Q.

Would you explain why in one passage food offered to idols is forbidden, while in another it would appear sanctioned? Have some of the above passages been twisted to apply to gray areas of the Christian?

A.
In your letter you also gave several Scripture references that seem to support the two “opposites.” Let’s look at them. Acts 15:29 reads,

That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

Revelation 2:14 states,

But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.

These two verses you believe might be forbidding food offered to idols without exception.

The verses you cited that defend Christian liberty in this area would be the whole chapter of Romans 14 and also 1 Corinthians 10:23–33. In these passages, the apostle Paul outlined God’s law of liberty concerning questionable things. In each, he specifically mentioned this matter of food offered to idols, and so forth. Offering freedom in these areas, he wrapped the matter up this way: “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way” (Rom. 14:13, NKJV). He also noted the fact that we all, as believers, will stand before the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ and be evaluated by the perfect Judge (v. 12).

So what about the first two passages you asked about? Do they contradict or negate Paul’s teaching on Christian liberty?

I don’t believe they do at all. The Acts passage has as its setting the council in Jerusalem and the important problem to be resolved—the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers. Certain conflicts existed between the two in those days of the early New Testament church. The Jewish Christians wanted to continue certain elements of Old Testament Law, but the Gentile church, as in Antioch, did none of those things. If this issue were not resolved, the scenario would be two separate divisions of the churches of Christ, and that would be unthinkable. After they heard about the success of the growth of the church among Gentiles in Antioch and elsewhere, and learned of Peter’s mission to Cornelius, they concluded that the Jews should no longer trouble the Gentiles by demanding that they accept circumcision and the law of Moses.

But since various Gentile practices offended the Jews, the Gentile Christians also had a responsibility to abstain from practices that offended the Jewish brethren. This, of course, included the matter of eating meat sold in the marketplaces that had been sacrificed in pagan temples. The Gentiles saw nothing wrong with buying that meat, but the Jews felt it was taking part in the very worship of the pagan deities. So rather than contradicting Paul’s teaching in his letters, Acts 15:29 says the same thing—avoid that which causes offense in another brother. In other words, the verse should not be seen as an out-and-out command but, as one commentary put it, a recommendation that they avoid these offensive, doubtful things. The purpose of this recommendation was simply to avoid offense to other brothers in Christ. It was not because the practice was a sin in and of itself. The Jewish brethren had a responsibility to Gentile brethren; the same was true of Gentile brethren toward Jewish brethren.

The passage in Revelation doesn’t contradict Paul’s teaching either. It refers to God’s Chosen People in the Old Testament and their law that forbade them from eating meat sacrificed to idols. During that particular period in the life of the Children of God, Balaam got them to commit sin by forsaking God’s regulations and compromising in other areas such as marrying heathen. This Revelation passage is simply using meat sacrificed to idols as an illustration of the compromise of the church in Pergamos.

God had definite reasons for His dietary regulations of the Old Testament. Peter’s vision in Acts 10 showed the change in this dispensation of the Church with regard to calling certain things clean or unclean, according to God’s own words. Since mention of the practice of meat being offered to idols is an illustration taken from the Old Testament during Balaam’s time, it is not any more of a command to the New Testament church than the passage in Acts. Rather than thinking of this matter as a hard and fast rule as it was under the Old Testament law, it again is a matter of New Testament consideration for the weaker brother in Christ, as we have taught in Paul’s letters.

Regarding the last part of your question, many Christians find it uncomfortable to own up to the fact that we cannot find a definite Scripture passage for some things in life. They don’t like to follow general principles in the Bible for specific areas but wish for a definite rule instead.

Four basic principles in the Scriptures govern us in those areas. First, we have the “principle of liberty,” which concerns one’s self. The principle of liberty is not the liberty to sin. Romans 6:1 and 2 state, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.” On the other hand, an individual believer has the right to walk in the fellowship of the Lord as he believes the Lord is directing him, without outside interference from others. Some Christians are forever trying to regulate and manipulate other Christians and make them conform to their particular ideas and standards. If they don’t measure up, they surely cannot be spiritual or separated Christians.

Second is the “principle of love” (Gal. 5:1, 13). This is what we have been dealing with in our question. We consider the weaker brother because we love him.

Third, we must follow the “principle of purpose.” Because we want to win people to Christ, we don’t do certain things that might be all right in themselves. As we mature in Christ, we see more and more how important it is to live rightly before the unbelieving world. Even when we do this, unbelievers will look for things in our lives to find fault with and to excuse themselves. But it remains vital for us Christians to be faithful.

Finally, we have the “principle of supreme sacrifice,” with respect to God. Some things might be all right for a person and to others watching him—both believers and unbelievers—but perhaps God still says no. As we listen to the Holy Spirit, He may be saying that we must give up something or not participate in an activity for some particular (perhaps not apparent) reason. If God is speaking to us in this way, we must listen and obey.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (September 1990).
© 1990 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.