I Corinthians 10:27 states, “If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and you be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.”
Many feel this verse indicates that God changed His laws concerning unclean meats. At first glance, it does seem to say that there are situations in which it is acceptable—even advisable—to eat unclean meats. So, did the apostle Paul institute a change in God’s Law?
To answer this question, we must reflect on the background of the Corinthians, whom Paul is addressing in this epistle. In ancient Greece, pagan temples were the site of continual sacrifices and offerings to idols. To the Corinthians, whom Paul converted from paganism, this would have been a part of everyday existence.
After making a sacrifice, the one who brought the meat would usually be the one who ate it. However, every day there was a surplus of meat, which was left to the priests. The priests, realizing that they could gain from this surplus, would then sell the leftover meat to local “shambles”—butcher shops. The public could then purchase the once-sacrificed meat for their personal consumption. This practice caused problems to develop.
The Corinthians had learned through Paul’s diligent teaching that they, as Christians and followers of the true God, were to abstain from pagan sacrifices and rituals (I Cor. 10:14-21). However, some wondered if eating meat purchased from the “shambles” would be a sin. They had no way of knowing if it had been sacrificed to an idol—nor could they be sure that the meat served to them by friends was not “defiled.”
Notice I Corinthians 10:19. Paul is saying that the idol is just a thing made of wood and stone, and the meat is just meat. Verses 20 and 21 show us that the sin would be involving oneself in the pagan sacrifice itself—that this ceremony was what was wrong.
Now let’s read verse 25: “Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake.” Paul basically told the Corinthians to stop fretting and continue to consume meat sold in the local butcher shops. As long as the meat was clean (according to God’s dietary laws), it did not matter whether it had been offered to an idol. This also applied to the meals eaten in the homes of their friends—as long as the meat was clean, it was permissible to eat it.
The use of “whatsoever” in verses 25 and 27 does not imply that God was repealing His clean and unclean meats laws. Nor was Paul doing away with them. The context of this chapter clearly indicates that the issue involves the meat that was sacrificed to idols.
The subject of clean versus unclean meats is not the problem—nor is it even mentioned. Both Paul and the Corinthians would have been aware of and obeyed God’s dietary laws, as recorded in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. These laws are to be followed by all Christians, for all time.
But what did Paul mean by the phrase, “Ask no question for conscience sake”? Basically, it was a warning to the Corinthians not to ask the server of the meal where the meat came from. It did not matter, as he had told them, so what was the point in worrying about it? Besides, if the meat was proclaimed “tainted,” and the Christian proceeded to consume it, it might lead the host to feel that the Christian was compromising his beliefs, or endorsing idol worship. Of course, if someone stated that the meat was sacrificed to an idol, the Christian should cease to eat it, so as not to lead others to believe that he thought idolatry was acceptable.
Once again, the issue at hand was not clean and unclean meats, but the ingestion of clean meats offered or sacrificed to pagan idols.