Sorry for the delay between posts, but I have been scrambling now with the indices to the Seyoon Kim Festschrift and my taxes (the first a joy; the 2nd a real pain). But back to idol food.
Continuing from my last post on the topic (“Idol Food Is No Idle Business at Corinth”), I want to begin this post with the following photo of a relief (ca. 1st century AD) taken at the National Museum in Athens during the winter Greece trip in January. It illustrates well the real presence or epiphany of daemons and gods at the meal:
|Photo taken by Max Lee at the Athens Museum © 2014|
In the above photo, the god Dionysios (outlined in yellow) along with his entourage (i.e., satyrs outlined in orange) epiphany before a young man (a poet; center) along with his consort (left) while he is reclining at the dinner table. The idea that daemons and gods could appear before their followers and join them in the cultic feasting which took place at the religious festivals, or even perhaps simply around the symposium or banquet, is clearly pictorialized here in this relief.
In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul addresses three such possible settings (i.e., banquet halls of the temple, the temple cult, and homes) where a believer might encounter idol meat and gives a different set of admonitions for each occasion. However, it is important to note that while the superstitious believed that gods like Dionysios could epiphany in any of the above settings, Paul did not. Paul thinks there is a danger of the real presence of demons in only one of the settings which the Corinthians might find themselves participating within. And Paul is arguing against an elitist group at Corinth who thinks demons do not exist at all, who argue that any setting is fine to eat idol food, and that worrying about demons betrays ignorance not wisdom.
In 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (and 10:23-30), Paul agrees with these elitist members of the congregation (known as “the Corinthian wise” or “the strong”) that “an idol is nothing” (8:4). He agrees with the strong that they have the freedom to eat meat sacrificed in a pagan temple as long as they are doing so in the banquet halls (which is something like the cafeteria in a church building) and not before an actual idol in the inner sanctuary as a part of a worship service. In the latter liturgical setting (see 10:1-22), Paul is quite clear that no Christian should eat idol food as part of pagan veneration because “you cannot participate in the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (10:21). There are real demonic and spiritual forces at work in a cultic act of pagan worship, and the believer is urged to flee every form of idolatry (10:14). Citing the folly of the Israelites during their wilderness journey and reflecting upon those Old Testament texts that narrate their apostasy (Exod 32:7; Num 11:4; 21:4-9; 25:1-9), Paul warns against a communion with demons that can cause the whole church to stumble.
[The third situation that Paul addresses is the case of idol meat sold in the marketplace and served in people’s home (1 Corinthians 10:25-30). This was already discussed in the previous post].
If there is a real presence of a demon or deity at pagan worship (10:20-21), the demon is not present in the material that is being sacrificed; otherwise even if it switches location to the marketplace, Paul would still prohibit it. It’s the same material wherever it goes. In other words, to use Christian theological categories, Paul would still have a problem with idol food sold in the market if it was somehow “transubstantiated” (= the meat was ontologically changed/tranformed) by being offered to an idol at the temple. But since Paul has no qualms about idol food in either the banquet halls (8:1-13) or meat sold in the marketplace and brought home (10:25-30), it is in the social and cultic setting of the temple liturgy, among the pagan worshippers, that the real presence of a demon/deity is experienced. Not in the elements themselves.
This does seem to have implications for the Lord’s Supper, against which Paul draws a contrast: “you cannot participate in the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (οὐ δύνασθε τραπέζης κυρίου μετέχειν καὶ τραπέζης δαιμονίων; 10:21). If the real presence of the demons acts as a theological foil against the real presence of Christ in which believers participate (μετέχειν) at the Lord’s table, then we have the one text in the New Testament that might possibly point to a sacramental understanding of the Lord’s supper. Having always thought of communion as an ordinance, not a sacrament, I have to say that this is somewhat disconcerting and steps on my Baptist sensibilities (in a good way). I’m not saying I have changed my mind on sacramentalism but if there was a text that could change it, this would be it!
However, if the Lord’s supper is a sacrament in the sense that Christ is present at the communion table, then the real presence is not from the elements themselves, but following Calvin, in the worship and fellowship of Christian believers as we participate in the act of breaking bread and drinking of the wine. The Spirit of the Lord is present among the body of believers. Can the presence of Christ be with the elements (i.e., consubstantiation) vs. in the elements (i.e., transubstantiation)? Hmmmm… I’m going to have to think about consubstantiation some more. No comment for now. But there is one more theological trump card Paul plays concerning idol food. But this will have to wait until the next post.
Postscript 06/13/14: Exegetical Exercise: 1) Read the above post. [Note: while I focused on sacramentalism, this exercise will have a different focus] 2) Now go to the bible dictionaries/encyclopedias in the reference section of the university library and learn more about pagan cultic practices/offerings in a pagan Greco-Roman temple. 3) Interpret 1 Cor 10:14-22 drawing insight from your background study. In other words: what did eating part of food sacrificed to idols symbolize for the pagan worshipper? Why would Paul find such a practice objectionable? How does understanding how pagan temples operate give you insight into Paul’s own message/exhortations in 1 Cor 10:14-22? 4) Be sure to consult at least one academic commentary on your biblical text from the reference section.