Bible Questions?

Is the teaching of eating meat offered to idols contradictory in the Bible (1 Cor 8; Colossians 2)?

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Question: Are there differences of opinions regarding what is sinful when comparing what is taught in 1 Corinthians 8 and Colossians 2:8,16 in regards to eating meat. Since there is one God, should there not be just one truth to be followed by the weak and strong alike? Shouldn’t the impetus be to educate the weak so that they can become strong?

In 1 Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul responds to an issue raised by the Corinthians discussing eating food offered to idols. In this chapter, Paul declares that idol’s don’t truly exist and there is only one God, but the problem is that some less developed or weaker Christians weren’t convinced of this fact. For these weaker Christians, eating food offered to idols violated their consciences and led them into sin. The weaker Christians who converted from idol worship may not be fully convinced that these idols did not have real power. In their former unsaved state, they would have been so accustomed to idols and the sacrificed meat that when they eat this meat, they think of it only as something sacrificed to idols rather than it being provided by God. Their conscience is weak because of their inability to discern in these matters, becoming a sin for them. 

So, Paul speaks to the stronger brothers and sisters in Christ, and warns that if you cause the weak to stumble into sin, then they themselves are sinning, firstly against weaker Christians, and secondly against Christ by wounding the conscience of those who belong to Him. 1 Corinthians 8:12 says “Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” 

Now, when you read Colossians 2:8 it says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”  Also, Colossians 2:16 says, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.”   

At first reading, these passages may seem contradictory when compared side by side. In 1 Corinthians 8, we are told that violating a weaker believers conscience is a sin in regards to eating food offered to idols. If this leads the weaker believer to sin, the stronger believer will also be guilty of sin. Whereas Colossians 2:8 and 16 ask believers not to be taken captive by empty philosophy and let no one pass judgment on you regarding food or drink, or concerning a festival, or a new moon, or a Sabbath. These instructions may seem contradictory, but when the context of these passages is taken into account, it becomes clear what is being commanded.

1 Corinthians 8 (similar to Paul’s attitude in Romans 14) is based on matters of “personal convictions”. Christians individually may differ on matters of conscience and liberties. Christians may disagree on whether someone should eat meat, only vegetables, drink wine, etc. but it is only a matter of preference and not heresy. Whereas Colossians 2 deals more with heresy, in other words, biblical and moral absolutes. In Colossians 2, Paul is concerned in showing that salvation in Jesus Christ is far more superior to all the false teachings surrounding them. Some of the teaching being refuted was legalism, asceticism, and mysticism. In fact, in the book of Colossians, Paul refutes some of the false teachings claiming Christians need to give up physical enjoyments, they should worship angels, rely on worldly wisdom of a few. In response, Paul explains why Christ is supreme and sufficient for salvation.

In light of this, Paul’s command in Colossians 2:16-17 deals with legalism that no one should judge you regarding food, drink, festival, or new moon, or Sabbath. In other words, none of this determines your status in Christ. None of this determines your salvation, and don’t let anyone teach you otherwise. Earlier in the chapter, Paul says in Colossians 2:4 says “I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.”

Paul in Colossians 2:10-15 speaks about Christ’s removal of the law and His triumph over the forces of evil. So Paul is commanding the church to let no one judge their standing before God based on their observance of the regulations of the Mosaic law.

In this situation, Christian freedom must be asserted in the face of erroneous teaching and their attempts to undermine your freedom in Christ. The food and drink in this chapter may refer to the Mosaic law of clean and unclean foods or the ascetic tendencies to refrain from such things as meat and wine. The religious festivals, new moons, and Sabbath point to the ritual calendar of the Jews and the keeping of the Sabbath. So these things should not be permitted as a test of purity, fellowship, or salvation. Whereas 1 Corinthians 8 refers to food offered to idols and how weaker Christians viewed eating this food as really being offered to idols because of their history and view before salvation. They were still on their journey of growth in the Lord, and nothing should be done to encourage them into sin based on their conscience.

In conclusion, I Corinthians 8 deals with weaker and stronger Christians regarding individual liberties. Christians must be free to hold their convictions in matters of freedom in Christ, but they shouldn’t be so free to exercise this freedom at the expense of a weaker Christian’s welfare. These are not matters of salvation that are eternally secure in Christ; instead, they are a matter of weaker Christians sinning against their conscious, resulting in sin against God. If the actions of the stronger Christian lead a weaker Christian into doing something with a troubled conscience, then it becomes a sin. 

Colossians 2, on the other hand, deals with the absolutes or fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith and Paul’s concern about the response of the Colossian Christians to the errors being taught by the false teachers and not allowing them to bring judgment by their deceptive teachings but to remain in the teaching of Christ (Colossians 1:13-23). It was a matter of heresy.

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