The Issue of Eating Meat Sacrificed to Idols
Paul clearly established that eating meat sacrificed to idols was a neutral issue in the epistle of 1 Corinthians, which was written in 54-55 AD. Fifty years later John wrote in Revelation about Jesus rebuking the church at Thyatira for allowing a woman prophetess to mislead believers into sexual immorality and eating meat sacrificed to idols, which seems to contradict Paul’s message on the topic. How do we explain this apparent contradiction?
Let’s first read what Paul taught:
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.
4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
1 Corinthians 8
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—
1 Corinthians 10:25-32
As you can see, believers are freed-up to eat meat that was sacrificed to an idol because there is only one God whom we serve through Jesus Christ. The idol is just a block of stone or wood representing some god that doesn’t even exist. So it’s an irrelevant issue.
Yet Paul instructed that believers should be discreet about doing so because immature believers with weak consciences — usually Jewish believers who were understandably repulsed by anything linked to idol worship — would take offense to it and this could cause someone to stumble or even destroy their faith. Paul said it’d be better to not eat meat at all than eat it and cause a brother or sister to fall.
Paul also indirectly addressed the topic in Romans 14, which was written a couple years after 1 Corinthians.
The issue of eating meat that was sacrificed to idols is irrelevant today since people don’t sacrifice meat to idols in most countries. But we could relate the issue to other things, like drinking alcoholic beverages. While drunkard-ness is a sin (Galatians 5:19-21 & 1 Corinthians 6:9-11) drinking a sip of alcohol is not (1 Timothy 5:23 & Deuteronomy 14:26). Yet believers who know this and walk in their corresponding freedom in Christ have to be careful about openly drinking such a beverage in front of believers who have weak consciences on this issue, especially in places like America where there’s a somewhat puritanical attitude toward alcoholic beverages in religious circles, particularly Evangelical and Pentecostal.
Paul summed up the issue like so:
It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
Reflect on these things and be blessed; I don’t think it’s necessary to add any further commentary
Does Revelation 2:20 Contradict what Paul Established?
The book of Revelation was written about 50 years after what Paul already established above by the Holy Spirit. Let’s read the passage in question:
Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
Verse 20 seems to contradict what was earlier established by Paul since Christ clearly isn’t pleased that “Jezebel” misled some believers at the church in Thyatira into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.
To explain, the name Jezebel was a pseudonym for this woman because she negatively influenced believers the way Jezebel misled Jews into sexual immorality and idol worship in the Old Testament. Since we know buying & eating food sacrificed to idols is not a sin if done inconspicuously then we know “Jezebel” was misleading believers into (1) openly eating food sacrificed to idols which offended believers with weak consciences and caused them to stumble and/or (2) her teaching to eat meat sacrificed to idols was part of an insidious doctrine that engaged believers in idol worship.
It might help to understand that the epistles are the Church’s primary source for practical Christian doctrine whereas the book of Revelation is prophetic in nature and therefore secondary in this respect.
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