The previous exam question on these chapters is: “Rights v Responsibilities” What arguments did Paul employ against the former and in favour of the latter in 1 Cor 8-11:1. Now. I am a betting man (though only for small stakes, or sheep stations), and I’m betting almost all my eggs on this question, or one very much like it, being in the exam. My reasoning is thus: of the five issues I predict the exam will feature, three are covered by the Sanctification post from last night (Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 6 and Paul’s use of the resurrection in 1 Cor 15). So if I sort out Bruce’s argument from that post in my head – I should be able to deal with questions about sanctification, the resurrection, and Paul’s treatment of secular immorality. The oratory thing is the final question – and it’s very close to the essay question (though speaking to some people who’ve done Corinthians before – it seems they had the same essay question, and the past paper I’m looking at is their past paper).
So lets hop to it… most of this material comes from my essay from New Testament 2 (which you can find in full here – it’s a first year essay, so it’s not very good, but it has a semi-cogent argument and some good bibliographic stuff going for it).
Eating and Table Fellowship in the First Century
Paul’s argument in Corinthians is basically that you shouldn’t be doing stuff if it is going to lead your brothers and sisters astray, and make your witness to non-Christians harder. The reason where people eat is a big deal is that eating was identity shaping, and identity declaring, in the first century. You weren’t just what you ate – you were who you ate with, and where you ate.
Philo said this was a reason for Jews not to be involved in associations and clubs in the Roman world. Josephus records Jews avoiding olive oil and wine used in temple libations to avoid anything that looked like it could possibly be tainted. Cicero, Philostratus, and Tacitus, all record (and scorn) the Jewish approach to food.
Here’s Paul’s take home message:
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” – Paul, 1 Corinthians 10:31-33
The issue of eating practices was a big one for the first century church, where Jew and Gentile were being fused together into God’s family – that’s why it’s at the heart of the Jerusalem Council’s decision in Acts 15, and why Paul writes about it in Romans and Corinthians. It was a big deal for Jews – as their avoidance of bacon was a huge part of what made them different from the heathen cultures around them. They made a big fuss.
Eating in Idol Temples was a big deal for the Corinthians movers and shakers who needed to participate in civic life to get ahead, but it was a bigger deal than they realised, for three reasons (in Paul’s argument against it).
1. It would lead the weak astray.
2. It would hamper their testimony to others.
3. There was more behind the “idol” especially the Emperor worship stuff – than they were acknowledging, because participation in these practices was an indication they hadn’t actually turned away from the past.
Paul’s apparent compromise/contradiction (eat food unless someone questions it) demonstrate that he is driven by the evangelistic imperative – eating with non-Christians(in their homes) is a great way to do evangelism, and you shouldn’t let trivialities like false idols get in the way. Eating in a temple sends a different signal.
The Corinthian Background
Bruce originally thought the “rights” the citizens of Corinth were exercising were related to the Isthmian Games, where people would eat, drink, and be merry, at the expense of the benefactors who put on the games, sharing in the spoils of all sorts of food from idol temples because they were citizens. Now he thinks the real historical location is in the launch of the Imperial Cult and the Imperial temple, in Corinth – the cup of Demons is actually the cup of the emperor – the latin word translated into the Greek word translated into the word Demon is the word used to describe the essence of the deified emperor. The Corinthian citizens are trying to exercise their rights to participate in civic life, recognising a king/lord/emperor who isn’t Jesus.
Gallio’s declaration about the legality of Christianity (as a Jewish tradition/issue) meant that Christians could avoid persecution for not worshiping the emperor, but worshiping the emperor was a big part of Roman life, and a way to get ahead. Treating the “so-called Gods” (1 Cor 8:5) and the demon of 1 Cor 10 as the emperor is more theological cogent (in the light of Paul’s declaration that idols are empty) than thinking there are demons behind all the other false Gods (who Paul deals with in 1 Cor 8:7-13). While Bruce has moved away from the Isthmian Games link – the Imperial Cult stuff is more relevant in his latest reconstruction regarding the arrival of the Imperial Priesthood in Corinth around this period.
Paul is addressing multiple circumstances in which a Corinthian might be confronted with idol food, in the temple, in the marketplace, in private dinners, and sharing in the cup of δαιμονια. While the idols of 1 Corinthians 8 are false and subject to conscience when it comes to dining in homes, Paul is explicit about participation in the cup of demons in 1 Corinthians 10, and about dining in temples.
Christian converts were to distance themselves from idol temples – even if they “knew” there was no truth behind the idols (1 Corinthians 8:10, 10:14-22). There’s a bit of debate over whether or not Paul shared the Corinthian view on idols – Horsely doesn’t think Paul thinks the idols are “nothing” but that he’s simply quoting the Corinthian’s words (Horsley needs to read Isaiah). Garland doesn’t think the “strong” in Corinthians should be equated with the “strong” in Paul’s similar argument in Romans 14-15.
Paul wants the Corinthians to forgo their rights for the sake of others, like he did, so cites himself as an example (11:1), this is why 1 Cor 9 coheres with the arguments about food in 8 and 10.
This passage fits in the logic of the rest of the book nicely. Paul shows real concern about the role of food in establishing identity with regards to partaking in the Lord’s Supper (and thus the body of Christ) while also participating in the demon’s cup. He draws a parallel between Israel’s historic participation at the temple altar and the antithetical nature of participating in this Imperial Cultic activity (and other idolatrous demon worship) as being mutually exclusive with participating in Christian fellowship (1 Corinthians 10:20-21), employing similar reasoning for not engaging in sexual misconduct (1 Corinthians 6:15-18). It is as unconscionable to unite Christ with these demons through partaking in the cup, as it is to unite Christ with a prostitute through sexual immorality. Eating idol food would necessarily stumble others, and such stumbling of others is entirely unnecessary.
While our treatment of the young men as a case study in the Sanctification post discussed the lack of evidence for temple prostitution in Corinth, it seems plausible that temple dining practices would follow other models of “dining” addressed by Paul (1 Corinthians 6:12-20, 10:7, which again has an Old Testament corollary in Exodus 32:6 – where idol worship, dining, and sexual immorality are intrinsically linked). Pagan feasts in temples were likely to conform to this model of behaviour. Paul reiterates the need to avoid sexual immorality in the context of dining and idol worship in the midst of this argument (1 Corinthians 10:7-8).
Concern for the other is Paul’s ultimate and guiding concern.
“11And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12Thus, sinning against your brothers andwounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” – Paul, 1 Corinthians 8:11-12
Evangelism is also on his agenda. This is the purpose of his exemption for eating in the houses of unbelievers without questioning the origin of the meat (1 Corinthians 10:27-28), and for his whole dining rubric (1 Corinthians 10:31-33).
Interestingly, the refusal to partake in idol food in a social context once it had been identified as such would have placed the Christians in the difficult social position of causing offence to the host, hence Paul’s instruction to eat without question.
Some names to throw into the mix
Witherington: Thinks the Acts 15 prohibitions are short hand for participating in temple life (food sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality) – Bruce disagrees, he argues these things were typical of the entire Roman culture.
Barclay: argues that avoiding compromise with food was the biggest marker of Jew/Gentile distinction outside of Christian circles in the first century.
Garland: argues that all secular dining in Corinth, involving meat, probably had a “religious” nature – regardless of setting, and that Civic banquets – the type citizens enjoyed by “right” would necessarily have involved idol meat.
Gooch: Shows that civic dining often took place in temples in Corinth
Garland (again): Says that though civic dining took place in temples, these weren’t secular affairs – the religious connection would’ve been obvious to observers.
Newton: the “cup of demons” makes the Imperial Cult the likely setting of this exercising of rights.
Rosner: temple worship included sexual immorality, even if there was no temple prostitution.
Cheung: Questioning the host about the source of food was culturally inappropriate and offensive.