Meats Sacrificed To Idols
There are those who believe the Apostle Paul’s teaching concerning meats sacrificed to idols is contrary to Torah and contrary to Yeshua’s teaching on this subject. This study will examine Paul’s position and show that it is in harmony with both Torah and Yeshua.
Exodus 34:14-15 - For you shall worship no other elohim: for Yahweh, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous El: Lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their elohim, and do sacrifice unto their elohim, and one call you, and you eat of his sacrifice;
Numbers 25:1-3 - And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their elohim: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their elohim. And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel.
While neither of these passages contain a direct command from Yahweh to not eat meat sacrificed to idols, they do show Yahweh’s concern that Israel avoid such idolatrous covenants and actions. We also see Yahweh’s anger when such idolatrous covenants were made and pagan sacrifices eaten.
Revelation 2:12-14 - And to the angel of the assembly in Pergamos write; These things say he which has the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where you dwell, even where Satan's seat is: and you hold fast my name, and have not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have 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.
Revelation 2:18-22 - And unto the angel of the assembly in Thyatira write; These things say the Son of Elohim, who has his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and your patience, and your works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against you, because you suffer that woman Jezebel, which calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
1 Corinthians 10:16-21 - The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Messiah? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Messiah? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What say I then? That the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?
But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to Elohim: and I would not that you should have fellowship with devils.
You cannot drink the cup of the Master, and the cup of devils: you cannot be partakers of the Master's table, and of the table of devils.
It seems abundantly clear in this passage that Paul is teaching the Corinthians to not eat meat sacrificed to idols because, in reality, it was sacrificed to devils.
However, in other places in the same epistle, Paul seems to teach the Corinthians that it is permissible to eat such meat. Let’s examine those passages, but first, let’s build the foundation upon which Paul’s position is built.
In 1 Corinthians 7:1, Paul writes:
Now concerning the things whereof you wrote unto me: . . .
This teaches us that there were problems/questions that the brethren in Corinth needed help with. Out of their great respect for Paul, they chose to write to him and ask his advice. So Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians contains his reply to their questions. The question must then be asked, “What were the questions the Corinthian brethren were asking Paul?” Now we can begin to understand Paul’s first address of this issue.
Paul’s First Argument
He writes in 1 Corinthians 8:
1Co 8:1-3 - Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if any man think that he knows any thing, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love Elohim, the same is known of Him.
The issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols is obviously one of the concerns the Corinthian brethren asked Paul about. In Acts 15, it was decided that, among other things, the Gentiles should abstain from such meat. The Jerusalem Council’s decree on this issue was then sent to Antioch, Syria and Cilicia which are far from Corinth (Acts 15:23). This decree was sent by agreement of all present at the meeting, including Paul, and it was delivered by Paul himself. This shows his agreement that Gentiles are not to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Eventually the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols had arisen in Corinth and they needed to know how to deal with it.
Paul seems to have sensed pride or conceit among some in Corinth that were elevating themselves due to their knowledge. This usually results in treating others as less important and failing to have concern for the good of others and for their edification. This, therefore, is Paul’s first correction of the Corinthians concerning this issue.
1Co 8:4-7 - 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 Elohim but one. For though there be that are called elohim, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be elohim many, and masters many,) But to us there is but one Elohim, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Master Yeshua Messiah, through whom are all things, and we through him. 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.
There were brothers in Corinth that had that knowledge and therefore felt at liberty to eat meat sacrificed to idols. So Paul begins his teaching on this subject by directing his reply to those who had that knowledge. He first confirms the truth concerning their understanding of the one true Elohim and that idols are nothing. Then he goes on to teach them that their conclusion that it was permissible to eat such meat was dangerous because it may cause a weaker brother to stumble. This would be the first reason Paul gives for not eating such meat. The second reason he gives would be further on in this same epistle (Chapter 10).
Many of the Corinthian believers were converted out of idolatrous lifestyles. Some believed such meat should not be eaten because it somehow became defiled or common through the sacrificial rites. On the other hand, there were those with no regard for idols, knowing they were nothing and could have no effect on the edibility of the meat, which saw no problem in eating it.
1Co 8:8 - But meat commends (Greek – paristemi) us not to Elohim: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
It may be that the brethren in Corinth that had such knowledge felt their knowledge and perceived liberty would cause them to be in better standing (paristemi) with Yahweh. Paul says to them “you are no better in Yahweh’s sight if you eat such meat; neither are you any worse in His sight if you don’t eat it.”
1Co 8:9 - But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
Paul gives a warning to those with such perceived liberty should they choose to eat such meat. They will be risking causing another brother to stumble. When Paul writes, “this liberty of yours”, is he acknowledging that it is a valid liberty for all or is he stating it is a liberty that the certain Corinthians with knowledge believe they have, but, in reality, don’t? He does not say, "our liberty" or "this liberty of ours".
1Co 8:10 - For if any man see you which has knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
Does this example come from Paul’s heart or is he restating a question that was asked of him when the Corinthians wrote to him? Did someone ask Paul, “Can we, who have such knowledge, sit at meat in the idol’s temple?” I suspect the latter is true. So Paul restates the question with his ensuing answer which stems from his concern that we not be a stumblingblock to any.
1Co 8:11-13 - And through your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Messiah died? But when you sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Messiah. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world stands, lest I make my brother to offend.
Paul concludes his first of two arguments against the reasoning of those in Corinth who felt at liberty to eat meat sacrificed to idols. This first argument stems from the second greatest commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself”. Love would not cause another brother to stumble. His second argument stems from the greatest commandment, “love Yahweh your Elohim with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”. This argument is found in 1 Corinthians 10:14-33.
Paul’s Second Argument
1Co 10:14 - Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.
In this and the following verses, Paul returns to the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols by laying out his second argument against it.
1Co 10:15-18 - I speak as to wise men; judge you what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Messiah? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Messiah? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
The answer to the last question is “yes”. The priests and Levites who ate of the sacrifices to Yahweh were partaking of the altar and the sacrifices on the altar. By doing so, they also declared their allegiance to and fellowship with Yahweh.
1Co 10:19-21 - What say I then? That the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to Elohim: and I would not that you should have fellowship with devils. You cannot drink the cup of the Master, and the cup of devils: you cannot be partakers of the Master’s table, and of the table of devils.
By eating meat sacrificed to idols, the eater declares his allegiance to and fellowship with devils. Paul is making a reference to Deuteronomy 32:17:
They sacrificed unto devils, not to Elohim; to elohim whom they knew not, to new elohim that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.
Not only is this unacceptable by giving one’s allegiance to another (devils) in opposition to Yahweh, but it creates a division between the Master Yeshua and the one who eats meat sacrificed to idols.
Once one knowingly eats meat sacrificed to an idol, he cannot partake of the Master’s table (the symbols of the bread and the fruit of the vine) until he repents and is clean once again.
1Co 10:22 - Do we provoke Yahweh to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?
We provoke Him to jealousy by giving our allegiance and fellowship to another (idolatry). By partaking of idolatrous practices like eating meat sacrificed to idols, we are putting ourselves in opposition to Yahweh and fight against Him. However, since Yahweh is omnipotent, it would be utter foolishness to fight against Him. Therefore, Paul is teaching the Corinthians to not fight against Yahweh by eating meat sacrificed to idols.
1Co 10:23-24 - All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another's profit.
If this verse is translated correctly, we cannot understand Paul here in the literal sense. For example, Paul is not saying it is lawful for him to murder or commit idolatry. I believe Paul’s sense is that Yahweh has given us a free will and allows us to choose right or wrong. Our wrong choices are not expedient (not to our advantage) and they do not edify us or others. Just the opposite is true; our wrong choices are to our hurt and tear us down. Idolatry and eating meat sacrificed to idols are wrong choices.
In all the choices we make, we should consider others first and put their good or their profiting before our own.
1Co 10:25-29 - Whatsoever is sold in the shambles (meat market), that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: For the earth is [Yahweh's], and the fullness thereof. If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and you be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if any man says unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is [Yahweh’s], and the fullness thereof: Conscience, I say, not your own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?
These two situations (vss. 25 & 27) may have been questions asked by the Corinthians. “Can we eat whatever is sold in the meat markets or put before us at an unbelievers feast that we were invited to?” Or, Paul may be trying to give real life examples of situations that may arise. First, this is not referring to eating unclean meat. The context is only dealing with eating clean meat sacrificed to idols. We cannot cross examine everyone who offers us food to be sure it was not offered to idols. Yahweh will not hold it against any believer if they eat meat sacrificed to an idol unknowingly. In fact, Yahweh will not hold any transgression against a believer if they are transgressing unknowingly. That is where His grace comes in as well as the power of Yeshua’s cleansing blood. However, once we find out it was sacrificed to an idol, we should not eat it so as not to grieve or offend another’s conscience.
In 1 Corinthians 10:28-29, Paul is returning to his previous argument against eating meat sacrificed to idols. That is, we must be careful to not cause another to stumble or wound their conscience. Verse 29 is often misunderstood. Why doesn’t Paul seem concerned about one’s own conscience? As they are eating meat sacrificed to idols unknowingly, they cannot have a conscience about it. Once it is revealed to them that the meat was sacrificed to idols, it is the conscience of the other that is to be their primary concern. Those that are eating know that Yahweh has given them grace to eat in such situations, but the other does not have that knowledge or liberty. When Paul writes, “my liberty”, he is not referring to the liberty he has to eat meat sacrificed to idols, but to eat such meat unknowingly.
1Co 10:30-33 - For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?
Paul is still referring to the two examples given above in verses 25 & 27. In other words, if we partake of meat sacrificed to idols unknowingly, Yahweh will give us grace because it was done in ignorance. Therefore, if Yahweh gives grace in such a situation, no one should speak evil of us for eating in ignorance.
1Co 10:31-33 - Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of Elohim. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the assembly of Elohim: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
If only we would heed these words today. We would have much more peaceful homes and assemblies.
I do not believe the Apostle Paul was teaching contrary to Torah or Yeshua. Nor was he teaching the Corinthians to eat meat sacrificed to idols. He was responding to many questions they had on various subjects, one of which was whether or not a believer who knows an idol is nothing has the liberty to eat such meat. Paul says no on two accounts; 1) that it may cause another to stumble or grieve his conscience and 2) such meat was sacrificed to devils with whom we are not to have fellowship or give our allegiance.
I believe this study provides a strong explanation that should make those who oppose Paul and accuse him of teaching falsely think twice. As an apostle of Yeshua and a Spirit filled teacher of truth in many other areas, Paul deserves the benefit of the doubt if questions arise concerning his teachings. If you disagree with any portion of this study, I admonish you to seek further concerning how to harmonize Paul’s teaching rather than seeking to prove him wrong. To accuse him of being wrong and exalt our own understanding of the situation as though we are right and Paul is wrong, especially in light of the fact that we do not know the dynamics taking place almost 2,000 years ago, may not only be arrogant, but dangerous. Yahweh forbid that we be found doing Satan’s work of falsely accusing the brethren.