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The Idol Meat Issue: Paul versus Jesus

One correspondent asked whether idol meat was strictly prohibited or instead was only prohibited if eaten during a covenant-forming ceremony.

Here is his letter and my reply.


Email Question about Eating Idol Meats

Defender of Paul: Paul Does Not Violate Scripture By Teaching It Is Ok To Eat Idol Meat


Before we discuss Tony's argument that it is ok to eat meat sacrificed to idols, let's realize Jesus 3x prohibits eating such meat in the book of Revelation. For this reason, Paul-defenders claim the Book of Revelation is not inspired. In an article Revelation is Heresy we read:

Pergamum (2: 12) is in Satan's territory. It held fast and did not deny Jesus during persecutions. But Patmos' Jesus rebukes them for eating food sacrificed to idols (2: 14). Here Patmos' Jesus contrasts with Paul who said this is permitted (1 Cor. 8). 


Tony's Argument 11/11/2013

We begin with Exodus 34:11-16:

Exodus 34:11

Observe for yourself that which I command you this day. Behold, I am driving out from before your face the Amoriy (Amorite), and the Kenaniy (Cannanite), and the Khiytiy (Hittite), and the Periziy (Perizzite), and the Khiwiy (Hivite), and the Yebusiy (Jebusite).


Exo 34:12

Take heed to yourself, lest you cut (make) a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you go, lest it be for a snare in your midst. 


Exo 34:13

But break down their alters, and break their pillars, and cut down their groves (Asherahs). 


Exo 34:14

For you shall bow down to no other god, because YHWH (whose name is Jealous) is a jealous God.


Exo 34:15

Lest you cut (make) a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they whore after their gods, and slaughter to their gods, and call to you and you eat of his slaughtering, 


Exo 34:16

and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters whore after theirs gods, and cause your sons to whore after their gods. 



Note: In Exodus 34:11-16 it is not clearly taught in the Torah that eating meat slaughtered to idols is a "You shall not do" type of command. However, without question it is certainly associated with something that YHWH hates, and accuses those eating meat slaughtered to idols as whoring after other gods. 

This is where we must use some critical thinking. How many have heard that context is everything? The Torah also commands, "You shall not kill." (Exodus 20:13) However there is, in fact examples of justified killing in the Torah. Does Scripture contradict itself? No.

The commandment "You shall not kill" is in the context of not murdering an individual, the unjust taking of another man's life. The Torah also commands us not to make any graven images (Exodus 20:4). Yet, God commands Mosheh (Moses) to make brass into the image of a serpent and tells the Israelites to look upon it for the healing of their serpent bites (Numbers 21:8-9). Is this a contradiction? Of course not. This command is in the context of not bowing down to the graven images (Exodus 20:5). We who know YHWH and believe in the testimony that he has given to us by his only-begotten Son know that the reason for the serpent was to be a type and shadow to hint of the coming Son of God, who is YHWH, who would be born of a woman as a flesh and blood man, and would be lifted up on the tree, crucified on the cross to destroy the power of the Adversary (Satan), the serpent, curing us of our sin and death (Genesis3:15; John 3:14-15). So am I suggesting that eating meat slaughtered to idols is according to Torah? I'm not going to say that just yet. But note this in its context:

Exodus 34:15

Lest you cut (make) a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they whore after their gods, and slaughter to their gods, and call to you and you eat of his slaughtering, 


Exo 34:16

and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters whore after theirs gods, and cause your sons to whore after their gods. 


In early Scriptural times when a covenant was made with another man or a god, an animal died, and they ate of that animal. Some examples of this are found in Genesis 15 men YHWH made a covenant with Abram so give his seed the land, and in Exodus 24 when YHWH made a covenant with Yishrael (Israel). Notice in Genesis 15 animals were cut into pieces. As we see above my translation translates "make a covenant" literally as "cut a covenant" which is what it literally says in Hebrew. I wonder where that idea came from to use such a word meaning to cut when referring to the making of a covenant? Perhaps because they slaughtered animals by cutting them when they made a covenant? And this is exactly what happened in ancient covenants. 

In context, Exodus 34:11-16 is about someone who is making a covenant with those who worship false gods, and then this someone is partaking of the slaughtering to their false gods as part of the covenant, and then to solidify the covenant one eats of that sacrifice. YHWH calls this adultery (spiritual adultery) to whore after their gods. What this means is that what is being defined here is glorifying false gods, slaughtering to them, and then eating of that slaughtering. This is considered idolatry. 

Here is the question: "What about if someone eats of the slaughtering, because it is being sold in the meat markets, yet does NOT take part in making a covenant with false gods and actively slaughter to them?" Well according to the example given in Exodus 34:11-16 we would either have to say, "Maybe." or really "I don't know." What this means is that the Torah is not clearly teaching against such a circumstance. We cannot prove that the Torah would be against eating meat slaughtered to idols in such a context. The Torah is apparently concerned with the active slaughtering and eating TO false gods. There is not any mention anywhere in the Torah of any concern of eating meat slaughtered to idols outside of the context of the actual temple covenant making worship of false gods. Some may not like that distinction, and yet, that is the pattern of context that forces us to make that distinction. I am simply noting that difference of context. Understanding that differentiation of the context will explain why the 1st Century Scripture ("New Testament") seems to be teaching two different things on this matter.

The other instance in the Torah on this topic is found in: 

Numbers 25:1

And Yishrael (Israel) dwelt in Shitiym (Shittim) and the people began to whore with [the] daughters of Moab. 


Num 25:2

And they called to [the] people to [the] slaughterings of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down TO their gods. 


Again, here the context is about slaughtering to the false gods, and then eating it, and then bowing down to the gods. Here Numbers 25 does not specifically say state that eating meat slaughtered to idols outside of the cultic pagan god worship is inherently wrong. Again, what appears to be wrong is the blatant spiritual prostitution of actively engaging in and prostrating one's self in false god worship. 

What this means is that the Torah clearly states that eating meat slaughtered to idols is very wrong, but only in the context and setting of actively worshiping false gods. What the Torah does not say, nor can we force it to say, that eating meat slaughtered to idols while having no regard for false gods, nor worshiping them in any capacity is a violation of God's Law. I have not found anywhere in the Torah that says that eating meat slaughtered to idols in and of itself is wrong. For it to be wrong it must be combined with the wilful worship of false gods. 

Now I understand that some may not welcome that distinction but I am simply noting what the Word of God specifically states and does not state. 

Deuteronomy 4:2 [Do] not add to the word which I command you, and [do] not diminish from it, in order to guard [the] commands of YHWH your God which I command you.

Not only should we not want to take away from the Word of God, we should not want to add to it either. Knowing that, I will proceed into the 1st Century Scriptures (New Testament) on this topic. 

In Acts 15 Ya'aqob (James) issues a decree to converted gentiles and the decree is repeated in Acts 21.

Acts 15:19 Therefore I judge to not further harass those from the gentiles [who are] returning to God. 
Act 15:20 But write to them to abstain from the defilements of idols, and whoring, and that [which is] strangled, and blood. 
Act 15:21 For Mosheh (Moses) from ancient generations, according to city, has those preaching him in the congregations, being read along every Shabath (Sabbath). 

Acts 21:25 But concerning the believing gentiles, we have written, judging [that] they observe no such [thing], except to keep themselves from both that [which is] slaughtered to idols, and blood, and [that which is] strangled, and whoring. 

Some might say here that Ya'aqob (James) clearly stated that they should abstain from eating meat slaughtered to idols. However, I will say it again, context is everything. Just as the Torah says that eating meat slaughtered to idols is wrong in the context of active false god worship, so Acts 15 is no different. The returning ones from among the gentiles just came out of a system that engaged in pagan false god worship. Active worship included going to the temple, slaughtering, eating of that slaughtering, drinking its blood, and engaging in temple prostitution. That is why Ya'aqob (James) mentions all of these things. Ya'aqob (James) is telling the converted gentiles that a true believer must first stop worshiping false gods before learning the rest of the Torah of Mosheh (Moses). Which is the next instruction found in Act 15:21: "For Mosheh (Moses) from ancient generations, according to city, has those preaching him in the congregations, being read along every Shabath (Sabbath)." Thus Ya'aqob (James) is not necessarily saying not to eat meat slaughtered to idols, he is in fact saying not to eat meat slaughtered to idols in the context of pagan false god worship. Nowhere in the Torah will we find a clear literal plain and clear command to not eat meat sacrificed to idols. We are only given the command to not worship false idols. The same pattern is found in Revelation 2. Eating meat slaughtered to idols is tied to sexual immorality, all things found in pagan temple worship. 

Revelation 2:20

But I have against you that you put up with that woman of yours Iyzebel (Jezebel) who calls herself a prophetess, and teaches and misleads my servants to commit whoring, and to eat [things] slaughtered to idols.
Rev 2:21 And I gave her time that she might repent, and she did not want to repent of that whoring of hers. 



It might seem like that distinction is splitting hairs but it appears to be a Scriptural distinction. We must remember that the Word of YHWH is sharper than a two-edged sword. There is no room to go either to the left or to the right. We must be very careful to not add to or take away from the Word of YHWH (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32) but remain fully in the context of which instruction is given. Paul teaches on this matter and arrives at the very same conclusion. Paul teaches that if one goes to the meat market and buys and eats of meat slaughtered to idols it should be of no concern. Why? Because false gods are nothing, false gods are only made to be something when we are worshiping and acknowledging them, esteeming them, glorifying them, making them to be idols in our lives. However, if we know that false gods are nothing, which they are, then by that very definition we are not worshiping false gods when we eat of their sacrifices. Something that is nothing can't be something. That seems to be common-sense, and that is basically Paul's point, and appears to fit the context of the two examples given in the Torah. However Paul does mention something to consider. He mentions that some who are weaker in the faith may not understand the Torah that well yet, and may become offended. He states that it might be better to not eat meat at all rather than offend a brother or sister, and to that I agree. It is always best to maintain peace then to intentionally cause strife in the Body of the Anointed One. He also mentions that it could cause others to interpret that it is okay to go to the temple and worship false gods and eat of their slaughterings. Thus, if there is such risk then one should refrain from eating such meat. In Paul's letter he does clearly state that it is okay to eat meat slaughtered to idols, as the Corinthians must have been struggling with the idea of such meat entering the meat markets. This would be very similar to Halal in our very own grocery stores. 



(9:25) 1Corinthians 8:8

But food does not commend us to God, for we are neither better if we eat, nor are we worse if we do not eat. 



1Corinthians 10:25 Eat everything being sold in the marketplace, questioning nothing on account of the conscience. 



Paul can only say this because when context is considered no Torah command forbids it. However Paul does give the recommendation not to in the context of knowing and being in the presence of an unbeliever, lest you offend others and/or make it appear to the unbeliever that you are okay with slaughtering to false gods, or esteeming false gods. Though Paul starts off in 1Corinthians 8, some do not know this. 

1Corinthians 8:7 However, this knowledge [is] not in all. But some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat [it] as [something] slaughtered to an idol, so their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
1Cor 8:8 But food does not commend us to God, for we are neither better if we eat, nor are we worse if we do not eat.
1Cor 8:9 But take heed, lest perhaps this authority of yours becomes a stumbling-block to those who are weak. 

Eating meat slaughtered to idols is not sin, it is not against the Torah, it is not against the Law/Instruction/Teaching of God. But the more important reality is that not everyone understands this, and we to be sensitive to that. Such meat may offend others and we should want to avoid offending others unnecessarily. What is against Yah's Torah is worshiping false gods and making covenants with them. An individual can eat meat slaughtered to idols in which others were doing the worshiping, yet the same individual is not actively worshiping false gods. That is the Scriptural distinction. That is why Ya'aqob (James) could say what he said, and why Paul could say what he said. It is all about the context of how, when, and where the meat slaughtered to idols is being eaten. It is about worshiping false gods or simply eating a meal knowing that false gods are nothing. Acts 15 is all about taking direct part in slaughtering to idols in false gods' temples and eating the meat there, taking part directly in temple prostitution and drinking blood. This is certainly a violation of the Torah. Such examples in the Torah have been shown to show how this is wrong. Paul speaks in another context, what to do once the meat that is not eaten in the temples by the pagans is sold to the meat markets. Or if when we are bringing and proclaiming the Good News to the nations we find ourselves in a pagan temple witnessing the truth, and they offer us to eat with them and they are serving meat left over from former slaughterings to their false gods. Can we eat it? Is it wrong? In Paul's understanding it is not. Paul finds no violation in the Torah with eating meat slaughtered to idols outside of taking direct part of worshiping false gods in a temple. He simply cautions us to avoid unnecessarily offending others, or giving others a false interpretation that actual participation in worshiping false gods is okay. We are permitted (according to the Creator's Word) to eat meat that has been previously slaughtered to idols if we do not eat it TO false gods.

Numbers 25:1 And Yishrael (Israel) dwelt in Shitiym (Shittim) and the people began to whore with [the] daughters of Moab. 
Num 25:2 And they called to [the] people to [the] slaughterings of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down TO their gods.

1Corinthians 10:31 Whether then you eat, [or] whether you drink, [or] whether you do anything, do [it] all to the glory of God. 

I would like to give special thanks to 119 Ministries who made me aware of this understanding, and who's video on the matter I have taken almost all of this article from. 


My Reply 11/11/2013

Hi Tony
Well, this is fairly easy to explain.

You quote Exodus, and then tie the covenant with Gentiles with eating the idol meat in a ceremony / sacrifice. Then because you conclude that is what God prohibits, and it provides the context for any other prohibition, even an unqualified one such as in Acts, that we supposedly can add back in this covenant-worship context from your reading of Exodus to then always modify an absolute statement by your interpretation of Exodus. So it all comes back to the correctness of how you were then reading Exodus. Right? I think that fairly summarizes it.

Now before we examine Exodus, we have not just one time but six times where eating meat sacrificed to idols is flatly prohibited, without any exception. Acts 15:20, 15:29, 21:25; Rev. 2:6; 2:14-15, 2:20 - 3x by James and 3x by Jesus.

Now are these prohibitions like 'thou shalt not kill' where you must read passages far away that permits the same word for killing as an obvious exception?

No.

Exodus is not an opposite passage to the 6 prohibitions that requires reconciling them together by reading an exception into the 6 general prohibitions, like one must with the 'thou shalt kill' command. Exodus is not saying you can eat meat sacrificed to idols except in certain circumstances. At best, in comparing the six prohibitions in Acts & Revelation to Exodus, if read as narrowly as you do, the best one could say is that Exodus prohibits eating meat sacrificed to idols in which one was a participant in the sacrifice ceremony. (I don't agree on that reading, but I am assuming it to make this point.). It does not say it is valid outside that context.


Furthermore, the meaning and purpose of Exodus 34:12-16 is a different context, and from that context, one can derive it means one must not eat idol meat inadvertently. Here''s why. It is an instruction to do something -- to not make a covenant, and not allow altars of the gentiles to their gods. The rationale for obeying that command is then given. In Exo 34:15-16, God says if you prefer making a covenant and allow their pagan altars, you risk "one call thee [to eat with him] and thou eat of his sacrifice." 

The command to destroy the pagan altars was so that Jews would avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols even inadvertently at a meal at a Gentile home. The only way to ensure this was to destroy their altars, and this is why the rationale is explained.

Let's see if I am right by reading the text more carefully. First, let's look at the best modern Jewish translation of Exodus 34:12-16 -- the Friedman translation -- and one I highly recommend.

12. Be watchful of yourself that you don't make a covenant with the resident of the land onto which you'r coming, that he doesn't become a trap among you. 13. But you shall demolish their altars and shatter their pillars and cut down their Asherahs. 14. For you shall not bow to another god--because YHWH: his name is Jealous, He is a jealous God-- 15. that you not make a covenant with the resident of the land, and they will prostitute themselves after their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and he will call to you, and you will eat from his sacrifice."

The KJV is similar on the key verse: "and one of them invites you and you eat of his sacrifice, 16"

The concept is to "call you" or "invite you" to eat, and when you do so, "you will eat FROM his sacrifice" -- something left over from the festival. (Gill says it is left over remains).

The concept is not consecrating a covenant by a sacrifice offering, as you suggested. The covenant is to allow them to have altars, not to have a festival with you. That is the immediate context. Then the error of such a covenant that leads to altars is that it leads to sacrifices which leads in turn to invitations to eat food left over from their festivals that was sacrificed to idols. Gentiles would sell in the marketplace the leftover meats sacrificed to idols.

Hence, the correct reading is that impliclitly you should not eat idol meat inadvertantly at someone's home who invited you over to eat what remained from the sacrifice. This is why Jews typically did not eat at Gentile's homes then. They could not be sure about its origin, and did not want to impolitely ask or refrain from eating.

Hence, I read this as broad a command as the other 6 times, because it makes it clear the reason not to allow altars is you will end up eating their meats inadverently when you are invited by gentiles to the remains of their sacrifices at home.

In addition, the command not to eat meat sacrificed to idols appears three times in the Law. It is not obvious unless you know idol meat practices in Canaan. It absolutely prohibits the actions that replicate idol worshippers without even the intent yourself to eat meat sacrificed  to idols. Nehemiah Gordon, a Jewish Karaite scholar, in Hebrew Yeshua v. Greek Jesus, at the 38:- 40:16 minute mark in this YouTube video explains that archeologists uncovered that the prohibited practice of boiling a kid-goat in its mother's milk was a sacrifice practice to an idol. The flat prohibition appears 3x in the Law: Exod 23:19; 34:26; and Deut 14:21. Gordon explains: "Archaeologists discovered in the ancient city of Ras Sharma in Canaan that the Canaanites had a fertility rite to boil a kid in the milk of its mother." (For background, see Tenney, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary (2011) at page 107.)

Hence, God prohibited three times doing the steps done by others to eat meat sacrificed to an idol. You could not say 'but that was not my intent.' It was so serious a wrong that simply eating meat that would constitute meat sacrificed to an idol in another's intention, not your own intention, would be wrong. God prohibited replicating idolatrous customs of cooking and eating meat sacrificed to idols even if it was not your purpose to honor an idol by doing so. Interestingly, Maimonides suggested this in 1195:

"As for the prohibition against eating meat [boiled] in milk, it
is in my opinion not improbable that - in addition to this being
undoubtedly very gross food and very filling - idolatry had
something to do with it. Perhaps such food was eaten at one of
the ceremonies of their cult or one of their festivals" (The
Guide to the Perplexed 111:48).

Blessings,
Doug