold in the shambles. To partake of the second share, or to feast upon the sacrifice, Paul absolutely forbids, because this was one part of the religious worship which was paid to the idol; it was sitting down as guest at his table, in token that they were in fellowship with him. … But as to the third share, the apostle leaves them at liberty either to eat of it or forbear; except that, by eating, their weak brethren should be offended; in that case, though the thing was lawful, it was their duty to abstain.
Albert Barnes adds: “the apostle tells them that if the meat was offered indiscriminately in the market with other meat, they were not to hesitate to purchase it, or eat it.” “He [Paul] taught indifference only in cases where idolatry could not be directly involved in the question” (Farrar).
Especially treating 1 Corinthians 10:28, Clarke further observed: “…the apostle still takes it for granted that even the flesh offered in sacrifice to an idol might be eaten innocently at any private table, as in that case they were no longer in danger of being partakers with devils, as this was no idol festival,” that is until a weaker Christian also in attendance at the private meal noted that the food had been offered to an idol. Barnes further noticed that “[i]t is evidently implied here that it would be not improper to go” to a non-Christian’s home as an invited dinner guest. An excellent observation appears in another commentary respecting this context. “A knowledgeable Christian did not need to alter his convictions to accord with the conscience of a weaker brother (1 Cor. 10:29 b), but he did need to alter his behavior when in the weaker brother’s presence. Otherwise the weak brother might act against his conscience and harm himself…” (Bible Knowledge).
Does the apostle Paul in Romans 14:14-23, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and 10:19-29 contradict the apostle John (and Jesus Christ for whom he wrote) in Revelation 2:14 and 20 about eating meats offered to idols? No. In the respective contexts, Paul concurs with the other apostles, elders at Jerusalem and Jesus Christ – only providing an explanation as to why Christians must not eat meat known to have been offered to idols. However, to protect the Christian conscience on the subject of meats offered to idols, concerning things about which he may not have perfect knowledge, the apostle provided details and instructions that were not previously included in prior inspired proclamations about eating meats offered to idols.
Adam Clarke’s Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
Barnes’ Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. CD-ROM. Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 2000.
Farrar, F.W. qtd in “1 Corinthians 10:27.” James Burton Coffman Bible Study Library. CD-ROM. Abilene: ACU Press, 1989.
UBS New Testament Handbook Series. CD-ROM. New York: United Bible Societies, 1997.