In the modern West, most of our meat comes from farms where animals are raised and slaughtered without any religious connotations. Yet, things were different in ancient Corinth. Much of the meat sold in the marketplace consisted of leftovers from animals that had been sacrificed and eaten in pagan worship. Because of the meat’s connection to false religion, ancient Jews refused to eat it.
Since the earliest Christians came from a Jewish background, many of them believed it was wrong to eat meat purchased at the marketplace if the meat had been a part of pagan worship even when the buyer never ate in the pagan temple himself. Moreover, many gentile Christians from a pagan background would also be troubled by such meat, believing that to eat it was to take part in idolatry even if the meat was consumed away from a pagan sanctuary. Furthermore, eating such meat would become an issue anytime a believer ate at a non-Christian’s home, for the non-Christian might believe that a Christian who ate this meat was violating his religion in the eating.
Today’s passage explains what to do with such meat. First, Paul notes that in itself, eating leftover meat from pagan worship is no sin. The goodness of God and His creation mean that pagan worship cannot transform the meat into something that is unholy wherever it is eaten (1 Cor. 10:25–26; see Gen. 1:31). It is wrong to eat the meat in a pagan temple because the worship context makes the consumption an act of serving idols, not because the meat is itself sinful (1 Cor. 10:1–22). When removed from that context, the meat is fine for believers. So, Christians need not worry about the source of the food (v. 27).
When another person points out that the meat is left over from a pagan sacrifice, however, the believer is not to eat it for the sake of the other person’s conscience (vv. 28–29). The idea seems to be that a person would point out the meat’s origin only if he had scruples about it. The Christian’s eating it would thus lead the person to think that believer was worshiping idols or that one could be a Christian and serve other gods. Therefore, the act of eating would be unloving because it would lead the other person astray. Yet, note that the fault is not inherent in the eating but in the false beliefs of the person who pointed out the source of the meat.
Paul then argues that by refraining from eating where we have freedom, we are not surrendering our freedom in Christ to others (vv. 30–31). Our next study will look at this point in more detail.