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1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

You can read the text here.

Paul concludes his lengthy discussion of the rights and freedom of the Christian in community while clarifying his basic position on eating meat sacrificed to idols. Freedom from the law does not entail freedom to worship idols. It must be avoided at all costs and so must eating cultic meals in a pagan temple. The basic argument is that participating in the Lord's Supper is an act which collective binds us together as the body of Christ, bringing us into union with him. While idols themselves are not real, there are demons/demonic forces behind them to enslave people.[1] Eating at cultic meals similarly binds one in union with the demon/demonic force. That kind of union is incommensurate with union with Christ. God cannot be brought into union with a demon. Why would an individual Christian think they could do so? Underlying all of this is the covenantal background. The Last Supper which the Lord's Supper reenacts was a Passover meal and provoking the Lord to jealousy similarly implies a covenantal relationship that is violated by idolatry. [2]  The Christian has no right to eat at cultic meals in pagan temples. To do so runs the risk of covenental judgment.[3]

The next paragraph continues to hammer the point home now addressing grayer areas. Yes, we have freedom, but our freedom is not freedom for sin but freedom from sin and desire, freedom for the benefit of the other.[4] We must lay down our rights to build up the church even when we technically have the right to something. If someone points out to a Corinthian that the meat they were about to buy or consume was sacrificed to an idol they should refrain from buying or eating it. It is not because anything is inherently wrong with the meat, but because clearly someone pointed it out to them because they thought there was some objection to it. So as not to run the risk of leading someone down a path back to idolatry, abstention is the proper course. Why should one give up their rights for the sake of the other? To bring God glory by not preventing others from coming to experience salvation in him.

[1] There is disagreement on whether or not these forces are personal between Thiselton (no) and Ciampa and Rosner (yes). It seems the parallel to our union with Christ is clearer if we understand them to be personal in some sense. On the other hand, Paul's discussion of sin and the powers elsewhere appear more impersonal. I cannot decide between the two and attempted to preserve the ambiguity.

[2] For these reasons, it seems intuitively clear to me that Christians should practice a closed table, not admitting those who don't follow Jesus. It's not a mere sign of remembering what Jesus did, but a covenantal practice that expresses and solidifies our union with Christ.

Both Ciampa and Rosner and Thiselton cover the covenantal background excellently.

[3] So Thiselton.

[4] Thiselton puts it powerfully as "what is the point of freedom if I can't choose not to cause problems."


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