Those who teach that Paul contradicted the teachings of Jesus claim that Paul taught that it was OK to eat meat offered to idols in Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8, and 1 Corinthians 10.
Is this correct?
To begin, it is important to remember that Paul was present at the Jerusalem counsel (Acts 15) and was one of the supporters of the decision made to exhort the Gentiles not to eat food offered to idols.
22 Then pleased it the apostles and elders with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch WITH PAUL and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas and Silas, chief men among the brethren:
23 And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia.
24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:
25 It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you WITH OUR BELOVED BARNABAS and PAUL,
26 Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
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.
Notice that Paul is mentioned in this letter (the letter encouraging the Gentiles not to eat things offered to idols) along with Barnabas as beloved and men who had hazarded thier lives for the name of the Lord Jesus.
Notice that James, along with the other apostles, and the elders, endorsed Paul in this letter to the Gentiles. With this in mind let’s consider Paul’s teachings in Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8, and 1 Corinthians 10.
Does Paul teach the Gentiles to eat things offered to idols?
FIRST, there is nothing in Romans 14 about meats offered to idols. Romans 14 is addressing meat or food, which is offensive to another brother. The teaching by Paul is to abstain from offending your brother by what you eat.
Those who claim that Paul is teaching it is OK to eat meat offered to idols in Romans 14 are carelessly proof-texting to support their claims. Paul’s exhortation in Romans 14 is most likely within a Jewish/Gentile context as Paul addresses the two cultural backgrounds throughout the book of Romans.
SECONDLY, Paul does not teach his followers to eat meat offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8, nor is he promoting such practices.
Paul is actually teaching the Corinthians to walk in brotherly love and not to use their liberty in Christ as an occasion for offending a brother or sister who is weak in their faith. Paul instructs the Corinthians to refrain from eating things offered to idols so they don’t damage the conscience of others.
Paul makes it clear that food – in and of itself – has no value with regards to our relationship with God because there is only one true God and he is the creator of all things. However, not all possess this liberating knowledge, and for the sake of those whose consciences are weak, Paul admonishes the Corinthians to refrain from foods which are offered to idols so as not to wound another believer’s conscience.
Paul continuously teaches the Gentile brethren not to eat food offered to idols, not because of superstitious reasons, but out of love for others. Love is the right motive in everything.
Throughout the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul repeatedly addresses the importance of abstaining from idolatrous practices.
In 5:10-11, Paul tells the Corinthians not to keep company with a person who is called a brother if he engages in idolatrous practices.
In 6:9 he tells them that idolaters have no part in the Kingdom of God.
In 10:7 he tells them not to be idolatrous like the Israelites who fell in the wilderness.
In 12:2 he reminds them that they were previously Gentiles who were carried away by dumb idols.
Paul certainly would not have warned the Gentile believers against idolatry and then turned around and taught them to eat things offered to idols.
It is ironic that some use 1 Corinthians to support their claim that Paul taught that it was OK to eat things offered to idols. On the contrary, Paul very specifically instructs the Corinthians to NOT to do such things.
FINALLY, Consider the following from 1 Corinthians 10:18-33. I have chosen the NLT for clarity.
18 Think about the people of Israel. Weren’t they united by eating the sacrifices at the altar?
19 What am I trying to say? Am I saying that food offered to idols has some significance, or that idols are real gods?
20 No, not at all. I am saying that these sacrifices are offered to demons, not to God. And I don’t want you to participate with demons.
21 You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too.
22 What? Do we dare to rouse the Lord’s jealousy? Do you think we are stronger than he is?
23 You say, “I am allowed to do anything” —but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial.
24 Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.
25 So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace without raising questions of conscience.
26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
27 If someone who isn’t a believer asks you home for dinner, accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you without raising questions of conscience.
28 (But suppose someone tells you, “This meat was offered to an idol.” Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you.
29 It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person.) For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks?
30 If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?
31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God.
33 I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.
Paul’s words concerning food offered to idols, is that “food” – in and of itself – has no virtue, however, food which has been offered to idols ought not to be eaten out of love for others.