In the first letter Shaul (Paul) wrote to the Corinthians, in Chapter 8 he talks about the eating of meat that has been offered to idols. He says, outright, that it is fine to eat that meat without sinning.
But the letter the Elders in Jerusalem had written to the Gentile believers (Acts 15) strictly forbade that very thing, so did Shaul overstep his authority?
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My question is: did Shaul really say eating meat sacrificed to idols was not a sin?
Let’s take this in the proper context, meaning we have to review the entire chapter.
Shaul starts off by stating not all believers have the proper knowledge, even though they may think they do. As for the gods and lords that the pagan’s worship, Shaul says that we who know God (and thus, God knows us) know, for certain, that these false gods don’t really exist, and as such, anything sacrificed to them is not affected by them. Therefore, when eating meat that has been sacrificed to an idol, a knowledgeable believer knows that there is nothing different about that meat. This is why, in 1 Corinthians 8:8, Shaul says that food will not improve or hurt our relationship with God; since sin is the thing that separates us from God, it seems that Shaul is saying to eat food sacrificed to an idol is not a sin.
He goes on to say that what we must realize is to those weak in spiritual maturity, if they see us eating meat in the temple of an idol, they will become confused and we might, in our knowledge that this is not going to affect our relationship with God, cause them to stumble into sin and think that it is fine to eat food sacrificed to idols, which is, in fact, sinful and was forbidden by the Elders in Jerusalem.
In the end, which is always where Shaul finally makes sense, he tells the Corinthians that as far as he is concerned, to prevent his doing anything that might weaken (even more) those who are spiritually naive and might think eating meat sacrificed to idols is not a sin, he would rather not eat meat, at all!
My feeling is that Shaul would never eat meat sacrificed to an idol, or even enter their temple, but he failed to state, clearly, that he was speaking hypothetically.
Essentially, his point is that even if a person has the spiritual maturity and faith to know false gods have no power on anything, especially food, and therefore what has been sacrificed to something that doesn’t exist is no different than what it was before it was sacrificed. However, he goes on to say that whatever we do, we shouldn’t allow our superior knowledge of God to interfere or confuse those with less knowledge and understanding, so even though we know that food sacrificed to idols is not affected by them, we shouldn’t allow this understanding to cause anyone with less knowledge to become confused and possibly stumble into sin.
I believe his point is that it is not so much what is done, but a person’s conscience and emotional state about doing that thing that is important. In other words, if something we do that seems wrong (but we know it isn’t) may cause another to think it is OK and end up sinning or feeling bad about themselves, we haven’t built them up in love but rather caused them trouble, so it is best that we just don’t do that thing, at all.
Geeze, even though I know what he meant, and am trying to get it across in a way anyone can understand, it still comes out confusing!
I guess the easiest thing to do, and this is especially important when we are dealing with the Pauline Epistles, is to remember that Shaul talks in a round-about way, using Jewish Logic, which is confusing- sometimes, even to us Jews.
Jewish Logic is my own term, and I define it this way: A Jew will not tell you what anything is until he has told you everything it is not.
In my opinion, Shaul DID overstep his authority here and should have simply answered the question about eating meat sacrificed to idols with a stern: Don’t do it! But, being a Pharisee, and Jewish, he had to go through his diatribe about even though some know better than others, we shouldn’t do anything that might confuse a spiritually weaker person.
The take-away for today is this: yeah, we know there are many false gods out there, and some people still worship them, but even though we know they are non-existent, we shouldn’t have anything to do them because it sets a bad example.
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