Eating Idol Meat - How Is This Relevant For Us Today?
In his 1 Corinthians commentary, Blomberg 167 has said
“Yet for most readers of this commentary, idol meat and its analogues in other world religions will not rank among their top one hundred moral dilemmas in life! Still, when one realizes the overarching principles involved, applications clamor for attention at every turn.”
For Christians of today, two very significance questions emerge from Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians Chapter 8. The first is, how the actual issue of idol meat and its consumption (or not) affects us today.
The second is the lessons we are to learn, from the principle involved, of how we should handle issues which fall into the “gray” areas of life.
Some Present-day Alternatives
We may well tend to think that this chapter has no real relevance for us today, in our society. We need to think again.
Firstly, in many missionary situations in today’s world, new Christians are in real danger of being pulled back into the idolatry of their society. Sad to say, in numbers of places this has resulted in a so-called Christianity which is a syncretistic amalgam of aspects of the gospel with elements from idolatrous paganism.
Secondly, many societies around the world have experienced an influx of immigrants from cultures in which idolatrous practices are followed. In some places restaurants have been opened by devotees of such other religions, offering good food at cheap prices - restaurants to be avoided by Christians for precisely the reasons Paul sets out in this chapter.
Thirdly, our own culture has its own twenty-first century equivalents of idol worship: we may not immediately see these for what they are, but we need to be alert to recognize them when they confront us. Sometimes Christians will participate in these “just for a bit of fun - it’s not serious, and there’s no harm in it.” An example might be: a church fete where someone will read your palm or your tea leaves, or “tell your fortune”. Or a person looking up a magazine’s astrology columns “just out of interest - I don’t take it seriously, of course.” Or joining in Halloween observances - “the children love the dressing up, and we go along with them to ensure they’re quite safe.” Or more overtly occult activities, such as sharing in an experience using a ouija board, or participating in a seance, and so forth. Or our observing various superstitions (“It’s good luck to do this, or bad luck to do the other”, and the like) will fall into the same category.
Even when all these are done (supposedly) lightheartedly, they are of the same genre as the eating in an idol’s temple in the first century by the “knowledgeable” Christian who acknowledges only one God and one Lord (8:6). For this behavior is capable of opening a door of opportunity for Satan to deceive the unwary: “I know there’s nothing in astrology, but nevertheless it’s uncanny the way in which ...”
And the example set for “weak” Christians in this way can be devastating. Moreover, this “dabbling” can swing wide the door of a person’s heart or experience to the occult, so that real demonic bondage results. Never risk this destructive result!
Then there are semi-religious or quasi-religious organizations (such as the Masons) which can entice a person with their rites and ceremonies and observances, and can grow to become the focus of interest.
Ultimately anything which involves a recognition of some power in the universe other than the true God worshipped in the way Scripture teaches, becomes a snare by which Satan can entrap us and entangle us: and he has a variety of offerings to suit every taste. Although as Christians we would not intend it, we end up with an acknowledgement of Satan and his demons that he accepts as worship (10:20) - for behind Halloween and astrology and tarot cards and fortune telling and their ilk lies an acknowledgement of another supernatural being that is in competition with our Lord God. It is the twenty-first century face of idolatry.
Paul gives us fair warning (10:14): Keep well clear of any form of idolatry! For some have walked this route and have had their faith destroyed.
Operating in The “Gray Areas” of Life
Blomberg 164 has commented:
“Possible applications range far beyond the specific issue of idol meat, but they do not include that which is inherently good or bad. Rather, 1 Corinthians 8 speaks to the gray areas of Christian living. Sometimes Scripture makes plain whether an issue is fundamentally immoral or amoral [no moral issue involved]. ... Christians must then ask if the practice in question has any inherently pagan (or anti-Christian) elements or if it is necessarily destructive and hurtful to the individuals involved. More positively, if [it is the case that] the practice in question seems acceptable in light of both these tests, might our participation enhance our outreach to the non-Christian world by cultivating friendships and social activities that unbelievers enjoy (cf. 9:19-23)? Two dangers remain ever-present: a separatism that prevents Christians from being the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-16), and a syncretism (a mixture of religions) that adopts pagan practices with damaging consequences.”
Then Friesen says in his significant book Decision Making and the Will of God, 377f.:
“One of the major premises of this book is that in those areas where the Bible gives no command or principle (in nonmoral decisions), the believer is free and responsible to choose his own course of action. Any decision made within the moral will of God, we have argued, is acceptable to God.
“Ironically, there are some decisions in which it is easier to please God than to please our fellow Christians. Given the nature of humanity and the reality of freedom of choice, it is inevitable that believers are going to come to differing conclusions concerning what is permissible and what is not. ... God does not view differences of opinion in the area of freedom as a bad thing. ... And so, instead of trying to eliminate divergence of opinion, the Holy Spirit has given specific instructions to guide our response to it. Most of that revelation is concentrated in Romans 14 and 15 and 1 Corinthians 8-10.”
Friesen then discusses how these chapters deal with this matter, and how they are to be applied to the issues Christian face in the very different circumstances of today’s world.
This is a book which has a great deal to say in regard to how to identify matters of this kind and how to put Paul’s principles into effect - and it covers many more things besides, about the will of God in life, and how to make godly decisions. I recommend it warmly.
(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)
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