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Dangerous Food

1 Corinthians 8-10 in Its Context

Peter D.Gooch

Publication Year: 1993

Recognizing the social meaning of food and meals in Greco-Roman culture and, in particular, the social meaning of idol-food, is an integral part of understanding the impact of Paul’s instructions to the Christian community at Corinth regarding the consumption of idol-food. Shared meals were a central feature of social intercourse in Greco-Roman culture. Meals and food were markers of social status, and participation at meals was the main means of establishing and maintaining social relations. Participation in public rites (and sharing the meals which ensued) was a requirement of holding public office.

The social consequences of refusing to eat idol-food would be extreme. Christians might not attend weddings, funerals, celebrations in honour of birthdays, or even formal banquets without encountering idol-food. In this extended reading of 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1, Paul’s response to the Corinthian Christians’ query concerning food offered to idols, Gooch uses a social-historical approach, combining historical methods of source, literary and redaction criticism, and newer applications of anthropological and sociological methods to determine what idol-food was, and what it meant in that place at that time to eat or avoid it. In opposition to a well-entrenched scholarly consensus, Gooch claims that although Paul had abandoned purity rules concerning food, he would not abandon Judaism’s cultural and religious understanding concerning idol-food.

On the basis of his reconstruction of Paul’s letter in which he urged the Corinthian Christians to avoid any food infected by non-Christian rites, Gooch argues that the Corinthians rejected Paul’s instructions to avoid facing significant social liabilities.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Studies in Christianity and Judaism

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-xvi

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pp. xvii-xviii

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8-10 shows a lack of scholarly concern over the concrete social contexts addressed by Paul: meals in temples (8:10), tables of demons (10:21), food sold in markets (10:25) and invitations from those outside the Christian group (10:27). Almost without exception, scholars are uninterested in the concrete social contexts ...

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I. Table of daimonia

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pp. 1-14

Paul's response to the Corinthians concerning food offered to idols refers to specific contexts in which such food might be met: in temples, at the table of daimonia,1 at the market and at meals hosted by non-Christians. This chapter will address, in part, temples and the table of daimonia. ...

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2. In an idol's temple

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pp. 15-26

Paul refers both to the table of daimonia and to eating in an idol's temple in 1 Corinthians (10:21 and 8:10), and provides distinct assessments of these: the table of demons is to be shunned, but eating in an idol's temple might cause one of the weak to fall. A common-sense reading of 1 Corinthians might suggest that these two contexts are the ...

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3. "If someone invites you . . ."

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pp. 27-46

The archaeological data and literary evidence from the cults of Demeter and Kore and of Asklepios have allowed some conclusions concerning the use of idol-food in cultic centres. This chapter gathers evidence concerning the uses of sacred food in everyday settings, and the social import of eating. This evidence is found in the literature of the period. ...

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4. Introduction to the discussion of 1 Corinthians 8-10

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pp. 47-52

The examination of the social use of sacred food in chapters 1 to 3 allows an informed approach to the passages in 1 Corinthians where Paul addresses the issue of food offered to idols. An understanding of the broad context of 1 Corinthians, however, will not of itself allow a clear understanding of the text. The letter responds to a specific set of ...

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5. What is idol-food?

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pp. 53-60

Though it is very often assumed that all idol-food is meat,1 there is nothing in the text to make this a certainty. "If food puts an obstacle in the way of my brother I will never again eat meat (krea)" (8:13) shows clearly that the idol-food Paul has in mind most readily is meat. It cannot be inferred from this, however, that only meat could be idol-...

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6. For whom is idol-food a problem, and why?

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pp. 61-72

Idol-food is a problem both for Paul and the Corinthians. The Corinthians have addressed a question or set of questions to Paul concerning idol-food,1 and Paul sets out an extensive response. It might be thought, then, that the situation is straightforward: the young and inexperienced group looks for guidance....

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7. What is Paul's proposed solution to the problem of idol-food?

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pp. 73-98

The Corinthian solution to idol-food was to eat it without worry: "We all have knowledge" that "there is no idol in the world, and no God but one; food won't affect our status with God, and whether we eat idol-food or not makes no difference. All things are permissible" (8:1,4,8). The Corinthian appeal to knowledge (gnósis) makes it likely ...

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8. What effect would Paul's proposed solution to the problem of idol-food have on the Corinthians?

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pp. 99-108

A properly objective social-historical reconstruction offers equal attention to all parties to the events of which evidence is provided. An historical investigation of the issue of idol-food in Paul's group in Corinth, then, should not stop with an account of Paul's position. It should be asked (1) what can be learned of the Corinthians' further ...

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9. What was the Corinthian response to Paul's proposed solution to the problem of idol-food?

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pp. 109-114

With this chapter we come to the final stage of the exchange between Paul and the Christians in Corinth over the issue of idol-food. Now that Paul has had his say, it can be asked how the Corinthians might have responded to 1 Corinthians. Regrettably, there is no direct evidence of the Corinthian response, so any reconstruction of it must ...

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10. Paul's position after 1 Corinthians

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pp. 115-120

Paul's subsequent letters to the Corinthian Christians do not give us any indication of whether Paul's views changed concerning the use of idol-food or the avoidance of situations where it was served, but this does not exhaust the possible evidence concerning this question. Paul's other extant letters might reveal something of relevance to this ...

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11. Other early Christian practice concerning idol-food

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pp. 121-128

How did other early Christians deal with the matter of food offered to idols? It is a relief that, after the tenuous evidence adduced concerning the Corinthians' response to Paul's advice concerning idol-food, the evidence concerning other early Christian views is anything but tenuous: the extant voices of other Christians in the first three centuries ...

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12. Conclusions

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pp. 129-134

What was idol-food? It could be many kinds of food, hallowed in many different contexts by differing rites. Idol-food included but was not limited to meat. For whom was idol-food a problem? It was a problem for Paul, and he in turn urged it as a problem on the Corinthian Christians. What was Paul's position concerning idol-food? ...

Appendix 1. Different views of Paul's position concerning idol-food

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pp. 135-156

Appendix 2. Aristides, Oration 49

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pp. 157-158


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pp. 159-172

Index of Subjects and Authors

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pp. 192-193

Index of Citations of Ancient Sources

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pp. 194-199

E-ISBN-13: 9780889208025
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889202191
Print-ISBN-10: 0889202192

Page Count: 180
Publication Year: 1993

Series Title: Studies in Christianity and Judaism