IDOLS, MEATS OFFERED TO
In the pagan world of the first century C.E., it was a common practice to offer meats to idols ceremonially. On such occasions parts of the sacrificial animal victim were placed on the idol altar, a portion went to the priests, and a portion went to the worshipers, who would use it for a meal or feast, either in the temple or in a private house. However, some of the flesh that had been offered to the idols was often turned over to the maʹkel·lon, or meat market, to be sold.
Many persons before becoming Christians had been accustomed to eating meats offered to idols with a feeling of reverence for the idol. (1Co 8:7) In so doing, these former pagans had been sharers with the demon god represented by the idol. (1Co 10:20) Quite fittingly, therefore, by formal letter from Jerusalem, the governing body of the early Christian congregation, under the guidance of the holy spirit, forbade such formal, religious eating of meats offered to idols, thus safeguarding Christians from idolatry in this regard.
Christians, like those living in pagan Corinth, were faced with a number of questions in this matter. Could they conscientiously go into an idol temple and eat meat if they did so with no thought of honoring the idol? And, would there be any objection to buying from the maʹkel·lon meats that had been ceremonially offered to idols? Finally, how should a Christian handle this matter when eating as a guest in someone else’s home?
Under inspiration Paul provided the Corinthian Christians with timely information to aid them in making the correct decisions. Although “an idol is nothing,” it would not be advisable for a Christian to go to an idol temple to eat meat (even though his eating was not part of a religious ceremony), because he could thereby be giving spiritually weak observers the wrong impression. Such observers might conclude that the Christian was worshiping the idol, and they could be stumbled by this. It could lead such weaker ones to the point of actually eating meats sacrificed to idols in religious ceremony, in direct violation of the decree of the governing body. There was also the danger that the Christian eater would violate his own conscience and yield to idol worship.
Since the ceremonial offering of meats to idols produced no change in the meat, the Christian could, however, with a good conscience buy meat from a market that received some of its meat from religious temples. This meat had lost its “sacred” significance. It was just as good as any other meat, and the Christian was therefore not under obligation to make inquiry respecting its origin.
Furthermore, the Christian, upon being invited to a meal, did not have to make inquiry concerning the source of the meat but could eat it with a good conscience. If, however, an individual present at the meal were to remark that the meat had been “offered in sacrifice,” then the Christian would refrain from eating it to avoid stumbling others.
The words of the glorified Jesus Christ to John respecting the Christian congregations at Pergamum and Thyatira indicate that certain ones had failed to heed the apostolic decree in not keeping themselves clean from things sacrificed to idols.