Few passages of Scripture are more popular among contemporary Christians than 1 Corinthians 9:19‐23. Especially fashionable is Paul’s line in verse 22 about becoming “all things to all men.” This passage is commonly taken to mean that effective evangelism requires Christians to imitate the people around them. Many evangelicals cannot even imagine this interpretation being mistaken. It is even repeated by some fairly reputable commentators (Gordon Fee, for example) who, however, offer few reasons for accepting it.
Few such reasons exist. The popular interpretation is far more influenced by wishful thinking than it is by any factor in the context of 1 Corinthians 9. In fact, a careful study of the passage in its context yields quite a different interpretation.
1 Corinthians 9 is the center of an extended section dealing with meat offered to idols. This kind of meat was sold at a discount in the shambles and was often served in the homes of non‐Christians. Apparently, the Corinthian believers had asked Paul whether Christians could be permitted to eat meat which had been consecrated in idolatrous worship.