Meats Offered to Idols

A look at first Corinthians 8.

By ROBERT L. ODOM, Editor, Philippine Publishing House

In 1 Corinthians 8 :1, 4 the apostolic pen turns to "things offered unto idols," particularly to the question of "eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols." Idolatry, in one form or another, was prevalent and popular throughout all the Gentile world in New Tes­tament times. The great Greek metropolis of Corinth was notoriously pagan.

"The city was almost wholly given up to idolatry. Venus was the favorite goddess ; and with the worship of Venus were connected many demoralizing rites and ceremonies. The Corinthians had become conspicuous, even among the heathen, for their gross immorality. They seemed to have little thought or care beyond the pleasures and gaieties of the hour."--Acts of the Apostles, pp. 243, 244.

The question under consideration by the apostle had already been discussed by the first general council of the Christian church, held in Jerusalem about A.D. 51, and its decision was given in the following instruction sent out to the Gentile believers: "That ye abstain from meats offered to idols." Acts 35:29. The back­ground of this problem is well stated in the following words:

"Many of the Gentile converts were living among ignorant and superstitious people, who made frequent sacrifices and offerings to idols. The priests of this heathen worship carried on an extensive merchandise with the offerings brought to them; and the [Chris­tian] Jews feared that the Gentile converts would bring Christianity into disrepute by purchasing that which had been offered to idols, thereby sanctioning, in some measure, idolatrous customs."—Ibid., p. to I.

The English word meat, used in 1 Corin­thians 8:8 and elsewhere in Paul's discussion of the question, does not refer exclusively to flesh food. The term used in the Greek text is broma, which simply means food of any kind. When the Authorized Version of our English Bible was issued in 1611, the word meat was generally used to mean food. In fact, in Genesis 1 :29, 30, where the term first appears in this version of Holy Writ, the word meat is em­ployed twice in reference to purely vegetable foodstuffs. Today the word meat is mostly used to denote flesh foods.

Although products of the fields were used as offerings to the pagan gods in olden times, most of the things sacrificed to idols and sold by pagan priests to the markets consisted of the flesh of animals.

In 1 Corinthians 8 :4-6 the apostle states that the problem is not one concerning the nature of the food itself but one concerning the personal experience and influence of the Christian who should eat foodstuffs dedicated to idols. Al­though the food eaten was good and clean in itself, the fact that it was known by the Chris­tian to have been offered to idols would defile his conscience, and his example might influence others to follow pagan ways and be lost. (Verses 9-13.) The mention of the eating of "meat in the idol's temple" (verse to) refers to public religious feasts held in special honor of the pagan gods.

In 1 Corinthians 10:14-33 and ii :17-34 Paul deals with a wrong trend in the celebration of the Lord's supper, an evil which had grown out of idolatrous practices. The problem is dearly explained by Mrs. White in these words:

"The Corinthians were departing widely from the simplicity of the faith and the harmony of the church. . . . They had perverted the true meaning of the Lord's supper, patterning in a great degree after idol­atrous feasts. They came together to celebrate the suf­ferings and death of Christ, but turned the occasion into a period of feasting and selfish enjoyment.

"It had become customary, before partaking of the communion, to unite in a social meal. Families pro­fessing the faith brought their own food to the place of meeting, and ate it without courteously waiting for the others to be ready. The holy institution of the Lord's supper was, for the wealthy, turned into a gluttonous feast; while the poor were made to blush when their meager fare was brought in contrast with the costly viands of their rich brethren.

"Paul rebukes the Corinthians for making the house of God a place of feasting and revelry, like a com­pany of idolators : 'What! have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them. that have not ?' [1 Cor. II :22.] The pub­lic religious feasts of the Greeks had been conducted in this way, and it was by following the counsels of false teachers that the Christians had been led to imi­tate their example. These teachers had begun by as­suring them that it was not wrong to attend idolatrous feasts, and had finally introduced similar practices into the Christian church.

"Paul proceeded to give the order and object of the Lord's supper, and then warned his brethren against perverting this sacred ordinance: 'As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come. Wherefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.' . . He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.' lx Cor, ii :26-28.]"---Sketches From the Life of Paul, pp. 170, 171.

In 1 Corinthians 10:19-21 participation in the public religious feasts of paganism by Christians is plainly declared to be forbidden. The apostle next turns to the matter of buying food "in the shambles." Verse 25. The Greek noun rendered as "shambles" here is makellon, its corresponding word in Latin being macel­N114. Originally macellum denoted an enclosure, and might be used in reference to a stall in a mart. Hence, it came to mean a provision market where foodstuffs, particularly flesh meats, were sold. The connection between the shambles and idolatry is revealed by Adam Clarke in these words:

"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 part belonged to the priest, and was often sold in the shambles."—Commentary on the New Testament (Philadelphia: Thomas Cowperthwait and Co., 1845), vol. 6, p. 1,3o, col. 1.

Another writer gives this additional infor­mation:

"The sale of the portion of the sacrificial meat, which fell to the [pagan] priests, formed a part of their revenue, and was not to be distinguished from ordinary meat, except perhaps by its excellence, as the animals offered at the altar were usually of a superior kind."—J. P. LANGE and P. SCHAFF, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (New York : Charles Scrib­ner's Sons, 1885), "First Epistle to the Corinthians," p. 217.

Paul says in verse 27 that in making pur­chases at the shambles the believer does not need to inquire whether or not the desired item has been offered to an idol, and that he need not let the lack of that information trouble his conscience. The fact that it may have been of­fered to idols, in so far as the food itself was concerned, did not change its nature or its quality so as to render it unfit for food.

Verses 27 to 29 deal with another problem in this connection. What ought a Christian to -do when he is invited by a pagan to partake of a feast, or dinner, of a private nature? Even in this case he is not to let his conscience trou­ble him so that he must inquire meticulously whether or not the food on the table has been dedicated to an idol.

But if somebody should say expressly that the food has been offered to such and such a pagan god, then the Christian must not partake 'of it for two reasons : (I) for the sake of him who has said that the food was dedicated to an idol, and (2) for conscience' sake. In the first -place, it would appear that the Christian was 'knowingly and willingly sanctioning and oining in honor shown to an idol. In the second place, the Christian cannot permit himself to manifest even apparent disloyalty to God and to His law, or set an example that might lead others to participate in idolatrous practices.

Here we have one of the reasons why Daniel and his companions did not wish to eat of the food on Nebuchadnezzar's table. (Dan. 2 :I -16. ) In comment on this experience, the following information has been given us

"But a portion having been offered to idols, the food from the king's table was consecrated to idolatry; and one partaking of it would be regarded as offering homage to the gods of Babylon. In such homage, loy­alty to Jehovah forbade Daniel and his companions to join. Even a mere pretense of eating the food or drinking the wine would be a denial of their faith. To do this would be to array themselves with heathenism, and to dishonor the principles of the law of God."—Prophets and Kings, p. 481.

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By ROBERT L. ODOM, Editor, Philippine Publishing House

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