Understanding I Corinthians 10:25-29
by Kelly McDonald, Jr.
In I Corinthians 10:25-29, Paul wrote: “25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.’ 27 If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 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 – 29 the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours.”
A crucial fact to help us understand I Corinthians 10 is that I Corinthians 8 comes first. In I Corinthians 8, Paul addressed the issue of eating food offered to idols. In ancient times, people went to a market to buy their meat. Sometimes this meat had been sacrificed to an idol before it put on display for people to buy. I Corinthians Chapters 8-10 addressed a situation between two groups of people. The first group was composed of mature believers who did not care if meat had been sacrificed to idols or not. The second group was composed of newer believers who thought that believers should eat meat sacrificed to idols.
In I Corinthians 8, Paul wrote that idols are nothing and that there is only one God. We have an excerpt from this passage below: “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 But if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he doesn’t yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, the same is known by him. 4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that no idol is anything in the world, and that there is no other God but one. 5 For though there are things that are called “gods”, whether in the heavens or on earth; as there are many “gods” and many “lords”; 6 yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we live through him. 7 However, that knowledge isn’t in all men. But some, with consciousness of the idol until now, eat as of a thing sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” (I Cor. 8:1-7)
Paul’s conclusion is two-fold. First, it should not matter if a believer eats meat sacrificed to idols. Secondly, he warns the mature believers not to knowingly eat meat sacrificed to idols in front of newer converts. If mature believers do such things, then it may cause the newer believers to turn back to worshipping other gods.
In I Corinthians 10:25-29, Paul explained that eating food sacrificed to idols should be avoided if possible. If a believer was told the food was sacrificed to an idol, then he or she should not eat it. This is to protect the newer believers so that their consciences will not be harmed. On the other hand, if believers go to a meal and they are not informed that the food was sacrificed to idols, then they should not worry about it. There is only one true God. Idols are nothing.
This passage, like others from Paul and Jesus, is emphasizing how we should eat in a specific situation. It is not discussing what types of animals we should eat. God defined what meat is acceptable to eat in Leviticus chapter 11 (see also Genesis 7:2). In I Corinthians chapter 8, Paul used the Greek word brosis once (verse 4) and the Greek word broma two times (verses 8, 13). These Greek words refer to food as defined in Leviticus chapter 11. By using these words, he has defined food by the time we arrive at I Corinthians 10.
A second key to understanding this passage is to read the verses following it. Paul concludes this passage in verse 31 by saying “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” We are informed in this verse to do everything to glorify God. That means our thinking, how we treat others, and even how we eat should be used to glorify Him. Paul’s main concern in this passage is not to define or redefine what God made to eat. He is trying to educate believers in how to encounter situations where they might eat food sacrificed to idols.
Kelly McDonald, Jr.