In first Corinthians 8:1-13 we find a pretty intriguing question and answer topic centered around food from the roman market that has been offered as worship to idols. Most people might over look the significance of a passage like this by saying something like “this passage isn’t really relevant for our culture anymore”. Some folks might say this because in our country we can go to the supermarket today and enjoy all kinds of food and none of it is offered or sacrificed to some kind of idol or demon. Though this passage might not address our supermarkets in America it can surely speak toward some misunderstandings surrounding Halloween. In this article I want to address the Question “Why do Christians celebrate Halloween?”. This question was asked of me by a fellow Christian who is against Christians participating in Halloween activities because he believes it is linked to paganism and Satanism. So I would like to take a moment and address it from a very specific text that I think will help me answer his question.
In the city of Corinth (as it was in every roman city) many Jewish folks could not shop at the Roman markets or eat at their restaurant’s. These places where ritualistically unclean places full of unclean meats offered to idols as sacrifices. To eat the meat at a particular place was to participate as a good Roman should in the worship with whatever particular idol, demon or false God was on tap. People would come with an animal for sacrifice to a particular God. The animal would be killed in the name of the idol with some kind of religious cultic practice and the family or whoever brought the animal would enjoy the feast in the name of the false god. The meat would then be offered to other patrons as an act of worship and perhaps even put up for sale at the market. Romans loved their God’s the more the better. As a matter of fact, early Christians were persecuted by Romans because they were considered atheists. The Christian insistence that there is only one God was very troubling to the Roman way of life. Roman culture was propped up by false gods even the emperor of Rome was a god to be worshipped and sacrificed to.
Because of all of this “demon meat” many Jewish folks could not with good conscience eat Roman meat and keep covenant with their God who made it very clear in Deuteronomy 6:4 “Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. In the Jewish persons mind to eat the meat would be to participate in the worship of another god. And that would have been the case. Because a good Roman observed as many god’s as possible. So a Roman would have considered Jewish folks participating in the market as Jewish folks participating in worship. But and even bigger problem arises when early Christians are converting from pagan Rome to Christianity. The problem becomes even bigger when former Jewish folks converting to Christianity begin to worship together with former gentiles as one new body in Jesus. They are coming from two different worlds and traditions. For the Jewish person it would be hard to consider everything clean and for the Roman it would be hard to think of anything as unclean. During this time something called the imperial cult was really becoming popular as well. One would in fact be participating in a religious sacrifice acknowledging “Cesar as Lord”. Could you imagine sacrificing cows to President Obama and calling him Lord? How should the Church at Corinth handle this issue? This what Paul says to them concerning the issue of food that has been offered to idols…
“Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes. So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. But for us, There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live. However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do. But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:1–13, NLT)
Some folks feel the problem isn’t really even there. These folks have knowledge that there is only one God and all the other gods are fake empty idols. Paul sees that these folks are missing the bigger problem of conscience here. Some folks with inner moral compasses still learning about the truth might see abstinence from this meat as the ONLY way to avoid sin. The real question here for those who think the issue doesn’t exist is do you at least see that this problem exists for these folks that you are called to love? Paul really uses this issue of meat associated with offerings to pagan gods as an opportunity to display that knowledge alone over a person’s ignorance cannot replace the command to love them.
So in response to my friend’s question “Why do Christians celebrate Halloween?” here are a few comments concerning Halloween and what Paul has to say about eating food offered to false gods.
First: Halloween in a historical sense is a distinctly Christian holiday.
Halloween marks the three day observance of “All hallow tide”. During this time on the Christian calendar those who have died, those Christians “Hallows (meaning holy or sanctified)” or saints who have died, and those martyred should remembered. Early Christians went around rebuilding and renaming anything pagan into something related exclusively to Christianity. So some scholars believe Halloween could be the Christian replacement connected to Druidic harvest festivals and other scholars (with whom I agree) insist it is not. Nicholas Rogers a professor of history at New York University says in his book Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night … “Festivals commemorating the saints as opposed to the original Christian martyrs appear to have been observed by 800. In England and Germany, this celebration took place on i November. In Ireland, it was commemorated on 20 April, a chronology that contradicts the widely held view that the November date was chosen to Christianize the festival of Samhain.”
The holiday historically is deeply shaped by Christian traditions closely connected with the celebration of life and the resurrections triumph over the grave and not the druidic festival of Samhain. There is historically very little known about the festival of Samhain and the history we do have connects the original Christian celebrations of Halloween to a completely different time of year than we know the festival of Samhain supposedly took place. Though I am not Roman Catholic much of the original celebration of Halloween was shaped by Roman Catholic theology and therefore distinctly Christian. Though today’s popularized version of Halloween is not Christian it most certainly has it roots in the Christian Holiday. So our family loves to laugh at death and make light of it because it is defeated. The grave is no longer a place of darkness and loss but light and victory.
Second: The house I was raised in.
During my life Halloween has always been a celebration of costumes and candy. I was not raised by Wiccans or any other such cult. I was not abused by Satanism. I have a feeling folks that have been involved in such things see Halloween through a different set of glasses than I do. I respect that. Those are glasses that I could never see through. If I had a close friend who was raised in such an environment I would not ask him or her come with us to go trick or treating. I would not expect them to dress up with us. But I hope I would be sensitive to their disregard for this particular time of year. I would hope that they would know I respect their point or view.
Third: It is possible to participate with certain cultural aspects of a false religion without worshipping a false God.
Francis Spufford said “I am a fairly orthodox Christian. Every Sunday, I say and do my best to mean the whole of the Creed, which is a series of propositions. But it is still a mistake to suppose that it is assent to the propositions that makes you a believer. It is the feelings that are primary.” In other words participation doesn’t always equate to endorsement or agreement. Paul doesn’t tell the Christians in Rome to leave Rome even though the whole culture was saturated and propped up with the worship of false God’s. For example though I like the month of January and celebrate new years it does not mean I worship the Roman false god of beginnings and endings named Janus. Because I allow my children to take a small packet of M&Ms from a lady dressed up like a witch it does not mean that I approve of or worship Satanism. This is what Paul is pointing out when he says… “So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. But for us, There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live.”
Just as some in the Corinthian Church treated the issue of eating meat associated with offerings to pagan gods as participation with darkness and some did not. I think Paul makes it pretty clear that the sin isn’t in the eating of the meat it is in not regarding your brother or sisters with love who have a different opinion. It is obvious what we know about something doesn’t matter in the end if it causes a person we love to stumble.
In conclusion I don’t think Halloween is a pagan Holiday. Today most scholars both secular and Christian would agree. Even if it were pagan… eating it’s candy doesn’t make me a pagan my heart must do that work. I also don’t think Halloween is really a “Christian” Holiday any more. So when my friend asked me “Why do Christians celebrate Halloween?” My response is I don’t really celebrate Halloween. I just like dressing up in silly costumes, eating candy and thinking about death. That’s really all it is to me. If I had some close friends that felt by participating in Halloween I was participating in Satanism I hope we could love one another enough to get along as brothers and sisters in Christ. I would hope that I could enjoy my freedom in such a way that I would not cause my friend to stumble. I could be wrong and Halloween could be a pagan Holiday and if in fact it is I hope my friend would read 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. Because apparently what we know and do with that knowledge is not as important as what we know and do with love.