Paul and Meat Offered up to Idols

Paul and Meat Offered up to Idols
James Scott Trimm

Well it is Channukah time and so it is a very good time to discuss the subject of meat offered up to idols

In Acts 15 we are told that Gentiles to need to be circumcised in order to be saved, but that they must still keep certain minimum levels of Torah observance even as they continue to go to synagogue on the Sabbath and learn the rest of the Torah.

Among these four minimum commandments was to “abstain from things offered up to idols” (Acts 15:20, 29 & 21:25)

Furthermore in the Book of Revelation, the Assembly at Thyatira is condemned for eating things offered up to idols.

Paul discusses the issue of eating meat that has been offered up to idols in 1Cor. 8 & 10:

The fact is that Paul clearly agrees that one may not knowingly eat meat offered up to idols (1Cor. 8:1-13; 10:7, 14-28).

The halachic issue Paul questions, is whether or not one must ask, when purchasing meat, whether or not it has been offered to idols. Paul argues (based on Ps. 24:1=1Cor. 10:26, 28) that meat is not actually altered by the idol but that eating such meat appears to others to endorse the idol to which it was offered.

If meat is advertised as having been offered to idols, then believers may not eat it, since this would appear to endorse the idol. However, since the idol has no real power over the meat, believers are not required to ask, since this would imply that the believer believed that the idol had power over the meat, thus ascribing power to the idol and endorsing idolatry by acknowledging the idol’s alleged power.

Paul summarizes his argument as follows:

But if a man should say to you, that this is that which is sacrificed,
you should not eat: for the sake of the one who told you
and, because of conscience.
(1Cor. 10:28 HRV)

A basis for Paul’s argument here can be found in the story of the martyr Eleazar in 2Maccabbes.

Eleazer was a prominent Jew under the Helene rule. A day came when all of the Jews were to show their loyalty by eating meat offered to idols at a public feast. Eleazar was not willing to do so, but because of his prominence, the authorities offered to allow him to sneak kosher meat into the feast and eat it instead, thus only appearing to eat meat offered up to idols. Eleazer refused, knowing that this would appear to endorse idolatry, despite the fact that the meat would be kosher. As a result Eleazar was executed.  (2Maccabees 6:1-29).

This account demonstrates that eating meat offered to idols is wrong, not because of the meat itself, but because of the implied endorsement of the idolatry.

Therefore, Paul’s interpretation does not conflict with Acts 15 but actually implies a very strict interpretation, by which eating kosher meat would also be forbidden, if the meat were falsely advertised as having been offered to an idol.

The question has been posed: why would these people be buying meat from anything other than a Kosher butcher? Why would they be buying meat at the gentile market-place anyway?

OK now for an Aramaic word study. Paul writes:

Whatever is sold in the shambles (מקלון), that eat,
asking no questions for conscience sake:
(1Cor. 10:25)

The answer lies in the Aramaic word which appears in 1Cor. 10:25 where the KJV has “shambles”.

I often find that it sheds light on a passage when I research a key Aramaic word which appears in the Aramaic “New Testament” to see how that Aramaic word is used in the Targums, Talmuds and Zohar.

This Aramaic word (MAKLON) appears in the Talmud as follows:

Rab said: Meat which had disappeared from sight is forbidden.  An objection was raised. Rabbi says: Where the meat stalls (מקולין) [kept by gentiles are supplied with meat by] Israelite butchers, any meat found in the possession of the gentile is permitted! — It is different where it is found in the possession of the gentile.
(b.Hullin 95a)

The Talmud uses this word here to describe meat-stands run by Gentiles but where Jewish butchers are used. This section of Talmud proposes several hypothetical situations involving such markets and lays out debates by various Rabbis as to whether the meat from such a market should be presumed kosher or not.

There is not conflict between Paul’s statements here, Acts 15 and Jewish law as expressed in the Talmud.  One may not knowing eat meat that has been offered up to idols.  However, when buying meat that has not been advertised as having been offered up to idols, one should not ask.

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