Some choices before us are clear and others present a dilemma. The apostle Paul frequently addressed moral choices in his letters to former pagans who embraced a belief in a Jewish Christ. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes to his Gentile audience, “Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, ‘This is meat sacrificed to idols,’ do not eat it” (1 Cor 10: 25-28 NASB).

Paul says, eat what is set before you, no questions asked! It always surprises me how many interpreters see this statement as some sort of apostolic waiver to literally eat anything in sight. But meal ingredients are not what concern Paul here, and he is not referring to Jewish food laws in this passage (cf. Lev 11; Deut 14). The self-proclaimed “apostle to the Gentiles” is not addressing Jews who discriminated between “clean” and “unclean” and there is no reason to think that the Gentile Corinthians were guided by Israelite food laws. Instead, Paul’s teaching focuses on the sinfulness of idolatry. He says, “Do not be idolaters… my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor 10:7, 14). Christ-followers, Jews and non-Jews alike, were barred from knowingly eating food offered to pagan gods (cf. Lev 19:26; Deut 4:15; Isa 42:8; Acts 15:20; 17:29).

To be sure, Paul mentions food in First Corinthians, but he presents a much broader principle behind it: when a choice before you undermines your faith and commitment to the true God, don’t do it! It may be legal, but it would be wrong (1 Cor 10:23). For believers, freedom has limits. When one becomes aware that a choice before him or her is clearly unacceptable before God, it is no longer a choice. Ignoring this would show disloyalty and signal that one is willing to dismiss the ways of God. Such a problem arises frequently when one has chosen a path radically different from one’s upbringing – a path foreign to the majority – which is exactly what Paul’s Gentile Corinthians would have done by choosing to follow Jesus in a Roman world. Being in the world and not of the world (cf Rom 12:2) – whether that world is Roman or modern – can be a difficult calling!

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  1. The statement “without asking questions for conscience sake” is interesting. The word “question” seems to mean investigating/interrogating (?). Are we not to investigate others (judge them by our laws)? The ancients example is idolatry. A modern example of without asking questions would be Halloween? Some say Halloween is worship of the devil. The ancients would neither accuse or ask so that they could accuse? Sorry, I apply principles! 🙂

    • You are right, that is very interesting phraseology. When we learn things (background/intent/designation) about something, our consciousness engages us whether we agree with this, an ethical dilemma might arise. Ignorance is bliss they say… 🙂

  2. Mega-farms, mass production and deceptive packaging, refrigeration sending food across the globe, Super-markets shelves over stocked – Modern World. I agree, a difficult calling now rather than when what we put in our mouths would be from someone we knew personally. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

  3. You misunderstand Paul, it’s not all about idolatry. Paul says don’t worry about where the meat comes from and alludes to Ps 24. He qualifies it by saying but if anyone says to you, ‘This is meat sacrificed to idols,’ do not eat it” The reason for not eating it is because the person who raises the matter is not happy with meat offered to idols, so because of their ‘weak conscience’ don’t eat it. Vs 14-22 are about venu not menu, don’t go to idols temple, but eat whatever is sold in the market.

    • Dear Ray, I totally agree on the Ps. 24 allusions. I had that included in my article but then decided to cut it out to make it shorter 🙂 And I agree that Paul has an issue with eating in pagan temples. That is clear. But idol meat was consumed in homes as well, not just in the temples. And the effect it would have on the “weak” eaten at home would be the same as in the temple. Maybe this is my cultural understanding that takes over when I read this passage, but if Paul thought similarly, along with the lines of defilement, then venue does not really change the meat status. Knowledge or ignorance of the meat status changes things for the conscience.

  4. Pauls overiding principle was do what is best for others not what’s best for you, this is what Messiah did.
    If you have brothers in the faith who are unsure, weak in the faith, uncertain in understanding then don’t do anything to undermine the faith the have even if you know it’s fine to eat meat offered to idols and they don’t think it is is then you shouldn’t eat in front of them. It’s not about idolatry.

  5. Dear Sir, With all respect, love and sympathy to you Jews, how it be tou do not understand your scriptures and subdue yourselves to the plan of YHWH to you. Gen49:10 tells plainly that the septure when departed from Juda means that the Messiah had come Confirming this by Daniel 9:25-26 which had happened and Jerusalem rebuild with its fenceand the second temple. It was continuous period and one week is still remaining which will happen in the near future. Also Hosea 3:3-5 & 6:1-3 confirma that the period is 2 days which @2000 years which had happened and we

  6. I understand symbolism and type, and I am doing my very best to understand how this is NOT talking about food, but the best interpretation here seems to be the obvious: the word MEAT is used here, which, even symbolically, always refers to FOOD. The other verses to what you have referred are not synonymous or even analogous to the first. The first refers to food; the others to idolatry. Doesn’t seem that any of the authors of scripture seemed to be too nervous about using the word ‘idolatry’ when necessary; when that’s what they meant, that’s what they said.

    • No deep symbolism here. The discussion is not about mere simple everyday food, but the food offered/dedicated to false gods. When one learns that something has been defiled by idolatry, is he/she obligated to reject it?

      • Prof Shir, this could have broad implications. Could or ahould this be applied to modern forms of idolatry, which abound? How should it be applied, for example, to organized sports, media, entertainment, etc.

        • You are right, Paul. This could be taken very broadly. It is not my job to provide specific spiritual guidance because that is something very personal and I cannot tell people what they should do in their specific life-setting. That would be very presumptuous of me. But I think the principle is valid and we should ask God to lead us so we can walk with the integrity of holy calling. The specifics can be very subjective so we should not judge others who do not walk the same exact path we do. Paula allows for that kind of wiggle room exactly.

  7. Hi Prof Shir, interesting article. Like I have also mentioned on a post of Dr Eli, there are christian groups who does not accept paul/saul and his teachings…and this is a good example why…he is not teaching what those before him taugh, he was not one of the original 12 and he is self proclaimed. He changes rules and laws as he pleases. The example above is a good one, another one is 1Cor 9:11 where he says that since they are sowing spiritual seeds they can reap material things from you, that is AGAINST what Jesus/Yeshua taugh, he said “You have received freely, now you must give freely”. Another one is in his letter to galathians, depending on translation he writes about being received as Christ himself or as an angel of G-d, Paul is n troublesome character and I think we should be wary of him and his teachings should not be believed as fact or truth. Whether he was a gentile “apostle” or not…warning lights are flickering.

    • I am aware of such groups, Mario, and I understand the concerns. I have seen the opposite swing as well, those who accept Paul and reject everything else – Marcion. I think a Biblical Theology rather then Systematic would produce a better understanding of Paul. If we assign Paul to his peculiar context then he makes sense. If we think of his teachings as universal statements of truth applicable in all contexts, then we have a problem.

    • Greetings Professor and Mario, Surely either Paul was an apostle annointed by God to be so or he was not. To call him self-proclaimed seems derogatory to a man who obviously had a calling and anointing from God to do what he did. Peter puts his writings on a par with Scripture in 2 Peter 4:14-18 and calls him a beloved brother. He was also accepted by the council in Jerusalem submitting to their scrutiny and authority Galatians 2:1,2,& 6-8 and Acts 15. I think the reference from 2 Peter above sums it up best Kind regards Susan

  8. Living in an area where Halal meat is really prevalent and given the faith/political situation, does that constitute meat sacrificed to idols (even though we know the reject idols)?

    • The answer to that question depends on whether you consider Allah to be a true God or not. I do not want to presume that you and I have the same opinion.

  9. I suggest the importance of the context of food shortages in Corinth and elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean during the 50s AD, and when we have evidence of the person responsible in the city for food distribution to alleviate the shortages. A token of food for distribution would be offered to the gods … one can easily imagine this happening day by day in the queues for food.
    I suggest Paul is addressing the new believers in the city:: What to do in this time of shortage if not famine. Do they take the distributed food or not?

    • Excellent insight! Understanding these instructions in light of shortages, imperial benefactions and food doles take the issue of discomfort with idolatry even further.

  10. I don’t think “all it contains” include the “generically reengineered” / “gmo” esp. animals. Otherwise, it’s very clear to me (when I prayed about the dilemma), that God want us to deal with food as food & good to consume. If there isn’t an issue, why then even mention it, associating God’s “given blessings” w idols. But when a human soul utters “a concern”, our eternal person inside (I find spiritually more discerning than my physical being) has “an issue” s/he cannot live with, then don’t wrong self nor others; my soul suffered losses & restored when I’m hurt. Halleluyah!

  11. Thanks for the article. A comment. Scripture does not seem to leave the idea that Paul was “self-proclaimed” apostle to the Gentiles. God told Ananias that Paul was chosen for this purpose (Acts 9:15). Paul said God revealed Christ to him that he might preach him among the Gentiles (Gal. 1:16). He was “entrusted” with the Gospel to the uncircumcised (Gal. 2:7). Peter, James, and John recognized it (Gal. 2:9). He was ordained/appointed to go to the Gentiles (1 Tim. 2:7). Not trying to take issue. Perhaps I misunderstand the meaning you have when using the word?

  12. Dear Prof. Shir,
    Do you think it is accurate to say that when Paul wrote “Jesus Christ our Lord” that he was expressing in Greek “Yeshua Messiah our Adonai”? In other words when he wrote “kurios” he was thinking “Adonai”?
    Thanks so much!


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