Harmonizing Acts 15 with 1 Corinthians 8

J. D. Conley
September 7, 2014

In Acts 15:20 and 29, James commanded the Gentiles to "...abstain from pollutions of idols...20...abstain from meats offered to idols" 29. But later on in 1 Corinthians 8 Paul stressed that "...an idol is nothing in the world" 4, and for Gentiles who had that knowledge, i.e., understanding, they were permitted to eat meat sacrificed to idols as long as a weaker brother was not offended. He points out that eating, or not eating such meat, was a matter of indifference with God, v.8. Therefore, how can these verses be harmonized?

When James said what he did in Acts 15:20, 29, he was prohibiting idol worship and the common act of eating meats that had been sacrificed to idols. This ingestion of meat was considered as an act of fellowship with the god to whom the sacrifice had been offered. Thus not only was the worship of the idol wrong, so was the eating of meat sacrificed to it because by eating it, one tacitly admitted their affinity for the idol or god. One who follows Christ can have no part in either act. James was condemning both acts because they went hand in hand as acts of worship and fellowship.

But in 1 Corinthians 8, this is not the same situation. The reason Paul allows the eating of meats sacrificed to idols in this chapter (as long as a weaker brother's conscience is not defiled) is because it is eaten with no intent to worship the idol, or have fellowship with the idol. Purchasing the leftover sacrificed meat in the marketplace and eating it, was for the nourishment and the satisfying of the physical appetite only.

In Acts 15, James forbids the Gentile Christians from engaging in any act of idol worship and fellowship. They were to neither worship idols or fellowship idols by eating the meat that was sacrificed. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul allows the eating of such meat by Christians because it was free of any religious connotation. It was only to be refrained from if it caused a weaker brother to stumble. Essentially, what was condemned in Acts 15 was the worship of idols and the fellowship of idols, (which Paul also condemned in 1 Corinthians 6:9). What was allowed in 1 Corinthians 8 was simply the eating of meat without any religious connection.