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Food sacrificed to idols
Francois Jordaan
April 2015
Published by EGEIRO Ministry, Republic of South Africa.
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The escalation of the number of food products certified as halaal has become a matter of
great concern in South Africa as well as in many other countries of the world. In order to
have their products halaal certified producers and manufacturers have to pay certain fees
to halaal controlling bodies. These fees are being recovered by means of surcharges
levied on their products. In this way customers buying halaal certified products pay a
halaal ‘tax’ which ends up in the pockets of the halaal controlling bodies. One of these
bodies, the South African National Halaal Authority (SANHA), alone received an income of
R11 221 289 for the tax year ending on 28 February 2011. 1 These huge sums of money
are employed for various purposes such as the construction of mosques and for Dawah
(Islamic propagation and evangelism) while it may even been used to finance terrorist
organisations such as Hamas and ISIS’ unholy war against Christians and Jews. 2 Using
halaal money for terrorising and persecuting Christians in our own country may even
become a reality much sooner than we may expect. Contributing unwillingly to the cause
of Islam, including terrorism and the persecution of fellow-believers, is a very important
reason for not buying halaal certified products and for protesting against such practices.
But are there any other reasons why Christian believers should take a stand against halaal
products that may be as important as the above reason or even more important?
Immediately the issue of food offered to idols comes to mind. It seems as if this practice
which included illicit sexual activities formed an important part of idol worship in both Old
and New Testament times.
What does the Bible then say about the eating of food offered to idols, about the nature
and consequences thereof, and has it any relevance for Christians living in a post-modern
society, especially with regard to the consumption of halaal certified food products?
The eating of food offered to idols is treated most thoroughly in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10. It
also poses the most difficulties to a clear-cut interpretation. If one looks at Paul’s
instructions in these passages regarding the practice of the eating of food offered to idols it
seems as if there is an inconsistency and even a contradiction with regard to what he is
trying to convey to the church in Corinth. In Corinthians 8 it seems as if Paul is arguing that
all believers know that idols do not really exist. For the Christian there is only one true
God. Therefore it does not really matter if one eats food offered to something that does not
really exist, even if such food is eaten in a pagan temple. The only exception is when such
a practice may make a fellow-believer with a weak conscience stumble. If the eating of
food offered to idols may therefore be detrimental to the faith of weaker brothers and
sisters one should refrain from doing so.
In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul is still arguing that idols and food offered to idols should not
amount to anything, but in addition to this he now says that food offered to idols is actually
offered to demons. Therefore the believers in Corinth cannot eat such food. It seems as if
he is referring to the eating of sacrificial food at temple banquets since he is saying that
believers cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. He is also
referring to meat bought at a meat market which may have been offered to idols. Such
meat may be eaten by a believer, even if he or she is invited for dinner by an unbeliever,
as long as no questions are asked about the origin of such meat, but if somebody informs
the believer that this meat has actually been offered to idols he should refrain from eating it
for the sake of the conscience of the informer.
Taking Paul’s arguments at face value it seems as if on the one hand he is saying that
believers may eat sacrificial food at pagan temples as long as it does not violate the
conscience of a weaker brother or sister. But then on the other hand, in total contradiction
to what he has just said, he is now saying that believers are definitely not allowed to eat
such food – almost as if he had second thoughts about the whole matter. However, almost
as a sort of consolation prize, the eating of sacrificial meat bought at a meat market may
be eaten by believers at home or at somebody else’s home as long as it would not hurt the
conscience of somebody else.3
More light may be shed on the apparent contradictions regarding the eating of sacrificial
meat by the church at Corinth by looking at other instances where this problem is
mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. So let us first look at these cases, at the
circumstances surrounding them and at possible consequences and let us make sound
conclusions before we return to 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 for a more detail study of these two
chapters in order to try and solve all inconsistencies.
3Benson is asking the same questions: ‘In chapter eight, he seems to go along with the Corinthians who claim that idols
are “nothing.” On that reading, eating food sacrificed to idols is not wrong per se: it only becomes wrong when
it causes a “weaker” member of the body to stumble. Yet, in chapter ten, Paul appears to change his mind when he
asserts that eating food sacrificed to idols is the equivalent of dining with demons. To complicate matters still, at the end
of chapter ten he advises that, when buying food in the market or eating with friends, one should refrain from asking
questions about the food’s provenance. So what is Paul’s real position?’ (Benson, p.11)
Old Testament cases
Mount Sinai
In Exodus 32 we find the people of Israel encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses had
gone up the mountain to receive instructions from the Lord. The people became impatient
with the duration of Moses’ absence and at their request Aaron made a golden calf which
they worshipped with offerings.4 They feasted and ate of the sacrificial meat. 5 Apart from
eating and drinking the Israelites also ‘rose up to play.’ This ‘play’ was not limited to
harmless merriment, but included sexual immorality as well. 6 As a result of this God
wanted to destroy the nation of Israel. It was only after Moses interceded in behalf of the
Israelites that the nation was spared. God did not want to destroy Israel for eating
sacrificial meat per se, but for idol worship which included the eating of sacrificial meat and
sexual immorality. However this does not mean that the seriousness of eating sacrificial
meat as an expression of acknowledging the existence of an idol can be downplayed.
From the above facts it should therefore be quite clear that the eating of sacrificial meat as
part of a pagan worship ritual is a flagrant sin before God and cannot be tolerated at all.
After the defeat of kings Sihon and Og on the eastern side of the river Jordan Israel
encamped close to the northern border of Moab in preparation of entering the Promised
Land. As time passed Balak, king of Moab, became increasingly worried about a possible
attack from Israel. He therefore sent for the seer Balaam to come and put a curse on the
Israelites so he would be able to defeat them. At the Lord’s command and through His
inspiration Balaam blessed the Israelites three times instead of cursing them. 7 Before
Balaam left for his own country he advised Balak to send women to seduce Israel and lead
them away from allegiance to God, 8 thereby separating them from the protection of God
and making them vulnerable to enemy attacks.
Balak acted on this advice which resulted in Israel committing sexual immorality with the
daughters of Moab at the foot of the mountain Peor not too far from their encampment.
4Exodus 32:1-6
5Do not be worshippers of false gods as some of them were, as it is written. The people sat down to eat and drink [the
sacrifices offered to the golden calf at Horeb] and rose to sport (to dance and give way to jesting and hilarity)
(1 Corinthians 10:7 AMP).
6This "play" was scarcely of a harmless kind. The sensualism of idol-worship constantly led on to sensuality; and the
feasts upon idol-sacrifices terminated in profligate orgies of a nature which cannot be described (The Pulpit Commentary
- e-Sword).
7Numbers 22-24.
8Numbers 31:16
The Moabite women invited the Israelites to the sacrifices of their gods. They ate of the
meat sacrificed to the gods of Moab and bowed down 9 to them. By eating of the sacrifice
the Israelites ‘joined’ themselves to Baal-Peor symbolically, which implies that they
acknowledged and honoured a mere idol instead of the Lord their God. ‘The anger of the
Lord was kindled against Israel.’ He sent a plague to punish them with the result that
twenty-four thousand Israelites died. 10 Here again it is clear that the eating of sacrificial
meat as part of a ritual worshipping and acknowledging a pagan idol is an abomination
before God.
9The Hebrew word shâchâh means to worship by bowing down, making obeisance, falling flat on one’s face and by
doing reverence.
10Numbers 25:1-4; 9.
New Testament cases
The eating of food sacrificed to idols in Greco-Roman culture
In the Greco-Roman culture of New Testament times the eating of food sacrificed to
various deities, including Roman emperors, seemed to be a common practice. A specific
Greek term, eidolothuton (εἰδωλόθυτον), is used in this regard. According to Witherington,
eidolothuton refers to meat sacrificed to and eaten in the presence of an idol or at least in
the temple precincts where the idol’s power and presence was thought to abide. 11 It does
not refer to sacrificial meat originating from the temple, bought at the meat market
(macellum) and is eaten elsewhere and for which the term ierothuton (ἱερόθυτον),
meaning sacred food, is used.12
According to Witherington no evidence exists for any use of eidolothuton prior to the
writing of 1 Corinthians in the mid-50s AD. Apart from one possible Jewish source, it
furthermore appears that eidolothuton was not a term used by either pagans themselves
or by Jews referring to pagan practices, but that it rather originated as a pejorative JewishChristian term, possibly even coined by the apostle Paul 13 or even James before him.
While there were variations from one temple to another and from the worship of one god to
another the following procedure gives a general indication of the sacrificial ritual in Roman
religion which included the eating of sacrificial meat (eidolothuton).14 When an individual
wanted for instance to secure the good will of a god, he would make a vow, usually written
on a wax or possibly a lead tablet. On the day of the sacrifice he would enter the cella or
central walled room of the temple which housed the statue of the god. He would then
attach the tablet with the vow to the statue and recite a prayer facing the god. From there
he would proceed to the stone altar in front of the temple where a priest and his helpers
would be waiting with the sacrificial animal which would then be killed and dismembered.
Only parts of the animal were normally burned on the altar. The rest would be cooked in
the temple kitchen with the priests and temple staff receiving a portion and the family and
friends of the worshipper the rest, which they would eat in a dining room (cenaculum)
adjacent to the temple. Since meat was a rare commodity for the common person, with
only the most wealthy Romans having meat as part of their regular diet, a worshipper
would normally invite family and friends to such a sacrificial meal to share in the
abundance of meat. Temple dining rooms can be seen as the restaurants of antiquity,
where the company of family and friends could be enjoyed in a leisurely setting.
11Witherington, pp.242
12Ibid, p.240
13Ibid, p.239
14Witherington, pp.242-6
Archaeological evidence indicates that the temple of Asclepius or the Asclepion in Corinth
featured three dining rooms. The disposition of each was exactly the same. Couches along
the walls could accommodate eleven people. In front of the couches were seven small
tables. A square slab in the centre was cracked and blackened by fire, showing that
cooking was done in the dining room and not in a central kitchen. 15 The Asclepion may well
have been the closest the city of Corinth came to a country-club for the wealthier members
of the community with facilities not only for dining, but also for swimming. 16 Having a meal
at the temple ‘restaurant’ should not be seen as a mere social activity. It formed an integral
part of the sacrificial ritual. It was in fact the successful climax to the act of worshipping an
idol. It is doubtful that a person invited to such a meal would ever have seen it as a purely
secular venture.17 There is even some evidence of an image of the idol being brought out
to dine with the celebrators, while the very wording of some of the invitations to such
temple feasts suggest the presence of the god was assumed while dining. For example
'the god calls you to a banquet being held in the Thoereion from the ninth hour'. 18
The Asclepion at Corinth. Source: Murphy-O’Connor, p.163.
15Murphy-O’Connor, p.164
16Murphy-O’Connor, p.165
17Witherington, p.245
18Papyrus Köln 57
The Jerusalem Council
Paul and Barnabas had just returned
from their first missionary journey with
the good news of how God has opened
a door of faith to the Gentiles. Soon
afterwards a number of conservative
Jewish Christians arrived at Antioch
insisting that the Gentile believers in
this city and elsewhere should live by
the Mosaic Law, including circumcision
and other ceremonial requirements,
since this is required of all converts to
Judaism. After Paul and Barnabas
refuted these claims it was decided to
send a deputation from Antioch, which
included Paul and Barnabas, to
Jerusalem in order to obtain clarity from
the Jerusalem church regarding this
matter. After much debate by the
Jerusalem Council it was decided that it would not be expected of the Gentile believers to
keep the ceremonial law. The only requirement was that they should “abstain from what
has been sacrificed to idols [eidolothuton], and from [eating] blood, and from what has
been strangled, and from sexual immorality.”19 Many commentaries see this decree issued
by the Jerusalem Council as a compromise between Jewish and Gentile believers.
Although Gentile believers do not have to keep the Jewish ceremonial law in its totality
they were asked to keep only a very small part of it as a token of goodwill. It may also be
interpreted as abstaining from practices most offensive to Jewish believers such as eating
non-kosher food during a Christian meal. In this way Gentile Christians could still have
fellowship with conservative Jewish Christians without giving unnecessary offence. 20
According to Witherington a different picture emerges if one treats these requirements as a
whole. “[T]he proper thing to ask about the Decree is, where would one find all four of
these items being partaken of in one place. The answer is probably in an act of pagan
worship.”21 As the term eidolothuton infers all four requirements should be seen as a
prohibition against idol worship by means of eating food offered to an idol in the presence
of the idol or in the temple precincts together with certain related practices.
According to most modern sources there is no evidence that the blood of sacrificial
animals was consumed by worshippers during Greco-Roman times and even as far back
as the Archaic and Classical Greek periods. This poses a problem regarding the
interpretation of the requirement of abstaining from eating blood during sacrificial meals at
pagan temples. However, according to Ekroth certain Greek vase-paintings from the
19Acts15:29 (ESV) Also Acts 21:25
20See for instance ESV Study Bible’s notes on Acts 15:19-21
21Witherington, p. 249.
Archaic and Classical periods do suggests that the blood of animals at thysia22 sacrifices
was usually kept and consumed by Greek worshippers, instead of being poured out, on or
at the altar. Only a small quantity of the blood was sprinkled or splashed onto the altar. The
rest was used by the mageiros (butcher and cook) to prepare dishes such as black
puddings, blood sausages and black broth to be enjoyed by participants of a sacrificial
meal at a pagan temple.23 The Greek Classical period ended at the end of the 4 th century
BC, but it may be quite possible that this practice would have been carried forward to New
Testament times. The requirement of abstaining from eating the flesh of sacrificial animals
that have been strangled forms part of the prohibition on eating blood since the flesh of
such animals contains a large amount of blood. The custom of taking part in illicit sex
during certain temple banquets is a well-known fact especially those at the temple for
It may be concluded that the decree issued by the Jerusalem Council had nothing to do
with keeping part of the Jewish ceremonial law in order to ensure unity between Jewish
and Gentile believers and in order to keep the Judaisers happy. All four requirements had
to do with idol worship – practices which remained an abomination before God just as was
the case at Sinai and Baal-Peor. These practices formed part of most Gentile believers’ life
prior to their conversion and which they now found difficult to discard. What the Jerusalem
Council was asking from Pagan believers is to make a clean break from all aspects of
Pagan worship by forsaking the practice of taking part in temple banquets. This religious
practice might have been the most difficult to forsake since it also had very strong social
dimension making it a matter of survival in an urban pagan environment as will be shown.
The Churches in Pergamum and Thyatira
In Revelation 2 and 3 Jesus addresses the seven churches in Asia. Two of them, namely
Pergamum and Thyatira, are rebuked for eating food sacrificed to idols (eidolothuton) and
participating in sexual immorality.
In His rebuttal of Pergamum reference is made of the teaching of Balaam, and what
happened at Mount Peor, and which is similar to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching
of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of
Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual
immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the
Nicolaitans. (Revelation 2:14-15 ESV)
Pergamum was an important religious and cultural centre in in the Roman province of Asia
with temples for a number of deities such as Zeus, Athena and Dionysus while it also
housed the first temple to the emperor worship cult. It was furthermore an important centre
for the worship of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, so much that he was known as the
Pergamene god. The city not only housed an Asclepius temple, but also a large Asclepion
or healing centre. The eating of sacrificial temple meals in special dining rooms formed an
22Sacrifices ending with a meal for the worshippers.
23Ekroth, p. 26.
important part of Asclepius worship as was shown by excavations in the ancient city of
Corinth. Such meals can be seen as gestures of gratitude to the god Asclepius for such
happy events as a birth, a cure, a marriage or a coming of age. 24 Various festivals were
also held in honour of the god of healing where sacrificial meat would have been served.
In all probability Pergamum also had a temple for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love
which explains the above reference to sexual immorality. The city of Pergamum was not
very tolerant to those who did not pay homage to their pagan gods and emperors by
means of sacrifices, festivities and rituals such as illicit sex and the eating of meat offered
to idols. Pergamum was one of few cities granted the power by Rome to carry out capital
punishment.25 This made the persecution of Christians a stark reality as was reflected by
the death of Antipas who was in all probability the first Christian martyr in Asia and
therefore the beginning of the persecution of the Church in Asia. 26 Seen in this light, taking
part in pagan rituals and festivities might have been a great temptation to the church in
Pergamum in order to escape the cruel death of a martyr. This temptation was made all
the more alluring by the teachings of the Nicolaitans who was ‘a group in the early Church
who sought to work out a compromise with paganism, to enable Christians to take part
without embarrassment in some of the social and religious activities of the close-knit
society in which they found themselves.’ 27 Christians influenced by this group might have
reasoned that since everyone in the Christian community ought to know that pagan idols
were mere images of wood and stone made by man and deprived of any life and power,
eating food offered to these idols would not really harm anybody and should not be taken
In Thyatira a self-appointed prophetess, called ‘Jezebel’, was leading church members
astray to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 28 Due to its strategic
location on an important trade route this city developed into a thriving manufacturing and
marketing centre. Thyatira was home to numerous trade guilds such as coppersmiths,
tanners, dyers, leatherworkers, woolworkers and linen workers. At that time it
accommodated more guilds than any other city in the Roman province of Asia. The trade
guilds wielded wide influence in the city's economic, political, social and religious life. Guild
membership was compulsory for anyone pursuing a trade. Without guilt membership it was
virtually impossible to obtain access to markets and trading opportunities. Each guild
provided specific benefits to its members and took actions to protect their interests. It was
expected of guild members to partake in the activities of the various guilds. Each guild had
24Murphy-O’Connor, p.164.
25Hosanna Lutheran Church (Online): Pergamum.
26IVP New Testament Commentaries – Revelation 2
27The New Bible Dictionary: Nicolas, Nocolaitans, p.886.
28Revelations 2:20
its own patron deity, and all proceedings and feasts commenced with paying homage to
that god or goddess. This included banquets, probably held in temples, which consisted of
wild festivities, including sexual orgies and the eating of food offered to a specific deity.
This posed a dilemma for craftsmen and shopkeepers among Thyatira’s Christian
community whose very livelihood depended on guild membership and taking part in temple
banquets and guild rituals. They may have found it extremely difficult to live out their faith
and practice their craft. The temptation to compromise became a stark reality. Necessity
for guild membership in a trade community must have strengthened temptation to
compromise. It seemed as if the ‘Jezebel’ within Thyatira’s Christian community advocated
tolerance for guild festivities and practices including illicit sex and the eating of food offered
to idols. She may have argued that since everyone had to earn a living, after all, there was
no need to take the patron deities of the various guilds seriously.29
Since it was the risen Christ himself who through the apostle John rebuked the churches
of Pergamum and Thyatira for eating food sacrificed to idols this practice should be seen
as a very serious matter.
It is clear from all the above New Testament cases that the eating of food offered to idols
together with certain supplementary practices should be seen in a very serious light. It is
portrayed as a flagrant sin with serious consequences and which cannot be allowed under
any circumstances while no exceptions can be made. It is actually an abomination before
God. By acknowledging the existence of pagan idols and demonic entities through such
acts the holiness and omnipotence of God are impugned. Feasting at the table of an idol
by partaking of food which had been consecrated to such an idol indicates a desecration of
the Lord’s Supper which may even infer a denial of Christ’s atoning death.
Seen in this light it is quite implausible to imagine that Paul would approve of the believers
in Corinth taking part in temple banquets as a form of idol worship thereby going against
an explicit decree issued by the Church in Jerusalem which he himself had endorsed.
29Hosanna Lutheran Church (Online): Thyatira
Paul and the Church in Corinth
Before we have a relook at Paul’s instructions regarding the eating of food offered to idols
it may be appropriate to relate this matter to the way of life in the city of Corinth and the
conditions and circumstances within the Church of Corinth at the time 1 Corinthians was
written by the apostle Paul.
The ancient city of Corinth
Corinth was a wealthy commercial
city situated on a narrow strip of land
Peloponnesus with the mainland of
Greece. Situated on a busy trade
route between East and West it was
one of the most important cities of
the Roman Empire. Merchandise
from Italy, Sicily and Spain passed
through its western port Lechaeum
(Lechaion) on the Corinthian Gulf
(Adriatic Sea), and that from Egypt,
Phoenicia, Syria, and Asia Minor,
passed through Cenchreae on the
Saronic Gulf (Aegean Sea). In order
to avoid the stormy seas around the
southernmost point of Peloponnesus
ships were often portaged between
these harbours which were about 6
km from one another across the
narrowest part of the isthmus.
Source: thpastor.
Ancient Corinth was situated a couple of kilometres inland at the foot of the Acrocorinth, a
small but steep mountain 575 m high. The original city of Corinth was renowned for its
wealth, and wanton sexuality; the temple of Aphrodite on the Acrocorinth had no less than
1,000 temple prostitutes, while the saying ‘to live like a Corinthian’ was a proverbial
expression for a licentious life. This city was destroyed in 146 B.C. during a war with
Rome, but was re-founded as a Roman colony in 44 B.C. by Roman freedmen. Its growth
was so rapid that in the time of Paul it had in all probability 500,000 inhabitants; a
heterogeneous population consisting of Romans, Greeks, Jews and Asiatics, with the
Greeks outnumbering any other group by far.30 The temple of Aphrodite was rebuilt and
soon life was as immoral as before as can be expected of a city situated between two busy
seaports with a constant influx of seamen and foreign merchants who brought with them
their virtues as well as their vices.
In Paul’s day multiple temples to various deities dotted the city to such an extent that when
the author Pausanias wrote about Corinth in the mid-second century A.D., his description
30Henshaw, p.231
of the city read like a tour guide of pagan monumental sacred sites. The temple of Apollo
was a central feature in Corinth while other sanctuaries included temples to the following
deities: Asclepius (the god of healing), Octavia (emperor worship), Hera (queen of heaven
and the gods), Athena, Tyche (goddess of fortune) and Artemis (goddess of the hunt, wild
animals, childbirth and the protector of young girls). The Isthmian games, dedicated to the
god Poseidon and which attracted a large concourse of strangers, were held in a plain
near the city. Gladiatorial combats were hosted at the amphitheatre in the city; Corinth was
one of the few Greek cities where such cruel spectacles were tolerated. Since athletes
competed naked and gladiators either naked or semi-naked both the Isthmian games and
amphitheatre contributed to the milieu of licentiousness. 31
In such an environment it must have been extremely difficult for any church to keep its
Christian identity and to remain truthful to its Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Church in Corinth
It seems as if no other church founded by Paul had more problems than the church at
 Division: The church in Corinth was afflicted by deep division over their preference
for specific preachers.32 Paul, Apollos and Cephas (Peter) each had their own
adherents. There might also have been other ‘spiritual leaders’ involved, not
mentioned by name. This division was deeply rooted in spiritual pride and conceit,
rivalry and self-centredness; outward appearance and eloquence were valued
above the genuine work of the Spirit. Apparently one faction saw themselves as
above everybody else. They laid claim to superior knowledge of and insight into
spiritual matters by means of which they were spiritually empowered. They were the
‘strong’, ‘mature’, influential and dominant faction who looked down upon the
‘weak’, ‘immature’ and ‘unsure’ who did not have the same spiritual insight. The
attitude of this group may have been the main factor in creating division. The
importance of rhetorical skills might have been part of this ‘super’ group’s
haughtiness. ‘The art of rhetorical persuasion was highly valued in the GrecoRoman world, and professional orators frequented large cities like Corinth, giving
impressive displays of their ability to entertain and instruct.’ 33 This group might have
been the followers of Apollos, who possessed excellent rhetorical skills, or even
another charismatic leader who was deliberately trying to mislead the church. That
there was also a group of committed believers can be inferred from the following
statement by the Apostle Paul: ‘For, in the first place, when you come together as a
church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there
must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may
be recognized.’34
31From the 60s AD women started to compete in gladiatorial combats, some of them naked (Wikipedia Gladiator).
33ESV Study Bible. Note on 1Cor1:17b
341Cor.11:18-19; ESV; own emphasis
Spiritual immaturity: The church’s divisive behaviour bore witness of moral and
spiritual immaturity. This may especially be true of the faction who laid claim to
spiritual superiority and maturity. On the contrary they were mere infants in Christ,
unable to digest solid spiritual food and had to be fed with spiritual milk. 35
Arrogance: Some of the Corinthians (in all probability the faction who saw
themselves as spiritual superior) showed a high degree of arrogance to the extent
that they not only challenged Paul’s authority, but also spoke disparagingly of him,
especially his speaking ability, thinking they were able to judge his spiritual
effectiveness36 in terms of rhetorical eloquence. We have a situation where a
specific immature faction wanted to turn the tables around by trying to mentor their
spiritual mentor, by teaching the teacher, the one who actually established the
church in Corinth, the instrument of their salvation and to whom they owed their
very existence. This spirit of arrogance was at the root of divisiveness in Corinth 37.
The irony of the matter is that the faction who saw themselves as the ‘strong’ were
actually the morally weak, while the faction they labelled as the ‘weak,’ which
included Paul,38 were actually the morally strong and those strong in faith.
Worldly teaching and preaching: Due to the emphasis on rhetorical eloquence
and human insight and wisdom the message of the cross was not central anymore.
‘The Corinthians’ fascination with the rhetorical ability of the ministers rather than
their message demonstrated that they were living contrary to the power of the
cross.’39 Paul had to remind the Corinthians of this. Only the Holy Spirit can render
the message of the cross comprehensible to someone, not rhetorical eloquence.
Misuse of spiritual gifts: Due to the misuse of spiritual gifts, such as prophesying
and speaking in tongues, church gatherings became chaotic. 40 The ‘superior’ group
used the more spectacular gifts (in all probability the gift of speaking in tongues in
particular) as a reason for spiritual pride, arrogance and conceit, looking down on
those with inferior or ‘weak’ 41 gifts.42 A lack of love contributed to disunity and strife
over spiritual gifts.
Abusing the Lord’s Supper: In the days of the early church the Lord’s Supper was
celebrated as a full meal, the bread and wine being consumed as part of a larger
39ESV Study Bible. Note on 1Cor1:18
401Cor.14:23; 26-40
41Asthenace (Greek): strengthless (in various applications, literally, or figuratively and morally): - more feeble, impotent,
sick, without strength, weak (-er, -ness, thing). Strong – G772.
meal. But in Corinth the Lord’s Supper was being abused. The rich were
overindulging, even getting drunk, while the poor went hungry.43 This led to social
distinction between rich and poor, between ‘superior’ and ‘inferior.’ What should be
a love feast in remembrance of the Lord’s death and resurrection degenerated into
social snobbery, selfishness and division.
Feminism: Feminist believes had led certain church members to seek to abolish
gender distinctions. It may be that the so-called ‘superior’ group included women
who saw themselves as more spiritually advanced than certain male believers and
even their own husbands. In order to solve this problem Paul had to address issues
such as the leadership role of husbands in marriage and the outward appearance of
men and women.44
Litigation: Disputes among believers were settled in pagan civil courts instead of
resolving matters among themselves.45 This tendency may have contributed to
division or may have been the fruit of disunity.
Sexual immorality: Sexual vice, such as adultery and prostitution, among believers
was at the order of the day without any discipline being exercised by the church.
The depths to which immorality actually sunk is clearly illustrated by a bizarre case
of sexual misconduct (somebody had intercourse with his stepmother) which took
place in the church of Corinth – this was even not tolerated among pagans in a city
and culture known for its wanton sexuality. It seems as if some members of the
church (in all probability the powerful, influential and ‘superior’ faction) were even
arrogant about this bizarre case and boasted about it and took pride in it. 46 Their
arrogance indicated an open challenge of Paul’s authority. The deep division in the
church is even reflected by the different views on sexual relations. On the other end
of the spectrum there were Christians in Corinth who believed that all sexual
relations, even within marriage, should be avoided. 47
Idolatry: Some of the believers in Corinth were mixing their worship of God with
pagan practices such as temple banquets and sexual immorality with prostitutes at
the temple of Aphrodite.48
Of great importance is Paul’s use of sarcasm in his letter to the Corinthians by using
colourful and ironic language in addressing their haughtiness. 49 Such sarcasm and irony
49With regard to 1 Cor. 4:8 the ESV Study Bible has the following to say: ‘Paul is speaking colorfully and ironically of the
Corinthians’ haughtiness,’ while Benson makes the following statement regarding 1 Cor. 4:10: ‘[This] passage almost
drips with sarcasm.’
are most prominent in his quoting of common sayings that reflect some of the believers’
attitude and approach to matters such as misusing the Lord’ supper, sexual immorality and
drunkenness – by parroting back their arguments he is actually exposing the
fallaciousness of such attitudes and practices. 50 Apart from such quotes Paul’s sarcasm is
also clear in various other instances. 51
Interpreting Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian Church regarding the eating
of food offered to idols.
Taking all the above information into consideration it is possible to approach Paul’s
instructions to the Corinthian church regarding the eating of food offered to idols in a more
analytical and systematic way.
Confronting the arrogant and so-called ‘strong’ group, who claimed to have a special
knowledge of spiritual matters, the whole of 1 Corinthians 8 is imbued with sarcastic
remarks. Summarising the words of Paul by paraphrasing it very broadly his rebuke may
sound like this: ‘Now concerning food offered to idols, we all share in the superior
knowledge of knowing that such idols do not really exist since there is only one true God,
the Father and one Lord, Jesus Christ. So we do not have to worry about eating food
offered to idols. After all, it is your right to enjoy yourselves at temple banquets. Since we
all know that we cannot gain God’s favour by means of the food we eat it does not really
matter if we do eat food offered to idols or not. But we better be careful that this advanced
knowledge we have does not lead to pride and a lack of love. 52 Unfortunately, not all of us
possess this knowledge. There are some ‘weak’ believers among us who as a result of
their former association with idols are alleging that eating such food at temple banquets is
actually a form of idol worship and that these idols are for real. Through your eating of food
offered to idols these ‘weaker’ brothers and sisters may be coerced into partaking of such
food as well. Having ‘weak’ consciences such an act may lead to intense inner struggles
and a sense of guilt since by acknowledging these idols by eating sacrificial food will
actually mean a denial of their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. So for the sake of these
poor ‘weaker’ brothers and sisters I ask you to stay away from temple banquets.
What Paul is actually saying by means of sarcasm is that the ‘superior’ faction should
follow the example of the more dedicated and mature group and not take part in temple
banquets. Such a sarcastic approach might have been the most effective way of
addressing the arrogant attitude of this group.
50‘Paul’s use of quotation in the text is often both ironic and critical’ (Benson, p.12). See for instance 1 Cor. 6:12-13;
10:23; 15:32b and 15:33b.
51See for instance 1 Cor. 4:8-13; 7:40b; 14:36; 15:34a.
52This is sarcasm at its best since Paul is addressing the so-called ‘strong’ group who is overflowing with arrogance and
After humbling the arrogant group by means of this sardonic, scathing approach Paul now
changes to a more direct approach in the next two chapters. In chapter nine he is
requesting the arrogant group to give up their so-called right to a social life, of which
temple banquets formed an important part, by using his own willingness to give up his
rights for the spiritual benefit of the Corinthian Church as an example. By following his
example they should not put an obstacle in the way of the Gospel, but their sole purpose in
life should rather be to advance the Gospel by leading a disciplined moralistic life. 53
In chapter ten he provides the necessary motivation for this request by using the nation of
Israel as another example in order to draw a parallel between the Israelites and the
Corinthian Church. God not only protected the Israelites physically and provided for them
materially during their desert wanderings, but He also lavished spiritually blessings upon
them. By passing through the Red Sea and by being led by the cloud the Israelites were
baptised into Moses, which Paul interpreted as analogous to a future baptism into Christ. 54
The cloud, the manna from heaven and the water from the rock referred to Christ’s everpresence in spiritual form. Apart from all these material and spiritual blessings the
Israelites put Christ to the test by ‘desiring evil.’ Paul specifically refers to the Israelites
worshipping idols at Mount Sinai and Mount Peor by eating sacrificial meat and taking part
in sexual immorality thereby acknowledging and honouring mere idols instead of the Lord
their God. As a result they were severely punished by God. According to Paul this part of
Israel’s history was written down to serve as a warning for New Testament believers, while
it was specifically relevant to the Church at Corinth.
As was the case with the Israelites in the desert certain believers in Corinth were taking
part in idolatry by eating food offered to idols at temple banquets while sexual immorality
was also committed at these feasts in many cases. In a material sense it may have been
argued that these gods were mere images of wood, stone or gold and that food offered to
such idols did not amount to anything. In a spiritual sense however, the stark reality was
that these idols and their temples were actually inhabited by demonic entities and that the
food offered to them were therefore offered to demons. By partaking in temple banquets
Corinthian believers were acknowledging these gods and their demonic powers, thereby
denying their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. To Paul this was a serious matter and he
instructed the believers in Corinth to flee from idolatry. He equated the temple banquets to
the Lord’s Supper. Those who eat the Lord’s Supper align themselves with Jesus, sharing
in his sufferings and benefiting from his death. The Lord’s Supper is also an occasion
when members of the church declare their unity with each other because of their common
unity with Christ. In the same manner those who attend temple banquets align themselves
with the devil and his followers thereby ‘declaring’ the Church of Corinth’s unity with each
other because of their common unity with the devil and his demons! It implicates that the
consequences of sinning in this manner may not have been limited to those who actually
partake thereof, but such acts may have had consequences for the Church as a whole.
531Cor9:12; 18; and 23-27.
54Rom 6:3; Gal 3:27
Paul concludes with the following statement: ‘You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the
cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall
we provoke the Lord to jealousy?'55 The arrogant faction had to decide whether they
wanted to follow Christ or the devil and his demons since their acts may be to the
detriment of the Corinthian Church as a whole. Not only that, but the Church of Corinth as
a whole had to make a decision on how to address this sinful behaviour within their mist.
In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul is also addressing the issue of meat offered to idols which is not
consumed at a temple, but sold at the meat market for consumption at home – the socalled ierothuton (ἱερόθυτον) or sacred food.56 It seems as if he is reverting to sarcasm
since he is again referring to common sayings, quotations and arguments used by the
arrogant faction to justify the eating of such food. These arguments and sayings are typical
of this group’s blithe and indifferent attitude regarding various matters such as sexual
immorality and the eating of sacrificial meat and sacred food. By paraphrasing Paul’s
sardonic reasoning with regard to the arrogant groups’ eating of sacred food his discourse
may sound like this: ‘As the saying goes all things are legitimate and we are therefore free
to do anything we please, but although everything may not be all that helpful and
constructive it is not something to be too concerned about. We all know that the whole
earth and everything on it belong to the Lord, even cattle and sheep and goats. Their meat
can therefore not become defiled by means of any pagan ritual. By thanking God for the
food you are about to eat and asking His blessing upon it, it is consecrated to Him which
will remove any possible pagan contamination anyhow. You may therefore eat anything
sold at the meat market without asking any questions on the grounds of conscientious
scruples. Conscientious scruples are something for the ‘immature’, who are at the mercy
of an over-sensitive conscience. You as ‘mature’ Christians ought to know better. You
should rule over your conscience instead of becoming a slave to it. In the case of a
nonbeliever inviting you to dine at his home eat whatever is set before you without asking
any questions regarding its origin for conscience sake. But if a ‘weak’ believer informs you
that what you are about to enjoy has been offered to an idol then don’t partake of it for
conscience sake – I mean for the sake of his conscience, not yours [which is non-existent
anyhow since it has been destroyed by ungodly living long ago]. In brotherly love we
should accommodate the ‘weak’ conscience of the ‘immature’, since if some of them are
tempted by us to partake of sacred food and succumb to such a temptation this may lead
to immense inner struggles. We should spare them such inner turmoil.’
What Paul is actually saying between the lines is that although the problem of eating
sacrificial meat bought at a meat market may be avoided by not asking questions
regarding the origin of the meat, it is still wrong to eat sacrificial meat originating from a
551 Cor. 10:21-22(a) - ESV
561Cor10:28. Ierothuton according to Nestle GNT 1904; Westcott and Hort 1881; Westcott and Hort
/ [NA27 variants]; Tischendorf 8th Edition. Eidolothuton according to RP Byzantine Majority Text
2005; Greek Orthodox Church 1904; Scrivener's Textus Receptus 1894; Stephanus Textus
Receptus 1550. (Bible Hub; Parallel Greek New Testament)
pagan temple. The following imaginary conversation where a committed Christian address
a non-committed fellow-believer from the arrogant group at a private dinner party in a
nonbelievers home may provide a good indication of where Paul’s sardonic reasoning
leads to: “You know our host has told me that he is throwing this party to the honour of the
god Asclepius since he has healed his little daughter. He has obtained some sacrificial
meat from the market which has been dedicated to Asclepius at the temple for this
purpose. I want to warn you about this. I don’t think we should have any of this meat. We
should tell our host that although we value his hospitality we unfortunately cannot partake
of the sacrificial meat, but would rather keep to the other dishes. By partaking we will be
acknowledging the existence of Asclepius, thereby dishonouring our Lord and Saviour,
Jesus Christ who loved us so much that he died for us on the cross. If you go ahead and
eat of the meat while I abstain it will send out a confusing message of what we stand for. It
may also lead to deeper division within our local church which may be even more harmful
to the image of the church. By partaking of the sacrificial meat you will be forcing me to
either eat of the meat or openly oppose you whereby I will be seen as a loveless person.’
Paul is saying that by eating sacred food the arrogant group who is known for their sinful
life will be tempting the committed group to sin as well. 57 Even if believers enjoy meat
offered to idols in the privacy of their own homes this will still be a sin. All members of the
Corinthian Church should abstain from eating sacred food by following the so-called ‘weak’
who are actually the mature and strong, who still have a healthy conscience and who is
committed to holy living and sanctification. What Paul’s is saying in short is: ‘It is wrong to
eat meat from the meat market if it has been identified as sacred food, whether in your
own home or in the home of a nonbeliever, since this will result in acknowledging the
existence of pagan gods and their demonic entities. Whatever a believer eats or drinks
should be done to the glory of the One True God (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and not
to the glory of some pagan idol and demonic entities.’
57Do not let yourself be [hindrances by giving] an offense to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God [do not
lead others into sin by your mode of life] (1Cor10:32 AMP) (Own emphasis).
Halaal products as food offered to idols
From the Bible it is clear that the eating of food offered to idols is a serious sin and an
abomination before God which cannot be tolerated under any circumstance.
The question to be asked is if halaal food can be equated to food offered to idols during
Biblical times – to the golden calves or Baal-Peors during the Israelites desert wanderings
or the eidolothuton’s and ierothuton’s which members of the early church had to face. In
order to answer this question it is necessary to look at the essence of eating food offered
to idols during these times. What was it all about? Why exactly is it an abomination before
God? If one looks at the instances where the eating of food offered to idols are mentioned
in both the Old and New Testament the following becomes apparent: Such acts were
expressions of acknowledging the existence of idols and demonic entities. It was a way of
honouring, paying tribute to and swearing allegiance to such idols and entities. But it was
even more than that. It was an act of worship. It was an act of denying the kingship,
authority and supremacy of Yaweh, the great I AM – an act of denying Jesus Christ as
Lord and Saviour.
There may be some differences between the consumption of halaal-certified food today
and the food offered to idols during Biblical times. Today we do not have the equivalent of
the wild pagan feasts or temple banquets to remind us of the sinfulness of it all. The eating
of ‘food offered to idols’ is not as detectable and obvious as in the past. We only have to
deal with small and unobtrusive logos on food products which may very easily go
unnoticed. But if one does not look at content but rather at intent then the essence is still
the same. The intent of Islam is for South African Christians to acknowledge, to honour, to
pay tribute to and swear allegiance to Allah and his demonic cohorts. All they require of us
is to buy and consume halaal-certified food. Their message is simple: ‘Allah rules over the
food trade in South Africa!’ The matter is no less serious than during Biblical times. The
modern version of eating food offered to idols is still an act of worship and a denial of the
Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is still an abomination before God!
There is another important difference. As reflected by the unobtrusiveness of halaal logos
and the secrecy and covertness of the certification procedure there is much more stealth,
sneakiness and deviousness involved today, which makes it all the more dangerous. In
spite of all this the Muslims are also much more assertive in their approach than the
adherents to pagan religions in the past. It has become a part of their jihad against
Christianity. It is a spiritual onslaught of a much greater intensity and it has to be seen as
all that.
In a certain sense the royalties we have to pay on halaal products may even be seen as a
form of jizyah, which is a tax levied on the non-Muslim adult male subjects of an Islamic
state, such as ISIS’ caliphate. For the Muslim rulers, jizya is a material proof of the nonMuslims' acceptance of subjection to the Islamic state, its laws and its religion. Although
South Africa is not an Islamic state yet our country’s food trade has been brought under
the subjugation of Islam by means of halaal certification and royalties. Paying surcharges
on halaal certified products may therefore be seen by Muslims as a material proof of South
African Christians’ acceptance of subjection to an Islamic state in the making.
The seriousness of the matter cannot be denied by simply ignoring small and unobtrusive
logos. The buying and consumption of halaal-certified products cannot be justified by
arguing that there is not much left for us to buy that is not halaal certified and that there will
be soon even less. Islam has often been called a religion of the devil for good reason 58 and
there can be no doubt that we have to deal with the wiles of the devil and his demonic
followers in resisting Islam’s halaal campaign. The most powerful weapon he will be using
is a lack of concern for this onslaught by downplaying its seriousness and implications.
If we look at the persecution and suffering of fellow-believers in countries such as Saudi
Arabia and North Korea not much is asked of Christians in South Africa to resists Islam’s
halaal onslaught. It will only mean a bit of discomfort and we may have to spend a bit more
on our monthly groceries. The worst that can happen to us is to be ridiculed as
fundamentalists and religious fanatics even by fellow-believers. But what opportunity such
ridicule will provide for witnessing for our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! What opportunity
to speak about His love for mankind, including Muslims, a love so great that He was willing
to pay the ultimate price on a cross on a hill just outside Jerusalem!
We should also not forget that the Lord is a holy God who does not share His glory with
anybody else:
I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my
praise to carved idols.59
…(for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous,
is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land,
and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are
invited, you eat of his sacrifice…60
58See for instance Fortress of Faith.
59Isaiah 42:8 (ESV).
60Exodus 34:14-15
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