Inconsistency and Idol Food image

Inconsistency and Idol Food

We might as well start the New Year with a puzzle. One of the most prominent ethical instructions in the New Testament is the command to abstain from eidōlothuta: idol food, or food offered (or sacrificed) to idols. It is condemned as idolatrous by Paul, and as tantamount to partnering with demons (1 Corinthians 8-10); it is specified as one of the handful of things from which Gentile converts must abstain, following the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15); and most emphatically, it is identified by Jesus himself as one of two things that churches are in trouble for tolerating, along with sexual immorality (Revelation 2-3). Yet I suspect that if you asked most Christians today, at least in the West, you would find that most have no idea what it is, and/or see no need to abstain from it.

This raises several questions:

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?

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 10:23-10:31)?

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?

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

On Wednesday, I’ll post a section of my PhD thesis on this whole thing, which will hopefully shed some light on it. Then, on Friday, I’ll try and answer these four questions.

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