Idols and Demons

1 Corinthians 8 8-9

Q. Is Paul inconsistent? How come he said an idol is nothing in 1 Co 8:4, then in 1 Co 10:20 he said the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons? Pagans sacrifice to idols, so is an idol nothing or a demon?

A. No, Paul is not inconsistent. Paul knew his Bible well:
• Ps 115:5-7 They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
• Ps 135:15-17 The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths.
• Isa 44:15, 17-19 It is used as fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it… From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!” They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?”

An idol is not a real god and has no power to speak, see, hear, smell, feel or walk. That’s why Paul said in 1 Co 8:4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with food sacrificed to idols. Therefore he said in 1 Co 10:25, 27 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience… If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. You don’t have to worry about the meat being tainted.

However, this is not the only consideration, as demons hide behind idols. 1 Co 10:20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. And Christians view meat sacrificed to idols differently, depending on whether their conscience is strong or weak:
• 1 Co 8:7, 9-13 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled…Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
• 1 Co 10:28 But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake.

Although idols are nothing, we have to be concerned about our actions’ impact on others. Even though the meat itself is not contaminated after idol worship, and is acceptable to be consumed, if the action of eating it would cause a brother with a weak conscience to fall, then Paul would rather never eat meat again. This is very strong language. Paul is weighing the right or freedom of a Christian to do something neutral, versus his responsibility not to harm anybody or cause anyone to stumble (1 Co 10:32), and the decision is he would rather give up his rights to fulfill his responsibilities. The over-riding consideration is 1 Co 10:33 For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. This is the biblical position. Unfortunately nowadays many Christians are so self-centered that they always assert their rights and don’t care about their duties to others. I hope we all learn not to seek our own good, but the good of others (1 Co 10:24).

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