Idle About Idols? image

Idle About Idols?

On Monday, I raised four questions about "idol food", based on Acts 15, 1 Corinthians 8-10, and Revelation 2-3, and said I'd try and answer them by Friday (via Wednesday's post, which is where I tried to show my working). Here goes:

1. Why do Christians teach that we should avoid sexual immorality, yet say nothing about idol food, even though both are prohibited with the same force, in the same texts (Acts 15; 1 Cor 5-10; Rev 2-3)? Is that not inconsistent?

Sexual immorality and idol food are both off-limits for Christians. In at least three New Testament books, they come as a pair: sexual immorality and idol food appear to have been the two major besetting sins of many Gentiles who became followers of Jesus. So it would certainly be inconsistent to teach against sexual immorality, but to allow idol food.

Having said that, given what idol food actually is (see #4), the odds are that very few churches, at least in the West, actually have a problem with it. In that sense, pastors probably fail to speak about it simply because nobody in their church participates in idolatrous meals in pagan temples. (On the other hand, they may fail to speak about it because they’ve never noticed it, and/or because they don’t know what it is. Hopefully, these articles will help.)

2. How should prohibitions against idol food be reconciled with other New Testament statements: that all foods are clean (Mark 7), that no food is unclean in itself but that some should be avoided so as not to offend weaker brothers and sisters (Rom 14-15), and that all foods from the market and/or in private homes can be eaten, as long as they do not offend the conscience of others (1 Cor 10:23-31)?

The food itself is not the problem. As both Jesus and Paul make clear, all foods are clean, in and of themselves. But eating may well be a problem, if (a) the choice of food causes another person to stumble in faith, or (b) the meal is idolatrous in nature, and involves participating in the table of demons (before scuttling across town in time to participate in the table of the Lord). It’s all about context: meat that comes from pagan temple kitchens, yet is eaten in a private home with unbelievers, is no problem; meat that is cooked in pagan temple kitchens and then served as part of a feast in honour of the idol is a huge problem.

3. Can Christians eat halal food? If not, what do we do with the last ten verses of 1 Corinthians 10? If so, what do we do with all the other references in the New Testament?

Assuming we are not causing offence by eating it, or joining in worship to false deities, yes. Eating halal food in a home, or purchasing it from a shop, is the equivalent of what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1, rather than what he talks about in 1 Corinthians 10:1-22 (or, in my view, 8:1-13).

4. Most centrally: what on earth is idol food?

Idol food, for Paul (and probably in Revelation 2-3), is food which is served in a pagan temple, as an act of worship to idolatrous “gods”. (It may have a slightly different meaning in Acts 15, given the other references to Jewish food taboos.) For more detail, see my previous post.

I hope that helps.

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