Saturday, October 09, 2004

I Cor 8:1-13; 10:16-33

It is often said that we should avoid doing certain things because we are not supposed to offend other Christians. Certainly in I Cor 10:32 we are told to give no offense to anyone:
"Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,"
Using v.13, it is taught that we should never exercise our liberty:
"Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble."
In I Cor 8 the discussion concerns the eating of meat offered to idols. Some in the early church had a problem with its association with the pagan gods:
1Co 8:1 ESV Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." This "knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up.
Paul establishes that the fact that the meat was offered to idols means nothing because there is only one God:
1Co 8:4 ESV Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one."
But not all Christians understood this:
1Co 8:7 ESV However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
This verse holds a key to understanding what kind of offense Paul is speaking of here. The Christians who were offended at this meat (v.7 "some") had "former association with idols" and therefore all too clearly felt that it was real. In other words, these Christians were converted from the Paganism of the day and so they could not get past the association, having spent so much time in the worship of false gods.
This is why verse 9 tells us that our liberty can be a stumbling block to them. Verse 10 explains how this happens:
1Co 8:10 ESV For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?
What is important to point out here, is that the eating of this meat is not wrong. To clarify Paul's argument, if the idol were in fact real, yes, it would be wrong to eat the meat. Therefore, because the weaker Christian believes the idol is real, it is wrong for him to eat the meat, even though the reality is not so.
If the weaker Christian were to eat this meat, he could fall back into Paganism:
1Co 8:11 ESV And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.
How is this? The weak believes the idol is real in some way- and if the eating of meat offered to a real idol is OK, then this creates an irreconcilable conflict with the idea that Christ alone is worthy of our worship.
It is because of this danger that Paul says he will never eat meat:
1Co 8:13 ESV Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

Paul speaks more of the topic in chapter 10, starting in verse 16:
1Co 10:16-18 ESV The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (17) Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (18) Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?
Concerning the relationship of sacred food to the Lord, it is noted that our partaking of the food, be it Lord's Supper, or in the OT, the sacrifices, we also partake of the Lord. This is an interesting parallel that I think deserves some study, in regard to the Lord's Supper.
Paul continues:
1Co 10:19-20 ESV What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? (20) No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.
In verse 19 Paul anticipates the inevitable question, concerning whether idols, and the food offered to them actually do mean something. Paul's answer in verse 20 is "no", consistent with his earlier statements in chapter 8.
The rest of verse 20 seems to present a contradiction with chapter 8, to claim that meats offered to idols are in fact wrong. Paul here acknowledges that while the pagan gods do not exist, the powers they reverence are actually demonic. In other words, the pagans feel they are worshipping gods, but they are actually following demons. The parallel that Paul sets up between v.20 and vs.16-18 tell us that when Paul says that we should not be participants with demons, then we should not partake of the food offered to them.
All of this is following the command in v.14 to flee idolatry.
So what do we make of the apparent contradiction between I Cor 10:20, which tells us not to participate with demons in eating idol meat, and I Cor 8:4 and 10:19-20a, which indicate that there is actually nothing to the idol or the meat to make it wrong?
The key is found in Paul's command on how to deal with meats:
1Co 10:27-29 ESV If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. (28) But if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience-- (29) I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience?
First it is to be noted that this scenario involves a believer partaking of a meal in the presence of an unbeliever (v.27). We are told not to ask about the meat, but to go ahead and eat. The setting implies that the "someone" of v.28 is likely an unbeliever as well, making a comment about the status of the meat. Paul tells us in this case to not eat, because our eating could then be seen as participation in idolatry, and give the unbeliever a chance to bring accusation against the church. (v.25 is the same thought, such as unbelievers would be sellers at the market.)

Chapter 10 is telling us then, that in a setting where an unbeliever could take our actions as participation with pagan worship, we should not eat idol meat. This is complimentary with chapter 8, which tells us the same thing, but in the case of a believer.
Because the idol is nothing, and the idol meat is nothing, the Christian has nothing to fear. However, the Christian must not cause other believers to stumble or give unbelievers a reason to reproach. If the Christian can be sure he is doing neither, then he can partake.
This appears to be the conclusion of Paul as evidenced in vs.29-33. The open teaching against eating meats offered to idols (Acts 15:29; 21:25) served to facilitate the church's testimony in that culture, rather than create a binding law for all Christians throughout the centuries. (These same verses also teach against eating strangled animals but this is the method of death used in many chicken farms today.)
When Paul says he will not eat meat, he is referring to those times in which it would offend.

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