Food offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8-10 : a study of conflicting viewpoints in the setting of religious pluralism in Corinth
This thesis investigates the conflict which existed in Corinth around the mid-first century C.E concerning Christian involvement in cultic meals. Following a brief introduction, the state of scholarship is surveyed in Chapter 1 and it becomes apparent that the general emphasis has been either on detailed exegesis of Paul's teaching in 1 Cor.8-10 or on Greek/Oriental cultic meal evidence from Classical and Hellenistic times. Little attention has been paid to the actual nature and dynamics of the sacrificial food issue itself or to the Corinthians' own perceptions of such cultic events. Chapter Two deals with a contemporary case study of cultic meals among the Torajanese people of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Using literary evidence and detailed oral interviews, it emerges that among Christians, there exists a wide range of individual viewpoints regarding the nature and perceived significance of images, sacrifices and communal meals. This spectrum of opinion finds its root in the existence of genuine ambiguities, boundary definition problems and conceptual differences regarding the nature of divinity and humanity. The result has been the emergence of a large number of different perspectives on the validity of Christian attendance at, and participation in, such cultic festivals. In Chapter Three, archaeological evidence and reports are assessed in order to suggest which cults were operative in mid first century C.E. Corinth and which might therefore have been the objects of Paul's attention in I Cor.8-10. The unresolved issue of Greek/Roman continuity is considered. Chapter Four and Five present detailed primary source materials concerning images, sacrifices and communal meals, with emphasis on the cults of Demeter/Kore, Asclepius, Isis/Sarapis, cults of the dead and with special attention being given to Imperial Cult. Study of cultic terminology, cultic practice and the perceived significance of cultic phenomena yields evidence of ambiguities, boundary delimitation issues and conceptual variations regarding the natures of the divine and the human. Finally in Chapter Six, detailed exegesis of sections of 1 Cor. 8-10 takes account of this Greco-Roman background research. The unity of 1 Cor.8-10 is defended, but the long-held hypotheses of Gnosticism and Sacramental Communion are criticized. The issue of sacrificial food was complicated and triggered a broad range of genuine individual perspectives. Confronted by such a complex dilemma, involving valid viewpoints on all sides, the apostle deals firmly with the issue of eating in 8: 1-13 but sets his clearest boundary marker in 10: 14-22 where he forbids involvement by believers in actual pagan sacrificial acts. These two sections of the text are thus in basic harmony, and are not in conflict. The plethora of feasible individual interpretations and viewpoints compels Paul to dwell continuously on general principles which are designed to lead his readers away from entrenched individual positions and towards concern for the Christian community. The complex dynamic of sacrificial food, and the consequent controversy involved in trying to define 'idolatry', makes it an ongoing, and largely intractable, problem for many churches today.