Anyone reading the New Testament becomes aware that the early church would avoid practices that offended their brother, out of a spirit of love.  For example, even if it was not technically wrong to eat meat purchased in a market, that might have been originally been a sacrifice to an idol, where it offended a brother's conscience, a believer should avoid exercising his freedom in love.  This subject is described more fully here

I am naturally interested in symbols and have posted a few questions about them. For example, here you can find discussion about how Jews hated every kind of human image, even on coins as 'graven images' were idolatry, if indicating any kind of power.

Also, I discovered that the modern halo can be traced back as far as ancient Canaanite and Babylonian Son worship. The brightness behind the head being the Sun. This was a common pagan symbol that seems to have been adopted by the ancient church around  the fourth century AD. At first it was only depicted in art for the divine nature of Jesus and then various versions spread to many other objects such as esteemed saints and Mary, etc. For details one can refer here.

The question is, as these pagan traditions were so fully detestable by Jewish ethics, even possibly more than eating unclean meat,  why such a aggressive introduction of so many things that would offend?  I can only imagine that some Jewish Christians still existed in the 4th century. Besides, even today many, if not most, Protestant Christians are deeply troubled in their consciences over the practice of praying to Saints, using religious icons, etc. So why would Paul say avoid even meats that 'seemed unclean' due to idolatry, according to a weaker brothers faith, but in the fourth century anything and everything that might appear as joining a golden calf to the worship of God was not only no longer shunned but lovingly embraced? Without even questioning the actual ethics of the individual practices, and even generously and falsely pretending it is the weak conscience that is offended, still it begs the question: 'Why no longer care about a brother's conscience?'

Note: Please avoid condemning specifc practices, or justifying specific practices that are offensive to many Christians. My question is being raised at a higher level, which respects how a brother treats the offended. The actual offences are not central to this current question.

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    I'm afraid I don't understand the question as it's: a) disjointed with so many issues alluded to and b) based on what I believe is a series of false premises. I think the ultimate answer is that as any organization grows, the odds that one portion will practice things that offend another portion increases exponentially. When the church expanded outside of Judea, the cultures that accepted it adapted the faith to their practices and probably didn't consider their effects on Jews. Sep 23 '12 at 7:41
  • @JonEricson - Ya this question went over everybody's heads. I probably did not word it well it should be closed. I would delete if if I could.
    – Mike
    Sep 23 '12 at 8:45

The fact that Paul found it necessary to discuss this issue not once, but twice, would seem to indicate that it WAS a problem in the first century church, and not something that the church handled just fine in the first century but then went astray later.

More important, there are two sides to Paul's discussion of such offense. He doesn't say, If something offends a brother, don't do it, period end of story. Rather, he has admonitions for both parties.

Romans 14 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. ... 19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.

So yes, vv 19-21 say that the brother who sees nothing wrong with X should nevertheless be careful that he does not create a stumbling block for the brother to whom it is a problem. This may mean giving up something that he is convinced is perfectly good and acceptable to avoid offending another Christian.

But before he says that, look at verse 3: The brother who thinks that X is bad but has no clear scriptural justification for saying that, should not condemn the brother who does it.

We could debate exactly what Paul meant you should do. I suspect he's a little vague because the answer is not so simple as "never do it". If that was the rule, then one foolish Christian who condemns things for no good reason would force all the other Christians in the world to give up all sorts of good things. It is no answer to say that you will only give it up if the other person can offer good reasons. Paul's whole point is that he is talking about "disputable matters". By definition, this is about cases where neither person can give solid, undisputable reasons for his position.

Suppose another Christian said that he believed that a Christian should not own a house. Would you burn your house down and live under a bridge to avoid offending him? (You can't sell it -- that would just be encouraging others to sin!) Sorry, I doubt I would go that far.

In practice, well, let me take a real case. Many Christians I know believe you should not drink any alcohol at all. I disagree. I won't get into the scriptural arguments here as they're beside the point. I don't belittle Christians who don't drink. I don't try to badger them into drinking, like saying, "Here, have some wine. How can it hurt? What's the big deal?" etc. I don't drink in front of them, offer them alcohol, or discuss how much I like this brand or whatever in front of them. But I don't totally abstain to avoid offending hem, either. I just don't do it in front of them.

Likewise, Paul is saying that they should not condemn me for drinking.

We should respect each other's difference of opinion or understanding.

  • I don't believe there are Catholic/Orthodox Christians who are going round hanging icons in Protestant church halls. If they are doing it in their own churches, then that is 'in private'. Aug 30 '12 at 14:20
  • @Mike How could putting things in your own church (i.e. where the offended people don't go) force the offended people into new churches? Your example was a case where the churches are already separate. And please don't accuse me of saying things that I clearly did not say. Aug 30 '12 at 15:37
  • The things you are talking about -- religious icons, praying to saints, etc -- are things some do as a form of worship. When you say they should have kept these things "private", do you mean that they should not have worshipped as they thought appropriate in their own churches? What, someone should pray to a saint in his own home, but not in church? What is he supposed to do? Like I said in my original post, the weaker-brother rule does not and cannot mean that one Christian, no matter how sincere, has a veto over every other Christian in the world. ...
    – Jay
    Aug 31 '12 at 3:01
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    Hey, I'm a Protestant, I oppose praying to saints. But I can't imagine telling Catholics they should stop because it offends me. There's the other half of Paul's statement: I have to respect their conscience, too.
    – Jay
    Aug 31 '12 at 3:02

Jesus came on the scene and brought full understanding. Before he came full understanding was veiled (hidden behind the veil - not understood and not revealed fully).

Jesus said, "I didn't come to do away with the law but fulfill it" (Matthew 5:17). Deeper revelation and understanding came with Christ, and with his death and resurrection.

The holy spirit came to teach us or lead us into all truth. Paul realized the truth of the matter. True understanding of the teaching of not defiling your self its not about what you eat or drink, or how you wash your hands, but about your inner man and attitude.

If you remember the Old Testament laws about eating and drink mainly were about defiling self, so I'd say it's not so much that the Church stopped doing it, but instead, they gained better understanding of the Biblical truth set before them in the old testament laws


Your question makes a lot of assumptions, none of which are necessarily true.

Your first assumption is a fairly common one, that the early church was perfect in every way and did everything that was preached, living up to its ideals all the time. This was probably not the case - Paul wouldn't have had to write about this twice if the church had always been doing it. In other words: this may not have been something that Christians always did in New testament times, and then somehow stopped doing; it may have been something that Christians always knew they were supposed to do, but have found really difficult in practice - both now and in New Testament times.

Secondly you write that "there must have been some Jewish Christians in the fourth Century". Actually there probably weren't. The split between Christianity and Judaism was pretty definite long before that. There probably were Christian of Jewish descent, but they would have been thrown out of their synagogues and ostracized. Remember that Christianity teaches that it is no longer necessary to adhere to Jewish rituals and customs, even for Jews, once you become a Christian. I very much doubt that there were many Christians who sincerely thought that it was necessary to adhere to Jewish ethics (as opposed to Christian ones) by 400AD.

Your point about 'halos' has already been answered in this question. They are just an artistic convention, and there is no evidence that using them ever 'gave offence' to anyone.

Christian representational art has been found dating from the second century AD, so we can presume it was common at that point. I know of nothing to indicate that this art was an "aggressive introduction" as you put it, or that there was objection to it from Christians of Jewish descent.


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