5. The Issue of Eidōlothyta
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5 The Issue of Eidōlothyta An Inter(con)textual Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 8:1—11:1 and Chinese Ancestor Veneration Menghun Goh Introduction Chinese Christianity tends to condemn Chinese ancestor veneration as idol worship. The attack is considerable given that the ritual, with more than ten thousand years of history, is inextricably related to Chinese worldview, spirituality, and social identity (Lakos 2010: 12–13). The denouncement can be tantamount to rejecting Chinese heritage (Tan 2005). The situation becomes more complicated when Chinese Christians are taught to accept Western traditional theology as the orthodox belief. As Chinese people internalize Western worldviews embedded in these doctrines and end up with Westernoriented problems, we distrust our contextual interpretation of the Bible. However, no Chinese would call their ancestors idols, so how has the ritual come to be construed as idolatrous? Why are Chinese statues and images deprecated as idols while their Christian counterparts are admired as icons? For Paul, what are the features of the idol that make it idolatrous? To address these questions, I analyze 1 Cor. 8:1—11:1 from three intermingling poles of meaning production: contextual, textual, and theological or hermeneutical (Grenholm and Patte 2000). As our textual analysis is tied to our existential concerns, we should be aware of our contextual and theological orientation, lest we fail to see beyond our horizons. This awareness is heightened when we interpret 1 Cor. 8:1—11:1 and Chinese ancestor veneration in light of each other. An inter(con)textual interpretation of these two contexts focusing on the concepts of “idol” and “idolatry” will reveal how each context constructs them differently.1 I argue that a typology of 79 cross-like events is not only crucial to Paul’s view of knowledge and freedom (exousia) but also fundamental to his critique of food offered to idols and idolatry. As my Chinese context in Malaysia will highlight, Paul’s critique is practical in addressing the power of the idol that forms one’s habitus, which Pierre Bourdieu defines as “systems of durable transposable dispositions” that continually form our embodied worldviews (Bourdieu 1977: 72). Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenological analysis of the idol and the icon can further show how Paul’s other-oriented notion of love and a God-oriented and Christmediated confession challenge the constructions of identity and power structures that depend on closed systems of knowledge (Marion 1991: 1–52; 2011: 152–68). History of Interpretations in 1 Corinthians 8:1—11:1 In a recent article, Wendell Willis identifies seven areas of consensus in the critical study of 1 Cor. 8:1—11:1. He notes that most scholars do not articulate their concepts of “idol” and “idolatry” or pay attention to the power of idol in habitus (Willis 2007: 103–12). In his list of consensus—(1) “The Unity of 1 Corinthians 8–10”;2 (2) “The Function of 1 Corinthians 9”;3 (3) “Quotations from Corinthians”;4 (4) “The Reality and Possible Identity of Suggested ‘Parties’ in Corinth Related to the Topic of Eating Sacrificial Food”;5 (5) “The Possible Occasions of Eating Under Discussion”;6 (6) “The Nature of Pagan Religious Meals in the Greco-Roman World”;7 and (7) “The Norms and Warrants Expressed by Paul in Response to the Situation in Corinth”8—only (6) touches on the notion of idol in terms of its socioreligious aspect in “pagan religious meals.” However, if the term eidōlothyton (“idol food”) “is a Jewish Christian term, possibly coined by Paul himself”9 (Witherington 1995: 189), and if “all extant sources in early Christianity which discuss the issue oppose idol meat” (Brunt 1985: 120),10 then for Paul, what makes idol food idolatrous?11 We cannot assume that an idol is necessarily idolatrous. We need to examine Paul’s notion of idolatry, whether it is related to the religious features of the eating space12 or the cultic practices associated with the food that make idol food idolatrous.13 To argue that idol food is idolatrous because it is tied to “pagan gods” or demons is tautological. From the Mesopotamian “mouth-washing” ritual14 (Walker and Dick 1999) to the idol anxiety in Greco-Roman literature (Newton 1998: 114–74), we find that people deliberately oppose idol worship. Whether for Paul it is the religious features of the eating space,15 the food itself, or the cultic practices associated with food preparation that make idol food 80 | 1 and 2 Corinthians idolatrous,16 we need to...