Bible Review 10:3, June 1994

Why Not Idol Meat?

Is it what you eat or where you eat it?

By Ben Witherington III

That food and dining in the Greco-Roman world provide the background for understanding several difficult passages in Paul’s letters is not surprising. What is surprising is that these same food and dining customs indicate that the supposed rift between the Jerusalem Christians under James and the diaspora Christians under Paul was not as wide or as deep as some scholars have suggested.

The supposed basis for the rift is that the Jerusalem church believed that Gentiles must also become Jews in order to be Christian (the earliest Christians were all Jews). On the other hand, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, made no such requirement; Gentiles were not bound by the yoke of the Law—most importantly, the burden of circumcision and dietary restrictions. What we will conclude, however, is that neither James, the brother of the Lord and “pillar,” if not head, of the Jerusalem church, nor Paul required Gentiles to assume the yoke of the Law in order to become Christians.

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