What Does It Mean to Abstain From Food Sacrificed to Idols?

Food Sacrificed to Idols

Recently we shared 3 Overlooked Dietary Laws in the New Testament. At the Council of Jerusalem several dietary restrictions were discussed. These restrictions can be found in Acts 15:20 and repeated in Acts 15:29 and 21:25:

  1. New converts were to abstain from eating food contaminated by idols (the Apostle Paul teaches more about this issue in 1 Corinthians 8-10)
  2. They were to not eat meat that was killed by strangulation or smothering (it was to be killed by bleeding out)
  3. They were to abstain from eating blood

In the previous post, I did not share the implications of these restrictions. Rather I demonstrated that God is concerned with food. He was concerned with food at creation and He was concerned with food at the close of the book of Revelation. And He was concerned with food everywhere in between — from lid to lid.

Now, at the request of my readers, I will share more specific applications concerning these three dietary laws in the New Testament. Today I will discuss the topic of abstaining from food sacrificed to idols. This is the easiest topic to discuss because the Apostle Paul spends several chapters on this very issue in 1 Corinthians. And I have written on the topic previously: Food: A Stumbling Block to Believers and Non-believers. Therefore some of the information here may be a repeat to those who have read the above mentioned post.

Animal Sacrifices Yesterday and Today.

Before Christ atoned for the sins of the human race, animal sacrifice was required to for the forgiveness of sins. These well prescribed sacrifices were done in an orderly fashion at the Jewish Temple — and they all pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ’s own blood. They too were performed in faith, looking forward to Christ.

When Christ came to sacrifice Himself, the known world was under the control of Roman rule. And these Romans had gods of their own to whom they offered sacrifices. These gods, of course, were no gods at all, but rather demons and idols (according to Paul).

Many of those turning to Christ would have been turning away from these pagan idols to the living God. Animal sacrifice and pagan rituals would have been part of their daily life.

And today, animal sacrifices and pagan rituals continue in the world we live. Muslims, Hindus, and other religions still perform animal sacrifices to their false gods. You can read more about modern day sacrifices here. These worshippers of false gods are in need of turning to Christ. Just like the first Gentile converts to Christianity, they need to turn to Christ and away from their false idols.

The modern and ancient use of animal sacrifice should instruct us when we come to passages in the Bible that discuss the eating of “food sacrificed to idols.”

In America, we are largely isolated from these kinds of animal sacrifice. But they do continue. This topic is not a dead topic, but one of great importance and relevance today (as is all the Scripture).

In Three Overlooked Dietary Laws in the New Testament we discussed the backdrop to the giving of these dietary laws — so I will not repeat that here. Read the article for a better understanding of the context.

Food Sacrificed to Idols.

The Apostle Paul specifically discusses the principle of food sacrificed to idols in his first epistle to the Corinthian church, where he devotes an entire chapter (a case could be made that he devotes 3 chapters) to the topic. There Paul notes that in reality there is no such thing as an idol (or a false god) because there is no other god but the true God. Yet those who sacrifice to idols believe that idols are real. And those who have recently left a pagan religion would feel defiled by eating such a sacrifice. It is in part for their sake [the new converts] that Christians are not to partake of food sacrificed to a false god (or idol). Paul ends the chapter with these words: “And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak [by eating food sacrificed to idols], you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.”

Paul continues the topic in chapter ten, where he writes, “What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons.”

And so Paul gives further instruction on food sacrificed to idols in chapter 10, which I have paraphrased and expanded below.

  1. Let no-one seek his own good, but the good of others (I Corinthians 10:24).
  2. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without asking questions as to whether or not it was sacrificed to an idol — since there is no real “defilement” of meat based on whether it has been sacrificed to an idol or not (I Corinthians 10:25).
  3. If a pagan invites you to dinner, eat what is set before you without asking questions (I Corinthians 10:27).
  4. If however someone shares with you that food has been sacrificed to an idol — do not to partake of the food. Not for your own conscience’ sake, but for the sake of the one who informed you that it was sacrificed to an idol (I Corinthians 10:28).
  5. Whatever you eat or drink do it to the glory of God — not for your own benefit alone. Abstain from eating if it honors God. Eat if it injures no-one (I Corinthians 10:31).
  6. In your eating do not offend Jew, Gentile, or fellow believer (I Corinthians 10:32).

This teaches a couple of points:

  1. A new convert should not eat food sacrificed to idols because it will defile their conscience. Having left the pagan practices behind, they should not return to them.
  2. A mature convert should not eat food sacrificed to idols because it could wound the conscience of the new converts.
  3. No Christian should eat food with an unbeliever if he knows it has been sacrificed to an idol. This is for the sake of the unbeliever.

What we eat should not become an offense to anyone.

Do Not Be Sharers In Demons.

To be fair to this passage, we cannot ignore Paul’s glaring warning to not become sharers in demons. This warning goes deeper than just offending a brother or sister — there is also a warning against the fellowship with darkness, the sharing with demons that is involved in the sacrifices to false gods.

While idols are nothing and false gods are nothing — yet demons are real beings behind the idols and false gods. That’s why the Apostle Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 10:21: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”

Paul includes the drinking of libations in the category of food sacrificed to idols, comparing the wine of communion with the wine used in pagan rituals and ceremonies.

And Matthew Henry writes concerning this topic:

Eating food as part of a heathen sacrifice, was worshipping the idol to whom it was made, and having fellowship or communion with it; just as he who eats the Lord’s supper, is accounted to partake in the Christian sacrifice, or as they who ate the Jewish sacrifices partook of what was offered on their altar. It was denying Christianity; for communion with Christ, and communion with devils, could never be had at once. If Christians venture into places, and join in sacrifices to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, they will provoke God.

This is an explicit warning to not participate in pagan rituals and practices, a breaking of the first commandment.


In conclusion, there are two simple applications that can be made on this topic of abstaining from food sacrificed to idols:


In whatever you eat or drink, do it all to the glory of God. Don’t let food become an idol in itself, causing others to stumble because of your choices. Note that this is not talking about the drinking of alcohol or the not drinking of alcohol specifically. This is evident because the Bible teaches these three principles concerning wine:

  1. God has commanded the drinking of wine in the sacrament of Communion.
  2. Paul tells Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach.
  3. Psalms 104:15 states that God has given wine to make the heart glad.

Nonetheless, if you know your brother has a weakness towards drunkenness, the loving thing may be to abstain while in his presence.

But more specifically, if you are inviting a Muslim or devout Jew over for dinner, seek to learn his dietary preferences so you don’t cause offense. In so doing, you may be able to have an open door to share the gospel with those in need. And if a Hindu or Muslim invites you over for a meal and informs you that it has been sacrificed to an idol, you must abstain — for his sake.


Do not participate in pagan ceremonies or rituals. In so doing you are in essence denying Christ and becoming a sharer with demons, serving a false god. This would include abstaining from celebrating

  1. A Hindu or Muslim sacrifice, feast, or holy day
  2. A Catholic Mass (which sacrifices Christ over again though His death was once for all time)
  3. A Jehovah’s Witness baptism (which celebrates the death of a false Christ)
  4. A Mormon Wedding (Outsiders are forbidden anyway. Read this firsthand account.)
  5. A Wiccan Sabbat
  6. A Satanic, Masonic, or Illuminati ritual
  7. Or any other pagan ceremony that exalts a false god or idol

We are to have no fellowship with darkness, but rather we are to expose it.

The next installment of this series is now available here: What Does It Mean to Abstain from Food that is Strangled?

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.


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