Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
This week’s Epistle reading is a controversial one, to say the least. In Acts 15 a council in Jerusalem issued an authoritative statement that Christians should not eat meat sacrificed to idols. Here, in 1 Corinthians 8, written after the council in Acts, the apostle Paul seems to say that it is all right to eat meat sacrificed to idols. How will we understand and deal with this challenge?
There is a key to understanding these passages. In Acts 15 we are told that Moses is preached everywhere. That’s the justification given for avoiding some behaviors. In effect, the council says that some behaviors are so culturally offensive to a certain group of Christians that they should be avoided. They will make the Jewish Christians stumble in their faith.
Here, in 1 Corinthians 8, Paul says something which is completely consistent with Acts 15. He is clear that the idols are not really people. They are manmade gods, not the living and true God. Therefore, they are no more deities than a table, a chair, or any other thing created by people. If someone has dedicated an animal to something manmade, the dedication bears no particular power. Therefore, Christians are not to be bound by their conscience to avoid foods which have been used in pagan ceremonies.
By the way, there was an abundance of cheap meat on the market in Corinth. Animal sacrifice was so common that the leftover meat was plentiful. It needed to be sold, given away, or it would spoil and be inedible. However, to avoid meat sacrificed to idols would require one to be a vegetarian or to spend a great deal of money on specially sourced meat.
If it’s all right to eat meat sacrificed to idols, why does Paul turn around in verses 10-13 and speak against doing so? It’s because our freedom to eat something may cause confusion and a crisis in the conscience of someone who does not feel the same freedom. The person who rigorously wants to avoid any contact with the idolatrous culture around him may have a troubled conscience. He may eat the meat himself and then feel guilty because of participating in a pagan sacrifice.
The apostle counsels the Corinthians to avoid causing such a crisis of faith in others. He would rather be a vegetarian than make a brother or sister stumble and fall away from Christ. The value of our neighbor is greater than our own freedom.
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