In our last post about Paul, we addressed a question about what Paul believed about eating meat sacrificed to idols. We showed from 1 Corinthians and Galatians that Paul opposed idol worship and did not promote eating meat sacrificed to idols.
We received another question about the same subject and will begin there.
- Why did Paul tell the Corinthians idol meat was okay when the New Testament Church council at Jerusalem had specifically listed this as a forbidden practice to New Testament believers in Acts 15:29?
Please read our previous answer concerning what Paul believed about idols, idol worship and meat sacrificed to idols. Here’s a quick recap.
“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly didnot 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.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-11
“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.” 1 Corinthians 6:8-10
“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
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21
Let’s look at another section in 1 Corinthians that may shed more light about what Paul believed and said about food sacrificed to idols.
“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He? ” 1 Corinthians 10:14-22
It is in that context that Paul wrote this to the Christians in Corinth:
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.’ If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, ‘This was offered to idols,’ do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for ‘the earth isthe Lord’s, and all its fullness.’ ‘Conscience,’ I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 10:23-33
With that as background to what Paul believed and taught, let’s look at what the Jerusalem Council asked him to do.
“Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood … For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.” Acts 15:19-20, 28-29
The apostles and elders at the council had limited understanding of what God had revealed to Paul, but could see from what Peter said and what Paul and Barnabas shared that God was doing something different with the Gentiles. What the Hebrew believers emphasized were four things: abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. They capped it off by writing, “If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.”
Though we do not have a record of Paul instructing Gentiles about abstaining from blood and things strangled, he was quite clear about them abstaining from things offered to idols (1 Corinthians 5; 6; 8; 10; Galatians 5; Ephesians 5) and to keep themselves from sexual immorality (Romans 1; 1 Corinthians 5; 6; ; 10; 1 Thessalonians 4).
It’s also important to realize that Paul was under no compulsion to “obey” commands from the Jewish apostles. Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit had called and sent Paul on a special ministry to open the door of faith to Gentiles without any Jewish apostles being involved in the calling or the sending. Paul’s concern was for the purity of the Gospel of Grace he had received from Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Here’s how Paul explained it:
“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.” Galatians 2:1-10
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”