CONVICTION, CONSCIENCE OR COMMANDMENT?
June 1, 2014
1 Corinthians 8
Historical and cultural background. One of the primary laws in the OT is the one against idol worship:
1st & 2nd commandment: You are not to have other gods beside me. You are not to make for yourself a carved image, or anything in the likeness of what is in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the water below the earth. You are not to bow down to them or serve them because I, YHWH your God am a jealous God. Exodus 20:3-5
The nations that the Israelites were attempting to displace within Canaan, as well as all the nations and people groups around them had gods and goddesses who were embodied by carvings or casts made of wood, stone or metal.
BAAL (master or lord, title given to the Canaanite gods)
ASHTORETH (fertility goddess common in Canaan) Ishtar Easter
According to the Mosaic Law, an Israelite who worships a foreign god or goddess was to be executed by stoning.
Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than YHWH, is to be executed. Exodus 22:20
If … anyone … has gone and served other gods and worshiped them …, which I have forbidden, …. You shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. Deuteronomy 17:2-5
Jesus would have never thought about entering a pagan temple, eating food that had been sacrificed in a temple, or buying meat from non-Jewish butchers. In fact, no one in the early church would have had any association with anything that has to do with pagan idols in any way.
Another of the main commandments surrounding the food laws had to do with eating the blood of animals. The view was that a living being carries its life-force in its blood, which therefore should not be eaten or drank.
Make sure that you do not ingest the blood because the blood is the life and you are not to ingest the life with the meat. You are not to partake of it but to pour it on the ground like water. Deuteronomy 12:23-24
In Paul’s day, the expression, “pouring it on the ground like water,” was interpreted to mean that an animal had to be slaughtered and bled out a certain way – which, at that time, was anything else but what I would consider humane.
Should someone not follow this law, he or she could be executed for it.
Whoever ingests any blood, that person is to be cut off (executed) from among his people. Leviticus 7:27
Now Jesus himself challenged the Sabbath law and the food laws … allowing for the necessary and helpful to be done on the Sabbath (pulling a cow who had fallen into a ditch, recuing a person who had fallen into a well, healing someone), regardless whether or not it was defined as work by the rabbis.
Jesus also stated that nothing that goes into the stomach ultimately defiles a person:
Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled? (In this way he declared all foods clean.) But what comes out of a person is what defiles him because from within, out of the heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, …. Mark 7:18-22
Yet we have to keep in mind that Jesus, the apostles, and the first church in Jerusalem consisted of Jews who, followed the stipulations of the Mosaic Law, including its dietary laws.
A third historical point needs to be kept in mind. Outside of Israel, the main square within the cities, called the Agora (= gathering place; place of assembly), served as a marketplace where merchants kept stalls or shops to sell their goods. For example, here is how ancient Corinth was laid out:
Near the Agora were always temples to Greek gods or goddesses. In Corinth, the two main temples were to the god of war, Apollo, and to the deified sister of the Roman Emperor Augustus, Octavia.
The temple buildings were places in which the gods or goddesses were thought to reside, not where people entered to worship. A statue of whatever deity the temple was dedicated to stood inside. The altars on which sacrifices to place stood outside the temples.
Besides the idols in the temples, there were also many, many household gods, little carved statues, to whom food was sacrificed in pagan homes.
Through Paul’s letter we know that some of the food that was sacrificed to the pagan gods was consumed, likely by the priests and the worshippers somewhere near the temple.
It was possible to eat food sacrificed to pagan gods near the temple:
If someone sees you, who have this knowledge (that pagan gods are not real), reclining at a table near a temple that is dedicated to an idol will he not be tempted to eat food sacrificed to idols as well even if he thinks it is wrong? 1 Corinthians 8:10
The knowledge Paul refers to is that idols do not represent real deities. So people, including Christians, had the possibility of eating food at a pagan temple that had been sacrificed or dedicated to the god or goddess of that temple.
Note that some Christians felt no compunction about eating this food while others thought of it as sinful.
Paul also mentions that some of the food sacrificed at the temple, in particular meat, was sold in the Agora.
Those who bought meat in the Agora could be eating what had been sacrificed to pagan gods
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question (about its origin) because of (your) conscience. Because the earth and all it contains belongs to the Lord. 1 Corinthians 10:25-26
Paul encourages the believers in Corinth to simply buy food without considering where it may have originated or how it may have been bled. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Ignorance is bliss. This exposes Paul’s own view that the dietary laws of the Old Mosaic Covenant are no longer applicable to believers under the New Covenant – the same as circumcision and Sabbath keeping.
This is very different from what happened in the earliest church, when Jewish Christians were confronted for the first time with the conversion of non-Jews to Christianity.
I’ve already mentioned that the earliest church consisted of Jews only. Now something new was happening and the question that was discussed most heatedly had to do with whether or not these converts from paganism had to become full-fledged Jews who kept all of the stipulations of the Mosaic Law, as the Jewish Christians did. The greatest area of conflict was over the issue of circumcision.
On one of these occasions, a council in Jerusalem under the leadership of James, the half-brother of Jesus, came together to discuss this situation and come to a compromise. Here is what they decided on with regard to pagan converts to Christianity in the city of Antioch in Syria. They did not have to be circumcised. They did not have to keep the Sabbath. They did not have to live under the myriad of commandments with regard to purity that were part of the Mosaic Law, with a very few exceptions:
- They had to abstain from things sacrificed to (polluted by) idols
- They had to abstain from sexual immorality
- They had to abstained from animals that had not been bled properly (from what has been strangled and from blood) Acts 15:19-20; 15:29; 21:25
While this was a huge concession on the part of Jewish Christians at that time, by the time Paul penned his letter to the believers in Corinth, he had moved far beyond the sensibilities of the Jerusalem church, with the exception of sexual immorality – which he considered to reflect the abiding moral will of God. So Paul rejected any and all of the dietary laws found in the OT.
I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus, that nothing (no food or drink) is unclean in itself. However, it becomes unclean for anyone who considers it unclean. … So do not let what you regard as good be called evil. Because the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of right conduct, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:14-16
Notice that “right conduct” was still of great importance to Paul. However, whatever purity laws there may have been, like those about eating only kosher meat and food and drink, Paul considered insignificant.
… insincere liars, whose conscience is seared, forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. Everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:2-4
Let no one condemn you in matters of food and drink. … You died with Christ to the elements of this world so why do you act as if you were still alive to the world, submitting to regulations such as, “don’t touch this, don’t eat that …”? Colossians 2:16,20-21
In essence, Paul is setting aside anything having to do with how an animal is slaughtered or bled, with clean and unclean animals. He does this
The Jewish markers so important in the Law of Moses are no longer of any significance to God.What seemed to be so important to God in the Mosaic covenant has no relevance in the new covenant. Somehow, Jesus’ teaching and his atoning death, had set aside any need to sacrifice at the temple or to keep the Sabbath or to consider some animals to be unclean, and so on.
Jewish Christians should not impose their convictions on non-Jewish Christians. Because he was opposed to religious people imposing their personal convictions or preferences on others, especially converts from paganism:
Why should my freedom depend on someone else’s qualms of conscience? If I eat with thanksgiving, why should I be condemned for eating what I am thankful for? 1 Corinthians 10:29b-30
So Paul champions the Christian’s freedom in Christ, which includes the right to eat food, in particular meat, that had been sacrificed to pagan gods and goddesses. Why does he do this?
3. Pagan gods and goddesses do not exist
When it comes to eating food offered to idols, we know that pagan gods do not really exist and that there are no gods except the One. (Yahweh – the one who exists) 1 Corinthians 8:4
Despite having said this, however, Paul says that there are circumstances when Christians should voluntarily set aside their freedom to ignore the Jewish markers, including the right to eat meat sacrificed to pagan gods:
1. When I am not fully convinced that to do something is okay for me
Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. … but whoever doubts is condemned if he eats…it is sin. Romans 14:5b,23
So it may be perfectly OK for another Christian to drink alcohol. However, if I consider it wrong because I’ve come from a home where alcoholism was destructive, or if I think it wrong because I am an alcoholic or because I tend to drink too much, then for me the morally right thing would be to abstain. To go against my better judgment or my conscience would in fact be sin.
Or it may be perfectly OK for another Christian to eat meat. However, you could consider eating meat wrong because of the way that animals for slaughter are raised or killed. Or you may be convinced that abstaining from meant is so much healthier for you, which to you means taking care of God’s temple.
The point that Paul made is that we are to live out our conscience on issues he considered to a matter of opinion (Romans 14:1)
2. When my actions encourage or cause another Christian to act against their conscience
This does not apply to those who would never be tempted to change their opinions about what they should be doing. It is speaking of new Christians or those with a background in substance abuse, or those who have trouble holding on to their convictions.
It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble. Romans 14:21
If food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, so I won’t cause him to stumble. 1 Corinthians 8:13
In 1 Cor 8, Paul gives the example of a Christian who believes in the existence of pagan gods and thinks that eating food sacrificed to such gods is wrong. To eat such food in front of him would tempt him to do likewise. And, as I’ve just pointed out, Paul stated that whenever someone acts against his or her conscience, this is sin.
3. When it compromises my testimony
So what if you have non-Christian friends that see you doing something that they consider to be questionable … how will that affect how they think of you and the truth of what you believe?
In 1 Cor 10, Paul gives the example of a pagan friend inviting a Christian over for a meal. The Christian should eat whatever is placed in front of him. However, if the host reveals that the food had previously been sacrificed to a pagan deity, whose existence he likely believed in, then the Christian should abstain because that pagan friend will likely believe that the believer is compromising his faith if he eats.
The same could be said about drinking alcohol, swearing, having temper tantrums, … all of which can and will destroy any testimony we might have.
4. When it comes to opening the door to evil
While Paul did not believe in the existence of pagan gods and goddesses, he did believe in a spiritual reality behind the idols that were worshipped by pagans.
What pagans sacrifice, they offer to demons and not to a god. And I do not want you to have anything to do with demons. 1 Corinthians 10:20
Paul writes this in the context of participating in the party’s that accompanied the worship of pagan gods and goddesses. He feels that there is a spiritual reality behind this act that not even those who are involved in pagan worship are aware of. They are drinking the cup of demons. They are eating at the table of demons. They are participating with demons.
Now I’m not one to see Satan behind every tragedy or temptation. I don’t’ see demons lurking behind every tree or indwelling every large rock. I think human nature produces enough evil and suffering without the help of any evil spiritual forces.
However, I do believe that there are ways that we can open ourselves up to the demonic, allowing it to touch our lives, to influence our thoughts, to invade our minds. So I think it is a mistake to watch everything that Hollywood produces, to call on spirits, to take part in séances, to channel spirit guides, and the like. It may seem harmless enough on the surface, but the reality is it can have real impact on our lives and is completely incongruent with our desire to live according to God’s will.
So what can we learn from this chapter about eating meat sacrificed to idols?
1. Give much thought to the distinction between matters of personal conviction and matters of eternal significance
On the one hand some believers think that everything that is in the Bible only reflects the cultural norms of their day and have absolutely no relevance to today. Today’s moral values are different. And since everyone is “doing it” or “approving of it,” pushing it as politically correct, and it is considered normative in the shows and sitcoms on TV and the internet, therefore it must be OK, regardless of what we find in the Bible.
I think that is why many young adults in church have lost any moral compass when it comes to their sexuality, to business practices, and to conduct in general. They aren’t evil, they just have bought into the worlds values.
On the other hand, there are those believers who elevate their own convictions about Sabbath keeping, or food consumption, or dress code, or music style, or hair style, or 100 other issues that they seek to force on others as moral absolutes. Some have even come up with a new set of NT laws to replace the OT laws, commandments that indeed reflected cultural norms and not eternal moral imperatives.
God is indeed concerned how we conduct ourselves. Over and over again we are told in the NT to conduct ourselves worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, when it comes to chewing gum or taking off hats in church, or not allowing drums in the church, or forbidding women to speak in church, … to my mind God simply doesn’t care.
If you are here with the express agenda to mold the church into your image, into your preferences … you’re in the wrong place.
On the other hand, if you no longer hold to the biblical moral code, that is an issue between God and yourself that you need to deal with.
2. Be a person of peace rather than conflict
In discussing different viewpoints on eating meat, drinking alcohol and keeping the Sabbath, the apostle Paul begins this section in his letter to the Romans with:
Do not quarrel over opinions. Romans 14:1
If there is one thing that has discredited the truth of Christianity is the way that Christians have been divided over theological tensions or matters of conduct that simply are not that important. I think one of the most positive moves over the last 20 years is the decline of denominational distinctives – or at least their importance – and the mutual support of churches across the board.
HAVE I REPLACED GOD’S STANDARDS WITH MY OWN?
As we come to the communion table, let us determine to love God with all of our hearts and therefore to live out his will for us, without becoming bogged down in a prison of does and don’ts that have little to do with experiencing the joy and peace that is to be ours in Jesus Christ.