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The Veil of Moses – Misunderstandings regarding 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

Paul’s words to the Corinthians about the Veil of Moses is commonly understood to be a metaphor for the Old Covenant. The Christians who have this understanding say that this veil which is the Old Covenant was removed through Messiah and the New Covenant. We shall test this theory using Scripture and see whether context and the references from the Old Testament story of Moses putting on a veil over his face, can shine some light on this particular passage.

This study has been broken down into the following sections:
1. 2Cor 3:1-5 and the Context in “being commended”
2. Letter of the Law and Spirit of the Law
3. Old Testament and New Testament
4. Moses and the Veil
5. 2Cor 3:6-11 and the Glory of the Ministries
6. 2Cor 3:12-18 and the Spiritual Vail which covers God’s Glory
7. 2Cor 4:1-6 and the Glory of God in Messiah
8. Conclusion

1. 2Cor 3:1-5 and the Context in “being commended”
In his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, Paul discusses a variety of subjects, but comes back to one theme, time and time again, where he speaks of not needing earthly commendation. Let’s look at the start of this theme, as it will provide context to the verses in question.

2Co 3:1-5 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;

Paul asks the question whether he needs to commend himself, or whether he needs letters of commendation from the Corinthians. He answers his own question by stating that the best epistles of commendation are in fact the Corinthians themselves and the lives they live in front of others. He says that the Corinthians are not his own epistle but of Christ, which were written through him, and he alludes to the New Covenant in prophecy, saying “written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart”(Jer 31:33, Eze 11:19,20, Eze 36:26,27). The theme of “receiving commendation from God is more glorious than having it of man”, continues throughout the letter as we see below.

2Co 4:2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
2Co 5:12  For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart.
2Co 10:12 For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
2Co 10:18  For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.
2Co 12:11  I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.

It is clear that there was some doubt of Paul’s apostleship among the Corinthians(2Cor 13:3, 11:5,13) that he needed to reaffirm his position and also say that he need not be commended by man to be glorified by God(2Cor 12:11,12). There were some who were saying that the letters Paul wrote were weighty and powerful, but his demeanor and speech were weak(2Cor 10:8-12) thereby questioning his ability to be an Apostle.

2. Letter of the Law and Spirit of the Law
The Law! A subject which is looked at with contempt and disgust, even though it was given by God Himself and praised by many. Under the law, bondage, curse, fallen from grace, nailed to the cross, and many such phrases come to mind when we speak of the Law. But seldom does anyone try to examine and learn about the Law of God, the reason for it’s existence and Paul’s view of it. Instead most of us are used to taking the majority view as the correct path.

What is the Law of God?
The Law of God was given to us to know what sin is(Rom 7:7). The breaking of the Law is Sin(1Jn 3:4). It exists to point us towards what is right and wrong. If we do the right thing according to the Law of God, we are blessed with life – while disobedience to it brings the curse of Death(Deut 30:19). No man is justified/made righteous through the Law of God(Psa 143:2, Gal 3:11) as a person who keeps the whole law, yet break even one, he becomes guilty of all(Jas 2:10). We are not saved by keeping God’s Law, but through the faith we put in God, and the Grace He shows towards us(Rom 4:2-4). But that does not make God’s Law void(Rom 3:31). After we are saved through the Grace of the Father, we need to be obedient to His Law(1Jn 2:4, 3:24). Faith which exists without the practicing of His Word/Law, is dead faith(Jas 2:20).

What is the “Letter of the Law”?
The Letter of the Law, the engraved Commands along with the precepts, statutes and the judgments is what defines Sin. If not for the Law, we would not know what sin is(Rom 7:7). The breaking of God’s Law which is Sin(1Jn 3:4) would lead us to death(Rom 6:16). The Law was not given for people to attain justification/salvation – which was a free gift of God(Eph 2:8). Seeking justification/salvation through the obedience to the Law, would be a certain death sentence, as it would become legalism, as you become one who does not need God, relying on your own self to be deemed righteous – when the true use of the Law was the knowledge of sin(Rom 3:20). If there was no Law, there would not be “sin” as categorised by God. Sin, judgement and death are active because of the Law(Rom 7:9-11). But this does not mean the Law is against Grace, as the Law was never supposed to give Life or justification/righteousness(Gal 3:21).

What is the “Spirit of the Law”?
As explained above, through the Letter of the Law everyone is adjudged a sinner, who should receive the punishment of death. And this is where the Passover sacrifice of Yeshua(Jesus’ true name) comes in(1Cor 5:7). The blood of an unblemished lamb is substituted for your own life(1Pet 1:19), where all who come under the blood of Messiah are seen as dead(Col 3:3) for our offence of breaking the Law of God. The curse OF the Law, which is death (not to be confused with the popular false teaching that God’s law IS a curse – Rom 7:13) is what Christ redeemed us from(Gal 3:13). He did not take on Himself the punishment for sin, so that we can keep sinning (remember that sin is breaking God’s Law). Rather, that we can now be obedient to His Law without the curse which came whenever we broke His Word. We are to go beyond the plain sense of the letter of the Law and seek out the Spirit as well. Not that we discard the plain sense, but that we go beyond the plain sense and set ourselves a higher standard as Messiah taught. For example He set a higher standard for the Law of adultery in Mat 5:27,28. Does this mean he changed the letter of the Law? Did He abolish it? God Forbid. He merely fully taught the Spirit of the Law. This is what he meant when he said “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil”.

3. Old Testament and New Testament
Before we proceed, we must understand what the 2 covenants mentioned in this passage really are. It sounds trivial to define what these covenants are. But the fact is that many of us do not understand what they entitle at all.

What is the Old Testament or Mosaic Covenant?
The Covenant was made with the Children of Israel using Moses as a mediator and ratified with blood(Heb 9:19,20, Exo 24:7,8). The Covenant consists of the Ten Commands(Exo 34:28, Deu 4:13, 2Ch 6:11) which were called the Tables of the Covenant(Deut 9:9, Heb 9:4) and the Book of the Covenant(Exo 24:7, 2Kin 23:2) which had all the statutes, judgements and precepts(Deu 5:24-31)

What is the New Testament/Covenant?
The Covenant was made with the House of Israel & the House of Judah using Messiah as a mediator and ratified with the blood of Yeshua the Messiah(Jer 31:31-33, Heb 8:8-10, Heb 9:15,16). The Covenant entails God’s Law being put inside the people and being written in their hearts(Heb 8:10, Jer 31:33).

According to the above, we see an immediate relationship between the 2 covenants. The Mosaic Covenant was the revealing of God’s Law and the New Covenant was the internalising of it by being written in the heart and put inside. The Mosaic Covenant brought forth the Letter of the Law and the New Covenant showed the Spirit of the Law. The Law is common to both Covenants. The difference being, one was written on tables of stone and the other on tables of the heart as alluded in 2Cor 3:3. The Spirit of God is what helps keep the Spirit of the Law, which is the Law written in the heart and put inside us(Eze 11:19,20, Eze 36:26,27). The Law given through the Mosaic Covenant is an integral part of the New Covenant, as the Law of God is what is internalised and written in the tables of the heart instead of the tables of stone.

2Co 3:6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

When Paul says that the “Letter of the Law” kills, he is speaking of the reason for the Law revealed in the Old Covenant – which is to provide the knowledge of sin, which leads to judgement and death. He contrasts this with the “Spirit of the Law”, much in the same way as he does in Rom 7:6, as this is what the New Testament is – an internalising of the Law of God – an obedience which comes from the heart and from inside, instead of a rigid system of obedience to the letter without love.


4. Moses and the Veil

The event where Moses covered his face with a Veil plays an integral part in this passage, as Paul draws on this part of Scripture to make a parallel. Let us examine the story in Scripture, before we move onto Paul’s explanation.

Exo 34:27-35 And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments. And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him. And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him. And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them. And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai. And Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face. But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel which he was commanded. And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

veilWhen Moses went upto the Mount of Sinai and received the Covenant, he stayed up in the mount for 40 days and 40 nights without food or water. When he returned from God, his face was shining visibly, that everyone including Aaron and the rulers of the congregation were afraid to come near him. God’s glory was somehow transferred visibly to Moses’ face temporarily. And He would cover his face from the people, with a Vail until he went back before God. Whenever he returned with a face which shined forth God’s glory, he would cover it with a vail.

5. 2Cor 3:6-11 and the Glory of the Ministries
Now that we have a basic understanding of the context and the Biblical concepts used by Paul, we will move onto the next part of his writing.

2Co 3:6-11 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

We must understand what Paul is saying in these few verses to get a proper explanation of the main passage in concern. We have already looked at how the context is on being commended for the work he is doing as an Apostle and the questions raised on the validity of his apostleship(2Cor 13:3, 10:8-12, 11:5,13).

Here in verse 6, he continues to explain that God has made them into ministers of the New Covenant. Not of the “Letter of the Law” which condemns us as sinners worthy of death, but ministers of the “Spirit of the Law” which counts us righteous through the Grace of God in obedience of a higher/stricter Law taught by Messiah and internalised by the Spirit. Now in verse 7, Paul moves into a parallelism with the story in Exo 34 by saying that Moses who brought the Law of God to the Children of Israel, was the minister of the Mosaic Covenant which is the “Letter of the Law” which was engraved in stones and condemned us as disobedient sinners. The Glory he speaks of here is regarding the “ministration” and not “The Law” or “The Covenants”. This is a common mistake made by many when reading this passage. In the same way Paul is in the Ministration of the New Covenant, Moses was in the Ministration of the Mosaic Covenant. The Glory which is paralleled is of “The Ministration” and not “The Covenants” or “The Law”. Now calling the “Ministration of the Mosaic Covenant”, the “Ministration of Death” can seem like a negative statement, but as Paul had explained before, the Letter could not save anyone, but put them to death. This was the reason for the existence of the Law – the knowledge of what sin is, and what death is. As Moses was in the ministration of the Mosaic Covenant, which was engraved on stone, his face shone temporarily with the Glory which was from God, that the Children of Israel could not look at the face of Moses. This imparting of Glory on the face of Moses was temporary as we see in Exo 34. Now in verse 9, Paul compares the glory of the Ministry of the Mosaic Covenant, to the Ministry of the New Covenant. He says that the Ministry of the Spirit is more glorious than the Ministry of the Letter. That the Ministry of Righteousness (being seen as one who has paid for sin, and being deemed righteous through the death of Messiah) is more glorious than the Ministry of Condemnation (being labelled as sinners by the Law, deserving of death). Paul goes onto say in verse 10, that if you compare the glory of the Ministry of the New Covenant to the glory of the Ministry of the Mosaic Covenant, the glory of the Ministry of the New Covenant exceeds so much more, that the Ministry of the Mosaic Covenant is almost as if it had no glory at all. (Again please remember that Paul is comparing the “Glory of the ministration”, not the covenants or the Law). In verse 11, he once again reiterates that if the Ministration of the Mosaic Covenant was glorious, in which the Glory of God seen on the Face of Moses, faded away(see end of verse 7), how much more glorious is the ministration of the New Covenant which is in effect today. With this Paul moves onto the passage in concern below.

6. 2Cor 3:12-18 and the Spiritual Vail which covers God’s Glory

2Co 3:12-18 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Paul who thus far compared the glory of the “Ministry” of the Mosaic Covenant and the “Ministry” of the New Covenant, says in verse 12 that they have hope of a greater ministry, that they speak clearly/openly unlike Moses. Moses covered his face with a vail that the Children of Israel could not gaze at what came to be ceased – which is his face that temporarily shone. What he covered with a veil was the “Glory of God” that was temporarily manifest on his face. In verse 14, Paul compares this physical vail that covered the Glory of God that shone forth in Moses’ face to a spiritual vail which blocked the eyes of the Children of Israel from witnessing the fullness of God’s Glory. Paul exclaims that the same spiritual vail or blindness is still blocking their view, that even when they read the Old Covenant they cannot see God’s true Glory because of the spiritual veil which is blocking the light from shining forth. This spiritual vail can only be removed through Christ as per Paul. (It is important to note that the thing that is done away in Christ is not the Old Covenant or The Law, but the spiritual vail which covers their eyes). Paul continues in verse 15 saying, that even in his day, the vail is still upon their hearts when they read the 5 Books of Moses, which can only be removed when their hearts turn to God. In other words the majority of Jews of his day were reading God’s Word without seeing God’s true Glory. This is the difference Paul spoke of earlier, in the Letter of the Law and Spirit of the Law. And that only God’s Spirit will lead people to true liberty. In verse 18, Paul continues to explain that through God’s Spirit, our spiritual vail has been taken away that we look at God’s Glory with an uncovered face (without vail), and are being changed to His glory by looking at a reflection of His Glory (which is Christ, as we see stated in 2Cor4:4,6).

7. 2Cor 4:1-6 and the Glory of God in Messiah
We must continue the reading without stopping here, as Paul has not finished making the point he started making in the start of this chapter. Paul is writing a letter without verses and chapters to the congregation of Corinth. It is important to keep note and continue forward to see what the conclusion of his argument is.

2Co 4:1-6 Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

In verse 1 of Chapter 4, Paul comes back to his main argument of seeking commendation, to say that therefore we have a ministry where we showcase God’s Glory, through God’s mercy and without being weary of the obstacles against them. In verse 2, Paul strongly shares that in his ministry they have not being deceitful in handling God’s Word (The Old Testament Scriptures) and that they have not used trickery or been dishonest. He goes onto say that we have been commended to each of the believers’ conscience by the use of the truth of God’s Word and Good News. (We see that Paul is still trying to explain his ministry and the uselessness of being commended by people, when true commendation and glorification comes from God). Verse 3&4 is where Paul explains the vail once again, saying that whoever is blind to the Good News they bring are them that are lost who have been blinded by the god of this world, so that they might not see the glory of the Good News of Christ, which is the Fullness of Glory of God which would shine forth from Christ in the same way that it did from Moses. In Verse 5, Paul yet again speaks how they do not preach/herald themselves but Christ, and themselves only as servants of the congregation and Christ. Paul closes this particular topic in verse 6 by saying that God who created light to come forth from darkness in the beginning of time, has done a similar thing with our own lives. Our hearts which were in darkness have been lit up with knowledge of the Glory of God, which shines forth permanently from the face of Christ, in the same way that the Glory of God shined forth from Moses’ face temporarily towards the Children of Israel.

7.Conclusion
In the congregation of Corinth there seems to be some sort of doubt of Paul’s apostleship (2Cor 13:3, 11:5,13) that made him reaffirm his position and also say that he need not be commended by man to be glorified by God(2Cor 5:12, 10:18, 12:11,12). There were some who were saying that the letters Paul wrote were weighty and powerful, but his demeanor and speech were weak(2Cor 10:8-12) thereby questioning his ability to be an Apostle.

In the chapter in concern, Paul mainly defends his position and Ministry, comparing the glory of the Ministry of the Old Covenant done through Moses to the Ministry of the New Covenant carried out by Paul. The Glory he speaks of here is regarding the “ministration” and not “The Law” or “The Covenants”. This is a common mistake made by many when reading this passage. In the same way Paul is in the Ministration of the New Covenant, Moses was in the Ministration of the Mosaic Covenant. The Glory which is paralleled is “The Ministration” and not “The Covenants” or “The Law”.

Then he moves onto the vail that Moses wore and compares it to a spiritual blindness which keeps some from seeing God’s full Glory. This vail can only be removed by Messiah Yeshua. It is important to note that the thing that is done away in Christ, is not the Old Covenant or The Law, but the spiritual vail or blindness which covers their eyes.

In the beginning of the 4th chapter, Paul concludes by saying that they are being commended to each of the believers conscience by the use of the truth of God’s Word and Good News. We see here that Paul is still trying to explain his ministry and the uselessness of being commended by people, when true commendation and glorification comes from God. He explains that some do not see the glory of the Good News of Christ, which is the Fullness of Glory of God which would shine forth from Christ’s face in the same way that it did from Moses.

Taking all of the above into consideration, we see that this particular passage does not speak of an abolishing of The Law of God or of The Mosaic Covenant. This simply was a case made against opposition made to his ministry, and the blindness of some towards the Glory that comes from God.

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Can we eat all meats? Food sacrificed to idols and misunderstandings regarding 1Cor 10:25

As most of Paul’s words, another common misunderstanding of his writings is the fact that he gave permission to eat anything and everything – effectively making void God’s decree of what is to be eaten and not, written down in Leviticus Chapter 11.

So was he making the law void? If so, why does he say “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law“(Rom 3:3). Is he contradicting himself, or have we misunderstood his words; as Peter wrote “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction”(2Pe 3:15,16). Let us see whether Paul was telling the believers to “eat all meats” or whether we have misunderstood his writings.

The below study is broken down into 7 sections for your ease.
1. A personal connection to this misunderstood verse
2. What happened in Corinth after Paul left?
3. A historical background of Corinth and the environment Paul lived in
4. Examination of Paul’s words: where to start
5. A brief look at 1Cor 8:1 to 10:33 as one topic/theme
6. Now we finally come upon the verse in question 1Cor 10:25-33
7. Conclusion

1. A personal connection to this misunderstood verse
I was brought up in a traditional Christian family background where we were free to eat anything we liked. “Paul had given specific instructions that Christians could eat anything”. “We were free”. “Christ had died so that we could have these freedoms”. These were the doctrines I had learned at sunday school.

When I first understood the Scriptures in their entirety, many of my earlier beliefs were questioned. I struggled within myself to look at things afresh, without preconceived ideas or notions. Putting things into context, both historically and textually, I was met with one question after the other. As I progressed in my studies, proving myself wrong, and coming to the understanding that I had believed in un-scriptural teachings for so long –  one of the questions that kept coming up was “can I eat what I have been eating all this time? Bacon, prawns, cuttlefish, crab and the like?” Instantly, the answer would pop into my mind – Paul said “Whatsoever is sold in the meat market, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake”1Co 10:25. It couldn’t get clearer than that – Paul said we could eat anything! Right? I had to make sure I was right.

In my studies, I learned something obvious. Paul was writing “letters” to specific congregations. These letters were targeted at particular groups in history, with specific problems and questions. You can’t read a line off an epistle such as this, separate! It’s a letter which is meant to be read from beginning to end. Paul did not mark verse numbers and break his letter down into chapters. These were done much later in time, to make reference easier. So now I had to read each of these letters in one go. And that is what I did.

To further understand the Historical context of the Corinthian congregation, I turned to an expert. Namely Dr. Bruce Winter, who has written a book named “After Paul left Corinth”, which as the name suggests, explores the historical atmosphere of Corinth after Paul left the congregation following his stay with them for one and half years (Act 18:11). I would highly recommend every Christian who wants to know the true meaning of Paul’s words, to read this book.

2. What happened in Corinth after Paul left?
It is important to understand the historical context of the Roman Colony named Corinth, at the time Paul wrote this letter. Without understanding what they went through and what circumstances they lived in, how can we, who live 2000 years after them, hope to understand the true context of Paul’s words?

We know that Paul stayed at Corinth for one and a half years(Act 18:11), which would have been enough time to train and teach the believers in the ways of God. He also commends the congregation for still “following the traditions” that he passed on to them(1Cor 11:2). So the question we should be asking now is, why does Paul suddenly have to explain about eating food from the market? Did he not teach them about food for 1½yrs? Why hadn’t he passed on a tradition on what to do in this regard? Or had circumstances changed in Corinth, so that he needed to give them new instructions?

Even though Paul’s letter to Corinth has been preserved, we do not have the letter which the Corinth congregation sent to Paul. The believers had written to Paul about at least six main matters which they needed answers on, which were addressed by Paul in this letter(7:1, 7:25, 8:1, 14:1, 16:1, 16:12) as we see, Paul himself writing “Now concerning the things you wrote about”(1Co 7:1). Furthermore, Paul had received reports of the issues at Corinth, from other sources as well(1:11, 5:1). It is also important to note that this was not the first time he had written on such issues to Corinth, as he says “I wrote to you in my letter….”(1Co 5:9), which they had misunderstood previously(1Cor 5:10)

3. A historical background of Corinth and the environment Paul lived in
1. Jews had been expelled from Rome under the order of Claudius around 49AD (Act 18:2)

2. The imperial cult where emperors and dignitaries were deified, and regarded, as well as, worshiped to as gods were also on the rise[A]. The “gods on earth” mentioned by Paul, in reference to “so-called gods and lords” could be speaking of such worship (1Cor 8:5)

3. The Isthmian games, a festival of athletic and musical competitions in honour of the sea god poseidon, was also held in Isthmus of Corinth[B]. The president of the Games, was known to have given multiple civic dinners to all who had Roman citizenship [C]. The “right” mentioned in 1Cor 8:9, could very well be the right to eat at Poseidon’s sanctuary at Isthmia, which was open to all who had Roman Citizenship at Corinth.

sanctuary-students working

The Santuary of Poseidon at Isthmia (Click to learn about the excavations done by the Ohio State University

“Archeological evidence suggests that the games did not return to Isthmia until about 50 AD. At that time, the temple and the facilities for the games were repaired, and in 67 AD the Emperor Nero took part in the panhellenic games.” (It is more than possible that the Isthmian Games and the dinners at poseidon’s temple started after Paul left Corinth, requiring him to write to them on how to act accordingly in these changed circumstances.)

4. The city authorities controlled the marketplaces, and special provisions were made for Jews to obtain meats which were slaughtered according to their standards[D]. (The Corinthian congregation would have also had to buy the meat separated for the Jews as per regulations made in Acts 15:20,29).

5. There was no such religion called Christianity at the time of Paul. In fact, the name “Christian”, mentioned only 3 times in the New Testament (Act 11:26, 26:28, 1Pet 4:16) would have been a derogatory term, at the time, as we see it’s use being connected to shame by Peter (1Pet 4:16).

6. Even-though believers in Christ, had significant theological differences with Jews who did not believe in Christ, they were all regarded as part of Jews and one belief system, being called a sect (Act 24:5,14, 28:22).

4. Examination of Paul’s words: where to start
As I have mentioned above, it is important to read the whole of the 1st letter to the Corinthian congregation in one go, to really understand the instructions Paul is providing the Church of Corinth. But, as such a study might not be possible in a short post such as this, we will focus our attention to the the particular part of the letter in concern. Even though the verse in question is 1Cor 10:25, Paul starts addressing this single topic in 1Cor 8:1 and goes upto 10:33. As such, this whole part of the letter needs to be read without interruption, to understand the context of 1Cor 10:25.

5. A brief look at 1Cor 8:1 to 10:33 as one topic/theme
As we will see in this study, from 1Cor 8:1 onwards till 10:33, Paul addresses only one topic. And this topic is none other than, “food offered/sacrificed to idols”. In 1Cor 8:1, Paul starts by saying “Now concerning food offered to idols and this theme continues on till the end of chapter 10(besides a deviation in chapter 9) where he is still speaking on the same topic when he writes “But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it”(1Cor 10:28). Following is a summarized version of the 3 Chapters in concern: (Although reading through the complete section is advisable, the main/important sections are marked in red for quick reference) 

1Cor 8:1-3 Paul enters into the topic saying that we all have knowledge regarding things offered to idols. It is important to note that “abstaining from meat offered to idols” was one of the four key judgements that was commanded by the Jerusalem Council to be adhered by all believers (Acts 15:20,29). [please read this study for an in-depth understanding of these four main rulings made by James]. Paul reproves the Corinthians not to be puffed up by the things they know, but to act in love.

1Cor 8:4-5 Paul says that everyone of you know that an idol is nothing, as there are no other gods but ONE. He then goes onto mention that there are many who are known to be gods and lords on earth as well as heaven, possibly making reference to the “imperial cult” which worshiped the emperors as divine beings alongside the other idols which were worshiped, such as apollo, poseidon and aphrodite in Corinth.

1Cor 8:6-8 He then explains that there are no other gods other than the Father, and no other lords other than Christ for them. And that some do not possess this knowledge, being accustomed to idol worship and offering sacrifices in the past, still think eating meat at such a place would be equal to idol worship. (This was exactly what was happening at the Isthmian Games mentioned above in section 3. The President of the Isthmian Games was hosting large dinners at the temple complex of poseidon for the Roman citizens of Corinth. Even-though the food at these dinners were not offered to poseidon, eating at such a place could be seen as idol worship by new Christians because of their “conscience being weak” as per Paul’s words.)
1Cor 8:9 The “Liberty” or “Right” spoken in this verse, would have been the right Christians with Roman Citizenship at Corinth, received to participate at the civic dinners held in honor of the Isthmian Games. Participating at such an occasion would have been a highest honor one could receive in Corinth. Paul advises the people who had this right to be careful that they do not put other believers at risk.
1Cor 8:10 Paul speaks to the ones who had the “right” to participate at the civic dinners to be careful, as a new believer could easily see them at these idol temples, and think that participation in eating of meats offered to idols is an acceptable thing to do. We should especially note that Paul is not approving anyone of eating “meat offered to idols” as this goes against the ruling made by the Jerusalem Council in Act 15:20,29. He was simply saying that the Corinthians who had Roman citizenship should think twice before they participated at the Isthmian Game dinners (which were hosted at the idol temple of poseidon) as new believers could see them dining there, and think that it is acceptable to eat things that were offered to idols. The ones who had this “civic right” knew that the dinners hosted at the temple of poseidon did not have food offered to poseidon, but an outsider would not know this, and could be tempted to think participating in idol worship was acceptable.
1Cor 8:11-13 Paul ends the first part of his argument saying, that just because a seasoned believer understands what is right from wrong, he/she should be careful in how they guide their actions, as they could lead another to sin by what they do and how they act. He furthermore argues that if he is making a brother sin through his actions, he would rather eat nothing at all.
1Cor 9:1-27 Paul diverts for a moment from the subject at hand, to answer the ones who questions his authority (1Cor 9:3) explaining the service he is involved in, expecting nothing in return.
1Cor 10:1-11 Paul returns to the subject on hand, by giving a host of examples from the Old Testament Scriptures. He explains how God was with the children of Israel in the wilderness, the same way He is with them now. And how God was not pleased with many of the israelites because of their lusts, idolatry, fornication, provocation and murmuring. He explains that all of these situations came to pass as examples for them. 
1Cor 10:12,13 Paul advises the Corinthians to be careful of being arrogant to the extent where one thinks that they cannot fall into temptation. And that with temptation, God provides a path of escape.
1Cor 10:14 Paul makes a clear statement, coming back to the topic on hand “flee from idolatry”! basically have nothing to do with idolatry.
1Cor 10:15-18 Paul asks the Corinthians to judge his words, and see whether it is right, explaining how partakers of the wine and the bread become part of Christ. Similarly partakers of the sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple become partakers of that Altar.
1Cor 10:19-21 He explains that an idol is nothing. And that the “sacrifices offered to such idols” are also nothing of concern. But the sacrifices made to these idols by Gentiles are done towards demons, and that a person cannot be a partaker of the body of Christ and also be a partaker of such, done towards demonic beings. 
1Cor 10:22 He points back at the example he gave earlier about the Children of Israel, by asking whether we are trying to provoke God, and attain the same fate as them?
1Cor 10:23-24 He points back at 1Cor 8:9 here, saying things that are “lawful” or received as a “right” (speaking of the right of dining at the Isthmian Games) are not always profitable or edifying in regards to the congregation and other believers. He appeals to the Corinthians asking them to do whatever they do, for the good of their brothers and sisters in the congregation.

6. Now we finally come upon the verse in question 1Cor 10:25-33

1Cor 10:25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles(meat market), that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: 

In this study so far, we have seen that the topic in concern still remains “meat offered to idols”. As per section 3- point 4, we know that special provisions for meats were made at the markets of Corinth, as the Jews were known to not eat meat offered to idols, meat with blood or animals which were strangled to death. These were the exact requirements set forth by the Jerusalem Council in Act 15:20,29 for all gentile believers to follow. So it is safe to presume that believers in Christ would have also purchased meat from the same vendors who provided meat for the Jews. The Corinthian congregation would have had to buy meats which were specially separated and prepared for the Jews, as eating anything else would have been going against the words of James and the Jerusalem Council.

The fact that Paul who was with the Corinth congregation for 1½ yrs, and had given them many traditions that they were still adhering to(1Cor 11:2), had to now write to them saying “eat anything sold at the market, without question” can lead us to conclude that some circumstances had changed in Corinth. It is possible that the special provision for meat made for the Jews would have been revoked as the Romans were becoming agitated with them. Claudius had deported all Jews from Rome(Acts 18:2) and Gallio the deputy of Achaea was more than hostile towards Jews(Acts 18:16,17). From 40AD onwards there were tension building against the Jews, with uprisings happening in Judea in 46-48AD which were put down by the Roman authorities. All of these factors would have pushed authorities to draw back special provisions provided to the Jews such as what was provided in the meat markets.

If the special meat provision was revoked, the Corinthian Congregation would now need to have questioned Paul whether it would be acceptable to eat from the meat market, as they were unsure of the quality and origins of the meat they bought. The meat could have been brought to the meat markets from the temples, as we see such a case in 1Cor 10:28, where meat offered to idols were served at dinners.

Paul’s judgement was “to eat from the meat market, as their was no way to clearly know what was offered to idols or not”. But then he continues his discussion quoting Psalm 24:1 “For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof”, known to have been a blessing which was recited before meals by all Jews[E]. Then in 10:27,28 he asks the congregation to eat what is set before them if they go for a function hosted by a non-believer, but to not partake if the non-believer informs them that the food is in fact, what is offered to idols as a sacrifice. Paul writes to them saying, not to partake for the sake of the non-believer (possibly to also showcase to the non-believer that Christians do not partake in idol worship, thereby gaining a chance to speak to them about the gospel) and also partly because eating what is sacrificed to idols, knowingly, is a sinful act as per the Jerusalem Council judgement. He further explains in 10:29-33 that the refusal to consume meat that is offered to idols, is not only a personal issue, but something that effects other believers as discussed above under 1Cor 8:10. He ends his words saying whatever you do, to do it for the glory of God, not offending Jew, Gentile or the Church, seeking to save others in all that they do.

7. Conclusion
The letter written by Paul to the Corinthians, like any other letter, needs to be read from beginning to end without pause. Plucking a verse out of context, such as 1Cor 10:25 could be used to argue that eating any food is permissible – but this would not be the reality behind the words of Paul. Like many of his writings which are misunderstood, this verse needs to be examined in its historical and textual context, for us to know its true meaning. The historical background of the Isthmian Games and its dinners hosted at the temple of poseidon as well as the special meat market provisions made for the Jews, shed light on the background of the questions the Corinthians would have written to Paul about. Paul in return explains why believers should not engage themselves in idolatry and eating sacrifices made to idols, and how they should act upon the discontinuation of the specially separated meat in the Corinthian Market. Nowhere does the topic of “eating against God’s instructions” come to play, in this epistle to the Corinthians. The written instructions of Lev 11 was never revoked by Paul; he simply said to eat the meats at the Corinth Market, as there was no way to know whether a particular meat was offered to idols or not. If a believer got to know that a meat was in fact offered to an idol as a sacrifice, he/she was not to partake in such a thing, as per the ruling of the Jerusalem council.

References ———————————————————————————————
[A] Pseudo Julian Letters 198, 407Bff. Also read ‘Achaean Federal Imperial Cult, Part II; The Corinthian Church’, TynB 46.1 (1995) 169-78
[B] E.R. Gebhard, ‘The Isthmian Games and the Sanctuary of Poseidon in the Early Empire’, in T.E. Gregory ed., The Corinthia in the Roman Period, Journal of Roman Archaeology Supp.8 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1994), pp.78-94
[C] Plutarch Moralia 723A
[D] P.R. Trebilco, Jewish Communities in Asia Minor, SNTSMS 69 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p.17. See also Josephus – Antiquities of the Jews Book 14, Ch 10.24
[E] T. Ber. 4.1.

Paul and his use of Greek Philosophy

Out of the 27 books, epistles and letters that make up the New Testament, 13 have been authored by the Apostle Paul (This does not include the book of Hebrews which some believe he wrote). One of the most influential people in the 1st Century Church, a former Pharisee, he took the gospel or Good news of our Messiah to the Greek speaking world of his day. This was no easy task. The peoples of Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Phillipi, Colosse & Thessalonica which he wrote to, were all part of the Greek speaking world educated in Greek literature and philosophy, with their own gods, traditions and opinions.

If you have read Paul’s epistles, inevitably, a thought such as “Why is Paul so hard to understand?” would have crossed your mind at some point. It is true that some of his letters are not that easy to read or understand. And interestingly, this has been the case even in his day, as we see Peter saying “… even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;  As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2Pet 3:15,16)

Today, I present to you some research into Paul’s words and why we have such a hard time understanding most of it. As you will see listed below, Paul uses the words, ideas and Greek philosophy presented by such philosophers as Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Seneca and many more intellectuals of his day, to help the people who he was talking to, better understand his teachings.

1Cor 15:33
Evil communications corrupt good manners.

Quoted from Thais, a work done by “Menander“, a writer from the 3rd Century BC, who in turn is supposed to have quoted from another Scholar named “Euripides”.

Titus 1:12
The Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.

In writing to Titus Paul quotes a description of the Cretans taken from “Epimenides“. Paul calls Epimenides “one of themselves, a prophet of their own”.

Acts 17:24-29
In Acts 17:18 Paul is encountered by Epicureans and Stoics. Paul’s first sentence struck directly at the “Epicurean” theory (the origin of the world by mere coincidence and of atoms) and arrayed himself with the “Stoics” in their doctrine of the (Divine Wisdom and Providence creating and ruling all things). His speech is made up of words quoted from a Roman Stoic Philosopher called Lucius Annaeus Seneca as mentioned below.

Acts 17:24
Paul went on to say, “God dwelleth not in temples made with hands.”
Seneca, the most prominent contemporary representative of Stoicism, had put their doctrine into these words, “The whole world is the temple of the immortal gods,” and “Temples are not to be built to God of stones piled on high. He must be consecrated in the heart of every man.”

Acts 17:25
Paul said, “Neither is God served by men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.”
Seneca put the same truth in this form: “God wants not ministers. How so? He himself ministereth to the human race.”

Acts 17:26-28a
Paul said, “God made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.
Seneca agrees, “We are members of a vast body. Nature made us kin, when she produced us from the same things and to the same ends.”

Paul said, “God is not far from each one of us; for in him we live, and move, and have our being.
Seneca wrote, “God is at hand everywhere and to all men.”  and again, “God is near thee ; he is with thee ; he is within.”

Acts 17:28b
Paul says, For we are also his offspring.
In Paul’s speech at Athens, he quotes from “certain of your own poets”. The poet he is talking about is Aratus, and this is a line found in the Phaenomena of Aratus

Acts 17:29
Then Paul proceeded, “Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think the godhead is like unto gold or silver or stone, graven by art or device of men.
Seneca parallels the thought again: “Thou shalt not form him of silver and gold: a true likeness of God cannot be molded of this material.

Gal 5:23b
Paul says, Against such there is no law.
Roman 2:14b
Paul says, Are a law unto themselves.
Paul’s words are eerily familiar to Aristotle‘s saying of men eminent for wisdom and virtue, “Against such there is no law, for they themselves are a law,”

1Cor 9:24a
Paul says, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?
Plato says, “But such as are true racers, arriving at the end, both receive the prizes and are crowned”

Rom 7:22,23
Paul says, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”
Plato says,”There is a victory and defeat – the first and best of victories, the lowest and worst of defeats – which each man gains or sustains at the hands not of another, but of himself; this shows that there is a war against ourselves – going on in every individual of us.”

Phillip 3:19
Paul says, “Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things“.
Plato gives a vivid description of those gluttonous and intemperate souls whose belly was their God, in Plato’s work called “the Republic”.

Rom 8:5
Paul says, “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh;
Gal 6:8
Paul says, “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption
Plato speaks of “to be carnally-minded was death” in Phaedo

2 Cor 4:4
Paul says, “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not
Plato speaks of “the God of this world blindeth the eyes of his votaries” in Theaetetus
In the book Paul and His Epistles – D.A. Hayes writes “Plato would have pictured for him the truth that the God of this world blindeth the eyes of his votaries, and Paul never could have forgotten the picture when he had once read it.” – Theaet., 176; Rep., 7, 514
(Please note that the above point has been corrected as rightly pointed out by dear brother, Dan Angelov – my sincere apologies for misquoting it before) I wish to thank Angelov for re-checking the post and communicating this correction.

Php 1:21
Paul says, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Plato says, “Now if death is like this, I say that to die is gain.”

2Tim 4:6
Paul says, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand
To be with Christ, which is far better.
Plato says, “The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways, I to die and you to live. which is better God only knows.

1Cor 13:12
Paul says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face.”
Plato says, I am very far from admitting that he who contemplates existences through the medium of thought, sees them only “through a glass, darkly,” anymore than he who sees them in their working effects.

1Thess 5:15
Paul says, “See that none render evil for evil unto any man.”
Plato says, Then we ought not to retaliate or render evil for evil to anyone, whatever evil we may have suffered from him.

1Cor 9:16
Paul says, “For necessity is laid upon me ; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
Plato says, But necessity was laid upon me – the word of God I thought ought to be considered first.

Acts 14:15
Paul and Barnabas say, “We also are men of like passions with you“.
Plato says, I am a man, and, like other men, a creature of flesh and blood, and not of ” wood or stone,” as Homer says.

2Cor 7:2
Paul says, “I speak because I am convinced that I never intentionally wronged anyone“.
Plato says, We have wronged no man ; we have corrupted no man ; we have defrauded no man.

Rom 12:4
Paul says, “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office“.
Socrates says  “To begin with, our several natures are not all alike but different. One man is naturally fitted for one task, and another for another.”

Eph 1:22,23
Paul says, “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
Plato says “First, then, the gods, imitating the spherical shape of the universe, enclosed the two divine courses in a spherical body, that, namely, which we now term the head, being the most divine part of us and the lord of all that is in us; to this the gods, when they put together the body, gave all the other members to be servants.”

1Cor 12:14-17
Paul explains that “a body is not one single organ, but many. … Suppose the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, it does still belong to the body. If the body were all eye, how could it hear? If the body were all ear, how could it smell? But, in fact, God appointed each limb and organ to its own place in the body, as he chose.
Socrates asks Protagoras, “Is virtue a single whole, and are justice and self-control and holiness parts of it? … as the parts of a face are parts-mouth, nose, eyes and ears.” Socrates then probes into the metaphor further by asking Protagoras if they agree that each part serves a different purpose, just as the features of a face do, and the parts make the whole, but each serves a different purpose–“the eye is not like the ear nor has it the same function.”

1Co 12:25
Paul says “That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”
Socrates says, that the best-governed city is one “whose state is most like that of an individual man. For example, if the finger of one of us is wounded, the entire community of bodily connections stretching to the soul for ‘integration’ with the dominant part is made aware, and all of it feels the pain as a whole”

Paul’s use of Greek Philosophy of his day and age, cannot be overlooked or dismissed. He used the words of intellectuals of his day to his advantage in taking God’s word and the good news to the Greek speaking Gentile world. The evidence provided above cannot be passed off as mere coincidence. He wrote and spoke these words to a particular people who would have understood and would have been very familiar with the metaphors and ideas which he was using. One of the main reasons that we have such a hard time understanding Paul’s words is that we are so much removed from the world Paul was living in, and talking to. The above verses are only a few I could find in my attempt in researching this subject. But I am sure that there are many more instances where Paul would have used Greek Philosophy to his advantage.

This study would be somewhat of a shock to some who depend on Paul’s words alone as the epitome of Scripture. (This is not in anyway, an attempt to demean his writings or his work) Paul was and still is one of the greatest apostles of God. But as Peter said in 2Pet 3:15,16, “there are some things in his letters that are hard to understand”. It is better for us to take this warning seriously, and not fall into the category of “ignorant and unstable people who distort Paul’s teachings to our own destruction”. We must always remember that God’s Word cannot have confusion or disorder. Paul’s words(The actual meaning of his words, and not what we read into it) cannot disagree with any other author in the Bible. His words have to co-exist with all of Scripture in harmony.

I hope this study has helped you to understand Paul, his letters and his ministry a bit better. If you know of any more parallels or ideas that Paul adapted from Greek Philosophy, please note it down as a comment. Thank you & may you be a blessing to others!

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Works Cited
The life and letters of Paul the Apostle – Lyman Abbott
Paul and His Epistles – D.A. Hayes
Paul the Apostle: At the Edge by Faith – Stuart H. Merriam