Ancient Society and Idol Sacrifices

“…so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” (Rev. 2:20)

Jude warned about the grace of god being turned into licentiousness or wantonness (Wuest). The fruit of this is what the opening verse is talking about. To understand what this meant to a first century Gentile Christian, we need to understand sacrifices in ancient societies.

“The eating of idol meats, which was not a temptation to the Jewish Christian, was quite otherwise to the Gentile. The act of sacrifice, among all ancient nations, was a social no less than a religious act. Commonly only a part of the victim was consumed as an offering, and the rest became the portion of the priests, was given to the poor, or was sold again in the markets. Hence sacrifice and feasts were identified. Thucydides enumerates sacrifices among popular entertainments. “We have not forgotten,” he says, “to provide for our weary spirits many relaxations from toil. We have regular games and sacrifices throughout the year” (II., 38). So Aristotle: “And some fellowships seem to be for the sake of pleasure; those of the followers of Love, and those of club-diners; for these are for the sake of sacrifice and social intercourse” (“Ethics”, viii.,9,5).

AFTER CONVERSION, what did this mean for the Gentile believer? We see the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) forbidding the eating of meat offered to idols, not because of the Mosaic law, but due to the possibility of occasioning of sin to weak Christians. In Corinthians, Paul teaches the same thing and for the same reason:

“…he dissuades from it on the ground of its dangerous consequences to weak consciences, and as involving a formal recognition of the false worship which they had RENOUNCED AT THEIR BAPTISM.” (Vincent)

Vincent describes the effect of this on the believer:

“Thus, for the Gentile, “refusal to partake of the idol-meats involved absence from public and private festivity, a withdrawal, in great part, from the social life of his time.””

Now you can imagine the hard feelings that were created when new believers had to tell their still pagan friends that they could not party with them after the sacrifice. Plus, Thyratira and Ephesus both were cities with temples to Roman emperors and Goddess Roma, the personification of Rome. Not worshipping the emperors was perceived as not being loyal to the ruling government.

To sum this up, Vincent compares the believers in Asia Minor with those in Corinth:

“Christians and heathen were no longer dwelling together [in Asia minor], as at Corinth, with comparatively slight interruption in their social intercourse, but were divided by a sharp line of demarcation. The eating of things sacrificed to idols was more and more a crucial test, involving a cowardly shrinking from the open confession of a Christian’s faith. Disciples who sat at meat in the idol’s temple were making merry with those whose hands were red with the blood of their fellow-worshippers, and whose lips had uttered blaspheming scoffs against the Holy Name (Plumptre).” (Emphasis mine)

“In times of persecution, tasting the wine of the libations or eating meat offered to idols, was understood to signify recantation of Christianity.”

One possible explanation for the “line of demarcation” Vincent refers to was the martyrdom of Antipas (Rev 2:13) who, tradition says, the apostle John appointed overseer of the Pergamum church. Before John wrote Revelation, Antipas was killed on a pagan altar in Pergamum. The seven churches are all in the same area in what we know as Turkey; therefore, the other six churches would of been aware of this murder and other martyrs. The letter to the Smyrna church also has reference to on-going persecution at this time.

In closing, this discussion has made me realize what our brother and sisters were up against in the early church. There was an immediate cost to saying “Jesus is Lord”.

With the resurgence of paganism in our day, a lot of these old demonic gods are being worshipped again.

Thank you for your time. I hope you are staying free from the flu. God bless!

Carl

Author: carljohnsonsite

Happily married Born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.

2 thoughts on “Ancient Society and Idol Sacrifices”

  1. Another provocative and well-written article, Carl. Thinking life for Christians has always had a desperate need for the Holy Spirit ‘s presence and guidance.
    Hope you are feeling better.

    Like

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