1 Cor. 8.4-6: "4. Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "no idol in the world really exists," and that "there is no God but one." 5 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (NRSV)
1 Cor. 10.19-22: 19 What do I imply then? That food sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (NRSV)
There is a seemingly irreconcileable contrast here. What does Paul think? That idols have no existence or that they are in fact demons? Is the position of 1 Cor. 10 in conflict with the position of 1 Cor. 8? I was at a paper at the Duke NT colloquium a few weeks ago at which Joel Marcus was talking on the general topic of idolatry in the New Testament and it occurred to me that one way around the difficulty of the contrast between 1 Cor. 8 and 10 would be as follows. In the ancient world, demons were thought to inhabit empty spaces, to fill voids, to exploit nothingness. Could it be that the demons of 1 Cor. 10 exploit the empty spaces, the voids of 1 Cor. 8? Since, for Paul, pagan gods have no existence, since there is no God but one, the idols are empty, void, representations of nothing. Is the underlying thought that the demons take up occupation in that empty space, that void? Do they exploit the absence?
Update (9.57): lots of useful comments have been added to this post (8 so far), all worth reading. Mike Thompson also emails:
Mark, on 1 Cor 8 & 10 I'm not sure the problem is so acute, or perhaps I'm missing something. What if ouden in 8.4 is a predicate, i.e. 'an idol is nothing'? In other words, it doesn't have the power or priority that the one (true) God has; an idol counts for nothing. Paul isn't denying the existence of idols in 8.4, but their power/essence/status etc in comparison to YHWH. On your reading, 8.5 would seem to be just as difficult as ch 10 for 8.4, since it too grants their existence.I should add that I don't have anything invested in the thoughts I placed up here -- it was something that occurred to me while listening to a paper and I have done no research on the question. My thoughts just appear to me to make sense of the cosmology behind Paul's thinking, which can maintain both that an idol is nothing and that to worship idols is to participate with demons. Let me add, though, that I may have overstated the apparent contrast between 1 Cor. 8 and 10 above, perhaps the result of having taught it recently, where one can play up contrasts a little to make the point. I hope to comment on the comments in due course.
Or is the issue the relationship between idols and demons?
Update (Wednesday, 17.44): As Stephen Carlson points out in Hypotyposeis, there are loads of interesting comments to this post, and I want to draw attention to them here, especially for those of you who read the RSS feed.