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In 1 Corinthians 8, was Paul including James and the Elders when he referred to those who had a weak conscience? James and the elders implemented the law against eating meat sacrificed to idols... in Acts 15.

7 But not everyone has this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that they eat such food as if it were sacrificed to an idol. And since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us closer to God: We are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

9 Be careful, however, that your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you who are well informed eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged to eat food sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 By sinning against your brothers in this way and wounding their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.

13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to stumble.

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In 1 Corinthians chapter 8, Paul was not addressing James and the elders who were involved with Acts chapter 15. Paul wrote that letter to Christians living in Corinth circa 55 A.D., whereas the events of Acts chapter 15 had happened some 20 years earlier. When Paul wrote "we", and "if any man..." he included himself in with everyone who would read his letter. That is why, at the end of that chapter, Paul shows he is so concerned about not stumbling Christians who have a weak conscience, that he would never eat meat again, rather than do that.

Peter and the elders in Acts 15 were countering a danger of the gospel being distorted by those insisting that Gentile converts to Christ must be circumcised and abide by the law of Moses. Actually, the law of Moses did not speak of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols, but of eating animal flesh that would have blood in it; where the blood of the animal had not been drained and poured on the ground prior to eating. That was prohibited, and all Jewish people knew that, including Peter and the non-Gentile elders. They also knew that the people who sold meat in the market were in the habit of dedicating their meat to their idols before selling it; they were not speaking of meat from Jewish butchers, which would not have blood in it, and which would never have been connected to idolatry.

Gentile converts, however, not being brought up in the law of Moses, needed instruction on how not to offend Jewish people (which would stumble them from receiving the gospel of Christ). Therefore, Acts 15 spelled out for them the need to be sensitive to the fact that "Moses is read in the synagogues every sabbath" (Acts 15:21) and not appear to be doing things pagans did back then - eating meat from strangled animals (which would have the blood still in it) and "from blood" (verse 29).

This means that Acts 15 deals with Jewish people with weak consciences, who would be offended at seeing Christians eating meat from strangled animals, and meat previously offered to idols. Jewish Christians already knew that; Gentile converts did not. Peter and the elders back then would not be guilty on either point.

Twenty years later, Paul needed to remind Christians in Corinth about avoiding doing anything that might stumble another Christian. Paul was not harsh on Christians (especially new ones) who had overly-sensitive consciences and who might go a bit overboard on what not to do. Rather, he would support them by never eating meat again if that would prevent them being stumbled in the faith.

Two entirely different time periods; two different audiences; two different (if related) issues. And, crucially, James and the elders were not implementing any law; they were countering legalism that would prevent Gentiles becoming Christians, for if they became circumcised and therefore obliged to keep the whole law of Moses, Christ would avail them nothing. Earlier, he wrote:

"All things are lawful unto me, but not all things are expedient; all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." 1 Corinthians 6:12 A.V.

"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace... But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law." Galatians 5:1-4 & 18 A.V. (bold italics mine)

Peter and the elders knew that fine well, and were not those with "a weak conscience" that Paul made mention of in his letter.

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  • I don't think "Moses is read in the synagogues every sabbath" means what you think it means. I personally believe it meant that the "gentiles" would learn more about the Torah as they kept the sabbath. The burden Peter was talking about can be taken in more then one way, but I believe it points to the traditions of men, i.e., the hedge the pharisees and sadducees built up around the Torah. Read Rev 2:14, it directly relates the issue being discussed (eating meat sacrificed to idols). These are very subtle topics, and traditional exegesis I think is wrong.
    – Yahuchanan
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 0:27
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    Not a problem. I would however emphasize that the Torah is not bondage, I think people misunderstand what the scriptures mean. Yahweh Himself magnifies and esteems His law. David says the Torah of Yahweh's mouth is better then all gold and silver. Yah also said "One Torah shall be to him that is home-born, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you" and that "I shall not profane My covenant, Neither would I change what has gone out from My lips". Either we're misunderstanding scripture or Yahweh has changed, so I believe it has to be the former. - Be whole and complete in Messiah Jesus.
    – Yahuchanan
    Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 13:40
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    @Yahuchanan Indeed, the Torah is not bondage. I would never want to give that impression. But some people can put themselves into bondage to legalism if they misunderstand the purpose of Torah. Legalism is not what the Torah advocates, but many people think that pleasing God requires meticulous observance of every detail of how the law has been interpreted. Thank you for your comment.
    – Anne
    Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 15:57
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    @Yahuchanan You are correct to say many people call ‘legalism’ God’s requirements which they do not intend to obey. Paul had to deal with such problems, see Rom.ch.6. Then you say “The Torah was not nailed to the cross”, only the penalty for breaking that law. But the penalty is death and we all die for we are all sinners (Rom.6:23) So Paul reasons that we, being dead in our sins, have become alive through faith in Christ, forgiven of all our sins, and the handwritten ordinances have been blotted out, Christ having taken that away by nailing it to the cross; Col.2:11-14. Yet believers
    – Anne
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 10:07
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    I was speaking of the second death. The hand written ordinances are not Torah, which is eternal. Maybe you meant something else? Regardless, you are correct, we've digressed. May Yahushua bless you and give you peace.
    – Yahuchanan
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 23:12
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The entire reason that eating meat sacrificed to idols was a problem was that it was understood to be a kind of worship. In fact, the Jewish priests worshipped YHWH in the same manner, by eating the bread of the altar regularly, and by eating a portion of burnt offerings (so actual meat), as well. The injunction in Acts 15 is against pagan worship, and, further, against scandal.

In 1 Cor 8, Paul is dealing with a slightly different question from the Corinthians. In many Greek cities, you could purchase meat from a temple that had been sacrificed, similar to a restaurant today. You did not necessarily need to participate in the worship of that temple's idol in order to eat this meat. Paul does not contradict the Council of Jerusalem in any way, since he says that it is fine in principle to eat this meat (not as a sacrifice), but he states that it ought not be done because it will give scandal. This is a fine reading on his part of the Council decision.

This kind of reading can be applied to other kinds of occasions for scandal today. It's not in principle immoral to live with your betrothed before marriage (you could abstain from sexual immorality even under the same roof), though the Church has generally taught that cohabitation is immoral. Why? In the first place, cohabitation is taken to mean living together sexually. Secondarily, however, you should not do it in order to avoid scandalizing your brother. That should is not a mere suggestion. Scandal is a very serious crime, and you must avoid it unless you have a grave enough reason to do a scandalous thing.

In any case, the Council was only giving a legal requirement to Gentile converts. They were dealing with the Judaizer heresy, which said that Christians must keep kosher laws in order to be saved. The laws given here are not meant to be taken strictly as moral law (the abstention from "sexual immorality" is elsewhere in Scripture and in Tradition shown to be required under moral law), but as legal requirements given in lieu of requiring Gentile converts to keep kosher.

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The key statement occurs just before this in verse 4:

… we know that an idol is nothing at all in the world …

There is nothing different, physically or spiritually, about a chicken that's been sacrificed to an idol. If we thought there were, we would be imputing power to that idol, but we know that the idol is just a piece of wood or stone that has no significance to a Christian.

Someone that has been a Christian for a long time will fully understand this.

But new converts won't. They will feel uncomfortable seeing other Christians eating this food, much less eating it themselves.

Paul understands this situation, and is telling the more senior believers to be aware of the effect they might have on the newer converts. The fear is that they might be scared away before they can learn the more important beliefs of Christianity.


As for Acts 15, that is a totally unrelated matter. It concerns the eligibility of gentiles to study the scriptures in the synagogues.

For details see my answer to Were there implicit laws not referenced in the Acts 15 letter to gentile believers? - Christianity Stack Exchange,

and the links in Did the Jerusalem council allow believers to eat e.g., rabbit meat? - Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange.

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  • Honest question, how would you harmonize this with Acts 15:19-20, 28-29 and Revelation 2:12-17, 20 where it explicitly speaks against eating food sacrificed to idols? Are there different settings or different practices of eating food sacrificed to idols?
    – O.J.
    Commented May 18 at 4:15
  • @O.J. Acts was not a general rule, but strictly about the behaviour of non-Jews that wanted to learn Judaism. See my answer to Were there implicit laws not referenced in the Acts 15 letter to gentile believers? - Christianity Stack Exchange. ¶ Revelation is about encouraging people to deliberatelyeat the meat because it is sacrificed (i.e. to treat it as something special), turning them toward a false religion. Commented May 18 at 13:29
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Paul specifically defines who the people are that have "a weak conscience" in V7:

  • those who do not have this knowledge (ie of V4-6) about the true God of heaven and that there are no other gods at all - see quote below in Appendix
  • those accustomed to worshiping idols, ie, new-comers to Christianity, or "baby-Christians"

Thus, Paul is referring in 1 Cor 8 to recent converts to Christianity from pagan idolatry, not Jews. This is further reinforced by the simple fact that Paul is addressing an ex-pagan church in Corinth, not the apostles in Jerusalem.

APPENDIX - the "knowledge" whose lack creates a weak conscience in 1 Cor 8

4 So 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 there are many so-called gods and lords), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we exist. And there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we exist.

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  • -1 You need to continue with the rest of the passage which speaks of food. The question of diet and being right with God is fundamentally Jewish. The Torah clearly prohibits certain foods, which if eaten would be a sin. The Torah is silent on the question of “leftovers” from clean animals offered to idols. Paul’s answer is there are no legal restrictions on that meat. He qualifies his answer by saying if another objects to that type of meat, then you should avoid the issue by not eating that meat. The weaker must include Jews who see eating anything offered to idols as wrong. Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 21:54
  • @RevelationLad - You have miss-understood the question - it is specifically about food scarified to idols!
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 22:49
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Background
Most scholars understand Chapter 8 addresses a question the Corinthians asked about eating food which had been offered to idols:

Now concerning food offered to idols... (1 Corinthians 8 ESV)

Since this issue had been "settled" by the Jerusalem Council, Paul's answer is expected to be, "No. Food offered to idols must be avoided."

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15)

Instead of this obvious response, Paul takes three chapters for a lengthy discussion before giving an answer which is obviously at odds with the decision from the Jerusalem Council:

23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. (! Corinthians 10)

Judging from this response, the issue in Corinth involves Paul's own actions. If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? The exact form of the question is not given, but likely it was something like, "How can you be a true Apostle if you eat food offered to idols?" Paul defends his actions with an answer which is focused on the difference between knowledge and love before getting in the details in the issue of food.

Weaker Faith
As the OP notes, Paul says one with the weaker faith sees eating as a legal issue. Their knowledge is lacking since they do not understand everything is from the Lord and should be handled as such. But, the proper response in all situations where a weaker believer is present, is to forgo your privileges out of consideration for the other. That is law of love.

Eat whatever is set before you without raising question. Table fellowship should not be a time for questioning another's eating habits. This is true for all meat, not just that offered to idols:

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:13)

"Meat" is κρέας literally flesh. It is the generic term for meat, not εἰδωλόθυτος which is "idol meat." Paul says he would not eat or offer meat to a vegetarian. To do so would be a failure to act with love. Paul's reasoning cuts both ways, the vegetarian should not make an issue over someone's decision to eat meat.

Paul is getting to the heart of the problems in Corinth. Those with greater knowledge are using it to put others down. It is a form of arrogance and it demonstrates the lack of knowledge about love. The overriding principle in all situations, not just with idol meat, is to respond with love. If someone believes certain food should not be eaten, do not debate their freedom to eat what they choose; rather enjoy the meal. If someone objects about the food, the correct doctrinal response is not found in food. It is found in love for others.

Is James Weaker?
In comparing Acts 15 with the situation in Corinth, it is wrong to place James in a group of weaker faith. Acts clearly states those with the weaker faith are those who came, without authorization from Jerusalem:

1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”...24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions. (Acts 15)

It is true the restrictions James places are those consistent with those who Paul terms, "weaker." Yet there are some aspects of the requirement which must be considered. First, James is addressing an issue raised by those who are weaker. Paul would be in complete agreement one should not eat anything offered to idols when dining with those. Paul would add this extends beyond idol meat, and includes unclean animals or any meat if the other was vegetarian.

Second, as a practical matter, the requirement from James is a general rule, which most, even those who are not weaker would be in agreement. Even Paul says avoidance is always an appropriate response. True Paul offers exceptions to the general rule, but those exceptions say nothing about James' faith. If Paul had written a general instruction for multiple churches, his position would most likely be the same as James'. Since Paul is writing to the Corinthians, a church he established, he is in a position to address exceptions to the general rule.

Finally, James says to abstain from things polluted by idols. There is some "wiggle room" because as Paul explains, idols are nothing and are incapable of "polluting" things. In a very real sense, Paul explains how it is the individual or group understanding which determines if something has been "polluted" by an idol.

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