Food Sacrificed To Idols

Q. I have a question about eating halal food. I understand that we have freedom in Christ to eat what ever we want. But Paul wrote, “But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth [is] the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof: (1 Cor 10:28)

The Apostles and Elders of the church in Jerusalem gave letters to Paul that said, “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 (Acts 15:29.)

Jesus Christ himself said: “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication” (Rev 2:14), and “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” (Rev 2:20). Can you straighten me out on this?

A. First, if you feel you shouldn’t eat halal food then don’t do it. In Romans 14: 5-7 Paul said we should each be fully convinced in our own mind about it. This means it’s not a case of do or don’t from God but a case of personal conviction for us.

But just so you’ll know, the context of 1 Cor. 10:28 is proper etiquette when you’ve been invited to a meal by an unbeliever. Such meals often took place in pagan temples (1 Cor. 8:10). It refers to abstaining for the sake of others, not because eating meat sacrificed to idols is wrong for us. You get a better understanding by adding the rest of Paul’s sentence which is contained verse 29. Taken together they say, “But if anyone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience sake’ – the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:28-29).

Acts 15:29 contained rules handed down by the Apostles to people who had been steeped in idol worship from birth. It was for the same reason as the one Paul gave. For them, eating meat sacrificed to the idols of their former religion meant a great deal. It would be as if a recent convert from Islam ate halal meat in front of members of his former religion. They would know that he knew what that meant.

The references in Rev. 2:14 and Rev. 2:20 are symbolic of false teaching, and are not literal. We know this because Jesus taught that it’s what comes out of us that makes us unclean, not what goes into us (Matt. 15:11). Also both Balaam and Jezebel had been dead for centuries but their false teaching remained. Both of these references were ultimately fulfilled the marriage of pagan worship with Christianity in the 4th century. Specifically, the feasts of Saturnalia and Ishtar came into Christianity as Christmas and Easter respectively but retained their emphasis on pagan revelry and over indulgence.

Through out his letters Paul emphasized the believer’s freedom in Christ, saying only that we should be aware of the influence our behavior has on others (1 Cor. 8:9). Responding in advance to the current controversy over halal foods, he wrote, “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (1 Cor. 10:25).

In Titus 1:15 he said, “To the pure, all things are pure but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. “

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