From Acts 15 we learned that the Jerusalem Council had instructed the new Gentile believers to abstain from meats offered to idols. Yet, in 1 Corinthians, Paul seems to have contradicted the Council's ruling.
1 Corinthians 8:1-8 (KJV)
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
Verse 1 set up Paul's argument. The topic of discussion is the eating of meats that had been offered unto idols. Paul then made a curous statement about knowledge and continued his line of thought through to verse 4, where he revealed that an idol, as a representation of a god, is really nothing. Paul based this on the fact that there is only one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If the gods don't really exist, then idols are nothing, since they represent something that doesn't exist. This understanding is the knowledge that Paul was referring to in verses 1 through 3.
To clarify, Paul was saying that everyone has knowledge of some kind. Basically, the Gentile believers knew that there were no other gods, beside God. Although this was a correct understanding, knowledge sometimes can cause arrogance and Paul felt that this knowledge about the gods could have this effect. On the other hand, charity or love can build up others. Verses 5 and 6 continue Paul's thought on the gods versus the one true God.
In verse 7 Paul recognized that knowledge exists on a spectrum. While the believers may have had a head knowledge regarding the non-existence of these pagan gods, some were not able to fully understand in their hearts. Their consciences would have convicted them if they ate any meat offered to an idol. Paul stated that these people had a weak or defiled conscience.
Finally, in verse 8 Paul clearly says that it doesn't matter what we eat.
Based on the words that Paul wrote, he was guilty of going against what the Jerusalem Council commanded, as well, as being guilty of going against the food laws in the Torah, where God said that what was eaten did matter!
However, remember that Peter had said that Paul's writings were difficult to understand. (See previous post.).
Paul was not a rogue apostle. There must be something else going on, or Paul should have been dismissed as a valid writer of Scripture. What is missing is that the concern was not really over meat that had been obviously offered to idols, since that was prohibited food according to the Jerusalem Council. Rather, the concern was over meat that had an unknown origin. Often meat that had been offered to idols was later put on sale in the marketplace. The purchaser wouldn't necessarily know the history of the meat. Also, when meat was served at someone's home, an invited guest wouldn't know where the meat came from. Many Gentile believers would be able to go ahead and eat the meat because they knew ultimately that even if it had been offered to an idol in the past, the idol and the god meant nothing. But not all believers were able to do that.
Paul's advice was as follows:
1 Corinthians 8:9-13 (KJV)
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
The believers with more complete knowledge of the status of the gods were not to be stumblingblocks to those with lesser understanding (verse 9). If the weaker believer saw the stronger believer eat meat that the weaker thought had been offered to idols, would that embolden the weaker to violate his conscience and then be guilty of sin against Messiah (verses 10-12)? Paul concluded that if he would offend any brother by his eating, he would eat no meat. This is the charity that Paul referred to in verse 1.
This passage is about eating meat of unknown origins, it is not about ending the prohibition against eating meat offered to idols as commanded by the Jerusalem Council, nor is it about ending any of the food laws of Leviticus 11 and 14. It was about applying the rules in a real-life situation. This is definitely a case of where reading between the lines is essential.