Was It Always Idolatrous for Corinthian Christians to Eat εἰδωλόθυτα in an Idol’s Temple?

Andy Naselli wrote a paper addressing this question last year: Was It Always Idolatrous for Corinthian Christians to Eat εἰδωλόθυτα in an Idol’s Temple? (1 Cor 8–10)

Read the paper and think it through.

How do you answer?

Why? 

Yes - It was ALWAYS idolatrous for the Corinthian Christians to eat εἰδωλόθυτα in an Idol’s Temple.
20% (1 vote)
No - In some cases it was not idolatrous.
40% (2 votes)
I am not sure how Paul answered this question.
0% (0 votes)
Other
40% (2 votes)
Total votes: 5
1659 reads

There are 26 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

I am reminded, to draw another picture, of fish fries this time of year sponsored by Catholic and Lutheran churches.  It's a community event with no sacraments of which I'm aware, but (especially with the Catholics) in a church devoted to theology with which we disagree extremely.  

Another parallel I can remember is weddings in Asia, especially of the Hindu variety.  Maybe the closest thing we've got to the Corinthian temples?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dave White's picture

Went to one Friday night

TylerR's picture

Editor

My profound theological insight is that some people think way too hard about these passages. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

RajeshG's picture

It's worth noting that in his conclusion to the article, he states that he is not fully sure of his thesis:
 

Three qualifications: 1. I am not a hundred percent certain I am correct—more like 80 percent sure. This is a complicated issue that depends largely on the historical-cultural context. What would falsify my thesis is evidence that all meals in the temple began with a formal demonic ceremony. I am not aware of such evidence. 

AndyE's picture

I don’t think Andy explores the text of 1 Cor 10:14-33 sufficiently to limit the application of that text to eating meat as part of a pagan religious ritual. Surely that would not be right but when does eating that meat cease to be participating in the ritual of the altar?  In verses 23-30, it appears that knowledge of the association is the dividing line.  If you know it was part of a demonic sacrifice, don’t eat it; if you don’t it is fine.  You don’t need investigate but if you find out, then you need to abstain. 

I’m not sure that he captures the reason for not eating in his context #5:

Quote:
(5) No. Give up your right to eat meat sacrificed to idols in another person’s home if a person informs you that the meat was sacrificed to idols and thus implies that they think you as a Christian would object to eating the meat because that would be participating in idol-worship (10:28–30).

Is it really that the unbeliever thinks the Christian would object, or that by eating the Christian would give the unbeliever tacit approval of the associated demonic sacrifice.  It seems that the unbeliever understands the significance of the association, a significance that Paul supports in 10:14-22, and by eating in that context, the believer undermines the right pang of conscience that the unbeliever feels.

On the other hand, verse 30 seems to put the believer back in the same situation as chapter 8.  When Paul says in verse 25, “eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience”, does that assume that all meat sold at the market was sacrificed to idols, but there is no need for that to trouble your conscience if you understand idols are nothing. It only matters if (1) a weak brother is watching you and you don’t want to trouble him, or (2) an unsaved person is watching, and he would also be troubled by the meat’s association with idolatry?

Or is Paul saying, you don’t know for sure if meat sold in the meat market was sacrificed to idols, so don’t worry about it.  In general meat is good – the earth is the Lords and what he provides is good.  But if you are aware of the association, then you need to abstain, period, because eating is participation with demons?

Bert Perry's picture

Given the kudos that Roman emperors and senators got for giving bread to the poor at this time, I'm under the impression that when meat appeared in the markets, it was almost certainly from idol sacrifice.  If you read ancient literature, you will be astounded how often thoroughly reprehensible people were "offering the thigh bone of a pig" to Zeus or whoever.  It's like Mafia dons giving to the poor after offing their fathers.

For the economists out there, it's probably safe to say that the Gini coefficient in places like Corinth was horrendous. So I wouldn't be surprised if there was something like 95% certainty that meat sold in the market was from sacrifices.

If that's correct, we would infer that the problem is going into the temples and being viewed as having taken part in the more demonic parts of activity there, whether or not that was true.  Really, if we can eat of the offerings if it's sold in the market, and that is what Scripture says, then I think this is almost certain.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

I agree with Bert's statement about the super-common tainting of meat in the market. And I agree with Andy that "the unbeliever thinks the Christian would object" isn't the reason Paul has for advising abstinence in an unbeliever's home. But- I believe that when the unbeliever says, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” he is expressing superstitious value in what he is offering his guests. More like: "This meat was offered to Asclepius! So may he bless our health!" To eat in that setting would be to honor the superstition - or Asclepius.

However, that is kinda off-topic (to be fair Naselli does discuss it in the paper).

Quote:
I don’t think Andy explores the text of 1 Cor 10:14-33 sufficiently to limit the application of that text to eating meat as part of a pagan religious ritual. Surely that would not be right but when does eating that meat cease to be participating in the ritual of the altar?
In the underlined, I think you're saying that Temple-eating would be wrong.

10:1-22 is Paul's argument against the position already named in ch8 as the [knowledge, right, not-weak] (I'll call them the 'strong') position. In other words, I believe that in 10:1-22, Paul is consciously contradicting the 'strong.' 

  • He foreshadowed it in ch8 by criticizing that "knowledge puffs" and by saying that some people "think they know." 
  • Then he begins ch10 by saying he doesn't want people to be "without knowledge."
  • Then he spends 10:1-18 making a long argument against participation in sacrifices to false idols. 
  • Paul clearly knows that those 18 verses have stepped on the strong's toes. 10:19: "What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?" Paul knows that the argument he has just made will bring a particular protest - it is the 'strong' who know that an "idol is nothing" (8:4).

So the problem, which Andy Naselli is addressing, is this:

Chapter 8:

  • Eaters, you do what you do because of knowledge (idol=nothing).
  • Sitting at idol's table is your "right."
  • Refusal to eat there is "weak."

Chapter 10:

  • You need more knowledge!
  • Eaters, eating in the temple is participation in the evil sacrifice!
  • You cannot eat there!

This problem is gonna be solved how?

  • Some conclude that Paul's approach is so different in ch8 and ch10 that they must be two different letters that got stuck together later. 
  • Some ignore the statement in 8:10 about reclining in the idol temple and conclude that the "rights," "knowledge," and strength in ch8 is about market-meat while the powerful NO! of 10:1-22 is about Temple-eating. (If we asked every pastor who has posted at SI in the last 14 years to explain this, I'll be 98% would say this.)
  • Something else? (my view fits here)

What Andy Naselli is asking is: What is Paul's actual guidance on eating in the Temple? Sinful or OK? (He says he's 80% sure that Paul is saying "sometimes OK.") I'm asking here what you think.

Dan Miller's picture

TylerR wrote:

My profound theological insight is that some people think way too hard about these passages. 

Somebody liked this! slap my head.

I would be one of those people who have thought very hard about these passages. The difficulty Andy Naselli is addressing is a big one. Overcoming it isn't easy. The fact that he has thought pretty hard about it and is "80% sure" he knows the answer suggests that there is still thinking to be done.

AndyE's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

 

Quote:

I don’t think Andy explores the text of 1 Cor 10:14-33 sufficiently to limit the application of that text to eating meat as part of a pagan religious ritual. Surely that would not be right but when does eating that meat cease to be participating in the ritual of the altar?

In the underlined, I think you're saying that Temple-eating would be wrong.

No, that is not what I was thinking. I was tracking pretty well with Naselli's argument about eating at the temple in chapter 8.  I thought eating at a casino restaurant was a pretty good analogy.  Eating at the temple might not be the same as eating as part of a pagan religious ritual. Just like eating at a casino doesn't necessarily mean you are eating while gambling.

I'm just not sure we can limit the significance of participation in the sacrifice that is taught in 10:14-22 to just the pagan religious ritual.

BTW, if all the meat bought at market was surely meat sacrificed to an idol, then what would be the point of the person in 10:28 saying that "this has been offered in sacrifice"?

Bert Perry's picture

I was the one who liked that.  No particular theological statement on my part, just thought it was funny.  Tyler probably has a far more edifying explanation of why he said that, perhaps having something to do with people overthinking passages either with a bent towards (a) explaining the real point out of the text or (b) using the text in an expanded way to infringe on the liberty of others.

Regarding Andy's question about "what would be the point of saying this has been offered in sacrifice?", I've always interpreted that as mostly an attempt to "bring the temple into the home".  The person who notes this is saying that they are pagan and that they view this particular food as being a blessing from Zeus or whoever.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

AndyE wrote:
BTW, if all the meat bought at market was surely meat sacrificed to an idol, then what would be the point of the person in 10:28 saying that "this has been offered in sacrifice"?
I think that the point isn't that you (the Christian guest) now know that it was offered. The point is the the host is declaring that he cares about it's status in relation to the idol. That's why Paul says, "for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his." 

TylerR's picture

Editor

It was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek (yet, at the same time, not really tongue-in-cheek) observation, nothing more! Cheers!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

AndyE's picture

So, having thought about this some. I think the solution is to see where the parallels are between chapter 8 and chapter 10.

Eating food offered to idols (8:1, 4-6) is a liberty in which you may take part (10:23-27), except under the following circumstances:

  1. Eating food offered to idols in the temple or at the pagan ritual is always wrong because (1) it may encourage a weak brother to violate his conscience (8:10), and it puts you in fellowship with demons (10:16-22)
  2. You should restrict your liberty if it makes your brother stumble (8:7, 11-13)
  3. You should restrict your liberty if it gives legitimacy to idols to your unsaved friend (10:28-29)

Basically, my solution is to posit two types of meat-eating in chapter 8 -- eating in the temple and eating outside the temple. I think we see the same distinction in chapter 10 as well.

Dan Miller's picture

AndyE wrote:

So, having thought about this some. I think the solution is to see where the parallels are between chapter 8 and chapter 10.

Eating food offered to idols (8:1, 4-6) is a liberty in which you may take part (10:23-27), except under the following circumstances:

  1. Eating food offered to idols in the temple or at the pagan ritual is always wrong because (1) it may encourage a weak brother to violate his conscience (8:10), and it puts you in fellowship with demons (10:16-22)
  2. You should restrict your liberty if it makes your brother stumble (8:7, 11-13)
  3. You should restrict your liberty if it gives legitimacy to idols to your unsaved friend (10:28-29)

Basically, my solution is to posit two types of meat-eating in chapter 8 -- eating in the temple and eating outside the temple. I think we see the same distinction in chapter 10 as well.

hmmmmm... it seems like if you’re correct, ch8 should reserve words of approval (exousia, gnosis) for the market category. 

TylerR wrote:

It was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek (yet, at the same time, not really tongue-in-cheek) observation, nothing more! Cheers!

oh sure. Nobody is upset. I came across more irritated than I should have 

AndyE's picture

Dan Miller wrote:
hmmmmm... it seems like if you’re correct, ch8 should reserve words of approval (exousia, gnosis) for the market category. 

The way I currently see it is that one's right or liberty is to eat meat sacrificed to idols  because an idol is nothing (8:4) and the earth is the Lord's (10:26). But there are times when we have to curtail the use our our right/liberty. One place that occurs, even though we know an idol is nothing (10:19, and 8:10), is in the context of the pagan temple (8:10) and the ritual sacrifices themselves (10:20-22).

I went back and skimmed Nasalli's article.  I can't find a place where he shows that eating meat in the temple is OK, biblically.  He makes the point that there were parts of the temple that were not given over to the pagan rituals (like eating at a restaurant in a casino). I'm sure that's true but I don't see where the Bible says that distinction makes it OK to go there an eat.  The only place were the passage mentions eating in the temple, the practice is prohibited. Unless I'm missing something. Earlier I asked when the stigma of the participation in the pagan sacrifice goes away -- it seems like the answer might be when you leave the pagan temple.

 

 

Dan Miller's picture

AndyE wrote:
... but I don't see where the Bible says that distinction makes it OK to go there an eat.  The only place were the passage mentions eating in the temple, the practice is prohibited. Unless I'm missing something. ...

Well, look at 8:9-10:

9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 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?

Paul is speaking to the strong - the eaters - about the eating their "knowledge" allows. v.9 tells us that the "right" (exousia) could be a danger. v.10 is connected to v.9 by "for" (gar), so when v.10 specifies Temple-eating, that specification applies to v.9. v.10 explains the danger mentioned in v.9. 

To most, this is Paul saying, "We know - you can eat there - BUT be careful of your brother." But then in ch.10 he says, "No-you can't eat there." 

AndyE's picture

Dan Miller wrote:
Paul is speaking to the strong - the eaters - about the eating their "knowledge" allows. v.9 tells us that the "right" (exousia) could be a danger. v.10 is connected to v.9 by "for" (gar), so when v.10 specifies Temple-eating, that specification applies to v.9. v.10 explains the danger mentioned in v.9. 

To most, this is Paul saying, "We know - you can eat there - BUT be careful of your brother." But then in ch.10 he says, "No-you can't eat there." 

But isn't it Paul's point in 8:10 that you shouldn't eat there.  The right/liberty is not reclining at table in the temple, it's eating meat sacrificed to idols.  You may be right that most take it the way you say, but it seems like it would be better to see it as Paul saying, "We know -- you can eat - BUT be careful of your brother and don't eat there." That aligns with what Paul later says in chapter 10.

Chapter 10 may be correcting the idea that if I can eat meat sacrifice to idols, then I can eat it anywhere, including the temples, as long as my weak brother is not aware or pressured to do the same. 

If you think there is a contradiction between ch 8 and ch 10, what is your solution?

AndyE's picture

It appears that David Garland (BECNT) takes a similar position to mine.  Talking about the situation in 8:10 he writes:

Quote:
Paul assumes that the intention of those who would host a gathering at an idol’s shrine must be idolatrous and not benign. He also assumes that any food eaten on the precincts of an idol’s shrine is contaminated by idolatry. Eating a meal there is participation in idolatry regardless of how Christian participants might have construed it in their own minds. Christian should not join in these feasts. But Paul does not come right out and say so at this point in his argument. He does not give his full assessment of what it means to eat in an idol’s shrine here but delays until 10:14-22 to give his final judgment about such eating....The person with the weak conscience does not object to the actions of the knowers or recoil in horror. It is not that the person might be persuaded to eat while thinking all the while that it is wrong, but that he or she will eat [in the temple -- my addition based on what Garland said earlier] while thinking that it is acceptable for a Christian to do so.

Dan Miller's picture

AndyE wrote:
...But isn't it Paul's point in 8:10 that you shouldn't eat there.  The right/liberty is not reclining at table in the temple, it's eating meat sacrificed to idols. ...

Well, yeah, a lot of people do say what you're saying. Garland takes that tack, "Christian should not join in these feasts. But Paul does not come right out and say so at this point in his argument." 

But my (and Naselli's) point is Paul literally says, "9...this right of yours [danger to the weak]...10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating [3] in an idol's temple," ([3]Greek: "reclining at table"). Paul is clearly saying that "knowledge" gives the "right" to recline at the idol table. 

Garland, if memory serves, spends quite a bit of time wrestling with the contradiction.

AndyE wrote:
If you think there is a contradiction between ch 8 and ch 10, what is your solution?

My solution: I will write it up - I'll try to be concise. I chose "other" on the poll...

Dan Miller's picture

Garland’s discussion of 8-10 is long.

  • Ch8: 347-395
  • Ch9: -445
  • Ch10: -504

Pertinent to this discussion is the degree to which he sees the “apparent contradiction” between ch8 and ch10 as  a legitimate difficulty. I’ll point out two sections: 

  1. pp.350-360 Garland present (and criticizes) the “traditional view,” which is that in ch.8 Paul states that eating at idol-temple banquets is ok (unless it causes a brother to stumble).
  2. p.446 (introducing ch10) “This next section of Paul’s argument seems so incompatible with what precedes that some claim it must derive from a different letter.”

So, yes, Garland believes that the “apparent controversy” is solved by reading in ch.10 the real answer: temple banquets are evil and believers must not participate. 

Pp.359,366-70 Garland discusses “knowledge” and the logic of 8:1-6. 

But I don’t think Garland deals with 8:9-10 sufficiently. P.386-7 Garland treats the right (exousia) and the knowledge of the eaters with contempt. The traditional view that weakness is based on a poor understanding of the faith (lack of knowledge) forces one to see the mentioned knowledge as good knowledge, though unlovingly applied. 

Dan Miller's picture

https://sharperiron.org/article/christian-liberty-and-love

Their consciences have not been recalibrated to apply the truth about the nature of idols to the practice of eating food offered to idols. 

In Barkman’s sections, “What We Know,” and “Understanding Idols,” he treats ch.8 eating as a legitimate right and the position based in truth. (The main point of his paper was the importance of acting in love, so this is off topic to his paper.) Garland would not agree. 

This is why the question of this thread is so significant. To Naselli’s question, Barkman’s paper says, “No (BUT LOVINGLY!)” In doing so, he takes what Garland calls the traditional view. And it really is very commonly held.

RajeshG's picture

Having read carefully the whole article that you link to in the OP, I think that the best course of action is to let clear teaching elsewhere guide us: 

Ephesians 5:11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

Dan Miller's picture

If you said these words:

I think that the best course of action is to let clear teaching elsewhere guide us: Ephesians 5:11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

to the Temple-Eaters of 1Cor8, how do you believe they would respond?

RajeshG's picture

I do not know how they would respond. As Andy acknowledges in his article, he is not certain about his conclusions because we do not have the information necessary to be sure about everything pertaining to the historical-cultural context. In view of that uncertainty as well as the clarity of Ephesians 5:11 and other passages, we should go with what the clear passages teach and not have anything to do with what takes place in places where objects are worshiped.

Bert Perry's picture

Isn't one of the key tests of how to apply Scripture how the original hearers would have interpreted it?  So if we do not know how the ancients would have responded--yes, Ephesus and Corinth were somewhat culturally different and 200 miles apart, but both Greek cities really--then wouldn't a bit of humility about the application be wise?

To try and get closer, we would note that the first part of Ephesians 5 deals with sexual immorality, and after verse 11, Paul addresses drunkenness.  So an application towards pagan temples would, at least at first glance, be tenuous or strained.  Certainly some sexual immorality and drunkenness would have occurred in pagan temples like that of Artemis, but you would also have had the same at the gymnasia and other social events frequented by Greeks of various religions and philosophies.  

Re-reading 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, it almost seems as if Paul is doing something that a sister in Christ did for me 25 or so years back when the Mormons invited me to an event at their church; pointed out what the dynamics of the event were going to be.  

We might infer that Paul is saying "think for yourselves in this matter"; he might have said it's completely off limits, but in light of chapter 8, we might wonder if he's saying "it's a little dirt on our collars if we show up at pagan temples for non-worship events, but it's a huge black eye for the Church if we don't train our brothers to think things through.  There's always going to be a new challenge that isn't discussed directly."

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

I understand the feeling that one can't know precisely how they would have responded. But we do know some things from the Text.

  • Paul told the Corinthians that "idolatry" was a sin they should expel "brothers" from the body over. And yet ch.8-10 show he also knew that he had to say A LOT more than just that to them.
  • There were "eaters" who had thoughts about idol-meat. Paul gives their thinking: They knew that there is only one God; they knew that idols were nothing; based on those, they believed it was OK to recline at the table in the idol's temple.
  • Paul believed that they were actually reclining at table in the idol temple.

It is pretty clear (to me) that if you said "have no fellowship with darkness" to the Eaters of 1 Cor 8, they would have said, "Amen!" and gone into the temple and eaten. Their reasoning for eating there was not that fellowship with darkness is ok or that idolatry is ok. Their reasoning was that the eating they were doing was neither of those things.