Can I eat food offered to idols? Friday, 23rd week in ordinary time – 1 Corinthians 9:16-19
Even though our text at the Eucharist of today covers a couple of verses in chapter nine, I recommend you read chapters 8 and 9 several times and then approach today’s teaching or else you might catch the proverbial bull by its tail. The teachings in this text are relevant and important for us in India,
Chapters 7 to chapters 16 is really a question-and-answer session. There are questions to certain doubts streaming in from Corinth and Paul has decided to answer them. The questions range from celibacy and marriage to separation and divorce, from food offered to idols to conduct at congregational meetings. Before I tackle the text of today let us also look at chapter 8 which has an issue that may not directly have consequences on Western Christianity but certainly have an impact on us in the East and in particular India; namely the question of food offered to idols.
In Corinth, as in other cities of Paul’s day, the public and private worship of the many deities of the Greco-Roman world included animal sacrifices. Slaughterhouses were often located next to temples. Parts of these slain animals would be consumed by the altar fire but the leftovers might either be given to priests or other worshipers or be sold in the market places. Some persons used portions of this consecrated food to give banquets at home or in the temples in honour of a god, and persons were invited to the feast or to eat in communion with the deity.
The question that arose among the Corinthian Christians was, as a believer in Christ, living in Corinth could one buy and eat this meat?
Corinth was known in the first century as the quintessential pagan town, and it would have been difficult for believers in Christ to live in Corinth in a manner completely separate from the world around them. Some Christians at Corinth had a simple solution. They held that the whole range of questions relating to should we eat such meat or not was of no consequence. If one ate or did not eat it he was none the better or the worse (vs. 8). Keep in mind that when Paul deals with the community, he always tries to establish a behaviour that takes into account both, the fact that the believers in Christ live inside the world, but are also clearly separate from it.