1 Corinthians 8:8; does it do away with God’s Food Laws?

By Peter Salemi



“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.” (1 Cor 8:8)


Are the food laws that God laid out for Israel, good or bad for you?  When one examines the clean and unclean meats listed in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, and removing the fats from the clean meats before you ingest them, one cannot help but notice that, “So much of what the Bible lays out so clearly for how we should eat also makes a lot of sense when you look at scientific research. A Biblical diet is filled with healing foods that promote a well-rounded diet and so many awesome health benefits.” (Article; Top 10 Bible Foods that Heal + the Biblical Diet By Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CN, emphasis added). Why do Christians continually find excuses and twisting scriptures to justify eating whatever they want? Do they not want to be healthy?


A Carnal Mind


I believe it’s a mindset that mainstream Christians have! The Bible says, “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Romans 8:7). People who constantly look for scriptures to justify doing whatever they want are carnally minded-It’s a mindset! These people are not led by the spirit of God but by their own thoughts and appetites, “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 

For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” (Romans 8:4-6). This is what they are doing when they are reading the scriptures-they are not being led by the “spirit,” but the “flesh” looking for ways to justify their carnal lifestyles and therefore come up with these so called “proof texts” to prove the law of God is done away. They take these texts out of context, twist and spin the scriptures and with their preconceived ideas, put their interpretation into the text instead of letting the Bible speak to them.  Let us be led by the “spirit” of God that dwells in us to understand the truth of the message from the Bible!


The Corinthians


The Corinthian Church was made up of mainly Greeks who had been converted from pagan idolatry. They came from a society where sacrificing to various gods was a daily way of life. Offerings-usually sheep and goats were sacrificed in the pagan temples continually. The sacrificed meat was then eaten by the person who brought the offering.


However, often not all the meat was consumed. The priests were left each day with the carcasses of many animals. Not willing to miss a chance to turn a fast profit, they sold the extra meat to local butcher shops-called “shambles”-where the meat was sold to the public. (See Barnes’s Notes and the Jamieson Faucet and Brown’s Commentaries). The sacrificed meats were sold in market places for people to buy for food; this is the context of 1 Corinthians the 8th Chapter!


Paul deals with this controversy


Here the Apostle has to deal with this subject because certain believers who were “weaker” in conscience felt strongly against buying meats in the market places that were just sacrificed to idols.


Paul begins in verse 1, “Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” Paul says when it comes to this subject “we all have knowledge” what knowledge is that? The Old Testament scriptures! The New Testament was being written at this time but the standard bible for the church was the Old Testament! (See Acts 21:20; 24:14). Then he says, “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” That is to say, knowledge can make one vain and prideful without “charity” or love like the Pharisees whom Jesus said, “and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith:” (Matthew 23:23). They knew the law but had no love and they became vain and full of pride.


But “charity edifies” meaning, “a man that has knowledge, joined with love to God, and his fellow Christians, will seek for that which makes for the edification of others; and without this all his knowledge will be of no avail, and he himself be nothing.” (Gill’s Commentary, emphasis added).


The Apostle Paul continues, “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.” (v.3) Paul says “we know,” this knowledge he gets from the word of God, that the “idol is nothing in this world.” The Idols are made up by the imaginations of men’s minds (see Isaiah 2:8; 44:9-10) and have no real power because they are not gods, there is only one true God, the God of the Bible, as Paul says, “…that there is none other God but one. 

For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) 

“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.” (vv.4-6). So the idol is not a deity, it has no power and was formed by the imaginations of men, and should not be revered or feared.


Paul continues, “Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour [“now” Bullinger] eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.” (v.7). Not everyone in the church of God has this knowledge; Paul says that the idol is nothing; the recently converted pagans that are now in the church are still “babes” in Christ and did not understand this yet.  


The recently converted Greeks, “Their long habit previous to their conversion made them still regard their offering as made to something really existent, and consequently to feel that it was sinful to eat of meat thus offered.” (Vincent Word Studies, emphasis added). There were some in the church with the “conscience of the idol unto this hour” they felt that these pagan gods had power and were deities. The NIV Bible translates this as “Some people are still so accustomed to idols, that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god,” and therefore believed that the animal if they “eat It” was “as a thing offered unto an idol” an existing god and felt they were betraying Christ.


The Hebrews like Paul, Christian or not, already had this knowledge of the idol as nothing; they had no power and were non-existent as Clarke’s commentary states, “as the expression, an idol is nothing in the world, was common in the Old Testament, and among the Jews; and was understood by them in this way: they are not אלהים Elohim, the true God; but they are אלילים, nothings, and הבלים habalim, Vanity.” (emphasis added).


So Paul said, “and their conscience being weak is defiled” meaning they are not strong in the faith like a mature Christian who possesses the knowledge that the “idol is nothing” and who can withstand the temptations and overcome. They have not been in the faith for very long to overcome all their former prejudices and superstitious feelings; and to act in an independent manner, as if an idol were nothing. Therefore their conscience is “defiled.” Or are the Bible in Basic English translates it, “they are not strong in the faith, their minds are troubled.” So they are disturbed by all of this and so the Apostle Paul suggests the best way for the strong in faith in the church should deal with it in the following scriptures.


Food Laws of the Bible?


“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.” (v.8)  Now this scripture, people say proves we don’t need to keep the food laws of the Bible any longer.  But look at the context. Is the subject clean and unclean meats? NO! The subject is meats SACRIFICED to Idols! (v.1) God’s law of unclean meats is not the subject! Paul just said, “…they are not strong in the faith, their minds are troubled.” Now Paul says, “BUT meat commendeth us not to God:” What “meat” is he speaking of? “eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols,” (v.3). Look at this scripture in its proper context, “But meat [offered in sacrifice unto idols,] commendeth us not to God:”


Now, “commendeth us not to God” means according to this translation, “will not affect our relationship with God.” (God’s Word Translation). I believe this to be the more accurate translation because it is speaking of us being “commendeth” meaning “presented” or “accepted” in an “intimate” way, (see Thayer’s Greek Def.) before God which is a relationship we have with him, as the “bride” is prepared and presented to Christ (Rev 21:2). Paul is speaking to those who are "troubled" by this because they believe that if they partake in this food they are betraying Christ and thus affecting their relationship with him.


However, this does not affect our relationship towards God, as Paul says, “for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.” WHY? Because the idol is nothing, it has no power over you and so the food you are buying in the market place though it was involved in pagan rituals, is not contaminated and will not contaminate you spiritually or physically. Other people's sins and rituals cannot contaminate the Christian in any way!


Jesus also dealt with the same problem with the Pharisees. They thought that buying things from the market, if they did not wash them according to "the traditions of the elders" would defile you spiritually and physically. (Mark 7:1-4). But Jesus said, “Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without [clean foods touched by sinners] entereth into the man, it cannot defile him [spiritually is the context]

"That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man [spiritually]. 

“For from within [spiritually], out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 

“Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 

“All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mark 7:18, 20-23). Jesus clearly shows that the issue being discussed is whether it is acceptable to eat clean foods which have been “defiled” by being touched with hands which have not been washed in the traditional manner of the Pharisees. Paul is saying the same thing! Though sinners were involved in handling these clean meats in pagan rituals it cannot contaminate the Christian in any way.


Obeying God and his laws is what God deems acceptable, sanctified and brings you closer to God and being more spiritual.


Notice what God says about the feasts and the Covenant, “For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;” (Isa 56:4).


On the Sabbath, “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him,” (Isa 58:13).


On the food laws, “Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby. 

For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 

“For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev 11:43-45).


Now does Leviticus 11 contradict what Jesus and Paul were saying when it says, "Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby." Physically the unclean meats, not the clean meats, (and the sacrifices to idols were mainly clean meats like sheep), the unclean meats will "defile" a person physically, health wise; but it can also from "within" as Jesus said with the spirit of disobedience; sin is breaking God's laws (1 John 3:4). So breaking the food laws of God will defile you spiritually and physically; other people's sins will NOT!. The situation with Paul and Jesus, they were dealing with preconceived ideas and misunderstood and made up doctrines about buying clean meats in the market places thinking some how you could be contaminated by them because they were touched and used in rituals by gentiles, and somehow their sins could be transferred to the Christian.


So obeying the covenant is what makes one acceptable to God and becomes part of the church-which is the bride of Christ! 1 Corinthians 8:8 has nothing to do with whether we should obey the clean and unclean meats food laws of the Bible-That is not the topic!


Instruction for the Strong in Faith


Paul now instructs the strong in faith in the church on how to deal with the problem, “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.” (v.9). The word “liberty” should read, “Exousia, from exestin, means a grant, allowance, authority, power, privilege, right, liberty.” (Robertson’s Word Pictures). Paul is saying to be careful with this power or authority you have because of your maturity in Christ. New People will look up to mature converts in Christ for guidance and watch them as an example and how to live as a Christian. This is a power one possesses and must not be irresponsible with that power, “whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required:” (Luke 12:48). Mature Christians must be mindful of the weaker in faith lest, “become a stumblingblock to them that are weak” This “allowance” could lead to the occasion of leading others to sin, and to abandon their Christian profession. If they see a mature Christian eating meat sacrifice to Idols, they could take this to mean that being involved in the ritual will be ok as well. Then eventually lead to worshipping idols and then eventually falling from the faith. So mature Christians need to watch their conduct for the sake of the new converts or people who are troubled by certain things and have not grasped the concept (the knowledge) that the idol is nothing.


Paul explains this in the next few verses, “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;”


Many take this illustration Paul was giving of a Christian going into an Idol’s temple as literal. It is not! Paul was just giving an example of what would happen if this occurred. Notice, “In verse 10 the point turns to an illustration. Paul pictured a Christian who entered an ‘idol’s temple.’ After entering the heathen structure he sat down to eat a meal.” (Living By Faith: Commentary on Romans & 1st Corinthians, emphasis added).


Paul is just making a point! What would happen if a mature Christian did this?  “Paul did not specifically address whether or not Christians had divine permission to enter pagan temples and eat. He simply gave an illustration to make a point. Some illustrations in the Bible involve things that are wrong (compare Luke 16:1-8).” (ibid, emphasis added).


So Paul says supposed this happened, “…someone who has doubts might see you eating there, and this might encourage them to eat meat sacrificed to idols too.” (1 Cor 8:10 ERV) A Christian who is troubled by this seeing another Christian strong in the faith doing this could encourage him to eat meat sacrificed by idols, then, “A little compromise and complicity, a little suppression of opinion and avoidance of antagonism to things evil, a little immoral acquiescence,” (Pulpit Commentary) until eventually, “ meat make my brother to offend” (v.13). This eventually will lead to sin and fall from the faith, especially at this moment in their conversion when they think that these gods really exist!


So leaders and mature people in the church should be very careful around the weaker and new converts to the faith, mature Christians have a responsibility to the weaker brethren as Paul says:


And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

But when ye sin so against the brethren [knowing that this could cause your brother sin], and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.

“Wherefore, if meat [sacrificed to Idols] make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh [sacrificed to Idols] while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” (vv.10-13) 


So the Apostle Paul was not saying that the food laws of the Bible are done away or irrelevant. This was not the subject at all. But meats sacrificed to idols is the topic and how mature Christian strong in the faith ought to act around the weaker in faith, just until they become strong.

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