Meat Sacrificed to Idols
Knowing the distinction between knowledge and love is the key to church unity. Matters of conscience tend to bring disunity. Love, rather than force, is the only godly path to maintain or restore unity.
Nonetheless, it is also important to realize that conscience cannot be used to violate the law of God. When clear Scripture commands us to behave in a certain way, we do not have the right to veto God’s command by appealing to conscience. We have already seen how Paul treated the man who was having relations with his mother or stepmother in 1 Cor. 5:1-5. His solution in this matter was “to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh.” Paul did not allow such a man to follow whatever right of conscience he might have claimed.
One God and One Lord
But in chapter 8 Paul was dealing with a legitimate issue of conscience—meat sacrificed to idols. He began in 1 Cor. 8:4-6,
4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.
In other words, men worship many gods, but there is only one God. All other gods are mere illusions, gods created in the image of men, often fashioned into idols by skilled craftsmen who do not know that God is love. Any false concept of God is a false god or a “graven image” that vainly attempts to set forth the nature of God by human knowledge and earthly skill.
Hence, Paul says, “there is no such thing as an idol in the world.” Obviously, idols abounded in Corinth and around the world, but Paul means this in the same sense that “there is no God but one,” even though “there are many gods and many lords.” The world may recognize many gods, but “for us there is but one God, the Father.”
Paul’s introduction to meat sacrificed to idols raises another church controversy about the nature of Christ and the “Godhead.” Paul seems to exclude Jesus Christ from his definition of God. He says, “there is but one God, the Father… and one Lord, Jesus Christ.” In other words, the Father is God, and Jesus is Lord. Does this indicate two Beings? Certainly so. Are there, then, two Gods, or even three if we add the Holy Spirit? How then does this support the idea of just one God?
The relationship between Jesus and God was probably the earliest church controversy, dating back to the first century. On one side was a faction of Jewish believers, called Ebionites, who believed in a very earthly Messiah. They believed that Jesus was a glorified man, rather than a pre-existent God or a part of the Godhead. These Ebionites formed a large part of the problem that Paul confronted with the so-called Judaizers in his epistles to the Galatians and Colossians.
A similar view was adopted in the third century by the followers of Arius, known as Arians, who ran headlong into the Trinitarians. The dispute dominated church history during the fourth century after the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. The Jehovah’s Witnesses today are the main proponents of the Ebionite and Arian view of Jesus, making Him “a god” but not God Himself.
On the other side of the spectrum, some believe that Jesus was the only God and was to be equated to the Father. Today this belief is known as “Jesus Only.” This view denies the Trinity but does not deny Jesus’ deity.
Trying to figure out how there can be only “one God,” while yet accepting the idea of God the Father and Jesus as Lord, has been a church problem since the first century. To me, it is one of the greatest issues that must be resolved by the Supreme Court of Heaven—not by Church Councils that rely upon soulish knowledge. Until we receive a clear ruling from heaven on this subject, I believe it should be classed as a matter of conscience, where love is the rule. Certainly, we ought not to burn people at the stake to force one’s view upon another.
This issue is too large to put into this study of First Corinthians. We must move on, lest we lose the flow of Paul’s teaching on meat sacrificed to idols.
Are Demons Behind Idols?
Not all men understand the principle of one God and one Lord. Some believers, in fact, see many gods competing for supremacy and treat all false gods as if they were real. Like Paul, these Christians believe in one God and one Lord, but, unlike Paul, they acknowledge the reality or existence of other gods and idols.
This brings up another controversy among the brethren, for some see demons behind idols, while others deny the existence of demons altogether. Paul does not address this question directly, but some infer from these verses that idols have absolutely no malevolent spiritual power behind them but are, in themselves, harmless. That view, however, appears to be contradicted by Lev. 17:7,
7 And they shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons [sa’iyr] with which they play the harlot. This shall be a permanent statute to them throughout their generations.
The Hebrew term sa’iyr is the origin of the word “satyr,” which is pictured as a creature that is half man and half goat. Hence, the NASB renders it “goat demon.” It is probably meant to be another name for Azazel, to whom the second goat on the Day of Atonement was to be given in Lev. 16:8. Rendered more literally, these verses read:
8 And Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for Yahweh, and the other lot for Azazel. 9 Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for Yahweh fell, and make it a sin offering. 10 But the goat on which the lot for Azazel fell, shall be presented alive before Yahweh to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness for Azazel.
When Jesus was baptized on the Day of Atonement shortly after His thirtieth birthday, He was presented to John as the first goat “for Yahweh.” He then was led by the Spirit into the wilderness “for Azazel” to be tempted for 40 days, so that Scripture might be fulfilled. Matt. 4:1 and Luke 4:1, 2 interpret “Azazel” for us, identifying him as “the devil” and “Satan” (Matt. 4:10).
So the law makes reference to a satyr as being a spiritual force behind idols. In that sense, idols really are something, although they are “nothing” to us as believers. We do not acknowledge idols as genuine deities, nor do we recognize demons, the devil, or Satan as having any jurisdiction over anything in God’s creation. Whatever authority they have is purely legal, based upon divine judgment. They are also used by God to tempt (or “test”) us, as we see in the example of Jesus when He was tempted in the wilderness. Recall also that in 1 Cor. 5:5 Paul turned the unrepentant sinner over to Satan “for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved.”
Paul affirms the existence of demons in his conclusion in 1 Cor. 10:19-21,
19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and table of demons.
Believers have liberty, outside of the context of worship, to eat food sacrificed to idols, but if someone believes he is fellowshipping with idols or demons by eating such food, he ought to refrain from eating that meat. Love accommodates others even if they are wrong.
Many people brought sacrifices to the pagan temples in those days. Much was eaten on public holidays and festivals, but on other days they had more meat than they could consume, so much of it was sold in the marketplace. The question was whether purchasing and eating such meat constituted fellowship with idols. Paul says in 1 Cor. 8:7, 8,
7 However, not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.
In other words, the food itself does not bring us closer to God, nor does it draw us away from God.
My understanding of Paul’s writing is that there is indeed only one God, but men often recognize and worship many gods. Satan and demons rule men through their idolatry, and men ought not to sacrifice to demons. Believers should not participate in the worship of idols, which involves partaking of the sacrifices that has been offered to those idols (or demons). God judged the Israelites for doing such things with the Moabites (Num. 25:2).
But purchasing food in the marketplace, without going to a pagan temple or worship center, does not constitute fellowship with idols or demons. For this reason, Paul sees nothing inherently wrong with eating food sacrificed to idols, even if the food has been presented to demons.
Paul continues this discussion later when he speaks of communion in the church. In 1 Corinthians 10, where Paul concludes his discussion of food sacrificed to idols, he forbids believers to participate in the worship of pagan idols.
Love’s Use of Liberty
1 Corinthians 8:8, 9 says,
8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat [meat sacrificed to idols], nor the better if we do eat. 9 But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
Paul tells us that we should be considerate toward the conscience of others. Though he believed that eating meat sacrificed to idols was not harmful or unlawful in itself, he would not have us use our liberty to wound the conscience of those who differ in their understanding of the law.
Paul’s use of the term “weak” appears on the surface to be a backhanded insult to those who refused to eat such meat. Was Paul really engaging in name-calling? I do not think so. See how the term was used in 1 Cor. 1:25,
25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Here Paul does not mean to imply that God is either foolish or weak. He was talking about the apparent foolishness and apparent weakness of God. In other words, God was thought to be showing weakness when Jesus paid the penalty for sin at the cross. In the eyes of soulish men, Jesus should have shown His power by coming down off the cross. God should have shown His power over sin by just canceling it by decree, without blood. Or perhaps He should have made the blood of animal sacrifices sufficient. In their eyes, God lost dignity and appeared foolish for having to send His Son to die on the cross.
Hence, the foolishness and weakness of God is in the eye of the beholder. It is apparent, not actual. So also was Paul using the term in regard to those who refused to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Some were calling them “weak,” but this did not necessarily mean that they were actually weak. Some perceived them as weak in conscience.
Since no punctuation was used in first-century writing, it is left to the translators to insert all appropriate punctuation. In my view, the translators should have put quotation marks around the term “the weak.” This would soften the words to express Paul’s thoughts more accurately.
How Words Affect Food and Drink
In another context, Paul writes to Timothy of “foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in” (or eaten). Of such food, he says in 1 Tim. 4:4, 5,
4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.
First, Paul was reminding Timothy that God had called all animals “good” (Gen. 1:25) and later pronounced His entire creation “very good” (Gen. 2:31). Hence, they were “sanctified by means of the word of God.” Secondly, however, these were sanctified by prayer, for it was already customary in those days to bless the food and to receive it “with gratitude” and thanksgiving.
Pagans who thanked idols and demons for the food, and who dedicated such food unlawfully to their false gods, may have imprinted a false spiritual image to that which they had dedicated; however, if a believer rededicates the same food to the Creator and Owner of all food, his prayer can easily change its evil spiritual imprint to something good.
Modern science has proven that words affect the molecular structure of water. Since most food contains water, unless it has been completely dried, prayer does indeed have a physical effect upon our food. This was proven in 1994 by Dr. Masaru Emoto, a non-Christian Japanese scientist, who began to photograph flash-frozen water molecules. An article about this can be seen online at:
To learn more about how the water experiments were done, watch the short video here:
Dr. Emoto proved that the structure of water molecules changes when exposed to either negative or positive thoughts and especially to music (good or bad). When someone blesses the water, the crystals grow into beautiful hexagonal-shaped pieces of art. Here is what the crystals look like when love and gratitude are projected:
|"love and gratitude"|
When someone curses the water, the crystals grow into distorted images that often look quite demonic. This is what formed in the water when “you disgust me,” “you fool” and “evil” were projected:
|"you disgust me"||"you fool!"||"evil"|
This happens not only with words, but with music. Here is what happened when Amazing Grace was played in the presence of water:
Harmonic music grows beautiful crystals, while most rock music brings ugly distortion to the crystals. Since we ourselves are 76 percent water, the type of music that we listen to has a physical effect upon our bodies. Likewise, our words have a physical effect upon us. This is one reason we ought to bless and not curse others (Rom. 12:14).
So how does this relate to food sacrificed to idols? Dr. Emoto’s photographs show that blessings, positive words, and good thoughts have the same effect, regardless of who expresses them. Religious belief does not seem to matter in this regard. Yet he had no way of experimenting with water that permeates food. I have found no evidence that he made any attempt to extract and distill water from food to do his experiments. Nor, it seems, did he think to offer water to a pagan god. So we do not know if such pagan offerings may have a physical effect upon the water.
I believe, though, that we can say with certainty that water molecules are fluid and can be altered by changing the environment. Molecules change according to the words and music within range.
My conclusion, then, is that we ought to give thanks to God for the food and drink that we consume, for our gratitude does indeed affect it physically by a spiritual principle built into creation itself. Your spiritual prayer has the power to imprint blessings, not only upon food, but also upon your body, which will have an effect upon your soul as well.
Do Not Sin Against the Brethren
Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 8:10, saying,
10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idols’ temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?
We tend to follow the example of leaders. What if a believer sits down in a pagan temple to eat with pagans—perhaps to have opportunity to witness to them about Jesus Christ. Others may follow his example and fall into sin. Hence, we should be careful what we do, even if we do not consider our own action to be sinful.
1 Corinthians 8:11, 12 continues,
11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.
In other words, love defers to others. If a brother is “weak” insofar as certain beliefs or actions are concerned, the proper course is to discuss the word (law) of God, so that the weak may become strong.