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Can I eat this kebab?

kebab

 

That's the question Paul is answering from 1 Corinthians 8-10.

If you ate meat in Corinth, chances are it had already been used in ritual sacrifice to a false god.  So the question among the Corinthian Christians was ‘Can I eat this kebab?’ 

It's a question that goes to the heart of the issue - How much of non-Christian culture can I participate in?  Can I eat this food?  In this religious and cultural context?  In this time and place?  At this temple?  During this festival?  With these people? 

At every time and in every place the church needs to address this issue - What should be the Christian's attitude to non-Christian culture? 

In Corinth those with a weak conscience could not eat without thinking of the idolatry involved in producing it.  Those with a strong conscience thought ‘It’s not demon meat, it’s just a kebab, God owns everything, we’re free in Christ, tuck in.’ 

The strong write to Paul and say 'We have the right don't we?  We can eat can't we?'

Paul's answer in chapter 8 is 'Yes you have the right, but that doesn't mean you should.  You should worry about the weak.'

In chapter 9 Paul goes back to first principles and demonstrates that generally the Christian thing to do with your rights is relinquish them. 

Then in chapter 10 Paul returns to the kebab question. This time he says 'Yes you have the right.  But that doesn't mean you should.  You should worry about yourselves.'

Paul is so worried about the strongs' insistence on rights that he wonders whether they're even Christians at all.  Maybe they're just like the faithless generation in the wilderness, claiming the privileges of God's people but with hearts set on evil. 

That's the shocking challenge of chapter 10.

Listen to the sermon here.

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0 thoughts on “Can I eat this kebab?

  1. codepoke

    Hmmm.

    Why do you say the strong wrote to Paul? I believe it was the weak. Paul immediately says "we all have knowledge", and I assume this is why you say it was the strong who wrote. The strong would have true knowledge, while the weak would have false knowledge, and Paul is apparently agreeing with true knowledge in the first few verses of chapter 8.

    I give Paul credit here for pulling a double twist, though. It's the weak who have written him all the other questions, the weak being a nasty few of the Jews. These Jews are frustrated with their pagan brothers and sisters, and they're trying to get them to quit marrying, cover their heads, quit eating unclean foods, and silence their women. They portray themselves as having knowledge, but their knowledge is destructive and false.

    So in chapter 8, Paul says we all have knowledge, then proceeds to list off the exact knowledge the writers of the questions are protesting. That kind of subtle, rhetorical twist is in keeping with the whole letter.

    These weaker Jews wanted everyone to abstain from sex, and Paul says marriage is a God-given gift. They wanted everyone to cover their heads, and Paul says it's a disgrace to wear the tallith (though he'll allow wives of Jews to cover their heads if they feel called to do so). They want everyone to eat kosher, and Paul says it's hardly necessary though gentiles should not use their freedom as an occasion to sin against the Jews. They want women to keep silent in the churches just as some non-existent law says, and Paul says their knowledge is faulty, but everything should be done in order.

    The letter was not written to Paul by the strong, but by the weak, and Paul is ensuring the gentiles remain loving toward these Jewish brothers and sisters. Your post makes this letter about the relationship of the church to the world, but it's about grace-accepting Christians relating to legalists.

    To be sure, Paul explains the difference between eating food that has been sacrificed to an idol versus eating food in worship to an idol, but his teaching is balanced. In this section, if you assume the strong wrote the letter, then the teaching is aimed entirely at the strong. If you assume some weak Jews wrote the letter, then Paul is more in character. He takes the legs out from under these Jews in the beginning of chapter 8, and continues to commend the strong as he places important boundaries around their correctness.

    But the main argument for the weak writing the letter remains that every other question put forth in the letter from Corinth came from the weak, a few law-addicted Jews.

    Or at least that's what a diesel programmer gets when he looks at it. Just thought I'd throw in my 2 cents.

  2. Glen

    Hi code,
    just lost a long answer to you. sigh.

    Thanks very much for the 2 cents. Very appreciated.

    I think it's important to distinguish Jewish-background / pagan-background on the one hand from weak / strong on the other. 8:7 shows us that the weak on this issue actually had a pagan background.

    We should also distinguish Romans 14 from this passage. Certainly there the Jewish weak link can be drawn and certainly there the weak are told to change (not just the strong). But I think in 1 Cor 8 the weak really don't have their legs taken from under them. They're not told to do anything. Certainly they should take the theology of v4-8 to heart but really Paul is admonishing the strong. See how verses 8-13 are addressed to the strong as "you" in distinction from the weak.

    Then chapter 9 is all about how we should forgo freedoms (which would be an odd thing to tell people who were unsure of their freedoms). Then ch10 begins with a warning about 'those who think they're standing firm' and yet who feel free enough to indulge in pagan revelry etc. I take this as a warning to the strong. Actually they should be fleeing idolatry (v14ff) rather than flirting with it.

    But yes, I think different parts of the letter are addressed to different groups (Paul addresses the sex-mad and the sex-frugal!). So shouldn't give the impression that the letter from the Corinthians was entirely written from the strong perspective. (Though it's interesting that the part Paul quotes the most was 'Everything is permissible for me' - a decidedly strong slogan)

    And yes, the issue of relations within the body between weak and strong are extremely important and not to be eclipsed by the issues of engagement with the world. It just so happens that engaging with the world was the issue over which weak and strong disagreed.

    That's what a sinful young upstart gets when he looks at it. ;-)

  3. codepoke

    Thanks, Glen. (And sorry about the lost comment - I HATE that.)

    Distinguishing Rom 14 makes good sense. As does the fact that all three of these chapters are written to the strong. Your whole interpretation is reasonable. Thank you for sharing it.

    I'm not quite persuaded yet, because of the "Who wrote to Paul?" question. Looking at all the verses (apart from the beginning of chapter 8) that I believe to be quotes from "the letter," they all seem like the grumblings of a few disgruntled Jews. It's for that reason I still think chapters 8-10 can be written to chide the strong gentiles while still digging at the weak Jews. Their whole pride and joy was in their knowledge of the law and God. When Paul commends the gentiles for their knowledge, it's a pretty nasty slight.

    I realize it's awkward to base a conclusion that Paul's answering the Jews on chapters 8-10, but given 7,11-16, I don't know who else could have written the question.

  4. codepoke

    The first 2 times he uses it are in 1 Cor 6:12, prior to the first mention of the Judaizing letter, and the statement is generally consistent with Paul's theology. I don't believe Paul is quoting from the letter when he says all things are lawful to him. So, yes, it does sound like a strong slogan, but because it's Paul's own slogan, not because it was included in any mail from any strong people in Corinth.

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