Christians must not eat from what was sacrificed to idols

Some brothers have asked me whether Christians should or should not eat from food offered to idols, because they think that Paul changed the rules, allowing Christians to eat anything, but this is not so.  In this Bible Note I present the biblical bases for believing that to eat what was offered to idols is a sin of idolatry.  It is very important to clarify this issue because it is like introducing inadvertently idolatry in the Church. Therefore, it is important to present information on this issue.

Before starting it is good to bring to remembrance some pieces of advice. First, we are Christians, not Saintpaulians.  Let’s not do with Saint Paul what Catholicism did with Virgin Mary. None of them would like to be taken as a vice-Christ. Saint Paul was one of the great apostles, not the only one.  All other apostles who wrote in the Bible were as inspired as he was.  If Paul says something and some other apostles or prophets say just the opposite, it is time to understand what Paul was trying to say, or in what context he was talking, because the Holy Spirit does not contradict himself by inspiring some apostles with something, and inspiring Paul with just the opposite.

Paul was well known for his knowledge and wisdom, but also for speaking in a way that not everyone would understand.  He used to speak with lots or hyperboles, and we have to be on the guard about this.  Another apostle, also inspired by the Holy Spirit, an apostle who was as great as Paul, wrote in II Peter 3: 15-17 a warning about Paul's way of writing, so that the brethren who read his writings do not get confused.  Let us see what the Apostle Peter warns us.

"15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;  16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.  17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness."                                        ( II Peter 3: 15-17 )

Saint Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, warns his brethren to be careful when reading Paul's epistles, because they could misunderstand what he says. This is the only warning in the whole Bible that an author gives about another author.  Only about Paul was such a warning given.  I think that such a warning should prompt us to be careful as our brother Peter advises us.

Those who think that Christians are allowed to eat from animals sacrificed to idols base their beliefs on I Co 8: 1-8. Let us read.

"1 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth…….4 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……. 7 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. 8 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."                                                       ( I Co 8: 1-8 abbreviated )

If we just read this passage from the Bible and not the whole Scripture, we could get confused and think that Paul is overriding everybody else's commandments, writings and inspirations; including other apostles, prophets, Jesus and even God. If we read just this passage we may think that Paul is authorizing us to do what others have forbidden us to do. Paul never intended to be "the Pope" of Christianity, the self anointed one whose word overrides everybody else's word, even God's commandments, as Catholicism does.  Paul never intended to be "the Pope", and we must never intend to make him a "Pope".

If we read a little ahead, in I Co 10: 14 - 21, we will see that the selfsame Paul, of whom is said that he authorized to eat what was sacrificed to idols, says just the opposite. Let us read.

"14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.  16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. 18 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? 19 What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? 20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. 21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils."                           ( I Co 10: 14-21 )

As we can see, Paul is advising that in the same way that sharing the bread and wine makes us one with the Lord, also sharing what was sacrificed to de devils, make us one with them. He also affirms in verse 21 that we cannot be partakers of the Lord's Table if we are partakers of the table of the devils. To clarify, in the very same epistle that Paul seems to authorize eating what was sacrificed to the idols, he also seems to say just the opposite. Which of Paul's statements should we choose to obey, the former or the latter? I think that we should to obey the statement that agrees with the whole Bible and with the other apostles. This is why it is so good to read the whole Bible without skipping any section, and not a little passage here and another little passage there. By reading the whole Bible you can find the explanation of an obscure passage in another book of the Bible or in another section of the same book, as in this case.

Paul is not the only one who contradicts his first statement. Other apostles, as good and as inspired as Paul, also denied what some people understood from Paul's first statement. They said that to eat from what was offered to an idol it to sin. Let us read Acts 15: 28-29.

"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."                                                                                                               ( Acts 15: 28-29 )

If we read this chapter from the beginning, we will understand that in verse 28 the pronoun "us" means the apostles and the elders.  All these pillars of the Church said that the new gentile Christians should abstain from meats offered to idols, as the Jews did.  Are we going to through as garbage what was said by all these Church founders and accept only what we think that Paul said?  Is Paul a Pope?  That alone should give us enough base to deem that what Paul seems to say in his first statement ( I Co 8 ), was not what he was trying to say, that we should not hold as Christian doctrine that eating what was sacrificed to idols is correct. But there is still more.

Even Paul himself was participating in that meeting and approving what was agreed to, as we can read Acts 15: 25.

"It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,"                                                                            (Acts 15: 25 )

If Paul was in that meeting and approved what was said, then it is logical to think that what seems to be said in I Co 8, has to have another meaning.

But still greater than all that I have alleged hitherto, is what verse 28 says: the Holy Ghost himself approved what the apostles agreed to, about abstaining from meats offered to idols. Are more facts and truths needed to prove that Christians should not eat from things offered to idols? I think there is enough, but allow me to show you two last arguments: let us now see what Jesus himself thinks about this. Let us read the letters that the selfsame Jesus Christ sent to the seven churches.

"But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication"                                                     ( Rev 2:14 )

In this passage we see that Jesus is sending a letter to the one in charge of the Church at Pergamos. He says that He is unhappy with him because at Pergamos some people have the same doctrine that Balaam had. The doctrine of Balaam was to put stumblingblocks before God's servants, teaching them to eat from things sacrificed unto idols. Is it clear that eating what was sacrificed to idols is a sin? Yes! It is Jesus himself who say so! Let us now see what Jesus says to the one in charge of the Church at Thyatira.

"Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols."                                                                                    ( Rev 2: 20 )

As we can notice, Jesus called the people who taught such doctrines not very nice names: "Jezebel" in this verse, and "Balaam" in the former one. Both names meaning people who deceived and misled God's servants from Christian principles. In both instances Jesus rebukes those who teach that Christians can eat from sacrifices to idols. He doesn't talk about a supposedly "Christian freedom" to do what each one deems right. Jesus talks about what he knows is wrong, even if Paul seems to say that it is right to do, which he didn't. Remember, we are not Saintpaulians, we are Christians.

Now, if Paul had no authority to change the rules, in order to allow Christians to eat things sacrificed to idols, then what did me mean? I assume, I cannot prove it, but I think that Paul was trying to calm down the anxiety of some Christians from Corinth who inadvertently had eaten things sacrificed to idols, or who before becoming Christians ate such foods. Maybe those brethren were feeling like they were condemned, or like having sinned before the Lord. I think so because of the way in which Paul speaks to them saying "we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one" and "for some with the conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol." More than likely some Corinth Christians inadvertently bought at the butcher's shop, meat that formerly was offered to an idol, and after eating such food they thought they had lost their salvation or the like. Then Paul, using hyperboles, as he commonly did in his unique way of speaking, tried to reassure those brethren. This is what I think Paul was trying to say; if someone finds a better explanation please tell me.

If I was not clear enough, or if someone deems I have some flaws in the premise or in my chain of reasoning, please do me a great favor and point it out to me in a clear letter.

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