Can Christians eat food sacrificed to idols?

The other day a reader, one John O’Neil posted the following on one of my articles;

“I am sad for you Dan. clearly you are deeply deceived. PAUL is a false apostle, and you can readily prove this to yourself. You must be familiar with Paul’s exhortation to eat whatever is set before you, so often used to deceive people into believing the Son was sent that they might have a ham sandwich.
Read the whole chapter for context; and it clearly has nothing to do with eating the foods we all know were prohibited by our Creator. Rather, Paul is suggesting that since an idol is nothing, we should, and I quote, ask no questions of conscience, but knowingly partake of foods sacrificed to idols.” (see the whole conversation here)

I posted a reply to him on that page, but really had no idea that this issue would become current in my life, in less than a week!

Only a day or two after posting that response, my wife bought a couple of chicken-bacon packages which were marked “Zabiha Halal”.  To be fair she had no idea what “halal” means, and the packages were on sale.  Being a frugal shopper she bought them, but unfortunately I cannot eat them.  I will have to give it to my dog.

Mr. O’Neil’s letter amounts to an attack on the Apostle Paul, and his writings, and I realized that the issue needs to be addressed.  Ultimately it is an attack on the Word of God itself, and its author the Holy Spirit.

Here is what Paul actually said;

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 stumblingblock 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. I Corinthians 8:4-12

So, is Paul giving people permission to knowingly eat food that has been sacrificed to idols?  Absolutely not!

What he is saying is that idols are nothing, and have no power of themselves.  Rather it is in the conscience of idol worshippers where this is an issue.  If you eat food which has been sacrificed to idols, or dedicated to false gods, like Halal food, it cannot hurt you.  If you knowingly eat of such, however, you are harming the conscience of idol worshippers!  By eating this food, when you know it has been dedicated to an idol, you are showing respect to his false god.

Two chapter later Paul again addresses the same issue.  What he is doing is elaborating on it, to make the issue more clear to his audience;

1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;  2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;  3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat;  4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. 5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.  6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. 1 Cor. 10:1-6

First, notice that all of Israel, both the saved and the unsaved, ate Manna in the wilderness, and drank water from the rock which Moses struck, and yet, most of them perished in the wilderness.  Some of them suddenly and violently.  Eating “holy” food will not save you, unless that food is Christ Himself!

18 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? 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.

The animal is a creature of God.  Not only did He create it, but He still owns it.  It is the action of dedicating that animal to a demon that is the problem here.

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?  23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. 

As Jesus said “There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him...”  Defilement comes from within, from the heart, not from without.

24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.   25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:  26 For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. 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.

This is really self-explanatory; If you eat something that has been sacrificed to idols, and are unaware of it, it cannot hurt you.  Neither can it harm the conscience of the unbeliever if he has not told you that it has been sacrificed to idols.  Sometimes it is wise not to ask too many questions!

If you ask questions and find that it has been sacrificed to idols, then something else comes into play;

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:

He is not contradicting what he has said before.  The earth is the Lord’s and everything that is in it, but now the conscience is brought into the equation.

29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?

The goal of the Christian is the salvation of unbelievers, even Muslims.  If you eat Halal food, when a Muslim has given it to you, and has told you it is Halal, He sees that you are paying respect to his deity!  Therefore no Christian should ever eat anything that he knows is Halal!  Better to eat peanut butter!

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.

Our purpose here is to glorify God in everything we do.  Does this mean that Christians cannot drink wine?  Jesus drank wine to the glory of God, and served it to wedding guests, (probably including children) and to his disciples!  But if someone has dedicated wine do Budda, or some other deity, don’t drink it!

Notice that the person we are to be concerned with here is the unbeliever!  True Christians have liberty, and so are not in view in any of this.

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.

Again, the point of this whole exercise is the salvation of the lost.  This is why the Jewish dietary laws are not relevant for the Church age;  God knew that missionaries would go to cultures around the world and would be invited to meals with snakes, and dog, and pig, and lobster.

Refusing the food as unclean is an insult to your host/hostess.  Insulting those who you are trying to lead to Christ is counter-productive to the purposes of the gospel.  Most host/hostesses, around the world, are pleased when guests eat their food. This is what Paul is talking about in reference to “pleasing all men”.

Refusing it because it has been sacrificed to an idol, however, is a witness to them!

For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: I Timothy 4:4

The principle that “nothing is unclean of itself” is in view here.  This is a separate issue from food having been sacrificed to idols.  Christians are not under the Jewish dietary laws.

Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. Revelation 2:20

So is Paul teaching something different than what Jesus is saying here?  Not in the least!  This Jezebel is teaching Christians to knowingly eat food that has been offered to idols.  Paul is saying that if you eat it inadvertently, unknowingly, it will not hurt you, but that you should not eat it if you know it has been sacrificed, or offered, to idols.  Paul is on the exact same side as Jesus Christ!

Most likely, this Jezebel was teaching that the gospel would be enhanced if one respected the idols of the pagans.  Tolerance!

Mr. O’Neil’s attack on the work of Paul is truly an attack against the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, speaking through Peter, said that Paul’s writings are to be viewed as Scripture;

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. II Peter 3:15-16

Those who attack the writings of Paul are not only attacking him, but Peter, The Holy Spirit, God the Father, the Lord Jesus, and Christianity itself!

If you really want to know what Scripture says, get yourself a copy of the Authorized Version, the only accurate bible we have, and pray that the Holy Spirit would open your eyes as you read.

About dknezacek

An average, ordinary guy. Author, husband, father, pilot, aircraft builder, test pilot, machinist, artist, just ordinary stuff that lots of people do. Don't forget bible student. Dan's passion is bible study, especially including the End Times prophecies.
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