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.
10 thoughts on “DID PAUL TEACH OTHERS TO EAT FOOD OFFERED TO IDOLS?”
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Great post! I’ve was deeply troubled by this subject, thank you for clarifying. God bless.
Another very imporant verse to bring out would be Revelation 2:14,20. John is writing Revelation in about 95AD, which is well after Acts 15 and Paul’s letter. Jesus himself is rebuking an assembly because a woman is teaching them to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols. And this is one of the most strongest rebukes in the entire New Testament. These are two of the four things prohibited in the Acts 15 council. I cannot imagine Paul would be okaying something which is spoken in Acts 15 as coming directly from the holy spirit, and also in Revelation as coming directly from Jesus.
Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols
On verse 7, 8 and 9 he CLEARLY says to eat it as long as you don’t let yourself be seen or a stumblingblock…. let’s be truthful here
There is absolutely nothing in those texts where Paul is telling, or teaching people to eat things offered to idols. The underlying truth that Paul is communicating is that idols are not real gods. In chapter 12 he calls them dumb idols.
There is only one true God and one Lord Jesus Christ who is the creator of all things and food, in and of itself, is neutral. So in verse 7 he says, Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
He is not teaching people to eat things offered to idols. He is addressing eating things offered to idols from the perspective of the truth that idols are not real gods, but not everyone knows that so walk in love and don’t be a stumbling block in this area. In verse 8 Paul affirms that food has no spiritual relevance to our relationship with God. He is not teaching people in the affirmative to go to the market places and purchase food offered to idols.
In verse 9 Paul says, But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak. In other words, don’t flaunt your liberty and do stupid things like go to the temple of idols (which he mentions in the next verse) and eat thinking of yourself.
Now, how would this apply in real life in our day?
Here is an example: If I were in India as a missionary and there was food set before me by my host which had been “sanctified” by a Hindu priest in worship to a false god, that food has no effect on my soul if I believe and am conscience that there is only one true God. The idol is not real. Thus I can receive the food with thanksgiving because to me, there is only One True God! However, I would not go to a Hindu temple and partake of the same food in a ritual of worship to a false god – that would be a stupid thing to do, because that would be an active act of worship to a false god.
Paul is teaching the Corinthians to be conscious of the One True God, and not use that knowledge to be a stumbling block to others. He is not telling them to go out and find food offered to idols, he is teaching them how to behave in love even though they are free from the bondage of idols. Thus he says, if meat makes my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend (v.13).
These are not the words of a man teaching people, in the affirmative, to eat things offered to idols.
The instruction from the Jerusalem council clearly prohibits the eating of meats offered to idols, (without added caveats). Paul in 1 Cor. 8 provides “exceptions” to the prohibition by teaching that eating meat offered to idols is OK as long as no one, (with a weak conscious), sees the brother or sister of faith eating the meat.
Why didn’t Paul just teach exactly what the council said? DON’T eat meat offered to idols! Why was it necessary for Paul to provide any explanation about when/why eating meat offered to idols would NOT be a Commandment violation?
What if Paul said – “we know that marital relations between a husband and wife is an act of LOVE, but casual sex between two individuals who are NOT IN LOVE with each other is NOTHING. Therefore, casual sex is OK because adultery happens ONLY when LOVE between the unmarried parties is involved”.
Would that teaching be OK? Is there a time or a reason for being able to have sex with someone other than one’s spouse? How can there be a time or place to eat meat offered to idols when the instruction was NOT to do it?
Paul in providing a caveat about the eating of meat offered to idols, actual provided permission to everyone to use “personal judgment” about when it’s right and when it’s wrong to eat meat offered to idols. And in so doing, Paul is guilty of the charges stated in Rev. 2:14 !.
Paul was endorsed by the leaders who wrote the very letter of which you are referring to. In fact Paul helped make the decision to encourage the believers at Antioch not to eat food offered to idols. In the book of the Revelation Jesus addresses the sins of the woman (Jezebel) for “teaching” his servants to commit fornication and to eat things offered to idols.
Paul never teaches believers to engage in either of these practices. Yet you go into these “what if’s” regarding Paul teachings concerning sexual sins, when over and over again Paul addresses the sins of fornication and tells us to repent of it and turn away from it.
So your “what if’s” are just a very weak attempt to discredit the Word of God preached by Paul. Furthermore, Paul NEVER teaches anyone to eat food offered to idols – never! If you would actually read Paul’s writings and listen to what he is actually saying, you would know that.
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul is explaining that idols are nothing by comparison because there is only One True God. Let’s look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8 with Acts 15 in mind:
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him. ~ v. 1-3
There is nothing in the verses above in which Paul instructs anyone to eat food offered to idols. Let’s continue:
As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. ~ v. 4-7
Notice that Paul has not instructed anyone to eat food offered to idols. The only difference between what Paul says here in 1 corinthians 8 and what we read in Acts 15 is Paul states the reason “why” the Corinthians should not eat food offered to idols. In Acts 15 there is no explanation for the reason why.
Could it be that you are injecting your “why” into Acts 15 and it is in conflict with Paul’s “why” in 1 Corinthians. Based on your comments, I would conclude that is part of your problem. You have taken a very legalistic approach while Paul addresses it from a brotherly love point of view.
Paul continues: But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. ~ v.8
Here Paul is not giving permission to eat. He is simply showing that the food itself is not the issue. It’s the idolatry that people are conscious of that is the issue.
Paul is not telling the Corinthians to purposefully go eat food offered to idols, but rather is explaining that the actual food in and of itself is not spiritual. It’s the association of idols that people are conscious of which is attached to it that is not good. Thus Paul says the following:
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. ~ v. 9-13
While you condemn Paul of being guilty of teaching people to eat things offered to Idols, Paul is saying he will eat no meat out of love for his brother. Your legalistic attitude on this matter blinds you from even comprehending Paul’s understanding of the love of Christ.
Paul is writing to the Corinthians who lived in a very idol infested society and as carnal believers many of them were doing stupid things that would hinder the advancement of the gospel. Paul had to teach them not to mix the idolatrous practices from the pagan temples with the worship of the one true God. If you really were to attempt to understand the context of Corinthians and the culture of the city of Corinth, you would better understand what Paul is saying.
The condemnation that Jesus levies against Jezebel in the book of the Revelation was her “teaching” God’s servants to eat food offered to idols. This obviously would have defiled their conscience with idolatry, which is exactly what Paul is addressing. Paul does not teach such practices. Instead, Paul teaches the Corinthians NOT to eat food offered to idols, and in and in doing so he explains “why”.
In Acts and Revelation there is no explanation given as to why food offered to idols is forbidden, In Corinthians Paul tells us why, and this is where you are stumbling with your assumptions.
In the very same letter that was sent to the believers at Antioch in Acts 15, encouraging them to abstain from fornication & food offered to idols, Barnabas and Paul are referred to as beloved because they had risked their lives for the gospel. Paul is called beloved in the very context of Acts 15 that you attempt to discredit him with- let that sink in.
In your defense of Paul, you falsely state that I, with my “what ifs” said Paul did not flatly state fornication and adultery were wrong. I never made that charge against Paul. My “what ifs” were a hypothetical to point out the difference between stating something is wrong and prohibited vs saying something is wrong and prohibited ONLY in certain situations. You argue for Paul’s wisdom and intelligence and state that he was not giving license to anyone to eat meat offered to idols; he was only explaining the reason for NOT eating meat offered to idols. Paul’s intelligence however should have caused him to understand that saying – “if meat will make my brother to offend, I will eat no meat” – that, would actually cause someone to reason that as long as no one is offended, then it is OK to eat meat offered to idols. And they would cap that reasoning off with the exclamation – “according to the Apostle Paul!”
As you said, Paul did indeed state that sexual impurity was to be avoided, but why didn’t he give the reasons and situations for when those situations are wrong? Is sexual impurity wrong just because GOD said so, or were there reasons behind the prohibition? Some people believe GOD gave men and women a sex drive and then put restrictions on sex just on a whim because HE either had nothing better to do or HE wanted to play a trick on mankind. But more than just playing tricks and having nothing else to do, ALMIGHTY GOD had good reasons behind issuing sexual prohibitions – including preventing the spread of sexually transmitted disease, and so that families would be intact with “godly children” (Mal. 2:15). Today men will argue that there are ways to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and there are ways to avoid pregnancy….so would a minister of GOD be IN order or OUT of order if he were to say….”I will not have sex with someone I am not married to unless I have taken the necessary steps to avoid sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy” ?? (My argument is to get you to see, by comparing what Paul said about WHY he would not eat meat with what someone today might say about the WHY of engaging / not engaging in sexual intercourse).
There were many times when Paul should have said something he failed to state and then there were other times, like this in 1 Cor. 8 where he should have remained silent instead of presenting his own understanding about the WHY of a directive.
When talking to the Gentiles in Galatians 2, Paul says the only charge the Jerusalem council gave him was to be sure to remember the poor (Gal 2:10). (I don’t know about you, but I don’t read any such statement from the Jerusalem council). Paul said nothing to the Galatians about abstaining from blood and meats offered to idols as the council instructed him in Act 15:29….but he mentions eating meat offered to idols with an explanation of WHEN/WHY it is wrong to do so in 1 Cor. 8:9,10, 13….then he comes again in 1 Cor 10:20, 21 and commands not to partake of the things offered to devils (idols) and this time he did not put the qualifier on it – “if it makes your brother to offend” !
When anyone explains WHY something is wrong, the person hearing the explanation will deduce that the “thing” CANNOT be wrong if the stated explanation can be negated, resolved, overturned, or made of no effect. Paul should have been aware of this fact of human reasoning and instead of not saying anything to the Galatians; instead of providing caveats in 1 Cor. 8:13; and then being completely restrictive in 1 Cor. 10:20, 21 (or LEGALISTIC as you lay charge upon me) – Paul should have simply said EACH TIME –
“DO NOT EAT OR DRINK THINGS OFFERED TO IDOLS / DEVILS !!”
Should you choose to reply once again, would you please avoid the juvenile tactic of taking subtle personal swipes at me? I never once mentioned anything about you, your intelligence, your reasoning, your failure to adequately read scripture…etc. I only spoke about Paul. It would be nice to see you do the same!
First, I offer my sincere apologies for the way my reply came across, and thank you for pointing it out to me.
With regards to Paul’s teachings allow me to present it to you another way.
Imagine if you were in India visiting as a missionary, sharing the gospel, and your host brought you food to eat because you were tired and hungry from your travel, and you thanked God for the food, ate it, enjoyed it, and was refreshed. Then later that evening you found out that the food you had eaten had been blessed by a hindu priest and offered in a hindu ritual to a hindu god. Would you be guilty of the sin of idolatry? Would you have broken the command not to eat food offered to idols? Would you need to repent to get right with God?
In this scenario you would have eaten food offered to idols, but without any knowledge of the idol or the idolatrous practice. To you, there is only one God and it was to him that you gave thanks for the food that was set before you, the very same food that was offered in worship to an idol.
Now, let’s take it a step further. You are in India sharing the gospel to people who worship false gods and the only food and drink available is food and drink that has been offered to idols. You are going to be there for weeks and need to eat. What do you do? Do you not eat at all, or do you give God thanks knowing that you are not eating anything as offered to idols but as coming from the Lord, because in your heart, the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.
You can either refuse to eat and grow weaker and possibly die, or eat and give God thanks. What do you do? I think these are the kind of questions one should ask if they are in conflict as to Paul’s perspective on this.
I think it’s important to consider that the scriptures that speak of not eating food offered to idols have to do with abstaining from consciously participating in idol worship, and Paul never taught anyone to consciously involve themself with an idol. Paul’s position is that food is neutral and to us there is but one God, and to him alone we give thanks for all things, but if there is an issue of idol worship that is brought up, then we refrain. We are free to serve God without fear and to give him thanks for all things because the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.
Do you remember when Jesus and his disciples were walking through some grain fields on the Sabbath day. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them. But some Pharisees saw this and objected. They accused Jesus and his disciples of breaking the Law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.
The response given by Jesus is very enlightening. Jesus cites two accounts from the scriptures where the “technical” breaking of the Sabbath occurred and He cites these to defend his actions.
In verses 3-4 of Matthew 12, Jesus says, “Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?”
Then in verse 5 He says, “Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple PROFANE THE SABBATH, and are blameless?”
According to Jesus, there are exceptions to the rule or else he would have not cited David and his men doing that which was unlawful under the law. There are times when ethics come into play and we must remember that God judges righteously and looks on the heart. There may be times when a person such as a missionary may have to eat food offered to idols because its the only food available. He doesn’t eat it being conscience of the idol or in worship of false gods. He eats it in thanks to the one true God because he is the Living God and all provision comes from his hands alone.
I think if you will take to heart what I have shared here, it may help you understand Paul’s perspective. Otherwise we might just be locking horns and getting nowhere. Blessings…