Eating Idol Meat in Corinth: Enduring Principles from Paul’s Instructions -- By: Robert L. Plummer

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 06:3 (Fall 2002)
Article: Eating Idol Meat in Corinth: Enduring Principles from Paul’s Instructions
Author: Robert L. Plummer

Eating Idol Meat in Corinth:
Enduring Principles from Paul’s Instructions

Robert L. Plummer

Robert L. Plummer is Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, from which he also received his Ph.D. in New Testament. He served as a missionary in East Asia from 1993–94, as well as completing several shorter assignments in Israel, Trinidad, and Ghana. He has written several articles and his dissertation focused on the missionary responsibility of churches in the Pauline letters.


Are the apostle Paul’s instructions about eating meat sacrificed to idols relevant today? As ministers in the modern West, most of us must admit that we have never had to teach in our churches on the ethics of eating meat offered to idols.1 In the first century, however, this issue divided the troubled young Corinthian church. In fact, the topic caused such a stir that the Christians in Corinth wrote to their founder, the apostle Paul, to seek his guidance on this issue. Sandwiched between Paul’s response to the Corinthians’ questions on marriage (7:1–40) and the apostle’s comments on the role of women in the worship service (11:2–16), we find Paul’s extensive discussion on the appropriate Christian response to meat sacrificed to pagan idols (henceforth, “idol meat”).2 The purpose of this article is to explain this portion of Paul’s letter and to highlight the implications of Paul’s teaching for modern Christian ministry.

I will begin below by providing a brief introduction to both the cultural context of ancient Corinth and the epistolary context of Paul’s remarks on idol meat. After a brief overview of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1, I will list and discuss five theological principles distilled from Paul’s discussion.

At the outset, I should also make the disclaimer that this article is not meant to read like a commentary on 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1. I will not be dealing with every hermeneutical issue in these three chapters, but will focus on the main points and enduring principles from Paul’s discussion. Both the format of this journal and space limitations of this article dictate that I take this approach.

The Social and Religious Context of Ancient Corinth

Before we examine Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians, we must bridge a great chasm of time and culture in order to understand the issue that he was addressing. Corinth, like other major cities of the ancient Roman Empire, had numerous pag...

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