Garland on Paul’s Teaching about Meat Offered to Idols

January 6, 2014

Commentator David E. Garland takes a position on Paul’s teaching about meat offered to idols that differs greatly from what many believers today hold. He teaches,

In this section [1 Cor. 10:23-11:1], Paul tries to insure that the Corinthians do not misconstrue what he says, as they had previously (5:9-10) and think that he is insisting that they withdraw completely from society and have nothing whatsoever to do with unbelievers. He clarifies that food is food, and it is permissible to eat unless it is specifically identified as idol food, which puts it in a special category that is always forbidden to Christians.—1 Corinthians in Baker ECNT (2003: 486)

He thus holds that knowingly eating idol food is never right for Christians to do. He further teaches,

Food that may have an idolatrous history may be eaten unless it is specifically identified as idol food. When it is identified as idol food, however, the principle of love must overrule assumed knowledge or presumed rights. They must abstain out of concern for another’s conscience as well as to avoid arousing the wrath of God for violating their covenantal obligations (489).

He also provides historical evidence that shows that not all meat sold in marketplaces was first offered to idols. He writes,

Paul’s permission to eat whatever is sold in the marketplace presumes that not everything offered for sale had been contaminated by idolatrous rituals (491-492).

If Garland is correct, as I believe he is, many believers today are holding a dangerously wrong view that eating meat offered to an idol knowingly is no problem for a believer who knows the truth that an idol is nothing and that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is also nothing (1 Cor. 10:19). Paul does not mean by these statements that it is ok for believers knowingly to eat meat that has been offered to an idol as long as it is not in the context of idolatry—knowingly eating meat that has been offered to an idol is never right for a Christian!



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