Can Christians Eat Food Offered To Idols,
This question is invariably met with either one of the following two answers:
1) No. Such things should never be consumed by Christians.
2) Yes, but only food offered to idols. Christians cannot eat blood.
But what saith the Scriptures? Is it true that the Word of the Lord forbids the eating of food offered to idols and the eating of blood?
The following Scriptures, from both the New and Old Testaments, are often used in support of such beliefs:
ACT 15:19-20 — Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. (cf. 15:29; 21:25)
GEN 9:4 — But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
LEV 7:26-27 — Moreover ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings. Whatsoever soul it be that eateth any manner of blood, even that soul shall be cut off from his people. (cf. 17:10-14)
To put this issue in perspective, let us examine the sequence of the underlying events as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.
When the Apostles and the Jewish converts in Judea heard that a group of Gentiles had also received the Holy Spirit through the ministration of the Word by Peter, they expressed their disbelief. They contended with Peter who convinced them by narrating the events which led to the Gentiles' conversion. The Jews then accepted that God had also given the Gospel of salvation to the Gentiles.
Now, it wasn't very long after that that the number of Jewish converts to the Gospel began to dwindle and many Jews started to oppose and blaspheme against the preaching of Paul. With the very same Gospel that the Jews had rejected, God sent Paul and Barnabas to preach to the Gentiles. Many Gentiles were soon converted. But there were some Judean Jewish believers who later went to the city of Antioch and taught the Christian Gentiles that "unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" (Act 15:1). This caused Paul and Barnabas to have a heated dispute and debate with them but those believers would not accept the words of Paul and Barnabas as final. So, together with some other believers, Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to get the final answers from the Apostles and Elders there.
Notice that, at that juncture, Paul was just a Prophet and Teacher in the ministry of the Lord Jesus (cf. Act 13:1). That's why whatever truths he said on the subject was literally by-passed. The Christians would only accept the answer from the Apostles in Jerusalem. Paul was humble enough to accommodate to their wishes. So he went on to see the Apostles.
In Jerusalem, some converts from the Pharisaical sect also believed that the Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised. When Paul, Barnabas and those men with them arrived at Jerusalem, they met with the Apostles and the Elders and gave them the report.
ACT 15:6 So the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.
The matter was much disputed at the council meeting. Opinions were offered until finally James, the brother of our Lord Jesus, stood up to give his proposal of what he thought was the best answer:
ACT 15:19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
Looking at this, let us remember that, the 11 Apostles were once disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ during His 3½-year ministry. They walked with Him. They ate with Him. They learned from Him. Besides these 11 disciples, there were many others. Some of these disciples were later called into the Apostolic ministry. The James who gave his final judgment on the issue was the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was not one of the original twelve disciples. He, not Peter, was believed by many to be the head of the Church in Jerusalem. Anyway, all these men were either disciples of Christ when He was alive or after His death. And all were called into the Ministry of our Lord. However, they were also religious. Here, in this passage of Acts, is recorded the mind of the disciples who were anointed with the Holy Spirit, on or after the Day of Pentecost, and ordained as Apostles or elected to the office of an Elder. The record shows that they were still just as religious, holding on to the laws of Moses, in one way or another. One would expect Peter, the big fisherman, at least to know what the Lord had taught concerning the work of Grace and speak up truthfully under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. He didn't; neither did any of the others who had walked with Christ, nor even James and John, the sons of Thunders.
The final proposal, delivered by James, showed the religiousness of their mind. They were still holding on to the law of Moses to a certain extent. Though they finally decided not to force the law of circumcision upon the Gentile converts, giving the reason that it was a Jewish rite, would they still have it imposed on a believing Jew who, per chance, happened to be uncircumcised?
With the law of circumcision aside, James said: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. If the law of circumcision was not applicable, why impose some other laws? Some Christians feel that the Gentile believers must be taught those things because they did not know nor worship the True God of Israel. They were idol worshippers, fornicators and blood eaters. Given that the Gentiles were such characters, but to whom were the laws of God, through Moses, first given? Was it not to the Jews and not the Gentiles? Therefore, were not such laws, given repeatedly to the Jews throughout the different generations, applicable to them because that among them were idol worshippers, fornicators and blood eaters? But why these three particular laws? Why not others?
No doubt the Spirit of the Lord have this record written down for a good example of how a person could be converted from a certain religious faith and its system into the Gospel of Grace, yet his religious mind would still hold on to some of the former beliefs. Is it not true that we could convert a man out of the world but that it is hard to rid the world out of the man? Likewise, the same is true with the Apostles and the Elders. They were once believers of the Law of Moses and the prophets, but were converted to the Gospel of Grace, and yet they still held on to (some of) the Law.
Yes, I believe that the Lord is guiding them just as He promised He would — "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (Jhn.14:26).
Throughout the Bible, we are shown that God always revealed Himself to individuals. He worked with individuals. The Apostles knew that. They themselves were individually dealt with by their Master when He was with them. But the Apostles, as human as they were, sometimes let their feelings and passions get the better of themselves. And this was a case in point. Instead of individually seeking the Lord, they met with the Elders and together convened a council meeting. Perhaps they did that because of the pressure from the believers who sought for the consensus of all the Apostles and the Elders at "their headquarters in Jerusalem". And this is what we see today in Christendom, wherever and whatever the "headquarters" are. Christians would look for a consensus and treat that consensus as an absolute. And, of course, the larger the group (of theologians, preachers, believers), the consensus would appear to be absolutely and theologically correct.
God never works with a group. He never will. On the revelation of the Word, no council of Christians ever convened have obtained the Perfect Will and true blessing of the Lord. All they have was a collective agreement among themselves, with only the Permissive Will of the Lord — "For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things" (Act 15:28).
If all the Apostles at Jerusalem had individually sought the Lord diligently regarding the issue facing them, they would all have an answer from the Lord, by His Spirit. God might reveal to one or two persons. Then there might come a confirmation by a prophecy or a word of knowledge. The Apostles should not have rushed into the issue seeing that it concerned the Mind of the Lord, the revelation of His Truth. Instead they set down quickly together with the Elders and held a council. Surely in a multitude of "counselors" there would be dispute and debate over an issue. The council had much dispute over the issue in question before they came to an agreement. It was an agreement based on religious feeling concerning the law, which was spiritual. However, it was not based on a spiritual revelation because the opinions of the flesh were involved. The carnal mind is always at enmity with God.
Well, a letter was written and addressed to the Gentile believers through Paul, Barnabas, Barsabas and Silas, that "That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well" (Act 15:29).
Remember that Paul, Barnabas, Barsabas and Silas were prophets and teachers in the Ministry of Christ at that point in time. They were not Apostles nor Elders of the Jerusalem Church. Hence, they were obviously not a part of the council of Apostles and Elders who sent them to the Gentile believers with a letter of the council's decision on the matter of circumcision.
I believe that though Paul was in agreement with the answer given on the matter of circumcision, he was certainly not in favour of the enforcement of the laws upon the Gentile believers. But Paul held his peace. He respected the decision of the Apostles and the Elders of Jerusalem. He was an anointed man with the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God. He believed that God would reveal His Truth progressively to take His saints "from glory to glory" into perfection (cf. 2 Cor.3:18; Heb.6:1-3; Eph.4:11-16).
Concerning the Christian life, Paul had a clear revelation that it was contrary to Grace to subject a believer to the Law. This is clear from the message of his epistles. He also knew that they were those who were either confused or had extreme opinion concerning the keeping of the Law. But he approached it with grace and understanding against those without such knowledge of the truth as he had.
The Jewish nation, as a whole, had become set in their religious traditional faith that they could not see the Messianic Gospel. The Lord then sent Paul to the Gentiles with the Gospel. Paul was specially used by the Lord. As Paul's ministry grew, he identified himself as an Apostle by the will of God — "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim.1:1). Much later the other Apostles finally recognized Paul as one of them, but one with a far deeper revelation of the Word (2 Pet.3:15-17).
Now, let us look at Paul's revelation on the subject in question.
1CO 8:1 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak.
10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
Idol is nothing, but many converts who are new in the Faith may not think so. Being accustomed all their life to the idea that an idol is a god (something real), such converts think that, if they eat the food offered to an idol it means eating it as a thing offered to something that is real. And because their conscience is weak, they feel defiled.
Food does not bring us closer to God, whether or not we eat them. It does not make us any better nor does it make us any worse. It is how we exercise our freedom in the things we do that we do not become a stumbling block to the weak.
Paul further warns that if a weak brother sees a believer, who has the knowledge, sits and eats in an idol's temple, he will be upset and confused in his mind and his conscience weakened, perhaps his faith may even be destroyed. In such case the offending believer is deemed to have sinned against the Lord.
In exercising our liberty we must remember never to offend a weaker brother. Our liberty must not be taken for granted such that we make ourselves stumbling blocks to others. Paul even said that if eating meat offends a brother, he would be careful never to eat meat again to offend him.
In the same epistle, Paul also brought up the issue of an idol and food offered to it. He warned the believers not to commit the same mistake as Israel did. Under the mighty hand of God Israel went out of Egypt. They tasted the many blessings of God throughout their journey. But they tempted the Lord several times and were dealt with accordingly. At Horeb, their craving for food caused them to commit spiritual fornication with a golden calf and to eat food offered to it (Ex.32). Paul asked:
1CO 10:19 What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?
20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils.
22 Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?
Obviously the answer to both parts of Paul's question (v.19) is — nothing. However, Paul pointed out a fact that the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, adding "I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils". Now, this remark, together with the statement of verse 21, has been taken by some Christians to mean that Paul was saying that a Christian is forbidden to eat food offered to idols. On the contrary, Paul was saying that he did not want believers to have fellowship with demons. (The cup signifies what is offered and the table signifies a place of fellowship.) Israel did just that. They had drank of the spiritual blessings of God and ate from the table spread out for them in the wilderness. But at Horeb they made and worshipped a gold-molded calf. They worshipped it and offered sacrifice to it, and then sat down and ate the sacrifice. Israel had committed spiritual fornication by worshipping the idol (as the god who brought them out of Egypt); thus, fellowshipping with demons. Read Exodus 32.
With that Paul once again brought up the care of another person's well-being. A believer should realize that not all things are helpful and beneficial even if they are lawful.
1CO 10:23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth.
Now, Paul gave the very best advice possible concerning food:
1CO 10:25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:
Eat whatever food you want that is sold in the market without asking any question for conscience' sake. If this is the true advice of an Apostle of the Lord, then the eating of anything — any food which the dietary law of Moses forbids in Leviticus 11, including blood, is not contrary to the Christian faith. If conscience troubles you about eating certain food, then avoid eating them. Otherwise, as Paul said: "Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom.14:22b-23).
1CO 10:26 For the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof.
Some Christians may yet argue and exclaim, "But the blood is life! Life is in the blood!"
True, but what has that to do with the faith and the walk of a Christian?
"Oh, because Jesus shed His blood for our sins!"
True, but what has that to do with the eating of animal blood?
"Because if we eat the blood of animal, we are not respecting the Blood of Christ."
Untrue. This is one strange presumptuous teaching I have ever come across. There is no such teaching in the Scriptures. The whole argument against the eating of blood in the New Testament is the "law" which was first put forth to the Gentile believers by the Jerusalem council.
Why was the blood of animal an issue in the Old Testament? Recall the Fall in the Garden of Eden. The blood of an animal was involved in the Fall. That animal was the Serpent. The Devil, through the Serpent, had not only brought chaos upon mankind but also upon the animal kingdom. Hence, the sacrificing of innocent animals by the hand of the Lord to clothe Adam and his wife. An animal was sacrificed, blood was shed and a life was taken just so that its skin could clothe the Man. Another animal also faced the same fate to clothe the Woman.
However, it was not the skin covering that was an atonement for sin, rather it was the shedding of blood (Heb.9:22). The skin was only a covering for the nakedness which man became aware of when he fell short of the glory of God. But the skin speaks of the life of an innocent animal given up that man might "live" in the eyes of God. Not only was animals sacrificed to appease the wrath of God, but they were also eaten. Therefore, it proves to be true that through an animal (the Serpent) death had struck the body of man by the intermingling of blood (in fornication). The body of man began to die (Gen.2:17; 3:4). Hence, animals have to die to "compensate" the dying body of man that he might "live" — literally as food for his body. It was in both these lines of thoughts — the blood and the life — that God forbade the eating of blood under the Law which He gave to Israel, His covenant people. By the Law, Israel was constantly reminded of the blood issue in the Fall of Mankind and the requirement of the shedding of blood of an innocent life for the propitiation of sin (Lev.17:14; Deut.12:23; 1 Jhn.2:2; 4:10). Hence, the life is in the blood — our soul hangs upon the Life of God which was in the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally, examine this next verse:
1CO 10:27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.
The word "feast" is "festival" and not a meal at a lunch or dinner table as a number of Bible translators have erroneously translated it. Here Paul is saying that if an unbeliever compels you to his pagan festival feast, and you desire to go, just eat whatever is laid on the table before you, without asking question for the sake of conscience. And since it is a pagan feast, the food on the table is likely to include blood cooked in some form. So, if you eat without asking question, you just might be eating blood.
1CO 10:28 But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof:
29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?
30 For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?
31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:
33 Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
From the concluding text of Paul, we can see that it's not what we eat, as is also evident by Paul's epistle to the Romans (chapter 14). But it's how we use our liberty without becoming stumbling blocks to those around us, believer or unbeliever, who are without the true knowledge of the Word and are uninformed concerning the Truth.
ROM 14:1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.
9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
In conclusion, as Bible believers living under the Grace of the Lord, we know that we are not under bondage to the Law but to the Spirit of the Living God. Therefore, "if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Gal.5:25) to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.