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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

24 January 2006

Meat to Idols

Q: While studying Scripture, I’ve read about food sacrificed to idols in the New Testament. What exactly does this mean?

Eating with IdolsA: In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul addressed a standard practice in many Mediterranean markets: Meat they sold was often left over from pagan sacrifices. After the blood was poured out (and perhaps a certain part of the animal cut off for burnt offering or a gift to the priests of the false god), either the priests or the person offering the sacrifice often put the carcass on sale.

While some Christians could, in good conscience, eat this meat, others considered it a participation in the pagan ritual that had gone before. Thus, Paul said if you could do it in good conscience, then go ahead. If you thought it was sinful, then it was, and you shouldn’t.

Even if you thought it was fine, however, you shouldn’t consume if your eating caused others to think that you’d sinned and were thus profaning the Lord’s altar as you came to church to hear the Word and to commune. Not only in matters of eating and drinking, but in many areas of the Christian life, some think an act sinful while others can do it in clear conscience. Therefore, it’s good for us to remember how Paul closed this section: “Sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. (v. 12)”

Later in the book (10:14-22), the apostle also warned about eating as an act of idol worship, contrasting it to eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood in His Supper. His words still caution Christians who wilfully enter into godless activities during the week, then blissfully commune during the divine service: “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? Are we stronger than he? (vv. 21-22)”

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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