- If eating meat sacrificed to idols is okay as long as your “weaker brother” is not around as described in 1st Corinthians 8, then why is this practice later described as being hated by Jesus as the “doctrine of Balaam” in Revelation 2:14? Why does Rev 2:20 condemn it when Paul says it’s okay if nobody knows about it?
Let’s look at each reference you mentioned.
“Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Paul wrote about idolatry earlier to the Corinthians and made it clear that when he said they should not keep company with idolaters he was talking about fellow believers. He also explained why.
“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?” 1 Corinthians 5:9-12
Paul also told the Corinthians that they should not take legal action against each other because they would be placing themselves into the judgment of idolaters.
“Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:7-11
It’s important to see Paul’s position on idolatry prior to what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 8. He does not approve of it. It’s not something a Christian should do. So, when he explains about “things offered to idols,” we know where he stands. Paul was not an idol worshipper, did not approve of Christians being idol worshippers or taking each other to court where they would be judged by idol worshippers. He also made it abundantly clear that idolaters would “not” inherit the Kingdom of God.
Paul said that the issue of idol worship had to do with “knowledge” attached. The fact is, Paul says, that an idol is nothing in the world. It’s just a carving, a stone, a piece of wood. There is only one God. However, there are some people who lack that knowledge. If they have knowledge that the food you’re eating was sacrificed to an idol and they see you eating it, even though you do not know that the food was sacrificed to an idol, they may think that eating food sacrificed to an idol is acceptable. When you have that knowledge concerning the food, your best choice is not to eat it – not because you are an idolater but because eating the food may cause your brother to stumble spiritually. What do you “know” and what does your brother “know” about the meat you are eating? That is the concern here, not that it’s okay for a Christian to worship idols.
Another issue is that “knowledge” often “puffs up,” while true “love edifies.” The difference is in puffing up and building up (edification). We may “know” that something is not wrong in and of itself, but loving others will cause us to not do what is not wrong for us so that we may build others up in the Christian faith.
God wants us to be concerned about edifying (oikodomei) others through love and be cautious about being puffed up (phusioi – blow up, inflate). Christians should ask themselves what’s the best thing they can do for others. In the case of eating meat offered to idols, the best thing was to do what was best for the weaker brother. “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” That is a true act of love with the result of edification.
Now to your question about what Jesus told John to write to the churches in Revelation. Let’s look at your references first.
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: ‘I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.’ ‘And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: ‘I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last aremore than the first. Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” Revelation 2:12-23
You referenced verses 14 and 20. Verse 14 is part of the letter to the church in Pergamos. Verse 20 is part of the letter to the church in Thyatira. Let’s see what each means in the context of what Jesus was saying to each church.
Pergamos (or Pergamum) was a wealthy city in Asia Minor overlooking the Caicus Valley more than a hundred miles north of Ephesus. The first temple dedicated to a Roman emperor was built in Pergamos in 29 BC. In addition to emperor worship, the people of Pergamos also worshiped the gods Zeus, Isis, Serapis, Asklepios, Persephone and Demeter. The location of “Satan’s throne,” as Jesus called it, may have been the large altar area in the Upper Acropolis.
Jesus also mentioned the “doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” Some in the church also held “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans,” which things Jesus said He hated. The Nicolaitans was a heretical group of people in the early church who taught and practiced immorality and idolatry, which included pagan feasts and orgies.
As we’ve already seen from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he stood in opposition to idolatry and told Christians to run from it and have nothing to do with it (“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” 1 Corinthians 10:14). He also warned the churches in Galatia of the dangers of idolatry (Galatians 5:19-21).
Your reference in verse 20 is addressed to the church in Thyatira – “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” The false prophetess may have been named Jezebel, but the name was well known to Jews and Gentile students of the Septuagint as the wicked queen married to Israel’s King Ahab. Queen Jezebel was an idolater, as was the false prophetess in Thyatira. The church in Thyatira allowed the false prophetess to teach and seduce them to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols, which Jesus would not permit. He called on the church to repent of their sins or they would face His wrath.
What Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 8 and what Jesus said in Revelation 2 are not the same thing. Paul told the Corinthians not to eat food sacrificed to idols when they had knowledge of that fact for the purpose of edifying those who were weaker in their faith. Jesus warned the Thyatirans not to allow Jezebel to teach and seduce them into idolatry and immorality.
The messages of Paul and Jesus were the same concerning idolatry and immorality. That’s as it should have been given the fact that Jesus called Paul to minister to the Gentiles and Paul did what Jesus and the Holy Spirit told him to do in that ministry.
More questions and answers next time as we continue to investigate whether Paul was an apostle or a fraud.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”