John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: November 30

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: November 30

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The Decree

1Co_8:1-13; 1Co_10:14-33; 2Co_6:14-18

We have already indicated the object of the apostolic decree, and we may now give attention to its details.

In this decree or epistle, the “pollutions of idols,” are more explicitly indicated as “meat offered to idols.” This is explained by the fact, that the Gentiles, after the sacrifices were concluded, and a portion of the consecrated victim had been assigned to the priest, used to hold a sacrificial feast in honor of the god, either in the temple or at private houses, and then ate the residue of the flesh. Some, either from avarice or poverty, salted or laid up the remnant for future use, and some even gave it to the butchers to sell for them in the shambles.

This flesh, as having been offered to idols, was in every form most abhorrent to the Jews; and they considered not only those who were present at such feasts, but those who ate of the flesh which had been offered up, even though bought in the market, as infected by the idolatrous contagion. We thus see the foundation of the prohibition advised by James, and adopted by the council. Indeed, apart from any regard to the scruples of the Jews, the reasons why Christians should be forbidden to take any part in the heathen sacrificial feasts were very obvious, seeing that a sacrifice was not merely a ceremony, but a federal rite, by which the sacrifice, and the being to whom it was offered, are (so to speak) closely united.

The extent in which this prohibition was to be understood, seems to have been left open to some question. Understood in the strictest sense, it would have imposed upon every one the difficult task of ascertaining what meat offered for sale in the open market had, and what had not been sacrificed to idols; for uncertainty on this point would have been distressing to many tender consciences. Indeed, we know that this very question was brought under the consideration of St. Paul, who was always careful to explain that religion consisted not in meats or drinks, and who above all things feared lest anything besides the finished work of Christ should be taken as a ground of justification before God. He, therefore, taught that seeing an idol was a mere nonentity—“nothing in the world,”—the meat or drink had not contracted any property from its consecration to that which had no existence, and that, therefore, considered abstractly, no one was the worse for partaking of it, or the better for abstaining. He, therefore, allowed the Corinthians, to whom his advice was directed, to eat freely whatever was sold in the shambles, without being careful to ascertain whether it had been offered to idols or not. In case, however, a “weak brother” should call their attention to the circumstance that it had been so offered, then it became their duty, for his sake, to abstain from it; for whatever might be the question as to the meat itself, there could be no question that they should avoid that which might be a stumbling-block to “them that are weak;” or by which the conscience of the weak brother might, on the one hand, be wounded, or, on the other, emboldened to his peril. “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” This, it will be seen, is the very principle on which the prohibition was originally issued—the avoidance of grounds of offence between Jewish and Gentile Christians. The Corinthians seem, however, to have misapprehended and abused the liberty thus given. Having been told that an idol was nothing at all, and that the eating of meat offered to an idol was, therefore, in itself a matter of indifference, they chose to infer that all the circumstances which might be connected with such eating were also matter of indifference, and that they were consequently free to visit the heathen temples, which were often scenes of riot and debauchery, and to partake of the offerings amid the praises which were sung to the heathen god. They knew that the idol was nothing and that the praises were nothing, but the victuals were good things. But this was an actual participation in the idolatry going on; and such persons were of course regarded by the heathen as being themselves idolaters. Paul was, therefore, very careful to caution the Corinthians against idolatry, and to warn them that they could not be “partakers of the Lord’s table and the table of devils.” Whether an act is to be taken as religious or not, depends in some measure on the circumstances of its performance. If one eats a wafer in his own room, it signifies nothing; but if he eats it before a Romish altar, he thereby declares himself a member of the Church of Rome.

The prohibition of blood in general, and of the Jewish notions relating to it in particular, we have already had sufficient occasion to explain and illustrate. The reasons for the original prohibition of the use of blood were, because that in the blood lay the “life” of the animal; and that being, as such, consecrated to God on the altar, and typical of the most precious blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, it was to be kept apart from mean and common uses. The abstinence, also, served to keep up a distinction between the Jews and Gentiles; for the latter used the blood of animals freely. They ate it with the flesh, or carefully drew it from the part where the incision was made, to convert it into nourishment, either by mingling it with flour and oatmeal, and so drinking it in a liquid state, or by mixing and dressing it with other food, as is done by us with black puddings—which, indeed, were in use among the ancients. Virtually the old prohibition had expired; for blood had ceased to be typically sacred, seeing that sacrificial worship was abolished, and Christ had died. Yet it was for the time revived by this decree; for so long as the Jewish Christians retained their notions as to their continued liability to the ritual law so long would the use of blood by the Gentile Christians prevent the union of the two, and, indeed, render it impossible that they should eat together. The restriction, doubtless, ceased with this condition of affairs, and there is consequently no transgression in our own use of blood, whether in black puddings, or in underdone beef-steaks and legs of mutton. Indeed, we lately read in one of the morning papers, a letter from a physician, recommending the use of the blood of animals, in various preparations, as cheap and highly nutritive food, suitable for a time like this, Note: Autumn of 1853. when bread and meat are very dear. Note: “Blood is a substance on which it is probable the digestive organs have but little assimilative power to exert in order to render it fit for the purposes of nutrition. Still, blood alone, like all other very concentrated nutrient matters, is very unwholesome.”—Davis Manual of Hygiene.

The prohibition of “things strangled” grows out of the former. For animals caught in traps, or dying of any form of suffocation, have the blood retained in the carcass, and were, therefore, unfit for food under the previous rule, which allowed no meat to be eaten but such as had been so slaughtered as completely to discharge the blood. So if an animal had been taken in hunting, it became unfit for food, unless the hunter could reach it before it died, so as to slaughter it in the proper manner. The ancient Gentiles had, however, no objection to eat the flesh of animals slain without effusion of blood; they even preferred strangulation in some cases, under the notion that it made the flesh more tender; and birds, hares, rabbits, and other game, usually died of suffocation; and it has been shown that it was the usual practice of some nations not to butcher but strangle the victims.

The last of the interdicts, the avoidance of fornication, has perplexed many, as mentioning a known sin among ceremonial observances, meant to be only temporary, and, perhaps, local. But fornication was scarcely regarded as a sin by the heathen. It was not contrary to any law they had, and was deemed a matter of indifference, and in some cases laudable. Several of their gods were worshipped with impure rites; and the festivals in their temples were celebrated with the most shameful extravagance of sensuality. The details are too shocking to be produced by a Christian writer; but it is necessary to indicate the fact of this connection between idolatry and impurity, in order to explain the connection of ideas which caused the prohibition of fornication to be placed beside the interdiction of attendance at the temple festivals of the idolaters. This connection was of old date in the history of idolatry; and had memorably been impressed upon the Jews by one of the most disastrous circumstances in their own history; for it was in order to allure them to fornication that the Midianites invited them to their sacrificial feasts; and the success of this diabolical conspiracy is written in blood in the annals of Israel. Note: Numbers 25; and Morning Series: Twentieth Week—Monday.

Since, therefore, fornication was so usual among the Gentiles; since it was accounted lawful, and was materially mixed up with their religion, and sanctioned by the example of the gods they worshipped—seeing that the best of their gods would have been on earth the worst of men; and since such opinions and practices materially increased the abomination and hatred with which the Gentiles were regarded by the Jews, and was a very great impediment of union with them—it was altogether necessary, on this peculiar and solemn occasion, to enjoin the observance of chastity upon the Gentile converts.