Letters to the Corinthians: A Little More on Idols

Here we are in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 and we’re back to the subject of idolatry and the Lord’s supper. Remember how I was talking about chiasms? Back in chapter 8 Paul explained that we know idols are nothing but we ought not do anything that offends the conscience of a weaker brother or sister. And he connects this verse to the previous section – “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. Therefore, my dear friends, free from idolatry …” To make things even more confusing, he’s about to talk more about Lord’s Supper in the next chapter. So I have no idea where this falls in either or both chiasms. I guess the chiastic structure is one you have to be used to hearing or have some level of familiarity with it in order to really get the point. As one who isn’t terribly well versed in it, it’s quite confusing to me. Think of it this way – it’s like a description of a sandwich item by item: one slice of bread, a layer of lettuce, a layer of tomato, a layer of bacon, a layer of tomato, a layer of lettuce, one more slice of bread. So what’s the most important part? The bacon, of course. But we can’t know that until we arrive at the second slice of bread. With these letters, going through it section by section, chapter by chapter, it tends to make it more difficult to see where they fall on the chiasm sandwich until we see what else the letters says and where it says it.

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

“Judge for yourselves” appears in this and the next chapter. My friends at the Head Covering Movement would say that in this and in the next chapter, it’s being used as a rhetorical statement / question. He doesn’t really want believers to actually judge for themselves but rather to agree with what he’s been saying. Sort of like: “Am I right?” But some of the commentaries seem to suggest that Paul actually means that the Corinthians really ought to judge for themselves – to consider what Paul has said, talk it over, look through their sermon notes, ask the letter to be read aloud again and decide whether they agree that Paul’s logic is sound (as they are all about knowledge) or that they should shut down their ability to think and just agree that regardless Paul’s always right. I just don’t buy the commentaries that suggest that Paul was shooting for irony: “you sensible people you, judge for yourselves … scratch that, just agree with me …” I think Paul’s been doing a careful balancing act to correct problems (put out fires) without insulting (pouring gasoline on the flames). After all, Paul’s all about Christ and Christ didn’t insult people as rule – he saved that for the Pharisees who missed the whole point of Scripture, but everyone else he was respectful of no matter what sort of problems they were dealing with.

Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Paul here seem to be saying, “look, we’ve already figured out that meat sacrificed to idols really isn’t that big of a deal. But this is the Lord’s Supper I’m talking about and it doesn’t apply just the same as any old meal. You’re believers now and that means that you’re participants of worship and sacrifices offered to God, but to bring in anything offered to somebody else is to try to share the credit for your salvation to some other name. Don’t do that.”

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