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1 Corinthians 8:4-13 (KJV)

[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.  [5] For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)  [6] But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

[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.

[9] But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.  [10] For if any man see thee which hast 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;  [11] And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?  [12] But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.  [13] Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

1 Corinthians 10:18-22 (KJV)

[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.  [22] Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?

In 1 Corinthians 8, Saint Paul seems to be saying that there is nothing wrong with eating food sacrificed to idols because the god that the food was sacrificed to does not exist, but that we should not do it if a Christian brother sees us and thinks that the god exists because of that. However, in 1 Corinthians 10, Saint Paul states that it is wrong to eat food sacrificed to idols because the idols are demons. Does Paul contradict himself, or how can these passages be reconciled?

  • Great Question that has confused the church for 2000 years. – Mac's Musings Oct 9 '18 at 22:31
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  • This is more a comment than an answer. But as i cannot comment. I am curious if there is someone who can translate from the greek translation, and letz see if its saying exactly what our english translations are saying.because i feel they are either seriously mistranslated, misunderstood, or contradicting. – user14172 Oct 10 '18 at 6:11
  • Christians (obviously) cannot partake in polytheistic rituals, pagan sacrifices, and orgiastic banquettes (10:18-22), but this is not necessarily the same as them not consuming food which might-or-might-not have been sacrificed (someplace else, by others, during ceremonies that Christians were absent from, and in whose power they do not believe in in the first place) to pagan gods, and which is now available for public sale at the local market place (8:4-13). – Lucian Oct 11 '18 at 22:16
  • @Lucian Thanks for your harmonization. This is the explanation that I have been looking into recently. – CMK Oct 11 '18 at 23:18
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There is no contradiction; just keep reading in 1 Corinthians 10, you’ll see the same premise as in chapter 8.

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. 22 Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? 23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. 24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth. 25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: 26 For the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof. 27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. 28 But if any man say unto you, this is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof:

Verses 25 – 28 are the application of the principal Paul is using in the verses preceding them.

Paul wants the Corinthians to use their liberty wisely. He had told them in verse 14 to flee from idolatry and in verse 18 he tells them that whoever eats of the sacrifice is a partaker of that same sacrifice. Now please note, he couches that statement with the statement, “behold Israel after the flesh”. That means to remember the example of Israel under the OT covenant of the law; where the priest ate the meat of the sacrifice and was a partaker. This is not the NT covenant of grace however and that the believer is not bound to any OT practice. He is using this as a reminder about what a person believes and not a condemnation of the actual practice.

In verse 19, he reiterates what he told them in chapter 8, ie that idols are nothing but TO THE GENTILE, they represent other gods (verse 20). He states that he does not want them partaking of the practice of idolatry in the minds of the Gentiles.

Please note what he says in verse 23; he says that all things are lawful but all things are not expedient or not all things are profitable. That’s the principal in play here.

The believing Corinthians are well within their Christian liberty to eat anything anytime. However, for conscience sake (the conscience of the unbeliever) Paul wants them to refrain from eating meat sacrificed to idols if the Gentile understands that the believing Christian ALSO knows that the meat was sacrificed to an idol. Then, by eating that idol sacrificed meat, the believer is giving tacit approval to the practice.

If the believer abstains, then the unbeliever will know that there is a difference between them and the believer. Again, this is done for the conscience of the unbeliever.

  • Thank you for your answer. At the end, you say that a Christian should not eat food sacrificed to an idol if the person who gave it to them is aware that they know that the food has been sacrificed to an idol. The reason which you gave in your last paragraph makes great sense; however, this strikes me as hypocrisy. How can one argue that this is not hypocritical? – CMK Oct 11 '18 at 14:08
  • I'm having trouble understanding where the hypocrisy could be. Can you elaborate? – alb Oct 11 '18 at 19:34
  • The only reason why a Christian wouldn't eat the food sacrificed to idols is because the person giving it to him knows that he knows that it was sacrificed. If the person didn't know, the Christian would have eaten it. – CMK Oct 11 '18 at 21:09
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    Ok, gottcha. The mature Christian does not let his freedom stumble a weaker brother. Example: a weak Christian is struggling with drinking wine not fully persuaded that it’s ok under grace. So, when a stronger Christian meets him for lunch, he (stronger) declines to order wine because he knows the weaker brother is struggling with that freedom. This is not hypocrisy, this is loving the weaker brother right where he is. Bible says that if a man thinks something is sin, to him it is sin. So, no hypocrisy, just consideration for the weaker brother. – alb Oct 11 '18 at 21:50
  • I agree, and I would make it clear why I was declining the wine, namely, because the brother believed that drinking was sin. However, I was speaking in regards to when an unbeliever says that the food was sacrificed, not a believer. – CMK Oct 11 '18 at 23:22
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I find it safest to begin from the position that where I see a contradiction I always assume that I do not understand something or have missed something. This is often the case with these two passages.

In the fist place, Paul is actually discussing slightly different things in these two passages. In 1 Cor 8 he is discussing food offered to idols and the gods they might (but actually do not) represent. By contrast, in 1 Cor 10:18-22 he is discussing food offered to demons. Idols as gods clearly do not represent reality and do not exist (1 Cor 8:4-6). BUT demons do exist (see also James 2:19).

Second, because Paul strongly believes that there is just one God (The Father, 1 Cor 8:6) he does not need to worry about food offered to non-existent gods. So gives the practical advice that when buying food in a public market - don't ask. However, if you know or find out that it has been offered to idols, do not eat it. (1 Cor 10:23-28)

Lastly, Paul teaches an extreme form of religious toleration and liberty by not offending a brother whose faith understanding is different from your own. If something offends a brother, do not do it. See also Mark 9:38-40, Luke 9:49, 50, 52-56, Rom 14:1-23, etc, for more on freedom of religion.

  • You are leaving out 1Cor 9:28-29: [28]... 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. (NIV) – xiota Oct 10 '18 at 7:55
  • I agree, but as Paul notes - it is only if you know. – Mac's Musings Oct 10 '18 at 8:16
  • Earlier, meant 1Cor 10:28-29. Also, James believing in demons does not mean Paul did as well, since they disagreed on at least a few theological issues. Also, 1Cor 9-10 is Paul's defense against people accusing him of hypocrisy (1Cor 9:3). He may be speaking hypothetically, with respect to his accusers' beliefs, not his own. (1Cor 9:22 I become all these to all people, so that by all means, I may save some people.) – xiota Oct 11 '18 at 23:20
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Many ancient people, including Israelites, Greeks, and Romans, were henotheists. They believed in many gods, though they worshiped only one.

In 1 Cor 8-10, Paul speaks of what he does, which we should do, for the sake of others, "whose conscience is weak". What makes their conscience weak is their belief in other gods. (1 Cor 8:7 "they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god"). In this case, the actions aren't what matters, but the belief about the significance of those actions.

  • 1 Cor 8 – Basically as you state. It doesn't matter if we eat food sacrificed to idols because we know those gods do not exist. However, for the sake of those who do believe, we should refrain from doing so, lest they see us and fall.

  • 1 Cor 9 – Paul describes various limitations he places on himself for the sake of others, so that they may be saved. He is defending himself against criticism. It seems that he considers those to whom he is writing to be among those whose conscience is weak. So when he writes of other gods and demons as if they are real, it is for the sake of those who believe such things.

  • 1 Cor 10:1- – Paul describes the consequences of mistakes the ancestors made, such as idolatry, sexual immorality, and testing Christ. He warns against over-confidence. (10:12 Let he who thinks he stands, see that he doesn't fall.) The context is still those whose conscience is weak. Idolatry is a problem for those who believe in other gods. Those who do not believe simply cannot be idolaters.

    Regarding the "little demons" (δαιμονίων), it is the belief in other gods that makes the sacrifices real. This is a problem because... We cannot eat or drink of the Lord and demons = we cannot serve two masters. (To eat or drink of the Lord is figurative speech referring to believing and serving. See John 7:37-39 for another example.)

  • 1 Cor 10:23- – Paul returns to the basic premise from 1 Cor 8. Whatever is sold to you in the meat-market, eat it without asking from where it came. If you are with non-believers, eat whatever is set before you without asking about it. But if someone tells you it has been sacrificed to an idol, eat not for his sake and for the sake of his conscience/belief, not your own. (Those who bother to tell you most likely believe.)

Paul definitely does not believe that other gods are real (8:4), and he doesn't necessarily believe that demons are real. Even if he did, he personally doesn't fear them (8:5). The problem is that others' belief in other gods (and demons) can cause them to fall by having their loyalty to God tested. Paul feels that if his actions cause someone else to fall, then he too has fallen. (8:12)

  • Thank you for your answer. You make a good point at the end concerning testing a person's loyalty to God, although I don't agree with everything that you said. – CMK Oct 11 '18 at 17:12
  • I just object to the idea that Saint Paul didn't necessarily believe in demons. "I don't agree" was too strong, I suppose. Of course, there is no indication in 1 Corinthians 8 or 10 Saint Paul absolutely believed in demons, so you are right. – CMK Oct 11 '18 at 21:11
  • Have you ever spoken to believers of different denominations as if what they believe is true, for the sake of argument, so discussion can continue without being shut down prematurely? This is essentially what Paul seems to do. (1Cor 9:22 I become all these to all people, so that by all means, I may save some people.) He's been accused of being a hypocrite, so he's defending himself. (1Cor 9:3 This is my defense to those who judge me.) – xiota Oct 11 '18 at 21:33
  • Yes, I have spoken to believers of different denominations as though I agreed with them, even if I didn't, for the sake of argument, on occasion. That, I suppose, substantiates the idea that Saint Paul did not necessarily believe in demons; however, I do not see him elsewhere question their existence. – CMK Oct 11 '18 at 23:25
  • I'm sorry, but I don't know how to log in to chat, although I did see what you posted. The evidence that you provided concerning how Saint Paul describes witchcraft in Galatians definitely does support your position. I understand why you believe that now, although I myself haven't studied this, and thus I will default to the standard belief that Saint Paul did believe in demons. Thanks for answering; this is all that I have to say. – CMK Oct 12 '18 at 0:42
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It helps to summarize what it being said in each 'pericope.'

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.  [5] For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)  [6] But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

False gods don't exist; they are idols: hence not truly 'gods.' We worship and know that God alone is. The gods of the Gentiles are devils, if even that. But not gods.

[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.

But we must not assume that everyone has this awareness: our knowing it among ourselves doesn't transfer to everyone we meet: we must take this into account in our actions regarding foods offered to said idols which are thought and taught to be gods by the common people.

[9] But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.  [10] For if any man see thee which hast 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;  [11] And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?  [12] But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.  [13] Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

Just because we are free to eat food (because sacrificing to idols which are creations of god, won't influence the intrinsic morality of eating the food God provided), this doesn't mean that we should go ahead and eat it: others might assume we approve of the claim of the existence of these so-called 'gods.' Will we send someone to Hell over what we eat, digest for nutrients? Obviously that's ridiculous. I won't eat anything as long as I am live, because I wouldn't want to scandalize a brother to the point of damnation—which is definitely avoidable.

[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.  [22] Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?

Even though we have the liberty to eat foods sacrificed to idols (because the words of pagans over them have no bearing on them themselves), should we eat what has been dedicated to demons? We are Christians, obviously this is a horror. By 'partaking' we imply more than eating, but identification with the sacrifice—with the altar, and the God to whom it is consecrated. We should observe the identification with Christ in the Eucharist, and never partake of (read: identifiy with) sacrifices to demons instead, or as well as that, being double-minded.

As you can see, there are two different angles of the licitness of eating food sacrifices to idols in view in these passages.

  • So, you're saying that the two passages present contradictory ideas? – CMK Oct 12 '18 at 19:09
  • I have never said such. – Sola Gratia Oct 12 '18 at 19:24
  • What, then, do you mean that the two passages present different angles, as elaborated upon by the preceding paragraph? Perhaps contradictory was too strong of a word. – CMK Oct 13 '18 at 20:07
  • St. Paul makes clear in the last portion that the idols and the food are 'nothing at all,' but when you eat them you scandalize others, because you are doing more than just eating food. So it is illicit for a different reason than an intrinsic immorality (this food is actually contaminated by 'contact' with something). It's immoral for you to partake in food dedicated to demons. But also because it will scandalize others. It's not wrong to eat because it has changed from 'good' food to another food. – Sola Gratia Oct 13 '18 at 21:59
  • So, it is both nothing at all and more than just eating food? It's immoral, but also not wrong because it's changed from good food to another food? – CMK Oct 14 '18 at 22:33
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Charles Ellicott gives, I believe, a good answer to this question by identifying the distinction between eating foods sacrificed to idols as part of religious ritual and eating foods sacrificed to idols in a non-religious context.

Verse 25 (25) Whatsoever is sold in the shambles.—Here is the practical application of the principle laid down. When a Christian sees meat exposed for sale in the public market let him buy it and eat it; he need not ask any question to satisfy his conscience on the subject. Some of the meat which had been used for sacrificial purposes was afterwards sold in the markets. The weaker Christians feared lest if they unconsciously bought and ate some of that meat they would become thereby defiled. The Apostle’s view is that when once sent into the public market it becomes simply meat, and its previous use gives it no significance. You buy it as meat, and not as part of a sacrifice. Thus the advice here is not at variance with the previous argument in 1 Corinthians 10:20-21. The act which is there condemned as a “partaking of the table of devils” is the eating of sacrificial meat at one of the feasts given in the court of the heathen temple, when the meat was avowedly and significantly a portion of the sacrifice. The words “for conscience sake” have been variously interpreted as meaning, (1) Enter into no inquiry, so that your conscience may not be troubled, as it would be if you learned that the meat had been used for sacrifice; or, (2) Ask no question, lest some weak person’s conscience be defiled if they hear that it is sacrificial meat and yet see you eat it. This latter interpretation must be rejected, as the Apostle clearly points out in 1 Corinthians 10:28 that he has been here speaking of the person’s own conscience, and only there proceeds to speak of a brother’s conscience.

I found this after I asked the question.

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