Monday, December 2, 2013

Essay 3—Freedom and Responsibility—(6) Food Offered to Idols, Revisited

Outline: 020-E3.6-Food Offered to Idols Revisited
Passage: 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1
Discussion Audio (1h22m)

Paul was a Liberal[1]

In this final section of the third essay, Paul returns to the original question posed to him by the believers in Corinth: “what about food offered to idols?” He has already made clear that Christians cannot participate in feasts that accompany pagan worship services. But what about “sacrificial meat” offered for purchase at marketplaces following pagan festivals? And what about banquets held in an unbeliever’s home to which a believer is invited? These are the loose ends that Paul ties up in today’s passage.

On the first question – meat offered for sale at the public marketplace – Paul writes that believers shouldn’t worry about its origins. All food and drink ultimately comes from God, not idols. Therefore, thank God and don’t concern yourself with whether or not the meat was offered to idols. Gordon Fee notes an interesting irony that Paul may or may not have intended in his use of Psalm 24:1 LXX:

But what Paul here does is full of irony toward his Jewish heritage, whether intended or not. The rabbis saw the text as the reason for thanking God for their food; but the food they thus blessed had been thoroughly "investigated" before the prayer. Paul now uses the text to justify eating all foods, even those forbidden by Jews, since God is the ultimate source of the food—even that sold in the macellum [marketplace]. For that reason it can be taken with thanksgiving. The clear implication is that nothing contaminates food as such along the way. Apart from his radical statements on circumcision, it is hard to imagine anything more un- Jewish in the apostle than this.[2]

Paul next responds to the second issue – what about food at an unbeliever’s’ home? He writes that the default position for the believer is to not question the food’s origins, to not concern one’s self about it, but to partake of it. He notes that he himself partakes of such foods.

But there is one caveat. It is found in the center of this ring composition. What is “someone” informs the believer that the meat is “sacrificial meat?” In that case, Paul writes that the believer should respect the warning and abstain from eating the meat.

But who precisely does Paul intend by “someone?” It has been interpreted as another believer also at this banquet, the pagan host, and an pagan guest. Gordon Fee argues, referring to original language and syntax, that the best fit is a pagan guest.[3] So the one situation in which a believer ought to refrain from consuming meat offered to idols outside of the pagan temple is when he or she is at a banquet hosted by an unbeliever and another unbelieving guest points it out “to be helpful.”

In our discussion, an interesting point was brought out that a “weak” Christian brother or sister should not be accompanying a stronger believer to such a banquet in the first place. This observation may not be present directly in the text, but it makes sense in the overall theme of mission that underlies this entire discussion. Paul had discussed earlier that it takes great discipline and effort to make one’s self effective for mission to outsiders (1 Cor. 9:19-27). In today’s passage, Paul wrote that everything should be done with “the other”[4] in mind (1 Cor. 10:24). For Paul, a place where Christians must voluntarily retrain exercise of freedom is in loving consideration of an unbeliever’s beliefs. Gordon Fee writes,

The clue lies in the meaning of "conscience," which is not to be understood as "a moral arbiter" but as "moral consciousness." The one who has pointed out the sacrificial origins of this meat to a Christian has done so out of a sense of moral obligation to the Christian, believing that Christians, like Jews, would not eat such food. So as not to offend that person, nor his/her moral expectations of Christians, and precisely because it is not a matter of Christian moral consciousness, one should forbear under these circumstances.[5]

But what about offending another Christian by one’s actions? Fee continues,

If this is the correct understanding of the text, then what Paul is not referring to is a fellow believer's conscience as restricting the actions of another, as is so often assumed [my emphasis]. The significance of this observation is that Paul does not allow any Christian to make food a matter of Christian concern; he does not even do that in Rom. 14, where he does allow people their differences in such matters.[6]

My broad summary of Essay Three (1 Cor. 8:1-11:1) is as follows:

  1. Consumption of sacrificial meat should not concern Christians, wherever it occurs, except…
    1. Eating as a part of idol worship is prohibited
    2. And when an unbeliever points out the sacrificial meat to you
  2. Don’t make eating and drinking a “test of Christian fellowship”
  3. In all things, keep mission to “the other” your foremost concern – as far as it is in your power, do nothing to offend them and do everything allowable to integrate with them, so that your actions and words will be seen as God’s glory and gospel

I return to the words of Gordon Fee as in his wrap up of this passage:

Despite this passage, the issue of personal freedom in matters that are adiaphora [nonessentials], and the limitation of freedom for the sake of others, continue to haunt the church. Usually the battle rages over what constitutes adiaphora. Conservatives on these issues simply fail to reckon with how "liberal" Paul's own view really is. Hence Paul is seldom heard for the sake of traditional regulations. On the other hand, the assertion of freedom to the hurt of others is not the biblical view either. However, in most contemporary settings the "offended" are not unbelievers or new Christians, but those who tend to confuse their own regulations with the eternal will of God.[7]

[1] “Open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values… favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms.” Via Google search “define liberal.”

[2] New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle, entry for 1 Cor. 10:26.

[3] NICNT, entry for 1 Cor. 10:28b-29a.

[4] Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes. Kenneth Bailey discusses why “the other” is a better translation than “neighbor” and how this term means those outside one’s own family, tribe, ethnicity, and religion. Kindle edition, locations 3328-3339.

[5] NICNT, entry for 1 Cor. 10:28b-29a.

[6] Ibid.

[7] NICNT, entry for 1 Cor. 11:1.

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