“Temple restaurants” and food sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8)

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Illustration: Modern food sacrifices

In many ancient cultures people routinely sacrificed animals to their gods and then ate the meat. In the Greco-Roman world temples would often contain dining areas in which groups of people could feast together. The temple of Asclepius at Corinth, for example, had three dining rooms, each with space for 11 guests on couches lining the walls. It is uncertain whether these particular dining rooms were in use during Paul’s day, but some such arrangement seems to have been behind Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 8-10. Corinth also included a temple for the goddess Demeter and her daughter Kore, as well as sanctuaries associated with Egyptian gods and Roman emperors. Although meals at these shrines were often more social occasions than religious ceremonies, no one could deny that there was in them a religious element. The presence of a Christian at a meal associated with such a pagan context was repugnant to Paul.

Excess meat from the temples may have found its way to the market. If such meat, which may or may not have been associated with idol worship, was presented to a believer in someone else’s home, Paul permitted the Christian to eat it. If, however, the host openly declared that the meat had come from a pagan shrine, the believer was to abstain for the sake of “weaker” brothers, whose consciences might still be sensitive to idolatrous practices.


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