Naselli, Andrew David. “Was It Always Idolatrous for Corinthian Christians to Eat εἰδωλόθυτα in an Idol’s Temple? (1 Cor 8-10),” Southeastern Theological Review 9, no. 1 (Spring 2018): 23-45.
The title question of the article is first addressed by surveying three arguments that answer the question in the affirmative. The headings summarize the arguments. 1. “Argument from the Historical-Cultural Context: Eating ἐδωλόθυτα in an Idol’s Temple was an Inherently Religious Event.” 2. “Argument from a Word Study: εἰδωλόθυτος Means Meat Sacrificed to Idols That One Eats in an Idol’s Temple.” 3. “Argument from the Literary Context: 1 Cor 8 Parallels 10:14-22.” That is, in both cases, Paul is arguing that believers should not eat meat sacrificed to idols in the idol temple. The “right” to do so mentioned in chapter 8 is not truly a right.
Andy answers the question in the negative, and his headings again summarize the arguments. 1. “Argument from Historical-Cultural Context: Eating εἰδωλόθυτα in an Ido’s Temple Could Be a Non-Idolatrous Social Event—Like Eating in a Restaurant.” 2. “Argument from a Word Study: εἰδωλόθυτος Means Meat Sacrificed to Idols—Whether One Eats It in an Idol’s Temple or at Home.” 3. “Argument from the Literary Context: 1 Cor 8 Differs Significantly from 10:14-22.” This third argument is unpacked in four points: 1. If eating idol meat in the temple was always wrong, it is odd that Paul does not address it until chapter 10. Andy quotes Fisk: “Was Paul really more concerned with the selfishness of chap. 8 than with the idolatry of chap. 10?” 2. Andy demonstrates that the grammar does not demand that the “right” of 8:9 be read as a “so-called right.” 3. He draws a contrast between 6:12-20 in which the Corinthians thought they had a right to commit πορνεία and 8:9. In the former passage, he immediately indicates that they do not have that right. In this passage, Paul does not do so. 4. In chapter 8 Paul is dealing with disputable matters among Christians; in chapter 10 he is dealing with idolatry.
I agree with Andy’ argument 2. The usage of εἰδωλόθυτος does not restrict the meaning of this word to food eaten in the idol temple. “It simply means meat sacrificed to idols.”
Argument 1 contains a wealth of interesting background information. However, I’m not yet convinced that eating in an idol’s temple was simply the equivalent to eating in a restaurant. Footnote 33 includes a notable clarification from Wendell Willis: “I seem to have left the impression that I did not think these meals were ‘religious’ but ‘merely’ social. I could not a tall support such a view; clearly the meals were ‘religious.’ There is strong evidence that these cults (and their worshippers) would not have accepted—even understood—a contrast between ‘religious’ and ‘social.’ But the question really should be, what does ‘religious’ mean in the first-century pagan world? Their gods gave, as one of their great gifts, occasions for conviviality and enjoyment as an essential aspect of sacrifice. This social enjoyment was a positive part of religious sacrifice.” This seems to cast doubt on the idea that eating in an idol temple could ever be simply like eating at a restaurant.
In the end, however, I wonder if the location—in an idol temple or out of an idol temple—is really the main issue. The second argument indicated that ἐδωλόθυτα referred to “meat sacrificed to idols” without regard to the location where it was eaten. This means that the question is whether Christians were allowed to eat εἰδωλόθυτα under any circumstances.
This question seems to be answered by the Jerusalem Council (AD 49). Circumcision and the Mosaic law are not required of Christians, but the following are required: abstain from εἰδωλόθυτος, from blood (and thus from things killed by strangulation as a means of keeping the blood in the meat), and from sexual immorality (Acts 15:29). Though some wish to place a statute of limitations on this apostolic decree, there is nothing in the text that indicates this decree expired after a certain amount of time. Further, sexual immorality has always and will forever be forbidden to Christians. The prohibition against eating blood is part of the Noahic covenant (Gen. 9:4), which is a covenant that is still in effect (Gen. 8:22). Thus the other items listed seem to be permanently forbidden to Christians. If εἰδωλόθυτα was only temporarily forbidden, it would be the outlier in this list.
Even if the decree of the Jerusalem Council was only temporary, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in AD 54 or 55. Would the decree of the Jerusalem Council have expired within five or six years? Confirmation that it had not expired is found in the repetition of the decree in Acts 21:25—after 1 Corinthians had been written. Further confirmation that eating εἰδωλόθυτα was not permissible is found when the ascended Christ rebukes the churches of Pergamum and Thyatira for permitting teachers who taught the acceptability of eating εἰδωλόθυτα (Rev. 2:14, 20). Confirmation that εἰδωλόθυτα was always forbidden is found in the fact that the post-New Testament early church universally held that εἰδωλόθυτα was forbidden (see the quotation from Garland below; cf. Chrysostom’s homilies on 1 Cor. 8-10).
Andy concluded the article by revealing his motivation for writing: “I cannot harmonize 1 Cor 8:9-10 with 10:14-22 unless what Paul describes in 8:9-10 is actually a disputable matter and not idolatry.” The article was effective in helping me see the force of this concern. And yet, I cannot see how understanding 1 Corinthians 8:9-10 harmonizes with the wider canonical context if eating εἰδωλόθυτα is a disputable matter and not idolatry.
Later Christians uniformly opposed idol food, and no church father felt any need to defend Paul against rumors that he advocated eating idol food or to challenge any alternative interpretation of his writings. (Cheung 1999:97). His argument that to eat idol food is to have fellowship with demons became the basic argument against eating idol food. Yet some argue that these later Christians misunderstood Paul. Witherington (1995: 191) contends that soon after the NT era, Paul’s ‘ability to make nice distinctions about eating food from the temple at home and eating in the temple was misunderstood’ (see also Büchsel, TDNT 2:379, who labels it a reemergence of Jewish legalism). Dunn’s evaluation of the matter is more judicious: ‘If those closer to the thought world of Paul and closer to the issue of idol food show no inkling of the current interpretation, that interpretation is probably wrong’ (Dunn 1998: 704). [Garland, BECNT, 395.]